(Sony, 1975), D: Michelangelo Antonioni, w/ Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider, Jenny Runacre. Rating: NNNNN
This is Michelangelo Antonioni's existential "thriller," so designated because I'm not sure what other genre to place it in. The quotes indicate just how uneasily that designation sits on a film with Antonioni's pacing, which ranges from slow to ungodly slow.
Jack Nicholson plays a journalist who takes on the identity of a dead man in a North African hotel and then follows the dead man's agenda for reasons of existential crisis. I wrote at length about The Passenger in the January 12 issue.
The DVD offers a stunning transfer - the blues sizzle and the shadows of Barcelona are beautifully detailed. Very interesting commentaries: Jack Nicholson is a bit meandering and occasionally fragmentary but has some good production stories, and his admiration for Antonioni comes through clearly. Screenwriter Mark Peploe provides a much more complete look at the film's genesis and production. And they explain how the legendary nine-minute climactic shot was done.
Extras Two commentaries, theatrical trailer. English with French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai and Chinese subtitles.
The Life And Hard Times Of Guy Terrifico
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005). D: Michael Mabbott, w/ Matt Murphy, Kris Kristofferson. Rating: NNN
This is a mockumentary portrait of a "legendary" lost singer/songwriter from the 70s, with grungy 16mm "historical" footage and interviews with people who knew Guy Terrifico, cleverly mixing the real (notably Kris Kristofferson) and the fictional (Guy's wife, played by Natalie Radford).
There's a fundamental problem with fake "legendary" musical figures, which is that we hear the music that made them legend and it's generally not that good - the songs in this film sound like bits recovered from Kristofferson's and Gram Parsons's wastebaskets. Not as clever as it thinks it is, but the supplements, notably an extended interview with Kristofferson, make it very rentable.
Extras Deleted scenes, interviews, performance clip. English and French soundtracks, with English captions.
Karas: The Prophecy
(Anchor Bay, 2005) D: Kei'ichi Sato Rating: NNN
I wonder if there's some bit of genetic code that separates the world into two kinds of people: those who can follow the plots of big anime epics and those who can't.
About 40 minutes into Karas, after watching demons concealed as samurai robots and as humans, giant spider demons, monumental vehicle chases and Japanese cultural references I knew I wasn't getting, my brain shook itself free of the sensory bombardment and asked the fatal question, "What the hell is this actually about?"
I'm still not sure, but it has stunning design, a great action epic score by Yoshihiro Ike, and a massive 6.1 soundtrack that can kill your plants and possibly your neighbours. Great for people who like this sort of thing... but then, I didn't really get Akira either.
Extras Production featurette, interviews with Japanese voice actors, Japanese trailers and TV spots. Japanese and English soundtracks, English subtitles.
(Touchstone, 2005), D: Anand Tucker, w/ Steve Martin, Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman. Rating: NNNN
Adapted by Steve Martin from his own novella, Shopgirl has "chick flick" written all over it, except that the point of view is shifty. The apparent point of view is that of Claire Danes's heroine, with Martin's omniscient voice-over, but the chilly tone ties the film directly to Martin's commitment-phobe character, a wealthy Angeleno who takes Danes, a struggling artist/store clerk, as his mistress.
That tone is what makes Shopgirl an unusual film and what also, I suspect, doomed it at the box office. Martin redeems himself from a lot of pro-forma money work in big Hollywood comedies with his insightful portrait of a man who's alone even when he's with the woman he can't admit he loves. Danes is lovely and amazing.
Extras Insightful director commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurette. English, French and Spanish soundtracks, French and Spanish subtitles.
Special Collector's Edition (Paramount, 2005), D: Karyn Kusama, w/ Charlize Theron, Sophie Okenedo, Marton Csokas. Rating: NN
Perhaps the kindest thing i can say about the feature adaptation of the legendary animated series Aeon Flux is that, as female star-centred superhero movies go, it's much better than Catwoman or Elektra. It has more action than the latter, and much more convincing action than the former. On the other hand, the filmmakers made the odd decision to put Charlize Theron in a full-cover cat suit. While I didn't expect to see the character's nearly nude profile from the cartoon, this goes to the opposite extreme.
Originally, Aeon was an anarchic character who died in almost every episode, not unlike Kenny in South Park. The screenplay here does all those things that make people hate Hollywood adaptations. It throws in a more conventional love story and then gets all redemptive. And people still didn't go.
Good extras, and the commentaries answer the question "Why does it suck?" without ever admitting that it does.
Extras: Commentary with Theron and producer Gale Anne Hurd, screenwriter commentary, five production featurettes, theatrical trailer. English and French soundtracks, English and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, May 2
The Tennessee Williams Collection
(Warner, 1951-64) A mix of classics (A Streetcar Named Desire), odd misfires (Sweet Bird Of Youth) and delirious trash (Baby Doll) from Hollywood's most weirdly self-oppressed era. Also Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone and Night Of The Iguana.
The Family Stone
(Fox, 2005) Uptight outsider fiancée (Sarah Jessica Parker) walks into warm and wacky family situation when she goes to meet her future in-laws.
(Paradox, 1977) Uptight young man walks into a non-warm and wacky family situation. Lynch's surrealist classic arrives alongside a disc of his early short films and Dumbland, his animated series that has inspired remarkable loathing over the years.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb