The Virgin Spring
(Criterion, 1960) D: Ingmar Bergman, w/ Birgitta Pettersson, Gunnel Lindblom, Max Von Sydow. Rating:NNNN
This stark medieval melodrama was the last of Ingemar Bergman's historical dramas until Fanny And Alexander, and the film that cemented the director's partnership with cinematographer Sven Nykvist. The spoiled daughter of an apparently wealthy farmer is brutally raped and murdered on her way to church. Then the killers show up at the family home, begging for a meal, not realizing whose house it is.
Criterion's transfer is up to standard, showing off Nykvist's cinematography, and the excellent commentary points out some interesting aspects of the film's contemporary reception. Bergman's French supporters the Cahiers Du Cinéma crowd who became the New Wave thought he was repeating himself, and in Sweden they were considering him hopelessly old-fashioned. The rape scene caused censorship problems. It's no one's favourite Bergman, but it's undeniably powerful.
Extras Introduction by Ang Lee, scholarly commentary by Birgitta Steene, new interviews with Pettersson and Lindblom, audio master class with Bergman at UCLA, booklet essay by Peter Cowie. Swedish with English subtitles.
In Her Shoes
(Fox, 2005) D: Curtis Hanson, w/ Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, Shirley MacLaine. Rating: NNN
Chick flick material. The mature one (Toni Collette) hates being responsible for her hard-drinking tramp of a sister (Cameron Diaz), but of course, they eventually realize that they truly love each other. Director Curtis Hanson doesn't quite work the genre miracle he did with Eight Mile, but In Her Shoes is worth seeing for the starring performances. Collette is extremely reliable in this sort of role, but Diaz's performance is a welcome return to form after the horror that was Charlie's Angels 2.
The pleasant surprise is Shirley MacLaine as their grandmother, a beautifully modulated performance that reins in her tendency to turn her characters into colourful eccentrics. Very light on extras: Hanson doesn't do commentaries, and I'm not sure we really needed a seven-minute featurette on the casting of the dog.
Extras Three short production featurettes. English, Spanish, French soundtracks. English and Spanish subtitles.
The Legend Of Zorro
(Sony, 2005), D: Martin Campbell, w/ Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Rating: NNN
The first Antonio Banderas Zorro film was a swashbuckling treat, with the old Zorro passing his mantle to the young Zorro and a series of spectacular stunts. It was in the grand tradition - and the Superbit DVD is one of the best-looking transfers of anything, if you're in the market.
The new one, which picks up as California is on the verge of statehood, has an elaborately clunky plot and is stuffed with anachronisms. I found myself distracted by the large number of repeater rifles that would have been very new at the time and unlikely to fall into the hands of desert-rat villains.
But Banderas has real brio in the role, and there are some terrific scenes that make this a worthwhile rent. The extras, though, are so lacklustre that you'll be tempted to wait for the visual upgrade of the future Superbit edition. (Sony likes to double and triple dip, so you know it's coming.) Director Martin Campbell's commentary is like having a really dull uncle tell you about every step of a not especially fun trip to the post office.
Extras Director/cinematographer commentary, deleted scenes, 40 minutes of featurettes on stunts, effects, trains. English and French soundtracks. English and French subtitles.
Dune: Extended Edition
(Universal, 1984) D: David Lynch, "Allen Smithee," w/ Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, Francesca Annis. Rating: NNN
Well, if you're still waiting for David Lynch's four-hour cut of Dune, you should stop holding your breath. In her introduction to the deleted scenes on this DVD, producer Raffaella De Laurentiis says no such print ever existed.
This edition of the legendary flop includes as its principal bonus the three-hour television version from which Lynch removed his name. It has a different principal narrator, but the longer version, while it cleans up the plot some, fails to remedy most of the problems with the original, like the perpetual voice-overs from about a dozen characters.
It's a clean transfer of the original, and, looking at it for the first time in almost 20 years, I'm struck that Lynch managed to impose his personality on a huge-budget science fiction picture, a genre in which he'd displayed no interest whatsoever. The best thing about Dune is that DeLaurentiis would essentially pay Lynch back by producing Blue Velvet.
Extras Three-hour TV version of the film, deleted scenes, design and effects featurettes.
Coming Tuesday, January 31
Wallace And Gromit: The Curse Of The WereRabbit
(DreamWorks, 2005) More claymation fun from Nick Park and Steve Box.
The Cary Grant Box Set
(Sony, 2005) Sony bundles a bunch of overpriced Cary Grant classics -- His Girl Friday, The Awful Truth, Only Angels Have Wings -- into a bargain-priced box. Woohoo!
Let Me Die A Woman
(Synapse, 1978) A freak-show "documentary" on transsexuals with an irresistible title, Doris Wishman's weird companion piece to Glen Or Glenda? gets the special-edition treatment. Someone had way too much time on his or her hands.
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being
(Warner, 1988) Philip Kaufman's classic adaptation of Milan Kundera's novel returns from out-of-print limbo. Warner has also acquired the excellent commentary from the old Criterion edition.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb