By any standard the oddest major studio release of 2002, Punch-Drunk Love is a screwball romance between Emily Watson and Adam Sandler's rage-driven repressive, set in the sun-blasted vacancy of Paul Thomas Anderson's beloved San Fernando Valley. Now it arrives in a two-disc special edition that almost matches the oddness of the film itself. There's no making-of documentary and no director's commentary, but there is a series of little art-object films constructed around footage from the film and those weird little colour excursions that Anderson used as transitions.
At just over 90 minutes, Punch-Drunk Love, an illustration of the power of love and the value of coupons, is a short compared to Anderson's Boogie Nights and Magnolia.
Adam Sandler's performance is virtually the same one he always gives, but it's transformed by its context into something wonderful.
The gorgeous transfer doesn't shy away from the film's extreme colours. I'm not crazy about the fold-out slipcased package, which, while quite pretty, may not be sturdy. DVD EXTRAS Blossoms & Blood, a 12-minute short constructed out of the main film; three trailers; 12 Scopitones, very short films using the film's music and images; an exceedingly extended version of the scene in which Sandler's character spends the morning talking to his sisters on the phone; an outtake in which Philip Seymour Hoffman has an accident. Randomizing function: put the extras disc in your computer and let the computer decide what order to watch them in. English 5.1 Dolby and DTS soundtracks, French soundtrack, English and French titles.
FRIDA (Alliance Atlantis, 2002) D: Julie Taymor w/ Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina. Two discs. Rating: NNNN the unspoken agenda of the packed two-disc Frida DVD is to take the focus off producer-star Salma Hayek, who got all the attention at the time of the film's release (Hayek is tireless when promoting her films), and put it on director Julie Taymor (Titus), who constructed the film's spectacular visual textures and dragged the narrative out of linear sequence. Taymor gets the commentary track, and Oscar-winning composer Elliot Goldenthal (Mr. Julie Taymor) gets a scene commentary for his score. Hayek gets only a 40-minute interview feature.
This well-constructed disc has just about every making-of element one could want, including a brief interview with the Quay brothers on their animated nightmare, and interviews with Chavela Vargas, who's heard on the soundtrack, and Lila Downs, the singer in the early party scene.
Frida, of course, is the artist Frida Kahlo, and the film recounts her life in swift, surreal detail. Taymor, who comes to film from theatre (the Broadway production of The Lion King was her conception), isn't fond of conventional narrative, so her films are interesting fights between the director and the material.
Hayek is spectacular. I thought she, Diane Lane and Julianne Moore were all more deserving of the Oscar than the eventual winner, Nicole Kidman. The excellent transfer catches the film's strikingly Mexican colour scheme, and anyone who liked the film in the theatre will like it here. If you didn't, the DVD may convert you. DVD EXTRAS Director commentary, composer commentary, star interview, Bill Moyers interview with Julie Taymor, tour of real locations, Salma Hayek recording session, featurettes on visual style and visual effects, singer interviews. Interesting fact learned: Alfred Molina, who plays Diego Rivera, is generally referred to as Fred. English, French versions and subtitles. Irony: there's no Spanish-language version in North America, though the American issue has Spanish s-t.
DARK BLUE: SPECIAL EDITION (MGM, 2002) D: Ron Shelton, w/ Kurt Russell, Ving Rhames. Rating: NNN ah, the ironies of marketing: the Frida DVD makes no claims to anything, simply delivering two DVDs packed with good extras. Dark Blue claims to be a special edition and comes with three short making-of featurettes and a director commentary. This is "special"? This is standard. Anyway, Dark Blue is a superior cop drama from a James Ellroy story, with Kurt Russell as a rogue cop under investigation by Ving Rhames's straight-arrow captain on the eve of the Rodney King verdict. Shelton, a director who really understands how men behave together, gets striking performances from Russell, Rhames, Brendan Gleeson and the rest of his cast, and for fun throws in a startling recreation of the opening hours of the L.A. riots.
There's a good deal of Training Day in the relationship between Russell and his young partner, Scott Speedman (no surprise since David Ayer wrote both films). Here Shelton focuses on redemption rather than damnation - as Training Day director Antoine Fuqua does in his more recent Tears Of The Sun - but this movie only allows redemption through sacrifice. It also asks more subtly if L.A. itself is redeemable. DVD Extras Director commentary, three making-of featurettes, theatrical trailer. English, French and Spanish versions and subtitles. NARC (Paramount, 2002) D: Joe Carnahan, w/ Jason Patric, Ray Liotta. Rating: NNN if dark blue is cop drama, then Narc is copera, with Jason Patric and Ray Liotta as mismatched partners in Methodical madness, alternately brooding in corners and screaming in each other's faces while pointing shotguns. Patric, with a bad Fu Manchu, a 'stache that almost demands a mullet, plays a burnt-out narc brought back onto the force to help solve the murder of another undercover cop. He's forced to work with Liotta, with gritty goatee, an old-school bull cop who thinks the Miranda warning is for pussies. There are twists. Oh, are there twists.
This ultra-low-budget Sundance hit is coldly urban - Toronto plays Detroit - and made by a young director in thrall to the cop dramas of the 70s, particularly Serpico and The French Connection. (Connection director William Friedkin shows up in the extras talking about how much he likes the film. Friedkin is married to Sherry Lansing, the head of Paramount.) Worth watching, especially as Carnahan has been tapped by Tom Cruise to direct the next Mission: Impossible, suggesting that Cruise may be taking that series in a different direction. DVD EXTRAS Director/editor commentary, three making-of featurettes, Friedkin interview, theatrical trailer. English and French versions, English subtitles. THE HOURS (Paramount) Literary triple decker with Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf. The goodie here: a commentary featuring Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, hopefully together.
COWBOY BEBOP (Columbia TriStar) Japanimation about bounty-hunter heroes out to save the world from weird stuff.
ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (Criterion/Morningstar) Fassbinder's unacknowledged remake of Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows is perhaps his most emotionally accessible film. DVD extras include an introduction by Todd Haynes, whose Far From Heaven is another uncredited remake of the same film.
POPEYE (Paramount) Well, some people are waiting eagerly for Robert Altman's bizarre live-action cartoon, with Robin Williams as the spinach-fuelled sailor and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb