Talk To Me
(Alliance Films, 2007) D: Kasi Lemmons, w/ Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNN
The problem with biopics is that they're often unsatisfactory as drama, because life isn't structured like drama. Talk To Me reaches its emotional climax long before it winds down to its slightly sentimental ending, yet it never turns tedious. That's a tribute to the power of the story, its central character and Don Cheadle's remarkable performance.
Cheadle is the best American actor working today. Whether it's the high-energy crook of Ocean's 11 or Hotel Rwanda's bright, poised and desperate hotel manager, he disappears into his characters so completely you can fail to recognize him and forget you're watching acting.
This time, he's Petey Greene, a sleazy conman who talks his way out of prison and into a DJ job at a smalltime radio station in 1960s Washington, DC, where his streetwise patter makes him and the station a hit. This inspires programming director Dewey Hughes (a very good Chiwetel Ejiofor) to turn manager and start moving Petey to the top - a spot on the Johnny Carson show.
Along the way, we get some great street-guy-vs.-white-collar-guy comedy, some intense drama and a standout set piece that has Petey broadcasting through the riots following the assissination of Martin Luther King. Inside all that, we get some serious and well-made statements about being black in America and about friendship.
The making-of doc has fun with period costumes. Petey and his girlfriend (a hilarious Taraji Henson) are seriously trashy dressers. The second doc takes a thoughtful look at the life and impact of the real Petey Greene. Both make a good complement to a great movie.
Extras Making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(Kino, 1925) D: Sergei Eisenstein, w/ Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky. Rating: NNNNN; DVD package: NNN
If anything deserves the title "world's most influential film, " this is it. Everyone saw it in film school and got the message. Long before that, everyone saw it in Hollywood (Douglas Fairbanks Sr. brought back a copy from the German premiere) and came away with radical new ideas about filmmaking.
Sergei Eisenstein devised a dynamic new approach to editing that created meaning and emotion for entire sequences through the interplay of short shots that might not themselves be rich in meaning or emotion. You can still see his influence everywhere, from Brian De Palma's rip-off/homage of the famed Odessa steps sequence in The Untouchables (1987) to the riot scenes in Talk To Me (2007).
Funny thing is, the Potemkin that most of us saw is a far cry from the Potemkin Eisenstein made. It's been censored, re-censored, recut, retitled, stretched, shrunk, re-scored and generally mangled by everyone who's had their hands on it. That's until the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, the British Film Institute and Russia's Goskino unveiled their painstaking restoration at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival, complete with restored score.
This is that version, and it rocks. Along with his editing, Eisenstein's handling of crowd scenes and his expressive compositions (often overlooked) bring his historical tale of mutiny, massacre and revolutionary fervour fully to life. Edmund Meisel's pounding score propels it to the heights of epic grandeur and gives it the speed of an action movie - which, in its own way, it is.
The extras give a good look at the restoration process and the film's history, which is fine for specialists, but the set lacks anything on Eisenstein's career and theories for a more general audience.
Extras Disc one: Restoration doc. Full-frame, b&w. English intertitles. Disc two: Full-frame, b& w. Russian intertitles and optional English subtitles.
Spider-Man 3: Two-Disc Special Edition
(Columbia, 2007). D: Sam Raimi, w/ Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
Like Spider-Man 2, this is decent entertainment if you like both giant, splashy effects scenes and the Spider-Man soap opera. It's an overlong, tedious bore if only one of those elements turns your crank.
The problem lies with the script, unfinished when shooting began, and Sam Raimi's desire to put in every little detour and nice moment he can find. This destroys the overall pacing and sends the finger twitching for the fast-forward button.
Along with discussions of script problems, both director-with-actors and producer commentaries offer insight into character creation, the problems of wirework and production headaches. They're amusing and informative but fairly lightweight. The same goes for the production docs. There's some good detail, but not enough if you're really into the nuts 'n' bolts of effects.
Conspicuously absent, but likely available on the inevitable three-disc version, are deleted scenes and a doc on Spider-Man's career in comics. A regular feature of any movie taken from a Marvel comic, comics docs are often the best thing in the package.
Extras Disc one: Director and cast, producer commentaries, bloopers, galleries. Wide-screen. English, Spanish audio, subtitles and commentary subtitles. Disc two: 11 production documentaries. Wide-screen. English, Spanish, Portuguese subtitles.
O Lucky Man! Two-Disc Special Edition
(WB, 1973) D: Lindsay Anderson, w/ Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
Lindsay Anderson's satire on decay and corruption in 1970s England remains relevant today, but the film is clearly from another era. That's partly due to Anderson's fondness for long, slow takes, but mostly it's due to a plain way of making its points that avoids Pythonesque grotesquerie. Anderson trusts us to get it, and he's not really going for laughs.
Malcolm McDowell plays an ambitious young sales trainee abruptly given responsibility for northeastern England, where he encounters crooked cops, licentious mayors, torture and worse. Things go from bad to worse until he ends up in clover. Then his troubles really begin.
McDowell doesn't say much in his commentary, and David Sherwin, who scripted, and Alan Price, who did the great score, are hardly present, but the feature-length biography of McDowell on disc two offers an excellent look at an outstanding and woefully underrated actor. We remember him most as the vicious little Alex in A Clockwork Orange, but compare it to his gentle and whimsical H.G. Wells in Time After Time. McDowell has chops and presence to burn.
Extras Disc one: Commentary; vintage making-of doc. Wide-screen. Disc two: Commentary; McDowell doc. Wide-screen. Both discs English, French subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, November 6
Michael Moore takes on the American medical system.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Two straight guys pose as a gay couple for the benefits package. Someone should tell Michael Moore.
(TVA Films, 2006)
A boy and his zombie. More proof, in case you need it, that zombie movies are the new westerns.
Seinfeld: The Complete Series
All the yada yada from the single-season boxes, plus a bonus disc.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb