The Motorcycle Diaries
(Alliance Atlantis, 2004) D: Walter Salles w/ Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo De la Serna. Rating: NNN
You don't really need to know or care anything about Che Guevara for The Motorcycle Diaries to work perfectly as a coming-of-age road movie. Stars Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo De la Serna draw us in from the outset, and director Walter Salles keeps the whole thing moving with a deft touch. And there's all that incredible scenery.
Salles's fidelity to the factual source material helps a lot. In 1952, young Ernesto, a year shy of graduating medical school, and his older buddy Alberto take off from Buenos Aires on a four-month, 8,000-kilometre road trip for no reason other than wanderlust.
That lets Salles start quick and stay quick. Some scenes he plays entirely in long shot, layering dialogue, narration and a good, sparse score over the stunning visuals, neither lingering nor hurrying. Even when the journey turns serious, Salles keeps his touch light, letting events speak for themselves.
This allows the characters to emerge easily in small glimpses via solid, naturalistic acting. We see Ernesto's potential without it ever seeming like he's struggling under the weight of the role.
This must've been a tough shoot, but in this DVD package we don't learn much about it. There's no commentary and the extras are largely fluff. A small complaint for such a likeable and re-watchable movie, but it does bring down the rating.
EXTRAS Deleted scenes, interview with Alberto Granado, making-of doc, two García Bernal
TV interviews, composer
interview, cast and filmmaker biographies. Wide-screen, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby version, English and French subtitles.
Angel: Season Five
(Fox, 2003-04) Created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt w/ David Boreanaz, James Marsters. Rating: NNN if you always wanted to like an gel but found it just too dreary and static, this is the season for you. The series takes our do-gooder vampire and his scooby gang out of the freelance life and that dreary hotel and puts them in charge of a multi-dimensional law firm of evil.
Even better, it brings in Spike, late of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, as a main character.
Those two changes energize everybody and do much to jack up the action and comedy quotient. The premise shift opens up a new range of story possibilities and character development based on the temptations of power and problems of trying to do good within an evil system. James Marsters's Spike provides a high-energy foil to deflate Angel's air of suffering nobility.
There isn't much of a story arc, but there are some stand-out episodes. The best is Smile Time, a flat-out farce in which Angel turns into a puppet battling demon puppets. It gets its own making-of doc, a highlight of the extras.
EXTRAS Whedon commentary on selected episodes; various other writer, actor and director commmentaries
; Smile Time doc; 100th-episode doc; stunt doc; season overview doc; dramatic highlights doc; villains doc; gag reel. Wide-screen. English, French and Spanish Dolby 2.0 versions; English, French and Spanish subtitles. 22 episodes on six discs.
NausicaÄ Of The Valley Of The Winds
(Disney, 1984) D: Hayao Miyazaki w/ voices of Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart. Rating: NNN
(Disney, 1992) D: Hayao Miyazaki w/ voices of Michael Keaton, Kimberley Williams. Rating: NNN
The Cat Returns
(Disney, 2002) D: Hiroyuki Morita w/ voices of Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes. Rating: NNN
Don't believe the cover blurb that calls Nausicaä director Hayao Miyazaki's epic masterpiece. It isn't. Spirited Away or, if you prefer, Princess Mononoke are Miyazaki's masterpieces to date. Nausicaä, his second feature, is an enjoyable movie that amply displays his high spirits, strong heart and vivid imagination, particularly in the flying sequences and the brave young heroine's peculiar relationship with giant bugs.
But it doesn't have the visual polish and storytelling genius of both Porco Rosso and The Cat Returns. The latter is actually directed by Hiroyuki Morita, from Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, but bears Miyazaki's imprint so strongly that it could easily be one of his.
Nausicaä's tale of a post-apocalypse community threatened by a pollution-driven toxic forest is fairly straightforward compared to The Cat Returns, in which a girl's good deed earns her far too much unwelcome thanks from the King of the Cats, or Porco Rosso, the adult-oriented adventures of a seaplane pilot cursed with the features of a pig.
The extras aren't all you'd expect from two-disc editions, but one consistent feature - the movie told through complete storyboards with a bit of sound - works well as both art and education.
Extras Nausicaä: voice acting doc, producer interview, storyboards, original Japanese trailers. Wide-screen, English and Japanese versions, English subtitles. Porco Rosso: voice acting doc, history of Studio
Ghibli, storyboards, Japanese trailers. Wide-screen. English (Dolby Surround), Japanese and French versions; English subtitles. The Cat Returns: voice acting and making-of docs, storyboards, Japanese trailers. Wide-screen; English (Dolby Surround), French and Japanese versions; English subtitles.
Leave Her To Heaven
(Fox, 1945) D: John M. Stahl w/ Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde. Rating: NNN this film was hot when it was new, a prestige production with shocking content. Model-turned-actress Gene Tierney picked up an Oscar nomination for her turn as the woman who commits the worst crimes imaginable to keep the man she loves all to herself.
Those crimes still pack a punch, but sadly, most of the movie now seems very stilted, mainly due to its stars. Tierney's icy elegance is perfect for the part, but she can't handle the emotional scenes, and Cornel Wilde, a fencer-turned-actor, gives her little to play to. They're not helped by director John M. Stahl, whose sense of blocking leans toward tableaux, or by the obvious process shots.
This leaves us with the story and incidental pleasures. The plot works fine except for the central matter of Ellen's (Tierney) character. We get a clear and chilling view of what she is, but nothing on why. The incidental pleasures include Vincent Price, who brings much-needed power, fluidity and depth, and some fine work with shadow from cinematographer Leon Shamroy, who picked up his third of four Oscars for this.
Darryl Hickman, who plays Wilde's younger brother, adds a good commentary track, with detailed memories of the shoot and various thoughts on acting, actors, his on-set education and other matters.
Extras: Hickman and critic Richard Shickel commentary; Movietone news footage of premiere and Oscar presentations; theatrical trailer; trailers for Old Chicago, The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, The Snake Pit, The Three Faces Of Eve; restoration comparison; stills gallery. Full-screen version 1.33:1 aspect ratio. English mono and stereo, Spanish mono versions; English and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, March 1
My Own Private Idaho
(Criterion, 1991) Gus Van Sant's highly regarded reworking of Henry IV.
To Be Or Not To Be
(WB, 1942) Carole Lombard and Jack Benny as Jewish actors outfoxing the Nazis, arguably Ernst Lubitsch's best picture.
The Brady Bunch: Complete First Season
(Paramount, 1969) Some kind of cultural touchstone and the holy grail of nostalgia.
(Criterion, 1951) Masterpiece about life on the Ganges by Jean Renoir, one of the greatest directors ever.
Coming Tuesday, March 1
My Own Private Idaho (Criterion, 1991) Gus Van Sant's highly regarded reworking of Henry IV.
To Be Or Not To Be (WB, 1942) Carole Lombard and Jack Benny as Jewish actors outfoxing the Nazis, arguably Ernst Lubitsch's best picture.
The Brady Bunch: Complete First Season (Paramount, 1969) Some kind of cultural touchstone and the holy grail of nostalgia.
The River (Criterion, 1951) Masterpiece about life on the Ganges by Jean Renoir, one of the greatest directors ever.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb