(Maple, 2004) D: Paul Haggis, w/ Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle. Rating: NNNN
Powerful acting and script and an unusual story structure propel Paul Haggis's Crash into the ranks of movies worth watching more than once. At the same time, they keep it from turning into a preachy essay on racism despite the writer/director's express intention of addressing that topic. The Los Angeles district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his wife (Bullock) get carjacked by a couple of young black guys (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Larenz Tate). Emotional ripples radiate from this incident, infecting with fear and hatred everyone whose paths cross those of the victims and jackers, even peripherally. Trajectories intersect in a variety of ways, some causal, some casual.
The result is a succession of highly unusual scenes, including a respected television director in an armed stand-off with the cops, that propel the narrative in unexpected directions.
Haggis, who earned an Oscar nomination for scripting Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, knows how to take his time and infuse his scenes with drama, irony and hard-edged but natural humour. A quiet moment between Michael Peña and his daughter and their invisible cloak of protection is a gem that later pays off beautifully.
Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) heads a remarkable cast and contributes an interesting view to the commentary. Where the others focus on racism as the basis of all the relationships, he talks about power and the effects of Los Angeles living. But nobody, in the movie or the commentary, has final answers, and several other interpretations are implicit.
Extras Haggis, Cheadle and writer/producer Bobby Moresco commentary, making-of doc, music video. Wide-screen. English, Spanish subtitles.
(Sony, 2004) D: Kim Ki-duk, w/ Lee Seung-yeon, Lee Hyun-kyoon. Rating: NNN
Like samaritan girl and bad guy, Kim Ki-duk's 3-Iron is another drama linking silence, fate and mysticism. His hero and heroine don't speak, so all we know of them is what they do. He sneaks into other people's homes and lives there while they're away. She joins him to escape her battering husband. Eventually, they're caught. She returns to her husband and he goes to prison, where he masters the art of invisibility. Or maybe he's become a ghost. Kim raises that possibililty in his subtitled commentary, but at the same time he suggests that any or all of the characters may be dreaming.
Directors' interpretations of their own works are often radically different from those of audiences. Kim is a modest commentator, offering straightforward insights into his intentions but leaving the film's central mysteries intact.
His marginal position in the star-driven Korean industry forces him to work fast and cheap. 3-Iron took three months to make from start to finish, 13 days for shooting. Despite this, the film is polished and fluid, with an atmosphere of stillness broken by occasional effective outbursts of violence.
Extras Subtitled director commentary. Wide-screen. Korean, English, French soundtracks. English, French subtitles.
Wayne And Shuster 50 Years of Comedy
(CBC/Morningstar, 1991) D: Trevor Evans, w/ Johnny Wayne, Frank Shuster. Rating: NNN
Even at their peak, they were cornball and clunky, a throwback to vaudeville and the kind of act you disdained the instant your hipness hormones kicked in. But for 20 years, during the 50s and 60s, Wayne and Shuster were the absolute top of the comedy heap, with monthly specials on the CBC and an unprecedented 67 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, itself the benchmark for variety entertainment. They had a genius for parody. In those days, everybody took Latin and Shakespeare in high school. So W&S turned Julius Caesar into a private eye caper, Rinse The Blood Off My Toga. And Shakespeare became a baseball tragedy with Johnny, the lunatic imp, as the doomed pitcher and Frank, ever the slightly crabby straight man, as the coach.
They wrote all their own material, and some of it works even now. From time to time Johnny Wayne ascends to the level of Harpo Marx and Robin Williams.
But we don't see enough of it - about 16 sketches, plus highlights. In between, Shuster's introductions and memories offer only the thinnest of career overviews. A bigger set would be welcome. So would comments from others who worked with them. Wayne and Shuster are the root of Canadian sketch comedy, and that's worth 76 minutes of your only life.
Extras Full-screen. Colour and black-and-white.
Dead And Breakfast
(Anchor Bay, 2004) D: Matthew Leutwyler, w/ Portia de Rossi, Oz Perkins. Rating: NN
Anchor Bay touts this as America's answer to Shaun Of The Dead. It ain't. It's a not-bad musical comedy zombie flick, as these things go, but it's no Evil Dead: The Musical. Basically, the filmmakers make two mistakes. First, they put in a sort-of plot - a grisly murder in the old farmhouse where our gang of three lost young couples are spending the night. Zombie movies don't need a plot. Get those zombies marching and you're good to go. But thanks to the plot, the zombies don't stomp till around the 40-minute mark.
After that, we have lift-off, beginning with a very funny and imaginatively gory bloodbath at a country hoedown and escalating to the classic zombie-siege climax.
The second mistake: not enough musical numbers, a fact attributed by rumor to timid producers. There are a lot of song fragments, courtesy of a narrator who keeps singing even when he's joined the ranks of the walking dead. He's funny, and the songs are decent country-and-western. But there's only one zombie dance number, and none of the living cast sings. If that babular blond with the tank top and chainsaw had been singing as she slaughtered, we'd have been in zombie heaven.
Tragically, Anchor Bay sent a screener without extras, but the box promises commentary with director, actors and effects.
Lost: The Complete First Season
(Disney, 2004) created by Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams, w/ Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly. Rating: NNN
Robinson Crusoe with politics. A plane crash strands 40 people on an uncharted South Pacific island, and as if that weren't enough, something huge and carnivorous is in the jungle, and shadowy "others" seem bent on destruction. And secrets - everybody's got a secret shame and/or a criminal past. It's a terrific, loopy premise for an action/adventure soap opera, and creators Jeffrey Lieber and J.J. Abrams dish it up fast and foolish, with lots of flashbacks to keep us from getting paradise fatigue and to drive home the point that everybody carries their past with them.
The writing is clunky but serviceable, the acting mostly TV-standard, but the characters and situations are a hoot. Standouts include Jorge Garcia, the squeamish but unflappable fat guy, and Terry O'Quinn as the office worker who happily embraces the wilderness.
Extras 24 episodes on six discs. Creators' commentary. Wide-screen. Seventh disc: making-of docs, blooper reel, deleted scenes.
Coming Tuesday, September 13
(Fox, 2005) Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon in a cute baseball-fan romance.
(WB, 1959) Four-disc collector's edition of the William Wyler/ Charlton Heston classic. Winner of 11 Oscars.
Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy
(Disney, 2005) Beloved SF comedy.
(Sony, 2004) Movie-biz comedy by Don McKellar, with Jennifer Jason Leigh.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb