STEVIE (Lions Gate, 2002) D: Steve James, documentary. Rating: NNNNN
steve james took five years to di- rect Hoop Dreams, an epic about the meaning of high school basketball in the African-American community. This time he took four years plus on what began as a short film about a young man whose Big Brother he'd been some years earlier, only to discover that he's now a white-trash ex-convict accused of child molestation. The film is about this man and his environment, but it's also a distressing essay on the emotional and ethical conundrums facing a filmmaker with emotional ties to his subject.
It's a long film but worth sticking with, an absorbing study of a character and a situation that television too often turns into a Springerish sideshow. The twists of narrative and character are as absorbing as the best fiction, and the duration of the project allowed James and his crew to achieve a wrenching intimacy with their subjects.
DVD EXTRAS: Director/producer/cinematographer commentary, deleted scenes.
RUSSIAN ARK (Seville, 2002), D: Aleksandr Sokurov, w/ Aleksandr Chaban, Mariya Kuznetzova. Rating: NNNN
constructed as a 96-minute, 300-year journey through the Hermitage, Russian Ark became an instant legend as the longest single shot in the history of cinema, though it was shot on high-definition digital video rather than film. Traversing Russian history from Catherine the Great to the last of the Romanovs, it has been called the century's hippest cure for insomnia. On the other hand, it has jaw-dropping technical éclat. There are no cheats, no moments when the camera slides into darkness to hide a cut. Rather, the camera constantly prowls the architecture and occasionally does things to suggest a superhuman operator.
The DVD transfer is generally very good, even if it's a bit patchy in the early minutes, when scenes are lit only by candles. Once the better lighting kicks in at the five-minute mark, those problems end. Interesting commentary from producer Jens Meuer (director Aleksandr Sokurov doesn't speak English) on the practical insanity of trying to do a film in a single pass.
DVD EXTRAS Producer's commentary, making-of documentary, documentary on people who work at the Hermitage, theatrical trailer, English and French titles.
BULLETPROOF MONK: SPECIAL EDITION (MGM, 2003) D: Paul Hunter, w/ Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott. Rating: NNN
the extra that makes bullet- proof Monk a worthwhile rent is a very funny commentary track by screenwriters Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, youngish hacks with the right cynical perspective on this kind of dumbed-down attempt to adapt a culty comic. Someday producers will realize that trying to "broaden the appeal" of these pieces is a doomed enterprise. Please the hardcore fans and the others may come; dumb it down and the fans will kill your word of mouth.
Chow Yun-Fat is the titular monk, who has control of a magical whatsis, a scroll that will allow its possessor to do the usual - world domination, free parking on alternate sides of the street, unlimited frequent flyer miles. He seeks out Seann William Scott (American Pie's Stifler), a street punk, to help him beat the bad guys, but Scott has his own problems. Bad wire work ensues.
DVD EXTRAS Director/producer commentary, writers' commentary, making-of featurettes, deleted scenes with editor's commentary, alternate ending, photo gallery. English, French and Spanish versions and subtitles, Mandarin and Cantonese subtitles.
MALIBU'S MOST WANTED (Warner, 2003) D: John Whitesell, w/ Jamie Kennedy, Taye Diggs. Rating: NN
the trailers for malibu's most Wanted, developed for Jamie Kennedy's Brad "B-Rad" Gluckman, white-boy homie, suggested a dumb but possibly quite funny investigation of Nick Tosches's assertion in Where Dead Voices Gather that assuming a racial mask has been the essence of American pop culture since the days of minstrel shows. Alas, this encounter between suburbia and gangsta culture is more dumb than funny - and at least two of the best gags in the trailer never made the final cut, though they are in the deleted scenes on the DVD.
The funniest part of the film, aside from a gang leader telling B-Rad to stop rapping or he'll shoot himself, is Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson as two actors hired to 'jack Brad, take him to the hood and "scare the black out of him."
DVD EXTRAS Snippet commentary from various cast members and director John Whitesell that, like the movie, should be a lot funnier than it is, deleted scenes, alternate ending, theatrical trailer. Wide-screen and full-screen versions, English and French versions, English, French, Spanish subtitles.
ALSO THIS WEEK
CONFIDENCE (Lions Gate, 2003) Ed Burns stars in this con game movie, but Dustin Hoffman has the juiciest role as a baroquely decadent crime boss.
THE RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN/BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET/LIANA (MGM) John Sayles's first three films, in new wide-screen transfers, with director commentaries on each film.
ENOUGH: SPECIAL EDITION (Columbia, 2002) A special edition of the Jennifer Lopez movie that no one saw in first run or bought the first time round. Why? Also a special edition for Enigma, which is a real enigma.
ANGER MANAGEMENT (Columbia, 2003) Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson in what's essentially an instant remake of Punch-Drunk Love as an Adam Sandler comedy.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb