(Alliance Atlantis, 2004) D: Laurence Dunmore, w/ Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton. Rating:NNNN
An emotionally complex and disturbing central character makes for a complex and disturbing movie thanks to Stephen Jeffreys's strong adaptation of his play and amazing performances by the entire cast.
In the era of Charles II, John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, considered a genius and the leading literary light of his day, spurns his talent and wastes his days on drink and whores. When the passionate theatre lover is offered the chance to mount a major production for the king, he produces a pornographic lampoon aimed squarely at the monarch. He ends his days as a syphilitic outcast.
Rochester is a man at odds with himself, and Johnny Depp communicates layers of emotion in every line, every glance. Depp sells Rochester's charm to the other players even as he makes sure the audience isn't sucked in. It's a remarkable performance.
Samantha Morton as the actress Rochester trains, Rosamund Pike as his wife and John Malkovich as Charles II do equally fine jobs.
First-time feature director Laurence Dunmore captures it all very well with a hand-held camera that wipes away the staginess and stiffness of most costume drama. He eschews sumptuous period details in favour of mud, shit and fog. You can almost smell the streets.
Extras Director commentary, making-of doc, deleted scenes with optional commentary. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
Puppets Who Kill
(VSC, 2003) created by John Pattison, Steve Westren, w/ Dan Redican, Bruce Hunter. Rating: NNN
Puppets are so cute. some of my favourite moments: Dan (Dan Redican), the human social worker who runs a halfway house for homicidal puppets, posing as a corpse so he can nail his beautiful necrophile cousin; Bill the serial killer ventriloquist's dummy happily dismembering a body in the bathtub; Rocko (Bruce Hunter) the rage-fuelled doggie getting a federally funded hand job from a beautiful nurse; Cuddles the depressed comfort doll possessed by a demon; Buttons the perpetually priapic teddy bear in the clutches of yet another pair of psycho lesbians, this time hellbent on draining him with a vacuum cleaner.
It's very funny, relentlessly raunchy and burdened by absolutely no socially redeeming value. Even Dan, the show's nominal moral centre, is bursting with wickedness.
The puppetry is excellent. The improv moments and outtakes under the closing credits are as sharp as any of the scripted material. The ability to improvise is appreciated because "it's hard to think up jokes" - about the only sensible remark Redican and Hunter make on their rambling commentary.
The rest of the show is a thrift-shop mess. Nevertheless, it has picked up a string of awards, including a Bronze Rose from Switzerland's venerable Rose d'Or Light Entertainment Festival.
It's the kind of show that makes me proud to be Canadian.
Extras Thirteen half-hour episodes, Redican and Hunter commentary on
two episodes, cast and crew bios, TV interview. Full frame.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Richard Shepard, w/ Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear. Rating: NN
By his own account, Matador writer/director Richard Shepard sought to marry two worn-out genres, the hit man movie and the one-last-heist movie, and make them into a character comedy/drama about friendship.
He does not pull it off. The movie shifts uneasily from tone to tone, never fully taking advantage of its menace and slithering past its ugly moral questions into the safety of shallow sentiment.
But along the way we get some good, unusual dramatic scenes and funny comedy, largely thanks to the performances. Pierce Brosnan sheds his usual suavo persona to portray an assassin, a laughably crass and obnoxious jerk who's going into meltdown out of loneliness, guilt and shame.
That Brosnan's crumbling creep elicits sympathy is largely due to Greg Kinnear as the ordinary businessman who crosses his path. Kinnear infuses his mild-mannered average guy with quiet depth and dignity that grounds Brosnan's excess and suffering for us.
But Hope Davis (American Splendor) steals the show with a light-as-air turn as Kinnear's wife, who gets more turned on than shocked by the presence of a hit man in her house.
The review copy came in full-screen version. It's available in wide-screen, but this probably won't add much. Shepard keeps his camera firmly on the actors and uses his backgrounds simply to show off a little of Mexico City's unique look.
Extras Shepard commentary; Shepard, Brosnan and Kinnear commentary; deleted scenes; Shepard radio interviews. Full-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish, French subtitles.
(Screen Media, 2005) D: Stephen Woolley, w/ Leo Gregory, Paddy Considine. Rating: N
There's probably a really good movie to be made about the rise and fall of Brian Jones. This isn't it.
Jones founded the Rolling Stones in 1963. In 1968, he drowned in his swimming pool. In between came the 60s explosion, the intense relationships with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and über-vamp Anita Pallenberg, the sex and the drugs. All this could have given us a great 60s dark-side piece.
Instead, the film shows Jones (Leo Gregory) in the last few weeks of his life as he dissolves into stoner mush and lethargically torments Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine), a live-in handyman who eventually succumbs to dope and resentment. Jones's life before this gets the most perfunctory flashback treatment, with Jagger and company barely, blandly present and the Stones' music not at all. You can almost smell the lawsuit panic.
There's nothing dramatic about Stoned. Gregory's Jones is the typical infantile rock star we've been watching since Spinal Tap. No new insights here. In fact, no insights at all. Considine as Frank plays a single note throughout: hangdog resentment. It's not really the actors' fault, though. The script is so clumsy that the best it can do is a postscript that has Jones's ghost explaining himself to ex-Stones driver Tom Keylock.
Keylock is the man who claims that Frank Thorogood, on his deathbed, confessed to murdering Brian Jones. There's nothing on earth to substantiate that claim, but we're supposed to swallow it whole. Yeah, right.
The movie is full of other inaccuracies. By most accounts, Anita Pallenberg ditched Jones for Richards in 1967. The movie has her doing it on the 1968 Morocco vacation when Jones recorded The Pipes Of Pan At Joujouka.
Director Stephen Woolley has 40 credits as a producer, including Company Of Wolves and Mona Lisa. This is his first outing as director. Let's hope it's his last.
Extras Deleted scenes. Wide-screen.
Coming Tuesday, July 11
Koko, A Talking Gorilla
Barbet Schroeder's lively documentary on the likeable and obviously self-aware gorilla raises wonderful and disturbing questions about the nature of personhood.
The Black Swan
Classic Tyrone Power swashbuckler with commentary by co-star Maureen O'Hara.
Basic Instinct 2
(Sony, 2006) Unrated extended version. Sharon Stone rides again.
Edward Yang's highly acclaimed year in the life of a Taiwanese family gets the usual superb Criterion treatment.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb