Panic Room: Special Edition (Columbia/TriStar, 2002) D: David Fincher, w/ Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker. Rating: NNNNN
on the commentaries for panic Room, director David Fincher and screenwriter David Koepp talk about it as a small, one-location picture, a B movie - that took six months to shoot on one of the most elaborate sets in movie history. I'm not sure if they're aware of the irony, though I suspect they are. The plot is simple: newly divorced woman (Jodie Foster) and daughter (Kristen Stewart) move into a spectacular New York brownstone, which, their first night in, is invaded by three guys (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam) looking for hidden money. It's an imposingly dark little thriller and "small" compared to Fincher's previous films, Seven and Fight Club.
Fincher does create the best special-edition DVDs, though, and Panic Room is no exception. It has hours of making-of material, outtakes, animatics and interviews, and three first-rate commentaries, by Fincher, Koepp with special guest William Goldman (screenwriter of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and others) and a three-headed cast commentary with Foster, Whitaker and Yoakam, who are not in a room together but whose remarks have been cut together to create cross-talk.
The cast commentary is particularly worthwhile since, among them, Whitaker, Foster and Yoakam have directed eight films, giving them insight into the process. Watch the deftness with which Fincher et al. hid Foster's fast-moving pregnancy; hear extended discussions of the impact of replacing Nicole Kidman with Foster at the last minute. Fincher notes that he tended to shoot Kidman at medium range, but that with Foster he kept moving into close-ups almost involuntarily.
Three discs may be a bit much, but the first disc, with the commentaries, justifies the price. I suspect there's an Easter egg or two (Fight Club and Seven both have them), but I haven't found them yet. EXTRAS Director commentary, screenwriter commentary, cast commentary. Theatrical and TV trailers; making-of featurettes: pre-production to post-production, virtual set tours, sequence breakdowns, animatic and storyboard comparisons with finished film. English, French, Spanish versions; English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean and Chinese subtitles.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (New Line Platinum/Alliance Atlantis, 2003) D: Marcus Nispel, w/ Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour. Rating: NN
this is, of course, the new version produced by Michael Bay, and New Line has gone to the trouble of creating a platinum edition DVD with an elaborate cover, multiple commentary tracks, an extensive making-of and a new documentary on Ed Gein, the Wisconsin ghoul whose discovery in the 50s inspired both Psycho and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What's interesting here isn't the film, which reduces the original vision of Tobe Hooper to an overproduced splatter film, but the way transgressive cultural moments of the 70s can be reduced to pure corporate product. Horror films in the 70s that came from outside the system and would blindside audiences are now heavily promoted major studio releases. (New Line is under the Warner Brothers corporate umbrella.)
New Line offers a good transfer and three alternate audio tracks - not commentaries but "audio essays" compiled from interviews. This is one of the few DVDs I can think of where the three producers have more input in the commentaries the director and writer. That pretty much says it all. EXTRAS Three commentary tracks, alternate opening and ending, feature-length making-of, screen tests, production and design galleries, theatrical trailers and TV spots, DVD-ROM content, DTS 6.1 soundtrack. English and French versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
Dirty Pretty Things (Alliance Atlantis, 2002) D: Stephen Frears, w/ Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou. Rating: NNNN
stephen frears (dangerous liai sons, My Beautiful Laundrette) has claimed that he has no vision or imagination; he's just interested in people and assumes that if the characters in a script interest him, they'll interest others. Dirty Pretty Things is a sly thriller about the "invisible" immigrant city that lies beneath the surface of most big Western cities, driving taxis, cleaning hotel rooms, sewing in sweatshops and striving for a better life. In London, Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) drives a cab and is night man at a posh hotel where he befriends Senay (Audrey Tautou), a Turkish chambermaid who spends her spare time dodging immigration inspectors.
It's about a desperate human response to insane socio-economic pressures. Is it better to be sexually harassed by your boss or sell a kidney to get a clean passport and visa? The box cover - a hot-looking over-the-shoulder shot of Tautou - has almost nothing to do with the film, which is both an unexpected peek at a world most movies ignore and a thoroughly entertaining movie.
Intriguing trivia: screenwriter Steven Knight created the original Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. EXTRAS Director commentary, short making-of featurette. English and French versions, English subtitles.
Time Without Pity (Home Vision, 1957) D: Joseph Losey, w/ Michael Redgrave, Leo McKern. Rating: NNNN
La Truite (Home Vision, 1983) D: Joseph Losey, w/ Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Pierre Cassel. Rating: NNN
these two pictures represent the beginning and end of Joseph Losey's long journey as an exiled American director. Losey wound up in England after being blacklisted in 1951. He began as a genre craftsman and wound up as a French art-film director, one of the most intriguing career arcs of any American director. Time Without Pity, from the Emlyn Williams play, is a ticking-clock thriller. Michael Redgrave, a recovering (though not for long) alcoholic writer, arrives in London on the eve of his son's execution and has hours to find the true killer. Leo McKern is his chief obstacle. It's a superb actors' duel, helped by the fact that Redgrave and McKern have such different styles, and there's a great twist ending.
La Truite (The Trout) is something quite different, with Isabelle Huppert as a young woman running a trout hatchery with her gay husband (no, I'm not making this up), who takes up with rich men and becomes involved in high corporate dealings. There's a glancing relationship with reality and a tricky time scheme; you can orient yourself by checking Huppert's different hairstyles. Her performance is fascinating, and La Truite is the only movie I've seen with extended scenes of French people bowling. Who knew they had bowling alleys in France? EXTRAS Pretty light - booklet essays and filmographies - but Time Without Pity also includes Losey's very first film, a 15-minute animation created for the 1939 World's Fair called Pete Roleum And His Cousins, promoting the oil business.
The Grapes Of Wrath
(Fox Studio Classics) John Ford's classic adaptation of Steinbeck, with Henry Fonda as Tom Joad.
Meet Me In St. Louis (Warner) A two-disc special edition of one of the most charming American musicals. Judy Garland sings Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, The Trolley Song, The Boy Next Door....
The Pink Panther Collection (MGM) Five of the six canonic Peter Sellers films (Return Of the Pink Panther has rights problems) and a full disc of extras. That's a lot of elaborately constructed pratfalls for your video dollar.
The Matrix Revolutions (Warner) There's still no spoon.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb