Bringing Up Baby: Special Edition (WB, 1938) D: Howard Hawks, w/ Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn. Two discs. Rating: NNNNN
The Philadelphia Story: Special Edition (WB, 1940) D: George Cukor w/ Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart. Two discs. Rating: NNNNN
There's a very short list of the very best work by the most talented people with the most fully-realized careers in film. These two movies are on it for all concerned. They're also both very funny and still very fresh. Cary Grant finds his persona in Bringing Up Baby, as a befuddled scientist swept away by Katharine Hepburn's leopard-toting heiress. When he and Hepburn aren't bringing a great groove to Howard Hawks's patented overlapping-dialogue, he's popping pratfalls and razor-sharp reactions.
While Grant is deepening his persona with vulnerability in The Philadelphia Story, Hepburn is finding hers as the sharp-minded socialite about to marry the wrong man and battling with the one she really loves, and James Stewart is adding a worldly thoughtfulness to his. George Cukor catches it all with an unerring eye for undercurrents and the emotional centre.
Hepburn's 70-minute bio on Philadelphia Story's second disc is her movie - she co-wrote, appeared in and narrated it. She's open and self-aware. Bringing Up Baby's 90-minute bio of Grant is almost as good. Hour-long career bios feature good interviews with both Hawks and Cukor and solid insights into the work of both.
Extras Bringing Up Baby, disc one: Peter Bogdanovich commentary, Howard Hawks trailer gallery. B&W. English mono sound. English, French and Spanish subtitles. Disc two: Grant bio, Hawks doc, comedy short, cartoon. English only, no subtitles. Philadelphia Story, disc one: historian Jeannine Basinger commentary, George Cukor trailer gallery. B&W. English mono sound. English, French and Spanish subtitles. Disc two: Hepburn bio, Cukor doc, two radio adaptations with film's stars, comedy short, cartoon. English only, no subtitles.
Flight Of The Phoenix (Fox, 2004) D: John Moore, w/ Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi. Rating: NNN
John Moore says he remade the 1965 Jimmy Stewart classic to open it up. It's a valid reason. The original does look studio-bound, and the remake is anything but. They shot the whole thing deep in the Namibian desert and used practical effects instead of CGI. The visuals and action pieces are spectacular and drive home the hopelessness of the situation. The original derives its basic power from the suspense inherent in that situation: survivors of a crash in the middle of the desert attempt to rebuild their plane and fly to safety. But it holds our interest through character. The remake loses much of that; the original diverse group is now more homogenous, mostly roughnecks, mostly stock figures. That leaves us with some good moments thanks to a strong cast, but not much development.
The standout is Giovanni Ribisi, who is chilling as the resentful little psychopathic wimp who designs planes. Dennis Quaid's embittered pilot fares worse. Moment by moment, he's good, but it's a one-note character with nowhere special to go.
In his commentary (a good account of the rigours of deep location work), Moore talks a lot about cast and crew bonding. Funny, because he has to be prompted by his producer to even mention the actors. Funnier still when the production diary shows an enraged director yelling at people and throwing things in some scenes and some deeply pissed-off actors in others. Maybe that's why this movie, which might've been great had it been structured as, say, a duel between the psycho and the captain, is merely good.
Extras Moore and producer John Davis commentary, deleted scenes, making-of doc. Wide-screen. English 5.1, French 2.0. English and Spanish subtitles.
Shake Hands With The Devil: The Journey Of Roméo Dallaire (Micromedia, 2004) D: Peter Raymont. Rating: NNNN
It's hard to watch this without weeping. The emotion isn't extracted through technique; it's the inevitable consequence of the story. Director Peter Raymont's work is clear, calm and unobtrusive. Canadian general Roméo Dallaire, leader of a 1994 United Nations mission to Rwanda, returns on the 10th anniversary of the slaughter he could not stop from happening. He is much recovered, and Raymont uses both Dallaire's frank recollections and ample, often grisly, archival footage to tell the story.
The horror is relentless, and various people cast blame in various directions. Raymont includes a bibliography and filmography to help us delve further. It's a study worth the effort, and this is a good place to start.
Extras Director commentary; critic Geoff Pevere commentary; interview with Raymont; Dallaire reading from his book; reading list, documents and research resources; photo gallery with commentary by photographer Peter Bregg; booklet including director's statement, documents. Wide-screen. English 5.1, 2.0, French version.
Incident At Loch Ness (Fox, 2004) D: Zak Penn, w/ Werner Herzog, Penn. Rating: NNN
There's no way to comment on this without offering a spoiler. So if you're already a fan of director Werner Herzog, who's famed for making great movies under impossible conditions (Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, Fitzcarraldo) and are totally up for watching him attempt a documentary on the Loch Ness monster while a second crew makes a documentary on him, then skip this review. Read no further. OK, here we go. It's a put-on, deadpan mockumentary. It doesn't begin to tip its hand until near the one-hour mark and doesn't get actually funny till Nessie shows up, once again proving that a monster improves any movie. And check out Werner Herzog, semi-action hero. He has a sense of humour. Who'd'a guessed?
Writer/director/co-star Zak Penn personifies duplicity as Herzog's producer and and vanity as the director on a commentary track that trashes the self-serving lies and banalities and shallow scholarship that infest so many commentaries.
But Penn, whose mainstream career includes Elektra and Behind Enemy Lines, actually is the film's producer and director, so what's fact here and what's fiction? You'll find an answer of sorts in the Easter eggs on the main menu of the extras section on side two.
This is only occasionally funny, in the sense of actual laughs, but Penn makes some good satiric points, particularly in the commentary. Commentary tracks really need that trashing.
Extras Commentary with Penn, Herzog and various others; outtakes and deleted scenes; Easter eggs. Wide-screen. English 5.1, 2.0. English and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, March 8
Woman Thou Art Loosed (Fox, 2004) Hard look at a woman's battle with addiction and abuse.
Kojak: Season One (Universal, 1973) It's worth revisiting the original - hard-edged for the times - to see how the forthcoming Ving Rhames version stacks up. Battle of the baldies?
Columbo: The Complete Second Season (Universal, 1973-74) Another 70s detective, this time with the accent on acting duels between Peter Falk and homicidal guest stars. Fun.
The Best Of Mister Ed: Volume Two (MGM, 1961-66) It's a talking horse sitcom, so how are we defining "best of" here?
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb