FINDING NEMO (Pixar/ Disney, 2003) D: Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, w/ the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres. Rating: NNNNN
disney has decided that the suc cess of Pixar's computer-animated films and the relative flops the Mouse has had with Treasure Planet and Sinbad means that audiences won't accept old-fashioned hand-drawn animation. It didn't occur to them that Pixar's films are successful because they have intricately worked-out and funny scripts that draw people into the stories, enjoyable characters, witty dialogue and mind-bending voice casting.
Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres may not have the above-the-line oomph that Brad Pitt supposedly brought to Sinbad, but they bring a lot to the party that is Finding Nemo. As do Barry Humphries (Dame Edna!), Bruce Spence and Eric Bana as sharks, Geoffrey Rush as a friendly pelican, and so on. When Pixar has the tiny role of a starfish, they get Allison Janney.
One of the summer's out-and-out hits (it spent weeks in the box office top five), Finding Nemo is enormous fun. I've watched it three times, once because I had to, once to check the commentary and once because I just wanted to see it again, the better to appreciate its humour and the extraordinary craftsmanship brought to every frame.
Yes, Pixar is a business, and, yes, Pixar is interested in having hits and making money, but the company takes great pride in what it does. It worries about getting things right, which is why each film takes years to make. According to director Andrew Stanton, everyone working on Nemo's animation had to go scuba diving to learn what underwater looks like. That's dedication.
This is one of Pixar's stuffed two-disc special editions, with wide-screen and full-screen versions, games, a making-of, characters mixed in with the promotional material and tons of other stuff.
I thought the audiovisual commentary was a bit much. You can't have the audio commentary alone, and the A/V commentary keeps breaking into the action with sketches, abandoned concepts, deleted scene concepts and bits from the recording sessions, including Degeneres in the studio as a "speaking whale," which is hilarious.
Highly recommended for children and adults. You have to admire a studio that makes great babysitter movies that adults can enjoy without guilt. And if you hit the fish icon in any of the menus, the menu disappears and you have a virtual aquarium! DVD EXTRAS Writer/director audio-video commentary; Making Nemo documentary; Drawing Nemo featurette with artists; Pixar classic short Knick Knack; Exploring The Reef featurette with Jean-Michel Cousteau and annoying cartoon fish; trailer gallery including first look at The Incredibles, the next Pixar feature; behind the scenes tour of Pixar. English, Spanish and French versions and subtitles. (The film is a lot of fun in Spanish, particularly whoever dubbed DeGeneres.)
TOKYO STORY (Criterion/Morningstar, 1953) D: Yasujiro Ozu w/ Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara. Two discs. Rating: NNNN ASHES AND DIAMONDS (Polart/Facets/Morningstar, 1958) D: Andrzej Wajda, w/ Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzewska. Rating: NNN
KANAL (Polart/Facets/Morningstar, 1957) D: Andrzej Wajda, w/ Teresa Izewska, Tadeusz Janczar. Rating: NN
the subject of today's sermon is When Bad Transfers Happen To Great Films. Tokyo Story is regarded as the central film in the post-war career of Yasujiro Ozu, one of the greatest Japanese directors. Kanal and Ashes And Diamonds, both honoured at Venice, are two-thirds of Andrzej Wajda's "war trilogy" of films examining Poland from the perspective of late-50s disenchantment with the Communist ideal, though this is nowhere made explicit.
These titles are acknowledged classics of the international cinema. More important, they are great films. Tokyo Story is a wrenchingly emotional study of the relationship between two aging parents and their grown children who no longer have time for them.
Kanal tracks a group of Warsaw Resistance fighters trying to escape Nazi patrols through the city's sewer. Ashes And Diamonds is an examination of the morality of political assassination as seen through the character of a Resistance assassin in the final days of the war.
We aren't talking about some Hong Kong movie about a gang trying to rule the city with giant robots. All three films are now getting their first North American DVD release, and they deserve better.
Shochiku Studios was at the Berlin Film Festival peddling a collection of new Ozu restorations. Criterion is working, however, from the Janus Films collection, and I swear I've been looking at some of the scratches in this print since I first saw Tokyo Story back in 1978.
It's never a question of really glaring flaws. (For that, see Kanal.) Criterion has done the best with what it has, which in this instance is a print of Tokyo Story that has begun to darken, on which the film grain has begun to show and on which anyone with a good DVD player/TV set-up can see the tiny scratches on almost every frame, especially in those shots that are dominated by an empty sky.
Kanal and Ashes And Diamonds come from a company called Polart, a name that suggests it might have access to whatever's available in the Polish film archives. But if these prints are the best it could locate, let's hope it doesn't. Both films are very dark - much of Kanal takes place at night in a sewer - but the source prints for both have begun to darken and lose detail. This happens to old black-and-white films. The problem is compounded in Kanal, which suffers from bad scratches, dropped frames and a couple of unmistakable instances of dirt on the frame.
Film like these aren't released in new special editions every few months. (Exactly how many editions of Men In Black has Columbia put on the street, anyway?) Absent a new European or Japanese release, these are likely the best we're going to get in Region 1 for a while. (I've checked. There are no other DVD issues of either title.)
Tokyo Story remains recommendable, though I suspect there may be a better version from Japan or Europe in a year or two. Criterion has included a feature-length biographical documentary on Ozu and a 40-minute featurette with various directors - Wenders, Kaurismäki, Jarmusch and others - discussing Ozu's influence on their work. I should also note that the second disc in the set did not load on my primary player, a rather balky Technosonic, but did play without incident on my computer's DVD drive.
Of the two Wajda films, Ashes And Diamonds is eminently watchable, but you have to really need to see Kanal to tolerate this kind of transfer. One commendable aspect is that the optional English subtitles are burned below the frame line as much as possible in the wide-screen (though non-anamorphic) transfer of Ashes And Diamonds. DVD EXTRAS Tokyo Story: scholarly commentary; I Lived, But... documentary on Ozu; Talking With Ozu featurette; theatrical trailer; booklet essay by David Bordwell. Optional English subtitles. TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (Warner) Two-disc SE featuring the governor of California and an evil girl terminatrix. Sure, it's pointless, but it's really loud.
KING OF THE HILL, SEASON 2 (20th Century Fox) The ongoing adventures of the Hill family of Arlen, Texas, and a great improvement over the first season.
LA STRADA (Criterion/Morningstar) Federico Fellini's classic road movie, with Giulietta Masina as a waif (there's a shocking bit of casting) and Anthony Quinn as a circus strongman.
Also look for a new Criterion edition of David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, but not in Canada, where Alliance holds the rights. Guess I'll have to order it online.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb