Smiles Of A Summer Night
(Criterion/Morningstar, 1955) D: Ingmar Bergman, w/ Ulla Jacobsson, Harriet Andersson. Rating: NNNN
If Jean Renoir had been a dour Lutheran, Rules Of The Game might have looked like this, a country house "comedy" - the film describes itself thus - filled with characters possessed by remarkable self-loathing. Pauline Kael called Smiles Of A Summer Night a perfect film, and it's fascinating to watch a director with no natural disposition to comedy trying to make one. If you look at it as a drama of marital discord about characters trapped in an endless northern twilight, it makes much more sense. There are stunning performances, and Criterion's black-and-white transfer is as good as any I've seen lately.
The package is light on extras: a brief introduction by Ingmar Bergman from Swedish television, and an interview of producer Jörn Donner on how Smiles affected Bergman's career.
What I want is that lost interview with Bergman in which he's asked why he got into filmmaking and he says, "It's obvious. Harriet Andersson, Eva Dahlbeck, Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullman - for the chicks, man."
EXTRAS Director introduction, producer interview, theatrical trailer. Booklet essays by John Simon, Pauline Kael. English subtitles.
Saving Private Ryan: D-Day 60th Anniversary Edition
(DreamWorks/Universal, 1998) D: Steven Spielberg, w/ Tom Hanks, Matt Damon. Rating: NNN
As the years pass, I'm increasingly inclined to agree with the Academy Awards - Saving Private Ryan was the best-directed picture, but Shakespeare In Love deserved best picture.
It's hard to watch SPR without thinking of William Goldman's famous evisceration of the script, beginning with the note that the film is set up as Private Ryan's flashback but can't be since he's not there for the first two-thirds of the picture.
The problem with home video is that the opening and closing combat sequences lose so much of their impact, regardless of how ass-kickingly huge your home theatre set-up is. When I saw SPR theatrically, I thought it was going to bring down the Uptown.
It's still a good picture, and the new DVD has an excellent transfer, but DreamWorks is screwing with the consumer.
The two-disc edition, which is the movie and a couple of hours of making-of material, does not have the DTS soundtrack. To get the DTS soundtrack you have to shell out twice the money and buy the four-disc edition that includes pre-existing documentaries.
EXTRAS Two hours of making-of documentaries. Still no commentary from Spielberg on anything. (He doesn't like them.) English and French versions and subtitles.
(Criterion/Morningstar, 1949) D: Akira Kurosawa, w/ Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura. Rating: NNNN
Stray Dog was the third collaboration between Akiro Kurosawa and Toshirô Mifune, a contemporary noir about an anxious young detective who loses his gun and fears it may be used for crimes. Takashi Shimura, the star of Ikiru and the oldest of The Seven Samurai, plays Mifune's superior and mentor. With its odd pacing and near documentary feeling (Kurosawa sent assistant director Ishirà Honda out with a hidden camera to capture the poorer parts of post-war Tokyo), Stray Dog is both a thriller about a man pursuing his own shadow and a social document of the American occupation of Japan. (My piece on the Mifune/Kurosawa collaboration is online here)
Criterion's transfer is very good, although in the seventh chapter there are moments when I wish that they'd cleaned up the slightly scratchy middle reel of the film, especially given the high quality of the rest of the print. Kurosawa scholar Steven Prince provides a very informative commentary. There's also a good half-hour making-of from a Japanese television series on Kurosawa.
EXTRAS Critical commentary, making-of, booklet essay by Terrence Rafferty and relevant excerpt from Something Like An Autobiography, by Kurosawa. Japanese with English subtitles.
(Columbia/TriStar, 2003) D: Patty Jenkins, w/ Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci. Rating: NNNN
Aileen: Life And Death Of A Serial Killer
(Columbia/TriStar, 2003) D: Nick Broomfield, w/ Aileen Wuornos. Rating: NNN
These two lightly supplemented discs offer a chance to compare Charlize Theron's Academy Award-winning performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos with the real thing in Nick Broomfield's documentary. Looking at them together, I'm even more impressed by both the imaginative leap taken by Theron to inhabit Wuornos's madness and the equally large jump taken by writer-director Patty Jenkins in casting one of the most beautiful actresses in contemporary Hollywood as a worn-down highway hooker. Monster was criticized for making Wuornos a sympathetic character, which it does, in that it puts us inside her point of view without actually condoning what she did. It's a tricky line to walk, and Monster manages it. The Broomfield documentary is his second film on the subject, and includes Wuornos's last interview. If you've ever wondered what crazy looks like, here it is.
EXTRAS Monster: interview with Jenkins and composer BT, theatrical trailer, short making-of featurette. English with Spanish titles.
(Columbia/TriStar, 2003) D: Robert Altman, w/ Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell. Rating: NNN
Neve Campbell's dream project sees her as a company dancer in the Joffrey Ballet. The startling thing is that she managed to get Barbara Turner (Georgia) to collaborate on the script and Robert Altman to direct. The septuagenarian decided that his knowing absolutely nothing about dance was the best reason to do the film. The dance numbers are stunningly photographed, shot by Altman and cinematographer Andrew Dunn (Gosford Park) in real time using multiple high-def video cameras. As Altman notes in the commentary, they didn't run a foot of film through a camera to make the film. There are marginally interesting extras, including an Altman/Campbell commentary. No, really. You get the feeling that Altman has no idea what to make of Campbell.
EXTRAS Director/star commentary, making-of featurette, menu option to play the dance numbers only, extended scene, theatrical trailer. English with French subtitles. Coming Tuesday, June 8
Coming Tuesday, June 8
(Warner, 2003) Clint Eastwood's adaptation of Dennis Lahane's murder mystery, with Academy Award-winning performances by Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. Three-disc SE, with documentaries and cast commentaries.
Reality Bites: Tenth Anniversary Special Edition
(Universal, 1994) Who'd have thought that the big star to emerge from this picture would be Ben Stiller? Deleted scenes, director/writer commentary.
(Criterion/Morningstar, 1963) Three-disc SE of Luchino Visconti's epic about the end of the Italian aristocracy, with a new transfer of the director's cut supervised by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, the 20-minutes-shorter American cut of the film and a lot of special features.
City Of God
(Miramax/Alliance Atlantis, 2002) Fernando Meirelles's epic about the ironically named Rio slum where youthful characters confront the necessity of a life of crime. Four Academy Award nominations for director, screenplay, cinematography and editing.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb