THE TIGER AND THE SNOW
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Roberto Benigni, w/ Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi. Rating: NNNN ; DVD package: NNN
In 1997's life is beautiful, roberto Benigni mixed humour and horror to produce pure joy. He's done it again in this comic tale of an Italian poet in the early days of the recent Iraq war who goes racing off to Baghdad when he learns that the woman he yearns for has been severely injured there.
Benigni's poet, Attilio, is a direct descendant of Chaplin by way of Woody Allen, clumsy and overeager. But there's one striking difference: while the Little Tramp is a perpetual loser and Allen's characters are incapable of happiness, Attilio is a happy, creative and fulfilled man. That gives his troubles and the war raging around him a resonance unique to Benigni, a characteristic intertwining of joy and sorrow, good and evil.
Jean Reno, as the Baghdad poet who helps him along, makes a great straight man, heavy and thoughtful, pulled along in the wake of Benigni's exuberance. But, like everyone in the movie, he's carrying his own painful secrets.
In the extras, Benigni and long-time co-star/producer Braschi both give good interviews that focus on their intentions and avoid the usual puffery.
Extras Making-of doc, Benigni interview, Braschi interview, deleted scenes. Wide-screen. Italian, French audio. English, French subtitles.
THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN
(Alliance Atlantis, 1978) D: Liu Chia-Liang (aka Lau Kar Leung), w/ Chia Hui Liu (aka Gordon Liu), Leih Lo. Rating: NNNN ; DVD package: NNNN
MY YOUNG AUNTIE
(Alliance Atlantis, 1981) D: Liu Chia-Liang, w/ Kara Hui, Liu Chia-Liang. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
The 36th chamber of shaolin is one of the all-time great martial arts movies: excellent production and acting, compelling story and masterful direction that incorporates unforced humour and character revelation in its brilliantly staged training and fighting scenes. And it's highly rewatchable.
Liu Chia-Liang, now 70 and still active, has been a life-long kung fu practitioner. He came to movies as a stuntman, then became a stunt coordinator, fight choreographer and, finally, director. He has said in interviews that he makes movies to display the beauty of kung fu. You can see that in all his films. Where other directors compose shots of four or five moves, Liu includes up to 20, with multiple opponents and a moving camera, creating original and powerful flowing action.
The 36th Chamber tells the legend of San Te, who, after his teacher and friends are killed by the government, goes to the Shaolin Temple to learn fighting for revenge but leaves determined to teach the art to the common people and spread the resistance.
The movie's justly famous midsection deals with San Te's training in a series of scenes that make it clear that he's learning more than a set of kicks and punches. Gordon Liu is perfect in the role. His determination shines through, then softens as he develops self-mastery.
My Young Auntie is high-energy playful nonsense. Kara Hui stars as a sternly traditional young woman who slowly gets modernized. Director Liu is along as a man who can't cope with either his traditional aunt or his hyper-modern son. He's good at comedy and character roles, and his kung fu has the relaxed efficiency of a master.
Both discs are released by the Dragon Dynasty label, a Quentin Tarantino project intended to present high-quality versions of high-quality kung fu movies. They're loaded with extras. The interviews with Gordon Liu and Kara Hui are worthwhile, but the American critics on the commentaries aren't that knowledgeable.
The one exception is hiphop artist the RZA, of the Wu Tang clan, who talks in detail about the effect of 36th Chamber and kung fu movies in general on his life and art.
EXTRAS 36th Chamber: Critic Andy Klein and hiphop artist the RZA commentary, commentator bios, Shaolin Temple doc, Gordon Liu interview, critics David Chute and Klein interview, the RZA interview, extensive trailers gallery of works by the filmmaker, Shaw Bros. studio, Dragon Dynasty label. Wide-screen. Cantonese, English, French audio. English, Spanish subtitles. My Young Auntie: Critics Andy Klein and Elvis Mitchell commentary, commentator bios, Kara Hui interview, critics David Chute and Klein interview, extensive trailers gallery of works by the filmmaker, Shaw Bros. studio, Dragon Dynasty label. Wide-screen, Mandarin, English audio. English, Spanish subtitles.
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW
(MGM, 1944) D: Fritz Lang w/ Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: N/A
About five minutes into this qui etly chilling suspenser, Raymond Massey, as a district attorney, proclaims that he's seen "tragedy out of pure carelessness, the merest trifles." About three minutes later, that tragedy starts to unfold for Edward G. Robinson when Joan Bennett as a classic 40s femme fatale slinks into his settled life with the promise of one last, safe adventure.
Bennett does a great femme fatale, the iron fist so deep in the velvet glove that she almost seems nurturing and thoughtful. Dan Duryea is even better as the blackmailer who happens by. He delivers powerful, mean-spirited cruelty despite his jaunty straw hat and skinny, loose-limbed body that brand him as a lightweight.
But the picture belongs to Robinson's portrayal of a kind, middle-aged psychology professor and happy family man. He's got a conscience, but he's ruthless; he's methodical and wise. He works hard to stay in control when the screws tighten. It doesn't help. Check out the bleakness in his final close-up.
Ignore the tacked-on ending, which is probably there to satisfy the censors. But without any kind of supplementary material, that, sadly, is just a guess.
EXTRAS Full-frame, black-and-white. English, French, Spanish audio. English, Spanish subtitles.
(MGM, 2007) D: Mennan Yapo, w/ Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon. Rating: NN ; DVD package: NN
Suburban housewife Linda (Bullock) dreams a premonition of her husband's death, then wakes up Thursday to be told her husband has died in an accident the day before. But she hasn't lived through Tuesday, let alone Wednesday, and next thing you know it's Saturday, then Monday. Then you're wondering what the fuck the point of all this is, because it sure doesn't help the story, which requires exactly one dream and one desperate bid to save his life.
The rest of it is pointless filler that serves no dramatic purpose, though it does offer some lively scenes. Mom (Kate Nelligan) has Linda committed. No matter. Hubby (Julian McMahon) is on the verge of an affair. No difference. Overall, no suspense.
In the extras, German director Yapo (this is his first U.S. feature) narrates an 11-minute synopsis in chronological order. All that does is draw our attention to the fudge factor in the dreams and highlight how inane those time shifts are.
Bullock's is by far the best-drawn character. The others are mere plot conveniences. But even she comes off as a generic housewife, and a slightly arrogant, self-centred one at that, neither sympathetic nor engaging.
Extras Yapo and Bullock commentary as audio and subtitles, making-of doc, premonitions doc, waking dreams doc, plot summary in chronological order, gag reel, deleted scenes. Wide-screen. English, French audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, July 24
(Paramount, 2007) Fact-based tale of notorious serial killer, directed by David Fincher (Se7en).
(Dreamworks, 2006) Outstanding cast including Alan Rickman and Dustin Hoffman in a thriller set in 18th-century Paris.
The Number 23
(Alliance Atlantis, 2007) Mild chiller has Jim Carrey falling under the spell of a mysterious book.
(Alliance Atlantis, 1992) Breathtaking heroic bloodshed epic from John Woo, starring Chow Yun Fat, in a two-disc edition from Dragon Dynasty.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb