(Criterion, 1961) D: Luis Buöuel, w/ Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey. Rating: NNNN
This is the movie that brought Spain's Luis Buñuel back to international prominence after years of obscurity in Mexico. After winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it was promptly condemned by the Vatican newspaper and banned in Spain. Though Viridiana confirmed Buñuel's reputation as a master surrealist, don't look for melting clocks or the forced oddities of David Lynch. Buñuel finds his surrealism in everyday life and in the irrationality beneath our apparently sensible intent.
Masochistically pious young novitiate Viridiana (leading Mexican actor Silvia Pinal) leaves the convent to visit her genteel, decaying uncle (Fernando Rey), whose fetishistic longing for his dead wife leads him to attempt rape. After his death, the novitiate fills the manor house with beggars, and this ends in disaster, leaving her to stumble toward a world she does not comprehend.
Avoiding melodrama, Buñuel's gaze, at once benign and pitiless, glides casually over both kindness and cruelty, catching disturbed and disturbing undercurrents in innocuous details, yet remaining placid in the face of the beggars' outrageous behaviour.
Criterion has done its usual fine job on the transfer and subtitles. A very good French television documentary on Buñuel, with extensive interview footage and a good career retrospective, including details of his famous fight with Salvador Dali, are part of the package.
Extras 1964 French TV interview with Buñuel; Pinal and scholar Richard Porton interviews; booklet essay with Buñuel interview. Black-and-white, letterboxed, digital transfer. Spanish soundtrack, English subtitles.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Duncan Tucker, w/ Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers. Rating: NNN
A week before her final operation, a pre-op male-to-female transsexual discovers the son she never knew she had, now a 17-year-old street hustler, and takes him on a road trip from New York to Los Angeles. It's a set-up for camp or grit, but first-time writer/director Duncan Tucker plays it for unadorned drama, character comedy and uplift. Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives) carries the show beautifully as Bree Osbourne. She disappears completely into her lonely, prissy, brittle, terrified and defiant heroine. She also makes her very funny without once blowing the character's credibility. Put it down to her work ethic, which is instructively on display in her contribution to the extras.
Kevin Zegers, a 22-year-old who's been around since Street Legal, match-es her nicely as the druggy son, and Fionnula Flanagan (Waking Ned Devine) is spectacularly horrific as Bree's emotionally vampiric mother.
Tucker is so intent on his story and actors that he's fashioned a film that's occasionally plodding and over-earnest. But those moments don't last long, and Huffman's performance makes them well worth enduring.
Extras Director commentary, director and Huffman interview, director and Zegers interview, bloopers, Dolly Parton music video with making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
Jim Henson's The Storyteller
(Sony, 1988, 1990) creator: Anthony Minghella, w/ John Hurt, Michel Gambon. Rating: NNN
This anthology of european folk tales and Greek myths has a sense of occasion that suggests the project was a labour of love for all concerned. It also reminds us that storytelling is one of the most fundamental and essential human activities. The half-hours are pitched at kids 10 or so, but if you're fond of fairy tales, Greek myths and the pleasantly ramshackle feel of early Terry Gilliam mo-vies, they are highly enjoyable at any age.
Both series freely mix live-action, Jim Henson's creatures and animation to deliver a good mix of visual whimsey, verbal humour and dark emotion.
John Hurt plays the storyteller in the first series, narrating nine lesser-known European folk tales to his Muppet dog, a nicely comic creature well-played by Henson's son Brian. He's got just the right mix of strong delivery and ham to bring the artificiality to life and imbue it with a sense of fun.
Michael Gambon brings a darker tone to the set of four Greek myths, but these are sombre stories. Daedalus is wracked by guilt, both before and after Icarus flies too close to the sun. Theseus kills the Minotaur, but along the way he seduces and abandons the woman who helps him, and brings about the death of his own father. It's strong stuff for kids, but the dog again gives voice to the audience's emotions and questions. It's a great device that reassures without being at all condescending.
The shows feature good British directors including John Madden (Shakespeare In Love) and polished actors including Sean Bean, Brenda Ble-thyn, Jonathan Pryce and Miranda Richardson.
Extras No special features. Full-frame.
Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, Two-disc special edition
(WB, 2005) D: Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen and Jessica Joy Wise, w/ Lemmy, Alice Cooper. Rating: NN
First-time director Sam Dunn is a metal fan who grew up to become an anthropologist and decided to turn his scholar's eye on his own bit of subculture. Sadly, the fannish gaze turns out to be the mote in the scholar's eye (isn't it always the way?). Dunn brings us some superficial history and gobs of enthusiasm, but not much in the way of insight.
Not that there's much to be insightful about. The fans are alienated working-class teens, mostly males. The music tries to sound evil. The performers are either thoughtful, sophisticated entertainers or rock 'n' roll yahoos.
Questions of gender-bending and homoeroticism get touched on briefly, as does the status of women in metal. A focus on these might have made this a good movie. An in-depth look at the murder and church-burnings that sprang out of Norwegian black metal in the early 90s might have made it a great one.
The Norwegian scene, a shrieking anomaly in a culture of prosperous conformity, gets some coverage in the movie and is the subject of a 25-min-ute documentary, the highlight of the second disc. Norwegian black metallers are seriously anti-Christian Satan-ists willing to back up their stance with deeds. Very scary.
Extras Disc one: director and producer commentary. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. French sub-titles. Disc two: metal genealogy chart, Norwegian black metal documentary, extended interviews, outtakes. Wide-screen.
Coming Tuesday, May 30
(Sony, 2006) Julianne Moore and Samuel L. Jackson in a race-conscious thriller.
(Disney, 2005) Beware. This isn't the 70s cheeze classic with the incredibly likeable Darren McGavin, but a contemporary remake starring Stuart Townsend, who played Dorian Gray in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
(New Video Group, 1972) Screen version of famous 60s stage erotica conceived by noted theatre critic Kenneth Tynan.
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Two-disc special edition
(WB, 1962) Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in an over-the-top gothic trash classic. Available on its own or in the second Bette Davis Collection (with Jezebel, Marked Woman, Old Acquaintance and The Man Who Came To Dinner).
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb