Beaches, Special Edition (Disney, 1988) D: Garry Marshall w/ Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey. Rating: NNN
The only thing really special about this particular edition of this enduring women's friendship tale is veteran director Garry Marshall's commentary. He leads us amiably through the film in a "dese, dem and dose" accent and attitude that treat directing as no more than an interesting job and his listeners as an audience of intelligent movie fans, neither geeks nor worshippers. Of course, Marshall's a veteran actor, and this is to some degree a prepared performance. The same cannot be said for the interview with Mayim Bialik, who played the young C.C. Bloom, the exuberant Jewish theatre brat who forms a lifelong friendship with a straitlaced, old-money WASP. Bialik's recollections are superficial, polite and reveal only that her singing was dubbed.
Fortunately, the movie doesn't need the extras. Midler and Hershey are the show, and they're note-perfect. Midler plays her Broadway-star flamboyance a little awkwardly, revealing the insecure woman beneath, while Hershey always keeps her WASP reticence well this side of ice princess. They make their friendship seem natural.
Marshall always goes for the emotion, but he provides context and a bit of distance, particularly through Midler's gaucherie, so the film never descends to bathos.
Marshall claims that this film started the female friendship genre. Maybe it did, theatrically, but on TV Laverne And Shirley was there before it, and Lucy and Ethel in I Love Lucy before that. Either way, this is the film that set the mould, and it still holds up.
Extras Marshall commentary, Bialik interview, Hershey screen test, blooper reel, song clip, music video, trailer. Wide-screen. English, French. English, French subtitles.Anatomy Of Hell (Mongrel, 2004) D: Catherine Breillat w/ Amira Casar, Rocco Siffredi. Rating: NNN
This isn't Catherine Breillat's best work, but it is central to understanding her ongoing exploration of women's sexuality and men's reaction to it. Through A Real Young Lady, Romance and Fat Girl, the best-known.of her 11 features, she's kept her eye on the realities of women's sexuality and bodies and their personal, social and spiritual implications. Here, she makes that project explicit, and in doing so she pretty much abandons storytelling and drama in favour of rhetoric and images.
A woman pays a man to come and watch her. For four nights, he does. They also fuck, drink her menstrual blood and perform several other intimate acts. But mostly they theorize at one another, the woman telling the man how men see women's bodies, the man responding with statements like, "Your denial of obscenity is what frightens us the most."
Breillat isn't a great theorist. In the extras section's extended interview, she talks about men's fear, brutality, control, disgust and, on the hopeful side, her drive toward reconciliation and transcendence. We've heard much of this before, and there's something a bit pathetic about someone trying to intellectualize her way to non-verbal transcendence.
Fortunately, Breillat the artist will not be denied. She has always loved the physicality of things, and here she lights and composes to bring out the beauty in the average-looking Casar and to emphasize the textures around her, keeping the whole thing grounded despite the dialogue. Breillat's spiritual home seems to be the farmyard, and in the two flashbacks she allows herself, trees, bushes, people and the earth itself come alive to make her points far better than her theorizing can ever hope to.
Extras Breillat interview, photo gallery, trailer. French 5.1, 2.0. English subtitles.Hanzo The Razor, Boxed Set: Sword Of Justice (HVE/Morningstar, 1972) D: Kenji Misumi w/ Shintaro Katsu; The Snare (HVE/Morningstar, 1973) D: Yasuzo Masumura w/ Katsu; and Who's Got The Gold? (HVE/Morningstar, 1974) D: Yoshio Inoue w/ Katsu. Rating: NNN
Trash is the place where art meets sleaze, and the Hanzo The Razor series is some of the finest trash ever committed to celluloid. The art part comes both from the formal elegance characteristic of most Japanese films of the period and from the character of Hanzo, who was originally a manga character created by Lone Wolf And Cub author Kazuo Koike explicitly to explore moral ambiguity.
Hanzo is certainly ambiguous, and Shintaro Katsu, best known as Zatoichi, plays him that way, never giving the little tip-offs meant to tell us he's a nice guy at heart. Hanzo's a rapist, a torturer and as devious as they come. He's an Edo cop with a strong sense of justice and an equally strong desire to survive and prosper in a corrupt system.
Think Dirty Harry with an enormous penis. And this is where the sleaze comes in. His gimmick is his hardened member. We watch him train the member (painful), interrogate women with it (equally painful in a different way), withholding their final release until they come across with all they know. In between, there's much berserk violence.
Deeply twisted movies are sometimes made more enjoyable by the spectator's ignorance. Lack of context means lack of sense, and the mind, confronted with strangeness, reels happily into the ozone. But if you're interested, little essays by Japanese cinema scholars fill in the social and artistic background.
Extras All films: liner notes, trailer. Wide-screen. Japanese and English subtitles.The Assassination Of Richard Nixon (MGM, 2004) D: Niels Mueller w/ Sean Penn, Don Cheadle. Rating: NN
It's hard to watch this without thinking of Taxi Driver and wishing you were watching that instead. Sean Penn as Sam Bicke (the name even echoes Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle) does a very good job as the nobody who goes president-hunting. He shows every nuance of the character's frustration and anguish, and in the meltdown moments, notably when his brother disowns him, he's not afraid to be downright repulsive, physically and emotionally.
But Penn is a bit too much like De Niro, both physically and gesturally. And Sam Bicke is no Travis Bickle. Bickle was a war-damaged Vietnam vet going crazy all alone in a crazed environment. Bicke's just a depressed, immature loser who can't or won't grow up, face reality and admit his own failings. He is the typical mass murderer right out of Elliott Leyton's classic sociology study, Hunting Humans: the low-status loser who fears falling any lower on the pecking order and turns the blame outward.
And Niels Mueller is no Martin Scorsese. Until the climax, he keeps his movie low-key and naturalistic, leaving the growing madness to Penn. Maybe his relentless use of Beethoven is there to take us inside Bicke's mind. If so, it's a singularly uninformative mind. There's nothing here to tell us why this man, and not some other, has cracked.
Bicke's intention (he's based on a historical character) was to hijack a plane and fly it into the White House, so comparisons with the 9/11 suicide squad are unavoidable. But here, politics is the character's flimsy excuse, not his reason. Why do the filmmakers want us to watch this? Do they think there'll be more like Bicke? They're right, and there are; we only need to watch the news to learn that. Maybe it's just an exercise in acting. If so, it's a good one. But good acting alone does not a good movie make.
Extras Wide-screen. English, French 5.1, 2.0. English and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, May 3
The Big Red One, The Reconstruction (WB, 1980) Samuel Fuller's autobiographical classic about the infantry in the second world war.
The Phantom Of The Opera (WB, 2004) Heaven for Andrew Lloyd Webber fans - not one note omitted.
Go Further (Mongrel, 2003) Ron Mann's documentary tracking Woody Harrelson's travels across the U.S. to promote eco alternatives.
Spaceballs, Collector's Edition (MGM, 1987) Blazing Saddles it ain't, but Mel Brooks fans will be happy.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb