Bride And Prejudice
(Alliance Atlantis, 2004) D: Gurinder Chadha, w/ Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson. Rating: NNNN
Merchant-ivory was never like this, and neither was Bollywood. Director Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) has remained true to both the Jane Austen novel and the Bollywood conventions. But she's updated the one and warped the other to make a high-energy, eye-catching musical comedy that works beautifully whether you know and care about the sources or not.
The basic story - feisty girl from a genteelly impoverished country family meets and detests rich Londoner; romance ensues - updates and broadens out nicely by turning Darcy into an American hotel magnate. This provides lots of pointed contemporary cross-cultural comedy and a reasonable basis for Lalitha's and Darcy's animosity.
Chadha honours many of the Bollywood structural conventions, but the song-and-dance content is almost purely Western: contemporary pop flavoured with traces of everything from hiphop to doo-wop. The dance style is contrived to look informal - just people spontaneously groovin' - but the flow and the framing are as joyful and creative as Vincente Minnelli at his best.
Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai, in her first English-language feature, underplays nicely as the unsentimental Lalitha. Martin Henderson (The Ring) keeps his reactions quiet and believable. The rest of the cast bubbles with comic enthusiasm that keeps the whole show on the boil. Never a dull moment.
EXTRAS Director and co-writer commentary, making-of doc, deleted scenes, extended songs, star interviews, crew song. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(WB, 2005) D: John Maybury, w/ Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley. Rating: NNN
Here's a tight, scary, suspenseful psychological thriller that lifts itself well above its genre with a disturbing story, an original and equally disturbing visual style and strong, cliché-free acting by the leads and outstanding supporting players Kris Kristofferson and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Adrien Brody is a wandering, disturbed Gulf War veteran condemned to an asylum for a murder he claims not to remember committing. He's subjected to bizarre and painful treatments that may be meant as much to kill as cure him.
Oscar winner Brody (The Pianist), a very good actor, isn't the leading man type. He comes across as crazy or as a villain conning the system, and uses that to maintain a well-judged balance of warmth and weirdness that keeps us both with him and on edge.
Brody's balance keeps the movie alive when the story turns strange. The treatments are either driving him completely crazy or they're letting him step into a future that offers love and, maybe, the chance to avoid his own death.
Director Maybury's only previous feature was 1998's acclaimed Love Is The Devil, about Francis Bacon. His background is in experimental film, and he explains its influence on the film in well-crafted little making-of interviews and deleted-scenes commentaries. The best of these are the alternate endings, all quite good and none quite as good as the one they used. He's also got a few frank words on the benefits and drawbacks of working inside the Hollywood system.
EXTRAS Making-of interviews, deleted scenes with commentary, effects doc. Wide-screen. English, French soundtrack. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
In The Realms Of The Unreal
(Wellspring, 2004) D: Jessica Yu. Rating: NNN
On his death in 1973, at 81, hospital janitor Henry Darger was discovered to have spent his life producing a 15,000-word novel, 300 accompanying paintings, an autobiography and reams of other writings.
After a childhood of hardship and suffering, including a seven-year stay in a state home for insane children, he returned to his native Chicago and settled into a life of complete anonymity and solitude. Neighbours remember him as harmlessly crazy or eccentric.
No one had any idea that he worked obsessively every night on his epic fantasy, In The Realms Of The Unreal, in which heroic little girls the Vivian sisters, paragons of Christian virtue, wage prolonged and bloody war against the Glandelinian army, bearded men in Confederate uniforms and mortarboard hats.
He taught himself to paint in watercolours and to create collages, and produced fantastic paintings some 10 feet long on butcher paper. His colours and compositions are rich and lively: naked little girls, all with penises, sport ram's horns and butterfly wings in idyllic play. The same little girls suffer graphic torture and evisceration.
Oscar-winning documentarian Jessica Yu (Breathing Lessons, 1996) animates his paintings to show his world. That seems like a bad choice at first, but as she explains in an extensive interview, she's added nothing, merely given slight movement to what was already there. The extras do include a gallery so you can sample Darger's work on its own.
Yu resists bringing in psychologists and art experts. She uses Darger's own words and a few brief comments from neighbours to tell his story. We learn of his love of children, his love-hate relationship with God and the church, and some of how his life made its way into his story.
But in the end, Darger remains both a mystery and a testament to the power of the imagination.
EXTRAS Director interview, photo gallery, storyboards, booklet. Wide-screen. No subtitles.
(Maple, 2004) D: Norio Tsuruta, w/ Hiroshi Mikami, Noriko Sakai. Rating: NNN
With some well-placed effects and an open-ended story, Premonition delivers a malignant universe and a sense of dread that stays with you well after the movie ends.
Based on a popular 30-year-old manga, Newspaper Of Evil, the story centres on a man who finds a scrap of old newspaper that predicts the death of his daughter. More predictions come. His marriage crumbles, his sanity totters and he slips into an alternate reality where linear time doesn't apply.
The newspaper effect is a bit clumsy, but the other effects and the jolts they deliver work just fine. The acting and directing are solid. Veteran director Norio Tsuruta (Ring 0, Scarecrow) knows how to build slow suspense to an abrupt, shocking payoff. He makes good, oppressive use of wind, space and an ominous score to build an atmosphere of mounting desperation and disorientation, so that the worst, when it comes, feels almost like a relief.
The extras here are nothing special, but producer Takashige Ichise says a few words. He's the man behind The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water, The Curse, Infection and more. He's got several others in the pipeline, and it looks like he's doing for Japanese horror what John Woo did for Hong Kong actioners. It's about time.
EXTRAS Director and cast interviews and press conference, making-of doc, effects doc. Wide-screen. Japanese soundtrack. English, Spanish subtitles
Coming Tuesday, July 12
Tales From The Crypt: The Complete First Season
(WB, 1989) Ghoulishly funny anthology horror series features some name actors and directors.
(Anchor Bay, 1993) Bizarre cult comedy with Randy Quaid trapped among the likes of Bobcat Goldthwait and Mr. T.
(Thinkfilm, 2004) Documentary on globalization's impact on the world's wine regions.
A Breath Of Scandal
(Paramount, 1960) Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) directs Sophia Loren in a classic period romance.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb