standing in the shadows of motown (Seville, 2002) D: Paul Justman, w/ the Funk Brothers. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
standing in the shadows of motown is a near-great documentary, on the one hand the last great untold story of 60s pop music, and on the other an affectionate homage to a group of musicians who, as the title sequence points out, played on more number-one hit records than the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley combined.
When the picture focuses on the aging members of Motown's studio band it's great - pianist Joe Hunter, percussionist Jack Ashford, bassist Bob Babbitt and the others have long, detailed memories and great stories.
When the picture goes to a staged concert with non-Motown guest stars like Gerald Levert, Chaka Khan, Bootsy Collins and Joan Osborne, it's often great (just listen to Osborne tear up What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted), but Ben Harper trying to find the beat in I Heard It Through The Grapevine is downright painful.
It's a very good transfer - we can be grateful that director Paul Justman chose to shoot on film rather than video - and there's a nice assortment of extras, including the original short interview film that Justman and producer Allen Slutsky used to pitch the film, a commentary and some of the post-film hoopla. And, if you really need it and have a high-speed Internet connection, you can access a hi-res DVD-ROM version to play on your computer.
DVD EXTRAS Director/producer commentary, supporting material, Funk Brothers jam sessions, deleted interview scenes, discography, music video montage, Dinner With The Funk Brothers. Oddly, DVD-ROM access to three of those short films commissioned by BMW.
hard core logo (Video Services Corp, 1996) D: Bruce McDonald, w/ Hugh Dillon, Callum Keith Rennie. Two discs. Rating: NNN
bruce mcdonald's "rockumentary," Hard Core Logo is in some ways a better and funnier film than Spinal Tap. For one thing, its subject, an aging Vancouver punk band, means its satire and references are more specific, and for another, the film never winks at the audience.
It feels like McDonald went on the road with fictional band Hard Core Logo, together for a five-city tour that brings members back from rehab under leader Joe Dick (Hugh Dillon). Guitarist Billy Tallent (Callum Keith Rennie) creates tension as he prepares to leave for a "real" gig with an L.A. band called Jennifur. "Billy wants models and limousines. I'm happy with hookers and taxis," Joe says.
The film has great performances and really works as a movie about both the pointlessness and the nobility of hanging onto youthful dreams long past their expiry date.
However, and this is very important, I have to ask why Hard Core Logo, which was released theatrically in the conventional wide-screen ratio of 1.85, is being presented full-screen (1.33) when both DVDPlanet and Amazon.com's specs pages list the Miramax DVD (only available in the U.S.) as having wide-screen anamorphic transfers. That strikes me as exceedingly peculiar, unless Bruce McDonald, who was involved enough in the DVD issue to do a commentary track, has some reason to release his film in this decidedly non-theatrical ratio. This could have been a five-star issue, but I suspect I'm going to keep this one for the extras and try to find the wide-screen issue next time I'm in the States.
DVD EXTRAS Director/writer/star commentary, music videos by Headstones and Hard Core Logo, theatrical trailer, soundtrack CD.
once a thief (Columbia Home Entertainment, 1990) D: John Woo, w/ Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung. Rating: NNN
once a thief is remembered as John Woo's light-hearted caper movie, his penultimate Hong Kong film and the basis for the Woo-produced TV series of the same name. It features a trio of stylish crooks raised together as orphans, only here they work for themselves, not for a mysterious government agency run by Jennifer Dale. Of course, it's also a light-hearted caper movie with a three-figure body count, though with fewer exit wounds than most of Woo's HK pictures.
I suspect that Tom Cruise looked at the elegantly constructed art thefts in this movie before hiring Woo to direct Mission: Impossible II. Woo's oft- stated desire to direct a James Bond perhaps influenced the one-liners given to the charismatic Chow Yun-Fat.
In certain ways it's the least of Woo's major HK films, especially in comparison to the epochal Hard-Boiled, his last Chinese movie. It's a fun picture, though, in a good transfer, and as such a great little appetizer for Columbia's promised May release of Ringo Lam's Full Contact in an overdue anamorphic transfer.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, English and Cantonese versions, English, French and Spanish titles.
monsieur batignole (Seville, 2002) D: Gérard Jugnot, w/ Jugnot, Jules Sitruk. Rating: NN
one of the good things about not being French is that you don't have to deal with the fact that you're a citizen of the only country that signed a peace treaty with Hitler and one of the few that collaborated with the Germans on the whole Jewish question. Not being French, you don't have to make films about that sort of historical guilt.
Veteran French character actor Gérard Jugnot has had a fairly protean career, with more than 70 acting and 15 screenplays credits, and this is his 10th film as a director. He takes us back to Paris 1942, when the eponymous hero, a butcher, inadvertently contributes to the arrest of a Jewish doctor and his family. Actually, his future son-in-law's to blame, thus enmeshing the family in a web of collaboration with local SS officers until one of the deported family's children wends his way back and seeks to find his parents.
The film has some fine period recreation, and the performances are uniformly strong. A few minutes in the middle of the film show Batignole's essential decency forced into direct confrontation with his son-in-law's rabid anti-Semitism, but then the picture makes a crucial narrative elision and goes all warm and gooey in the last half-hour. It's the sort of film you wish were a lot better.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, English subtitles.