The Cary Grant Box Set: Holiday, Only Angels Have Wings, The Talk Of The Town, His Girl Friday, The Awful Truth
(Sony, 1937-42) D: George Cukor, Howard Hawks, George Stevens, Leo McCarey, w/ Katharine Hepburn, Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, Irene Dunne. Rating: NNNNN
My longstanding beef with Columbia/Sony's treatment of its great catalogue titles is that while the transfers are first-rate, the extras are light and the prices sky high. I love His Girl Friday, but I've balked at paying $25 for it at HMV.
Now, Sony has taken four of its classic Grants (his years at Columbia were his first great period), added Holiday and wrapped 'em in a box that I've seen at amazon.ca for $42, or $8.50 a disc. This set is thus self-recommending for anyone who loves the great screwball comedies; Holiday, His Girl Friday and The Awful Truth are among the best. And the more dramatic Only Angels Have Wings and Talk Of The Town are pretty strong as well.
Extras Short critical featurettes on each film, critical commentary by Todd McCarthy on His Girl Friday, 10 postcards featuring Grant and his co-stars, and lobby cards.
(Morningstar/FilmsWeLike, 2004) D: Jia Zhang-Ke, w/ Zhao Tao, Chen Taisheng. Rating: NNN
The World won the Toronto Film Critics Award for best foreign film. It's a fascinating portrait of a group of young people who work at The World Park in suburban Beijing, where the locals can go to see scaled-down versions of the great sites of the world, from a New York skyline that still features the Twin Towers to Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge and St. Peter's.
As much as I like to support local distributors, Morningstar has screwed up this release. It's a letterboxed 4:3 transfer, not a 16x9 anamorphic, so if you plan to watch it on a wide-screen TV you'll need to go online and order the Zeitgeist transfer from the States.
Annoying treatment of a film that deserves much better.
Extras Two theatrical trailers, short interview with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. Mandarin with English subtitles.
(Universal, 1964) D: Alfred Hitchcock, w/ Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery, Louise Latham. Rating: NNNN
(Universal, 1976) D: Alfred Hitchcock, w/ Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris. Rating: NNNN
Quick recap of Universal's Hitchcock DVD issues. First, Universal releases its dozen or so titles singly and in a pair of box sets, augmented by some episodes from the TV show. These are pricey, and unless you must have all the titles and don't mind being stuck with manifest duds like Topaz and Rope, who wants to spend the money?
Last summer, Universal did a number of transfer upgrades on the series - notably, anamorphic wide-screens for Vertigo and Psycho - and put them in a big red box. It was more reasonably priced, but it's still a box set for completists; that is, buy the box and you're stuck with Topaz, Rope and The Trouble With Harry.
Universal has begun to break that box out, and while it's holding back most of the pantheon films (Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and The Birds are still in the box), you can begin to gather the others.
The treats in this release are Marnie, Family Plot and Shadow Of A Doubt. The last was Hitchcock's own favourite among his films, and a masterpiece of small-town noir that needs no recommendation. Marnie and Family Plot do, though.
Marnie was supposed to be Grace Kelly's comeback, which didn't happen, and Family Plot was the director's last film. Both suffer from audience expectations. Marnie is an intense psychological drama trapped in the final era of studio filmmaking, and the limpid DVD transfer makes it hard to ignore the process shots and matte paintings, gorgeous though they may be.
Family Plot went for low-key charm in an era when thrillers tended to be a lot bloodier.
Marnie is Hitch's most sexually explicit film, and even today the hero's behaviour is out of line. The making-of documentary, with contributions by star Tippi Hedren and scenarist Jay Presson Allen, is one of the best in the series.
Family Plot, like Shadow Of A Doubt, is one of Hitchcock's rare American films that feels American, that has the kind of social texture you find in his English films, and Barbara Harris has unforgettable charm as a probably fake psychic.
Extras Making-of documentaries, stills galleries, theatrical trailers. English, French soundtracks. English captions. Spanish subtitles for Family Plot.
(Paramount, 2005) D: Cameron Crowe, w/ Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst. Rating: NN
I wrote at some length from Venice on Elizabethtown in its long cut (www.nowtoronto.com/minisites/venice/2005/daily_post.cfm?daily_id=83), noting that I liked it fine until the last 20 minutes or so, when the young protagonist (Orlando Bloom) goes on a "road trip" with his father's ashes.
The film arrived commercially about 20 minutes shorter, and I thought, "Good, they trimmed the ending." Nope. Apparently, Cameron Crowe made the film to get to the road trip, so the commercial cut weakens the film's great strength, its mood and the texture of the hero's meeting with his father's side of his family.
This annoyingly mislabelled DVD lacks the director's input. It has some haphazard featurettes but no commentary, a Crowe specialty, and not much in the way of that other Crowe specialty, deleted scenes.
Extras Two theatrical trailers, two "extended" scenes that aren't, production featurettes that are more like photo galleries. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, February 14
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005)
Gwyneth Paltrow and her Shakespeare In Love director are reunited in this story of the daughter of a math genius who fears inheriting her father's madness.
Short stories by Rodrigo García (Things You Can Tell By Looking At Her) with a stellar cast that includes Holly Hunter, Sissy Spacek, Amy Brenneman and Aidan Quinn.
This week's messy exploitation movie, and just in time for Valentine's Day!
Grey's Anatomy: Season 1
Another medical soap opera with a Canadian connection: star Sandra Oh, who just won a Golden Globe and SAG Award for it.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb