(Buena Vista, 2004) D: Joel and Ethan Coen, w/ Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall. Rating: NNN
For the first time the Coen brothers share the directing and producing credits, but the results misfire. What does hit the mark is Tom Hanks's baroque comic turn as the mastermind of an ill-matched group of criminals who occupy Irma P. Hall's basement in hopes of tunnelling into a riverboat casino's underground vault. Folks who disparaged Hanks's turn versus Alec Guinness's in the original have forgotten what a weird performance the latter gave in the Ealing film. Rent The Ladykillers for its continuous verbal inventiveness and for Hanks, Hall and J. K. Simmons. The Coens have a Preston Sturges-like fondness for full-blown American eccentricity, and it shows here. The DVD has minimal extras, but you can watch the movie while the script scrolls on your computer, which is pretty cool.
EXTRAS Slap reel outtakes, because there's nothing funnier than watching an old woman whaling on a lesser Wayans brother (Marlon), two complete musical performances of the gospel music heard in the film, featurette on the film's instrument maker. English, French versions; French, Spanish titles.
Angels In America
(HBO/Warner, 2003) D: Mike Nichols, w/ Meryl Streep, Al Pacino. Rating: NNNN
The HBO production of Tony Kushner's Angels In America suffers from the inevitable problems of adaptation of so inherently theatrical a creation. One of the reasons Angels worked as a play was the physical impact of being locked in a room with the events. Opening the play up tends to work against it. Letting the real world in undermines the otherworldly conceit, even though the playwright himself did the adaptation. However, this fantasia about redemption set against the growing AIDS crisis of the mid-80s hangs on a quartet of astonishing performances: Mary-Louise Parker as the valium-addled Mormon wife of a young lawyer discovering his sexuality, the perpetually amazing Jeffrey Wright as a flamboyantly gay nurse, Al Pacino as Roy Cohn and Meryl Streep as the aforementioned Mormon's mom and the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (and a third role - see if you can spot it).
Angels is worth seeing for the scenes between the dying Cohn and Rosenberg's ghost, the first time Pacino and Streep ever worked together.
EXTRAS None, which costs the disc an N. A commentary by Nichols or Kushner or any of the cast members would have been more than welcome. English, French, Spanish versions; English and Spanish titles. Street date September 14.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring
(Columbia/TriStar, 2003) D: Kim Ki-duk, w/ Oh Yeong-su, Kim Young-min. Rating: NNN
A child arrives at a remote, one-man Buddhist monastery in the middle of a lake to study to become a monk. Three actors, many years and 100 minutes later, he becomes... a monk. Sorry if I've spoiled the story. It's an exquisitely photographed film about the eternal search for peace. If you like that sort of thing, this is the DVD you've been waiting for. If you like a little more action, maybe not. Very good DVD transfer, helped by all the extra room on the DVD created by the absence of extras. I wish there were conventional Hollywood-style extras, just for the interviews. "When Kim came to me with this film, I had to do it. I'd never played a character who was so serene."
EXTRAS None. Korean with English, French subtitles.
Murder On The Orient Express
(Paramount, 1974) D: Sidney Lumet, w/ Albert Finney, Vanessa Redgrave. Rating: NNN
Even in an era as fond of ostentatious casting as the mid-70s, Murder On The Orient Express is a showstopper: Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset. Sidney Lumet, the king of the New York crime melodrama (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon), seems like an odd choice to direct this sort of mystery until you remember how many of Lumet's films involve people sitting in rooms talking (Twelve Angry Men, A Long Day's Journey Into Night). Murder On The Orient Express is glamorous but claustrophobic, dramatic yet static, its nostalgia for the era of grand rail travel undermined by its locked-room airlessness. Fun once, but less so on repeat viewings.
EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, making-of feature, Agatha Christie featurette, original mono soundtrack included. English, French versions; English subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, September 14
Man On Fire
(20th Century Fox) Pointlessly flashy revenge melodrama anchored by a great Denzel Washington performance.
(Criterion/Morningstar) Richard Linklater's walkabout among the eccentrics of Austin, Texas, gets the Criterion treatment.
(Warner) George Lucas's director's cut. As with the forthcoming Star Wars release, he can't resist the chance to improve/desecrate his own work.
(Columbia/TriStar) Mario Van Peebles wrote, directed and stars as his own father in a film about the making of Melvin Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song, the epochal blaxploitation classic.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb