The Daily Show: Indecision 2004
This is well worth seeing once, largely for Jon Stewart. He's a master at playing shame, cynicism and endless surprise at what comes out of his own mouth. He makes it seem spontaneous and therefore funny, believable and endlessly watchable.
His sidekicks are less adept. Their characters are either thinner, like Samantha Bee, or do repetitive shtick, like Rob Corddry. But they still manage a number of hilarious moments, and the environment of a four-times-a-week half-hour fake news show can't be easy.
Topical humour fades badly. How much do you recall of or care about last year's presidential election? How well do you know the U.S. electoral system? But the election focus gives structure - one disc for each party convention and the third for the election-night special and related sidebar stories - and that helps a lot. They call that third disc bonus material, but it's really just the culmination of the story.
EXTRAS Disc introductions, comic commentary on selected episodes. Full-frame. English, no subtitles.
(2002) D: Hideo Nakata w/ Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno. Rating: NNN
Rent this before the American remake hits theatres next week. The Americans aren't totally guaranteed to screw it up. But they will, for sure, make it a good-vs.-evil battle and overload it with big effects, shock moments and explanations.
Dark Water isn't too concerned with good vs. evil. It wants to scare you with the inexplicable spread of an uncanny influence and the way the human mind resonates with it. And it wants you to stay scared after the movie's over. It knows, as all good ghost story tellers know, that too much explanation kills the terror.
In place of relentless shocks and effects, the film moves toward its powerful climax with a tight, sparse narrative about a single mother and daughter in a rundown apartment threatened by a ghost.
Hideo Nakata directed the original Ringu. But Dark Water is a much quieter, plainer movie. The ever-present spreading water works beautifully as a symbol of things eerie, a terror device and an atmosphere-builder. The relentless gliding camera and a chilling score lend effective support.
The DVD gives you the choice of dubbed or subtitled versions. The dubbing is excellent, overriding that old snobbery about subtitles being superior because you can hear the "original performance." Movies don't have an "original performance"; everything's looped. Here, the dialogue is so well-shaped to the actor's mouth movements, you'll barely notice the dubbing. That said, the Japanese-with-subtitles track is slightly crisper in tone. Either way, the film works fine.
EXTRAS Wide-screen. Japanese, English. English subtitles.
(Anchor Bay, 1981) D: Peter Yates w/ Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt. Rating: NNN
Eyewitness is a solid mystery suspenser whose unusual approach produces some interesting results. Director Peter Yates (Bullitt), calls it "deglamourized" in his rambling commentary, and he's not understating matters. Everything is played with a naturalism seldom, if ever, seen in the mystery genre.
William Hurt is the janitor in a building where one of the tenants is murdered. This brings him into contact with local TV news reporter Sigourney Weaver, for whom he nurtures an obsessive crush.
But the murder is only one element in their lives. Hurt must deal with his dysfunctional family and even more dysfunctional friend (James Woods), while Weaver has her affair with the much older Christopher Plummer to contend with. These scenes have their own weight, lifting the movie so far from the typical mystery that it's oddly jarring when the genre set pieces kick in.
But everything is effectively handled, thanks to some great, very realistic New York location shooting and a highly original script by Steve Tesich (Breaking Away). Tesich has a knack for creating surprising, original scenes and subverting conventional ones. The moment when Hurt breaks up with his girlfriend is unlike anything you've ever seen onscreen.
The acting sustains the realistic tone throughout, and even the minor players have good moments. Morgan Freeman and Stephen Hill (Law & Order's first district attorney) work wonderfully together as the cops on the case.
EXTRAS Director commentary. Wide-screen. English. No subtitles.
(Disney, 2005) D: Adam Shankman w/ Vin Diesel, Lauren Graham. Rating: NN
The most fun you can have with this light action comedy is to contemplate its gay subtext.
It first pops up in Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) as sadistic wrestling coach Murney: "My friends call me little puppet." By the end, he's wearing a nun's habit and singing in The Sound Of Music. At the same time, Vin Diesel, a navy SEAL who's babysitting some imperilled kids, is happily receiving a bouquet of roses from a beautiful blond teenage boy in a Nazi uniform. On the surface, it's part of a wholly unnecessary and overdeveloped subplot. Beneath, it looks like slickly smuggled kink.
Did director Shankman (The Wedding Planner) and writers Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant add the gay subtext on purpose, or did it occur naturally? They sprinkle their commentary track with gay clichés, none of them overtly connected to the movie's content. Are they tipping the wink or just using their bored mockery to express their contempt for the material and their total disinterest in actually discussing their movie.
The second-most fun you can have is to bounce the gay subtext off the ostensible theme, that military discipline and values will make the American family a better, happier institution, particularly a family that has lost its father to terrorists. Presumably, this was not what the studio execs meant when they told Shankman and the writers to cut down the "creepy stuff."
The third, and mildest, level of fun features good child acting, some not-bad action scenes and a duck, all likeable but not strong enough to overcome the sticky sentimentality and pedestrian shooting style (again, attributed to studio execs' demands for mildness) that keep the movie from soaring.
Except in one scene, the wrestling match, star Diesel doesn't participate in the fun at any level.
EXTRAS Director and writers commentary, gag reel, deleted scenes, making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French. English, French subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, July 5
Hide And Seek
(Fox, 2005) Promises four alternate endings to the Robert De Niro chiller about a little girl's imaginary friend.
Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 2
(WB) Born To Kill, Clash By Night, Crossfire, Dillinger (1945), The Narrow Margin (1952). Some gems here, including Fritz Lang directing Barbara Stanwyck in Clash By Night.
(WB, 1967) John Boorman directs Lee Marvin in the classic existential thriller.
Bride And Prejudice
(Alliance Atlantis, 2004) A sort-of Bollywood musical culture-clash remake of Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice. Coming Tuesday, July 5
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb