DAREDEVIL (20th Century Fox, 2003) D: Mark Stephen Johnson, w/ Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
if the spider-man dvd issue of- fered a case of an excellent film in a special edition with inadequate extras, in Daredevil we have a pretty good movie improved by an excellent DVD package. Where Spider-Man went straight back to the original Stan Lee story, Daredevil leaps into latter-day mythology.
Ben Affleck's a bit lightweight for the hero, but the supporting cast, including Colin Farrell's madly charismatic Bullseye, are worth a look.
The extra highlights include a pair of hour-long documentaries. The first, a making-of, is an appreciation of how much time Affleck and Jennifer Garner spent hanging from wires - yes, they did their own stunts. The second gives a fascinating look at the development of the character through people who have created the comic over the years: Stan Lee, John Romita (both Sr. and Jr.), Gene Colan, Frank Miller and Kevin Smith. Though it's all talking heads, they do know what they're talking about. Daredevil comes in both wide-screen and pan-and-scan versions, so make sure you check the banner on the bottom of the box front.
DVD EXTRAS Director/producer commentary, text trivia track, making-of documentary, Daredevil creation documentary, multi-angle scenes, Jennifer Garner screen test, music videos, HBO First Look episode. English, French and Spanish versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
SOLARIS (20th Century Fox, 2002) D: Steven Soderbergh, w/ George Clooney, Natascha McElhone. Rating: NNN
at the time of its release, I joked that the best thing about Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of Solaris was that it was an hour shorter than Andrei Tarkovsky's. Soderbergh doesn't bother with things like Tarkovsky's 10-minute scene of driving around Tokyo for no particular reason. Looking at it again, I'd say I prefer it because it's less emotionally opaque than the Tarkovsky, and more generous to its cast.
Film fans will want this disc as much for the commentary as for the film. Soderbergh's joined by producer James Cameron, who once considered directing it himself. Not many discs have a give-and-take commentary by two Academy Award-winning directors. Beautiful transfer, with the complete screenplay as a bonus.
DVD EXTRAS Director/producer commentary, theatrical trailers and teaser, HBO First Look, making-of featurette, original screenplay. English, Spanish and French versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
THE AMERICAN FILM THEATRE 2 (Kino Video, 1970, 1973, 1975): A Delicate Balance (D: Tony Richardson), The Homecoming (D: Peter Hall), Three Sisters (D: Laurence Olivier), In Celebration (D: Lindsay Anderson), The Man In The Glass Booth (D: Arthur Hiller), w/ Katharine Hepburn, Alan Bates, Maximilian Schell, Ian Holm. Five discs, also available singly. Rating: NNNN
for some reason, in this second instalment of Kino's reissue of the American Film Theatre, a short-lived attempt at subscription cinema/theatre in the early 70s, four of the five titles are claustrophobic family dramas: Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, David Storey's In Celebration and Harold Pinter's The Homecoming. The last two both tell the classic English story of the educated son returning to visit his working-class family in all its savage dysfunction, the Pinter working as a darkly satiric take on Storey's version.
Overall, I'd rank this set higher than the first. There's no out-and-out dud like Rhinoceros here, though you can only take so much of Maximilian Schell's berserkly over-the-top, Oscar-nominated performance as an apparently Jewish New Yorker on trial as a Nazi war criminal in The Man In The Glass Booth. Oh, to have seen Donald Pleasence play this part onstage. Kino's managed some good timing. Hepburn, on the box cover two weeks after her death, gives the greatest of her late performances opposite Paul Scofield and Lee Remick in A Delicate Balance.
It's the prize of this box, though In Celebration offers a superb actors' duel between Alan Bates and a startlingly young Brian Cox. Speaking of startlingly young, check Ian Holm as Lenny in The Homecoming.
DVD EXTRAS A much better package than the first, including extensive interviews with many of the survivors: Bates (for both Celebration and Three Sisters), Storey, Albee, cinematographer David Watkin (another twofer - he shot A Delicate Balance and The Homecoming) and director Arthur Hiller. Theatrical trailers and a number of the same extras from the first issues, including the interviews with Edie and Eli Landau. Individual booklet essays by Village Voice theatre critic Michael Feingold.
LIFE AND DEBT (New Yorker Films/Mongrel Media, 2001) D: Stephanie Black, narrated by Jamaica Kincaid. Rating: NNNN
in the director's commentary, Stephanie Black mentions that Brazilians and Ghanaians who see her film tell her she could have made exactly the same film about their countries as she did about Jamaica. Everyone from former head of state Michael Manley to university professors to bus drivers has something to say about the evils of the Internation Monetary Fund. This documentary on the economic and social impact of globalization painlessly communicates a densely packed amount of information. Given the natural audience for this film, it's probably preaching to the converted. The distributors should figure out a way to smuggle it into the video player of every package tour plane heading for the islands.
DVD EXTRAS Director commentary, theatrical trailer, 20 minutes of extra footage from the Manley interview, his last. And a music video, which one doesn't often see on political documentaries.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb