The Wild Bunch
(Warner, 1969) D: Sam Peckinpah, w/ William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan. Rating:NNNNN
For reasons known only to itself, Warner Canada is not following its American parent on the Peckinpah box set. The U.S. got the four-film box Sam Peckinpah's Legendary Westerns Collection, including the Wild Bunch, DVD premieres of Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973), The Ballad Of Cable Hogue (1970) and Ride The High Country (1962). We've got only The Wild Bunch at this moment - the box with all four films streets Tuesday (January 24). Reportedly, it's worth waiting for. However, if you're only buying one Peckinpah, this is the one. A new anamorphic transfer is a marked improvement over the old single-layer flipper that you had to turn over at about the hour-and-a-half point. The package retains the principal extra from the original disc, Paul Seydor's and Nick Redman's Oscar-nominated short, The Wild Bunch: An Album In Montage, plus two new documentaries, some deleted scenes and a commentary by the travelling roadshow of Peckinpah critics who contribute to all the films in the forthcoming box set: Columbia's Major Dundee issue, Anchor Bay's The Osterman Weekend and MGM's Junior Bonner and Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia.
You can hear them heave a sigh of relief when the credits start. The Wild Bunch, like Ride The High Country, requires no idiosyncratic explanation or special pleading. It's Peckinpah's masterpiece, not just one of the greatest American westerns but one of the greatest American films. Thirty-six years after its premiere, the opening and closing battle scenes have the power to shock. I've shown the opening of The Wild Bunch to classes, and it does.
The only disappointment in this group of Peckinpah DVDs is that they weren't able to get cast commentaries. Among the survivors of Peckinpah's great campaigns are L.Q. Jones (High Country, Wild Bunch, Cable Hogue), Mariette Hartley (High Country), Jaime Sánchez (Wild Bunch), Stella Stevens (Cable Hogue) and Kris Kristofferson (Pat Garrett), all of whom have discussed Peckinpah in the past.
Come to think of it, Ernest Borgnine's still around, isn't he?
Extras Critical commentary by Seydor, Redman, Garner Simmons and David Weddle; Peckinpah trailer gallery. Three documentaries: Sam Peckinpah's West: Legacy Of A Hollywood Renegade; The Wild Bunch: An Album In Montage; and A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico And The Wild Bunch. English and French soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Two For The Money
(Universal, 2005) D: D.J. Caruso, w/ Matthew McConaughey, Al Pacino, Rene Russo. Rating: NNN
Having occasionally bet on a sporting event, I was naturally disposed to like Two For The Money, until the reviews made me rethink seeing it theatrically.
Essentially a remake of The Devil's Advocate, without the supernatural trappings but with the same Mephistophelean performance by Al Pacino as bookie Walter Abrams, Two For The Money casts Matthew McConaughey as a rising young sports tout plucked from an obscure Vegas 900 line to be the new face of Abrams's national "sports service." That is, they sell sports picks to those who don't trust their own.
Though a bit sanitized, the film's depiction of a sports service does have the necessary energy and urban crackle to work as a portrait of an addicted culture. The ending's weak, though - an unforgivable sin.
It helps to have a taste for Pacino at his most manic, but McConaughey's not bad at all, and Jeremy Piven contributes another memorable supporting performance. A renter rather than a keeper, with a memorable extra, an interview with the real-world inspiration for McConaughey's character.
Extras Caruso and writer Dan Gilroy commentary, short making-of documentary, deleted scenes with director's commentary, theatrical trailer, TV spots. English, French soundtracks. English captions, French, Spanish subtitles.
(Sony Pictures Classics, 2005) D: Mike Mills, w/ Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vince Vaughn. Rating: NN
My Big Fat Independent Movie
(Anchor Bay, 2004) D: Philip Zlotorynski, w/ Paget Brewster, Neil Barton. Rating: N
Damn those independent film makers, with their tiny budgets and hipster cachet. If only writer Chris Gore and director Philip Zlotorynski had made My Big Fat Independent Movie into a funny parody of independent films instead of simply recreating scenes from Memento, Pi, The Good Girl and, heaven help us, Pulp Fiction, with even more self-referential dialogue. In 2006, we don't really need a Pulp Fiction spoof.
By odd contrast, Thumbsucker, which received glowing reviews on the festival circuit, feels like a non-specific parody of indie films. How else to explain the presence of Keanu Reeves as the young hero's orthodontist?
Thumbsucker has a disaffected adolescent hero in the Holden Caulfield mould, moderately big stars (or, in the case of Vince Vaughn and Vincent D'Onofrio, who are well over 6 feet, really big stars) getting karmic brownie points by doing a small film, Tilda Swinton, a wobbly narrative and a moralistic attitude toward a non-burning social issue, in this case, over-medicating adolescents. If only it were funny. If only Sony had sent me Junebug instead.
EXTRAS My Big Fat: writer/director commentary, making of featurette, theatrical trailer. Thumbsucker: director commentary, making-of featurette, conversation with Mills and novelist Walter Kirn. French subtitles.
Lord Of War
(Lions Gate, 2005) D: Andrew Niccol, w/ Nicolas Cage, Ethan Hawke, Jared Leto. Rating: NNN
As I did for Syriana, I feel guilty for not liking Lord Of War. Syriana is too oblique and fragmented to satisfy as drama. Lord Of War, on the other hand, tends to dodge drama for a didactic approach to the world of illegal arms sales, functioning almost as a primer on the pros and cons of being a "lord of war."
The drama, a cat-and-mouse game between Nicolas Cage's arms dealer and Ethan Hawke's driven Interpol agent, is deferred so that Cage's character, an amiable chap named Yuri, can lecture on the collapse of the Soviet Union and the boon it was to his trade.
The cast is excellent, but director Andrew Niccol, best known as the writer-director of Gattaca and the author of The Truman Show, has an idea in his teeth rather than a story.
Extras The DVD offers strong support to the film: various documentary featurettes, including missing scenes that are really useful, a Niccol commentary that veers between his thoughts on the illegal arms trade and production administrivia, a short making-of featurette. Kick-ass DTS soundtrack. Spanish subtitles. (Guess they're releasing a different version in Quebec.)
Coming Tuesday, January 24
(ThinkFilm, 2005) This sublimely transgressive documentary focused on one joke, with over two hours of extras.
Cabin In The Sky/Hallelujah/The Green Pastures
(Warner, 1929-1943) Three black-themed musicals from old Hollywood - packaged individually - including in King Vidor's Hallelujah, the first sound feature with a black cast.
(Dreamworks, 2005) Jodie Foster's kid gets lost on a big, big plane.
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds: The Road To God Knows Where
(EMI, 2005) Live performances from the band's 1989 British tour.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb