(Sony, 2006) D: Martin Campbell, w/ Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench. Film rating: NNNN ; DVD package: N
He's too blond, he's too short, he'll ruin the series. Of course, that's what people said about Daniel Craig before Casino Royale grossed close to $600 million worldwide, the top-grossing Bond film ever.
And for all the critical chin-wagging about the creation of a more elemental Bond in this series reboot, Casino Royale really represents a continuation of the producers' decision to reimagine the series as a hard-action franchise, beginning with Casino director Martin Campbell's first of the Brosnan Bonds, GoldenEye.
Casino Royale tips the balance further. Brosnan was handsome enough to pull off the Roger Moore thing but fit enough to get dragged through the elaborate action sequences. The coarser-featured Craig gives us a Bond who's mostly a dressed-up thug, which is what this film needs - the fight scenes are up-close, personal and painful-looking, and Bond has no problem blowing up an embassy if it suits his purposes.
The film could use a stronger female lead than Eva Green's Vesper Lynd, and the poker scenes go on far too long - and I'm a poker player. But the action sequences are stunningly conceived and executed. The DVD kind of sucks - the principal extra is Bond Girls Are Forever, a TV special hosted by Maryam D'Abo. There's no commentary, no DTS soundtrack. The stunt featurette is quite good.
EXTRAS Half-hour featurettes on Craig getting the role and the film's stunts, Bond Girls Are Forever, Chris Cornell music video. English and Spanish audio. English and French subtitles.
When A Woman Ascends The Stairs
(Criterion/Paradox, 1960) D: Mikio Naruse, w/ Hideko Takamine, Masayuki Mori, Tatsuya Nakadai. Film rating: NNNN ; DVD package: NNNN
As far as I can tell, this is the first of Mikio Naruse's delicately constructed dramas to be released on DVD in North America.
While I might have preferred his wrenching domestic drama Wife! Be Like A Rose!, When A Woman Ascends The Stairs is a superb introduction to Naruse's female-centred world.
The story focuses on Keiko (Hideko Takamine, who starred in more than a dozen Naruse films), an aging - she admits to 30 - Ginza bar hostess facing a big decision. Does she seek marriage or open her own bar?
Criterion provides a beautiful wide-screen transfer of this black-and-white film, allowing full appreciation of Naruse's compositional care and ability to block actors within the frame. In tone, Naruse is often compared to Yasujiro Ozu, though his camera moves around a lot more than Ozu's static one, and his stories are far less hopeful. There's an excellent contextualizing commentary by Japanese cinema expert Donald Richie and an interesting interview with co-star Tatsuya Nakadai, who looks really good for 70.
EXTRAS Critical commentary, Nakadai interview, theatrical trailer, booklet essays. Japanese audio. English subtitles.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: David Ayer, w/ Christian Bale, Freddy Rodríguez, Eva Longoria. Film rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
Is Christian Bale the best movie actor of his generation? In the last 18 months, he's re-energized the Batman franchise, turned up as a rage-filled Cockney magician in The Prestige and exploded in this little-seen film directed by the writer of Training Day.
David Ayer wrote Harsh Times before Training Day, and in some ways it's a draft for that celebration/condemnation of out-of-control alpha male behaviour.
Bale stars as Jim Davis, a stressed-out ex-Army Ranger trying to find work in law enforcement, all the while doing an interesting linguistic shuffle between military clarity when dealing with Homeland Security and an accent that can only be described as white L.A. homeboy. It's not a great film, but worth checking for Bale's astonishing, scenery-consuming performance.
EXTRAS Director commentary, deleted scenes. English and Spanish audio.
(Thinkfilm, 2006) D: John Cameron Mitchell, w/ Sook-Yin Lee, PJ DeBoy, Lindsay Beamish. Film rating: NN ; DVD package: NNNN
How many things do I need to ignore to enjoy Cannes succès de scandale Shortbus?
Let's skip discreetly past the hardcore gay sex. Let's ignore that I absolutely hate every note of the soundtrack. John Cameron Mitchell's appalling taste in music should be evident to anyone who saw Hedwig And The Angry Inch. Let's pass over the bias in the casting, which gives the male roles to young men of reasonable hotness and gives the principal female role to Sook-Yin Lee.
We're left with a movie in which people use sex to fill the emptiness of their lives and people in the downtown New York art scene live in a hideously long group therapy session/improv class, which is something I really don't want to see. Mitchell relentlessly indulges his cast's impulse to be in a John Cassavetes movie at the very moment when he should be reining them in.
If you liked this film, the DVD package is pretty good if you can stand the "Oh, we're all so brave and talented and cool" commentary track.
EXTRAS Director/cast commentary, making-of featurette, How To Shoot Sex: A Docuprimer (an inaccurately titled featurette), deleted and extended scenes. French and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, March 20
The Naked City
(Criterion/Paradox, 1948) A film noir breakthrough in which Jules Dassin took his camera to the streets of New York. And, of course, it's got the immortal voiceover: "There are 8 million stories in the naked city...."
(Warner, 2006) Leonardo DiCaprio got Oscar-nominated for the wrong role, but he's pretty good sporting a Rhodesian accent as a mercenary pursuing a huge diamond in Sierra Leone's civil war. Jennifer Connelly is the picture's nagging conscience.
The W.C. Fields Collection, Vol. 2
(Universal, 1934-41) Again with the no extras, but an interesting mix of Fields classic Paramount comedies, including the surreal classic Never Give A Sucker An Even Break.
(20th Century Fox, 2006) If your kids haven't the patience for Lord Of The Rings, you can give them this, a more kid-friendly story of dragons and wizards.