The Spirit Of The Beehive Rating: NNNNN
Arguably the best spanish film of the 70s, particularly if we count Buñuel in that period as a French filmmaker, The Spirit Of The Beehive is an evocative, elliptical story of childhood in the early years after the Spanish Civil War.
A travelling projectionist brings Frankenstein to a small town, and six-year-old Ana (Ana Torrent, in one of the greatest child performances ever) becomes transfixed by the film's beauty and strangeness.
The Spirit Of The Beehive is one of the best films about childhood as mystery. It's also about the colour of light, and Criterion's beautiful transfer does justice to Luis Cuadrado's cinematography.
Extras Making-of documentary, recent interview with director Erice, booklet essay by Paul Julian Smith. Spanish soundtrack. English subtitles.
Hard Candy (Maple, 2005) D: David Slade, w/ Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson. Rating: NNN
You seldom see a film that simply announces the arrival of a major talent, but Hard Candy offers the stunning performance of Ellen Page, 17 at the time the film was shot, as an L.A. teen who starts out looking like meat for a pedophile but turns out to be something quite different.
This is essentially a two-hander filmed in a single location, Page vs. Patrick Wilson in a house, and it occasionally feels a bit like a play, though David Slade does his best to occasionally jazz up the cinematography, and Sandra Oh did a day as a nosy neighbour wondering what's happening in the house as she delivers some Girl Scout cookies.
You can stand the contrivances of the plot - screenwriter Brian Nelson wants to see how many times he can turn the screw - in the face of these performances.
Extras Writer/director commentary, cast commentary, making-of feature, DVD-ROM production notebook, deleted and extended scenes. English and Spanish subtitles.
My Name Is Earl (20th Century Fox, 2005-06) C: Gregory Garcia, w/ Jason Lee, Jaime Pressly. Rating: NNNN
I missed My Name Is Earl during its broadcast run because I thought the premise sounded stupid: white-trash loser decides to turn his life around and atone for the bad things he's done after he hears Carson Daly talk about karma. You should never assume anything.
My Name Is Earl walks an interesting tightrope. It's very hard to make smart dumb comedy about extremely limited characters without looking down on them. What's fascinating is that there seems to be no life or world outside their trailer-park universe. Jason Lee's Earl is a petty thief who wins a little money in the lottery only to be hit by a car, divorced by his wife, Joy, and move into a cheap motel where he shares a bed with his grown brother (Ethan Suplee). It's a world not so much of diminished expectations as of none at all - a high concept for a low comedy.
The big treat here isn't Lee, though he has a wonderful look of confusion when his plans for restitution go awry, as they inevitably do. Nor is it the guest stars - and Giovanni Ribisi has never done anything as good as Earl's old running buddy, Ray. The great surprise is Jaime Pressly, who's had a 10-year career as eye candy in minor movies and as a lad-mag cover girl without being given the chance to show the lethal comic chops she wields here as an erotic nightmare of trailer-trash femininity. Fond as I am of Megan Mullally's work on Will & Grace, Pressly deserved the Emmy.
Extras Seven cast/crew commentaries, deleted scenes with optional commentary, new DVD-exclusive Earl adventure, blooper reel, behind-the-scenes featurette. English, Spanish, French subtitles.
Ronald Reagan: The Signature Collection (Warner Home Video, 1940-52) w/ Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan, Doris Day. Rating: NNN
It says something about ronald Reagan's acting career that when Warner, his home studio from 1937 until the early 50s, assembled a collection of his best and most representative films for DVD, he's only top billed in one of them, The Hasty Heart, a film in which the dramatic load is carried by newcomers Richard Todd and Patricia Neal. In The Winning Team, a biography of legendary pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, Reagan as Alexander was second-billed to rising star Doris Day, who played Mrs. Alexander.
The five films in this box - King's Row, Storm Warning and Knute Rockne All American as well as the two mentioned above - show why Reagan was a popular leading man but also why he was never really a star. He's a decent light leading man - big, good-looking, a sympathetic listener. He's an acceptable actor with a limited range. But he has no mystery and no dark side, and a true star needs one or the other. The best films here are King's Row, an overheated small-town melodrama, and The Hasty Heart, a romantic triangle set in a military hospital.
Extras Theatrical trailers, director/critical commentary on The Hasty Heart, period-appropriate shorts and cartoons. English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, September 26
Souvenir Of Canada
(Maple, 2005) Voice of a generation Douglas Coupland's contribution to the "who are we, eh?" debate.
Masters Of Horror: Imprint
(Anchor Bay, 2005) Takashi Miike's contribution to the series, apparently so horrifying that Showtime refused to air it.
(Tartan/Paradox, 2005) The third film in Park Chan-wook's vengeance trilogy, following Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy.
(Anthem, 1982) Paul Morrissey's portrait of the underbelly of New York, when 42nd Street meant drugs and hustlers, not the Disney Store, with young Kevin Bacon as a hustler. email@example.com
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb