Boudu Saved From Drowning
(Criterion, 1932) D: Jean Renoir,w/ Michel Simon, Charles Granval. Rating: NNNNN
A Parisian bookseller pulls a tramp from the Seine and takes him into his home, but the tramp isn't grateful, cute or tameable. He lurches through the bourgeois household like a force of nature, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening, always disruptive. Boudu is no simple satire on bourgeois society. That would be too easy and too one-sided for director Jean Renoir, who mixes folly and nobility.
Criterion has assembled an outstanding set of extras and experts to examine Boudu, and the opinions vary widely he's a critique of liberalism, a Dionysian figure in an Apollonian world; he's chaos, nature, the id. Amidst all this opinion is one highly unusual and useful extra, a guided tour of the film's Paris locations in light of the city's social history and structure. It adds an important dimension that would otherwise be lost on a non-Parisian viewer.
Renoir, in his introduction, says the film is a vehicle for actor Michel Simon. It's a great vehicle, infinitely re-watchable, and Simon gives one of cinema's greatest performances, crashing through the formal compositions using the techniques of what's almost slapstick comedy, applied to a very different end.
Extras Archival Renoir introduction, 1967 Renoir interview, French TV conversation with director Eric Rohmer and critic Jean Douchet, interview with director Jean-Pierre Gorin, interactive Paris map featuring film's locations, critical essay. Pillarboxed. French soundtrack. English subtitles.
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
(2005, Disney) D: Garth Jennings, w/ Martin Freeman, Mos Def. Rating: NNN
This pleasant light comedy captures some of the feel of Douglas Adams's original novel and BBC mini-series but seldom rises to their level of inspired lunacy. Purists may blame the new material, not realizing it was written and/or approved by Adams himself, as commentator Sean Solle tells us in a rare sober remark in a pair of commentaries notable mainly for their giddiness. Adams's earlier versions of The Guide tend toward a vision of transcendent acceptance of life's ups and downs. Though this version pays lip service to that idea, it ultimately offers a conventional and far less powerful optimism.
The plot hasn't changed: Earth gets destroyed to make way for an interstellar bypass as pyjama'd everyman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is launched into space with his buddy Ford Prefect (Mos Def). They end up on a quest to find the big question to which the answer is "42." This time out, they're pursued by Vogons, dreary cosmic bureaucrats who supply a bit of narrative drive.
It also features several of Adams's most loved set-pieces, including the philosophical plunge of the sperm whale and the mass exodus of the dolphins. But first-time feature director Garth Jennings doesn't quite have the rhythms for comedy, so potentially brilliant moments remain ordinary.
He also seems unaware that self-consciousness kills comedy. His actors mug and prance to show what a hilariously good time they're having. The worst is Sam Rockwell, who plays Zaphod Beeblebrox like he's Sammy Hagar as a surfer dude. There's just no way to buy that as the epitome of cool that Beeblebrox is supposed to be.
But Freeman and the supporting cast know enough to play it straight. John Malkovich is wonderfully creepy as a cult leader, and Bill Nighy's Slartibartfast is an exquisite study in perpetual embarrassment.
The Jim Henson puppet creatures and the animated segments are likewise deadpan funny. There's more of the latter in the extras, along with some good fake deleted scenes.
Extras Two commentaries: director, producer and actors Freeman and Nighy; producer and Adams colleague Solle. Making-of doc, deleted scenes, fake deleted scenes, singalong, game. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
The Calamari Wrestler
(Vid Canada, 2004) D: Minoru Kawasaki, w/ Osamu Nishimura, Koji Taguchi. Rating: NNN
Just as Taguchi wins the pro-wrestling championship, a squid leaps into the ring, beats him senseless and takes the belt. Taguchi needs to fight him again, but the squid won't sign with any of the promoters. Worse, the squid is stealing Taguchi's popularity and his girl. Could the squid be a famed wrestler returned to life? The squid is played by a man in a suit, a very cheap, utterly unconvincing suit. The movie wouldn't work any other way. Substitute competent CGI or stop-motion and the whole thing would just be silly, as opposed to gloriously silly and very funny.
In some ways, this seems an inevitable expression of those cultural elements that brought us both Godzilla and octopus porn (Google boing-boing octopussy or check "the sex life of the squid" at idiocentrism.com).
This sounds like the kind of movie the Big Battel kids might make namely inept. (Google Big Battel for a whole world of college students in monster suits wrestling in rings.) Yet the home-movie-style making-of doc shows us a middle-aged director doing a professional job. Sadly, no one asks him why.
Extras Making-of doc, music video. Wide-screen. Japanese soundtrack. English subtitles.
(Fox, 2005) D: Peter and Bobby Farrelly, w/ Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon. Rating: NN
Thirty-three minutes in, James Sikking, playing Drew Barrymore's father, looks at Jimmy Fallon, as Barrymore's lover, behaving like a fanboy and says, "Can you believe this asshole?" The answer is no. Not even a little bit, and certainly not as a romantic lead for Barrymore's grown-up career woman. He's not even credible as an adult. He wiggles and stammers like he's just hitting puberty and can't handle it.
Fallon's Ben is supposed to be a grown-up except for his obsessional devotion to the Red Sox. He's supposed to be fun and charming; instead he's creepy and increasingly juvenile as the movie goes on.
This leaves you with two ways to pass your time: Barrymore has some good moments and some moments where she looks like she's embarrassed or reading cue cards, and the baseball scenes are lovingly shot at actual Red Sox games and give the game's philosophical and emotional implications a good workout.
The Farrelly brothers (Dumb & Dumber, There's Something About Mary) are hardcore baseball fans and spend more commentary time talking baseball than comedy. Which is a good thing.
Extras Farrelly brothers commentary, making-of docs, deleted scenes, gag reel. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, September 20
The Longest Yard
(Paramount, 2005) Adam Sandler adds nothing to this inferior remake of the 70s classic.
It's All Gone Pete Tong
(Columbia, 2004) Bad-living club DJ pays the price in berserk British comedy.
Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season
(Disney, 2004) Breakout TV hit gets the full treatment.
(Criterion, 1966) Jean-Luc Godard's classic examination of the children of Marx and Coca Cola.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb