Reds: 25th Anniversary Edition
(Paramount, 1981) D: Warren Beatty w/ Beatty, Diane Keaton, Gene Hackman. Rating: NNNN
Here's something really odd to think about. Twenty-five years ago, Warren Beatty walked into the head offices of Gulf and Western, a large corporation, and convinced chairman Charles Blühdorn to bankroll a multi-million-dollar movie on the birth of the American Communist movement at the time of the Russian Revolution. Proof, I suspect, that Beatty probably could sell ice in the Arctic and sand in the Sahara.
The result is a sweeping, romantic epic, with great acting in supporting roles, notably Maureen Stapleton's Oscar-winning turn as Emma Goldman and Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neill, one of his best performances. Dramatically, the second half gets bogged down in committee meetings - no, really, it does. Vittorio Storaro's stunning cinematography tends to trump the complexities of the screenplay.
For the 25th anniversary edition, Reds' debut on DVD, Paramount has funded a half-hour talking-heads making-of documentary. No outtakes, no deleted scenes, no commentary?
Sólo Con Tu Pareja
(Criterion/Paradox, 1991) D: Alfonso Cuarón, w/ Daniel Giménez Cacho, Claudia Ramírez. Rating: NNNN
The title of Alfonso Cuaron's debut film, Sólo Con Tu Pareja, is usually translated as Love In The Time Of Hysteria, but it actually means Only With Your Partner, the slogan of a late-80s Mexican AIDS campaign. It's a comedy about a womanizing young advertising man whose STD test is altered by his doctor's nurse, who's unhappy at the way he treated her.
The spirit of early Almodóvar hangs over the film, and that's a compliment for a work with an effervescent sense of fun and timing and superb comic performances. It's not exactly what you'd expect from the director of Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. Nice edition, with a fascinating extra: the booklet includes scenarist Carlos Cuarón's biographical notes on the story's hero, written for the star.
EXTRAS Making-of featurette, short films by Alfonso and Carlos Cuarón, theatrical trailer. Booklet essay by Ryan Long and character notes by Carlos Cuarón. Spanish soundtrack, English subtitles.
The Maltese Falcon: Three-Disc Special Edition
(Warner, 1941) D: John Huston, w/ Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet. Rating: NNNN
First, The Maltese Falcon remains a classic of Hollywood's golden age, and is almost compulsively watchable. I've seen it at least 20 times since first catching it on the late show in 1971, and it loses nothing on repeat viewings. I still get chills when Bogart turns on Astor in the final scene.
Warner has provided a magnificent new transfer in one of its highly enjoyable Night At The Movies packages, including a period-appropriate short, a newsreel, two cartoons and a trailer.
The extras on the other two discs are, in essence, worth watching once. The original 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon is borderline at best, with a callow Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. The 1936 version, Satan Met A Lady, is a wacky romp that might work if actor Warren William had an ounce of lightness in his system and if Bette Davis, who was obviously being punished for something, didn't spend the picture looking as if she's thinking up interesting ways to disembowel Jack Warner. (In an alternate universe, a Humphrey Bogart-Bette Davis Maltese Falcon would be a really interesting idea.)
The treats are the radio dramatizations of the script - one with Edward G. Robinson as Sam Spade - and the 1941 blooper reel, doubtless put together for some corporate get-together. Somewhere in the Warner vaults there are miles of footage of Pat O'Brien blowing lines and going, "Oh, god damn it!"
EXTRAS Critical commentary, assorted short subjects, The Maltese Falcon (1931) and Satan Met A Lady (1936), The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird, Becoming Attractions: The Trailers Of Humphrey Bogart, Breakdowns Of 1941: Studio Blooper Reel, three different radio adaptations of The Maltese Falcon. English soundtrack, French and Spanish subtitles.
The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology
(Warner, 1973-2005) D: William Friedkin, John Boorman, William Peter Blatty, Renny Harlin, Paul Schrader, w/ Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Richard Burton, George C. Scott, Stellan Sarsg&229:rd. Rating: NNNN
Sitting through the 5.5 - I count the alternate cut of the original as a half - Exorcist films, you realize certain things.
First, Exorcist II: The Heretic is still, 30 years on, one of the worst movies ever made by a major studio with major stars, despite a cast that includes Oscar winners and direction by John Boorman (Deliverance).
Second, Exorcist III, adapted and directed by William Peter Blatty from his novel Legion, is an underrated prize. It's got George C. Scott arguing with God, and God is a bit overmatched.
Third, if you want to compare how directors work, the two versions of the prequel, Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion, offer the educational spectacle of two very different directors, Renny Harlin and Paul Schrader, working on the same material (the script for Harlin's film is a rework of the William Wisher/Caleb Carr script for Schrader), with the same star (Stellan Skarsgård) and cinematographer (Vittorio Storaro), which reduces the variants as far as possible.
Finally, the Exorcist films may be the loftiest of horror franchises, and yet none of the directors in the series has been a horror specialist - William Friedkin and Boorman's only horror films are their contributions to the cycle, and Schrader's last horror film before Dominion was Cat People. Harlin, who did a Nightmare On Elm Street, is the only director with any recent horror credits.
EXTRAS Director commentaries on both versions of 1 and both prequels, theatrical trailers, deleted scenes. On The Exorcist, making-of feature documentary, writer commentary, additional interviews, storyboards.
Coming Tuesday, October 24
Jane Campion's debut feature, the story of two adult sisters who love each other but really don't get along.
Astaire & Rogers Collection Vol. 2
Carefree, Roberta, Flying Down To Rio, The Gay Divorcee and The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle. Both Astaire-Rogers collections are a mixed bag. If you're picky, the discs are available singly.
The Blue Light (Kino, 1932) For those wondering what kind of movies Leni Riefenstahl was directing before Triumph Of The Will.
Jack Black as a Mexican priest who becomes a masked wrestler. This may be the least appealing movie synopsis since, oh, "Rob Schneider is The Hot Chick."
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb