My Life Without Me (Alliance Atlantis, 2003) D: Isabel Coixet, w/ Sarah Polley, Mark Ruffalo. Rating: NNN
sarah polley stars as a young woman living with her husband and two kids in her mom's trailer. Ten minutes into the picture she has ovarian cancer and two months to live. This means, of course, that she'll discover her appetite for life, mostly by screwing around on her husband, and by not telling him, her mother or her kids that she's going to die, and real soon. It rains an awful lot. Odd that a Spanish director has conformed so neatly to what the late Jay Scott called the We Are The Swedes Of North America mode of Canadian filmmaking.
A Canadian/Spanish co-production, My Life Without Me is one of those films that offers great talent - the cast includes Scott Speedman, Deborah Harry and Amanda Plummer - but isn't a particularly enjoyable experience. The DVD offers a delicately precise wide-screen transfer, but it's minimalist on extras. There's a five-minute interview featurette from IFC Canada. No commentaries, no making-of, and they didn't even manage to get the theatrical trailer onto the disc.
EXTRAS Brief interview featurette. English and French versions and subtitles.
Blow-Up (Warner, 1966) D: Michelangelo Antonioni, w/ David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave. Rating: NN
Death In Venice (Warner, 1971) D: Luchino Visconti w/ Dirk Bogarde, Silvana Mangano. Rating: NNNN
The Damned (Warner, 1970) D: Luchino Visconti, w/ Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling. Rating: NNN
michelangelo antonioni's exis tential puzzler Blow-Up is a great film and an icon of mid-60s cinema. It's a fly-in-amber document of swinging London and an inspiration for both Brian De Palma's Blow Out and Mike Myers's Austin Powers, whose swinging photographer shtick is lifted straight out of Blow-Up. The good news is that the film transfer offered by Warner Home Video flawlessly conveys Antonioni's really startling colour sense in what was only his second colour film.
The bad news is that the soundtrack has been butchered. It's in single-channel mono and has no bass. We know access to a decent-sounding stereo version of the music exists, because it's on the music-only track - which, curiously, only includes non-sourced music.
When David Hemmings goes to a club where the Yardbirds are playing, we don't hear them on the music-only track. And we know that a better version of the integrated soundtrack was available because, when Peter Brunette's not talking on the commentary track, the soundtrack has presence and clarity that the main track lacks. Time to start looking into Region 2 issues.
Italian cinema was polyglot during Blow-Up's era, and since the sound was never recorded live, in part because of the multinational casts, the soundtracks lack natural audioscapes. This is as true for Sergio Leone's westerns as for Luchino Visconti's art films.
The Damned, presented here in the 157-minute director's cut (restoring several minutes cut from the original North American release) has Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin and Helmut Berger as father, mother and son, playing Germans but speaking English with English, Swedish and German accents respectively.
English is the original language on this one, by the way, though there are stretches in German that have always been in German.
The Damned is a psychosexual shocker that could be the history of the rise of the Nazis as imagined by the MC in Cabaret, but not as much fun. A bunch of these were made in this period (Cavani's The Night Porter is another), and the filmmakers use the Nazi era the way Cecil B. DeMille used the Bible, as a morally edifying background for decadent fantasy. The sound on The Damned is rough, though not as bad as on Blow-Up.
The prize among these issues is Visconti's Death In Venice, the greatest movie ever made in which nothing happens for two hours. The intense and decadent sensuality that marks late Visconti is signalled by the hypersaturated colours in every frame here and in The Damned, and the soundtrack is deeply awash in Mahler.
The principal character is a conductor named Aschenbach, whom Thomas Mann based on Mahler, again played by Dirk Bogarde, who comes to a cholera-ridden Venice and becomes infatuated by the perfect beauty of a 12-year-old boy. Also on the Visconti front, Criterion has announced a summer release for The Leopard.
EXTRAS Theatrical trailers on all three, in the proper aspect ratio; commentary by Antonioni biographer Peter Brunette on Blow-Up; contemporary making-of on The Damned. English with English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Memories (Columbia/TriStar, 1996) D: Kouji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura, Katsuhiro Otomo. Animated. Rating: NNNN
memories is three animated films on the usual subjects of Japanese anime: space adventures, things blowing up and repressive futuristic societies. Anime fans will like them, but since each is about 40 minutes long, they might also be a better introduction to the form than the great but really complicated Ghost In The Shell. Why did Columbia Home Video sit on this anime anthology for so long? With contributions from Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira and Metropolis, Kouji Morimoto, who has a segment in The Animatrix, and Tensai Okamura, creator of the Wolf's Rain series, this is a visual extravaganza, with a window-rattling 5.1 soundtrack.
EXTRAS Half-hour interview featurette, theatrical trailer. Japanese with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Masked And Anonymous (Columbia/TriStar, 2003) D: Larry Charles, w/ Bob Dylan, John Goodman. Rating: NNN
it's hard to discuss masked and Anonymous using regular standards for good and bad movies. Scripted by Bob Dylan and director Larry Charles, best known as a writer and producer on Seinfeld, it's a document of eccentricity. In a futuristic America, John Goodman plays a promoter trying to mount a benefit concert with Jessica Lange, his only star being the lost and legendary folksinger Jack Fate.
Masked And Anonymous isn't very good, but it's so odd that it's worth seeing. Amazing what movie stars will do to play a scene with Bob Dylan - Owen Wilson, Val Kilmer, Penélope Cruz, Jeff Bridges, Christian Slater and Chris Penn, for example. The characters are prone to making cryptic pronouncements, and the soundtrack is loaded with old and new Dylan, some sung by Dylan and some an array of unexpected recordings in many languages. For instance, there's a Spanish version of Tangled Up In Blue.
EXTRAS Making-of featurette, director commentary, deleted scenes. English subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, March 2
The Chaplin Collection, Vol.2 (Warner) Seven Chaplin features, including The Kid, The Circus and City Lights.
Cold Creek Manor (Buena Vista) Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone renovate a country house. Spooky things happen.
Duplex (Disney) Drew Barrymore and Ben Stiller move into a new house and have neighbour problems. Apparently, Disney has cornered the market on new-home nightmares
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb