Arrested Development: Season Three
(20th Century Fox, 2005-6) C: Mitchell Hurwitz, w/ Jason Bateman, Portia De Rossi. NNNN
I can see why fox not only cancelled the Emmy-winning Arrested Development in its third season, but also burned its last four episodes by running them opposite the Super Bowl.
Arrested Development was a critics' darling because of its surreal treatment of the dysfunctional family sitcom. There's only one sane character in the show, Jason Batemen's Michael Bluth, who's faced with a father who's in prison, a twin sister who's a self-absorbed slut, a morose son who's in love with his own cousin and a pair of brothers who are by turns impotent and self-sabotaging. Oh, and Mom's a vicious alcoholic. And it's funny.
In Season Three, the plots spiral out of control and Arrested Development goes from weird to insane. Dad (Jeffrey Tambor) escapes from prison and hides out as a member of the Blue Man Group, Sis (Portia De Rossi) starts dating family lawyer Bob Loblaw (Scott Baio, replacing Henry Winkler, as the Happy Days jokes pile up in the corner). Oh, and Charlize Theron has a seven-week arc as the Englishwoman Michael falls in love with, not realizing she has a mental age of seven. Highly recommended.
Extras Three crowded cast/creator commentaries demonstrating that the maximum number of people before a commentary becomes useless is three; a funny blooper reel; a "last day" featurette; deleted and extended scenes. English, Spanish and French soundtracks. English and Spanish subtitles.
Kicking And Screaming
(Criterion, 1995) D: Noah Baumbach, w/ Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, Parker Posey. Rating: NNNN
The Criterion Collection's foray into the American indie scene indicates an interest in hyper-articulate chatfests: it's packaged Richard Linklater's first two films, Wes Anderson's, Whit Stillman's Metropolitan and now the debut film by Noah Baumbach, the son of two writers and the creator of last year's most pitiless autobiographical film, The Squid And The Whale.
Kicking And Screaming is an ironic title the male protagonists of the film are suffering post-graduate paralysis. They've graduated but they're still hanging around, playing pointless trivia games, generally putting their lives on hold.
There's sharp-witted dialogue and superb work by Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, Parker Posey, Olivia d'Abo and, of all people, Eric Stolz, whose "I was feeling too lazy to act today" mode really works for his character, a philosophy graduate student in his 10th year on campus.
Extras Director interview, director/cast discussion, Conrad And Butler Take A Vacation (D: Baumbach), theatrical trailer. English captions.
Friends With Money
(Sony, 2006) D: Nicole Holofcener, w/ Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener. Rating: NNN
Nicole Holofcener's labours in the TV vineyards - she directed several episodes of Sex And The City and Six Feet Under - have tightened up her editing and timing. Her earlier films, Lovely And Amazing and Walking And Talking, were better written than they were directed or cut. The latest, Friends With Money, has better timing. We never feel as if we're waiting for the bus while she hangs at the end of a scene, uncertain of how to get away.
Friends With Money is a portrait of an L.A. social circle. Frances McDormand plays a successful designer, Catherine Keener a successful screenwriter, Joan Cusack a woman who's rich for no apparent reason. They all worry about their friend Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), who's broke, stoned a lot and working as a maid.
The story is very well observed, and all the actors are running full out, but I couldn't quite figure out why the friends with money were friends with Olivia. About a decade younger than the others, she's not a creative type; she was a high school teacher.
Worth seeing, even if the DVD is a little light.
Extras Director/producer commentary, production featurette, Sundance featurette. English and French soundtracks and subtitles. Wide-screen and full-screen on the same disc, for people who like that sort of thing.
(Universal Legacy, 1944) D: Billy Wilder, w/ Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson. Rating: NNNNN
(Fox Noir, 1951) D: Henry Hathaway, w/ Richard Basehart, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes. Rating: NNN
(Fox Noir, 1946) D: Alfred L. Werker, w/ Vincent Price, Lynn Bari, Anabel Shaw. Rating: NNN
(Fox Noir, 1953) D: Harry Horner, w/ Jeanne Crain, Jean Peters, Richard Boone. Rating: NN
20th century-fox's film noir dvd series, which with this issue includes over 20 DVDs, is moving toward the bottom of the barrel. The best film here, Henry Hathaway's 14 Hours, isn't really a noir at all, and Vicki is an inferior remake of I Wake Up Screaming, which was included in the last flight of Fox noir DVDs.
In 14 Hours, a rather trembly young Richard Basehart sits on a window ledge high above the Manhattan streets as Paul Douglas's plain-spoken working-class cop tries to talk him down. Life swirls around as we try to figure out what his problem is. Foster Hirsch, in a strong academic commentary, suggests that the problem, which the film cannot name, is homosexuality. An interesting film with early-career appearances by people like Debra Paget and Jeffrey Hunter.
Rather more fun, though decidedly less important, is Shock, one of those films that reflects the 40s fascination with and fear of psychiatry. Vincent Price stars as a shrink who uses his power to confine a young woman who saw him commit a murder.
On the other hand, no series is necessary to welcome an overdue legit release of Billy Wilder's noir classic Double Indemnity, with its literary contribution from two of the titans of hard-boiled fiction, James M. Cain, who wrote the original novel, and Raymond Chandler, who worked on the script with Wilder.
Fred MacMurray has the best role of his career as Walter Neff, an insurance salesman drawn into a murder plot by noir's most fatale femme, Barbara Stanwyck. "I killed him for money and I killed him for a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman." With its flashback structure, venetian blind lighting and grittily racy dialogue, Double Indemnity is one of the great templates of film noir.
Extras Fox Noirs: scholarly commentaries, theatrical trailers. Double Indemnity: critical commentary by Richard Schickel, scholarly commentary by Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman, 45-minute documentary on the birth of film noir, and the inferior 1973 TV remake with Richard Crenna and Samantha Eggar.
Coming Tuesday, September 5
(Criterion/Paradox, 1954) Huge upgrade to the old Criterion single disc. New transfer, second scholarly commentary, two full discs of interviews, including a two-hour interview with Akira Kurosawa by Nagisa Oshima.
(Universal, 2006) Nobody went to see Paul Greengrass's chilling recreation of the final hijacked flight of September 11, 2001. It's a good film, though.
Lost : Complete Season Two
(Disney, 2005-6) For everyone who was waiting for Season Two so it could be swallowed in a weekend -- or wallowed in for a weekend -- here it is.
Jesse James/The Return Of Frank James
(20th Century Fox, 1939/1940) An interesting double bill (separate discs): Jesse James, featuring Tyrone Power in one of director Henry King's exercises in pastel Americana, and The Return Of Frank James, Fritz Lang's lush technicolor revenge western with Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney in her first starring role.