(Criterion/Morningstar, 1988) D: Robert Altman, w/ Michael Murphy, Pamela Reed. Rating: NNNN
The 80s are often regarded as a fallow period for Robert Altman, but they did spawn his three great political films: The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, Secret Honor (due on DVD this month from Criterion) and Tanner '88, the 11-episode pseudo-documentary he created with Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau. (Tanner On Tanner, the sequel, airs in the U.S. Tuesdays through November 2.) Altman's camera stalks the truth of American politics by tracking Michael Murphy, playing Jack Tanner, liberal Democratic presidential hopeful, through the state primary process.
Altman has mastered the tone of the TV documentary. The series' real-world feel is also helped by the appearance of political figures like Bob Dole, Bruce Babbitt and Kitty Dukakis and by the skill with which Altman integrates the fictional and the actual.
Pamela Reed plays Tanner's campaign manager, and the young Cynthia Nixon (Sex And The City) his activist daughter. The DVD is light on extras, but Criterion includes the retrospective introductions that Murphy, Reed and Nixon did in character for the Comedy Central run of the series.
EXTRAS Video conversation with Altman and Trudeau, booklet essays by Michael Wilmington.
Aladdin: Platinum Edition
(Disney, 1992) D: John Musker, Ron Clements, w/ Robin Williams, Scott Weinger. Rating: NNNN
Disney's platinum editions are its crown jewels. The studio does one or two a year; next year's will be Bambi and Cinderella. Disney's lavish with the extras, and Aladdin's no exception. The problem with this edition can be found in the list of cast members interviewed: Scott Weinger (the voice of Aladdin), Linda Larkin (Princess Jasmine), Jonathan Freeman (Jafar) and so on. Then you notice that Robin Williams is apparently still pissed off at Disney over this film and appears nowhere on the two DVDs I've seen.
The film's still a stunner, with spectacular animation and Williams's lunatic performance as the Genie. But neither of the commentaries by the directors or the animators is especially interesting, and the assorted extras have limited repeat value. But the film remains essential.
EXTRAS Deep breath... directors' and animators' commentaries; text trivia track; new music videos for A Whole New World performed by Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, and Proud Of Your Boy sung by Clay Aiken; Disney's virtual DVD ride, Aladdin's Magic Carpet Adventure; Diamond In The Rough: The Making Of Aladdin; deleted scenes; booklet with DVD navigation guide. French and Spanish dubbed versions.
(Microfilms, 2002) D: Mark Moskowitz, w/ Moskowitz, Dow Mossman. Rating: NNNNN
Stone reader is a documentary as missing persons investigation. Director Mark Moskowitz goes in search of Dow Mossman, who wrote one huge novel (The Stones Of Summer) in the early 70s that never sold. He never wrote another book. It's a study of obsession - a movie in which everyone reads and discusses books and writers all the time - rendered in the gentlest way imaginable. The best part comes when we're wandering through the University of Iowa in search of Mossman and almost conclude that he doesn't exist.
Microfilms' well-presented DVD comes loaded with a second disc of extras, some directly relevant to the film, like Janet Maslin's Q&A with the director or Roger Ebert's introduction of the film at his Overlooked Film Festival, some of it tangential, like A. S. Byatt interviewing Toni Morrison.
There's a screening/DVD launch for Stone Reader at the Bloor Cinema, Thursday (October 7) at 7 pm with the director in attendance.
EXTRAS Director/subject commentary, deleted scenes, extended interviews, interviews, panel discussions, Leslie Fiedler interviewed by William F. Buckley (1974), theatrical trailer. There's an extremely cool Easter egg on the second disc: on the second page of the menu, move the highlight until the bar above the menu is lit. Hit enter.
(MGM, 2004) D: Brian Dannelly, w/ Jena Malone, Mandy Moore. Rating: NNN
Alas, someone reminded Mandy Moore that butter's not supposed to melt in her mouth, so her commentary with Jena Malone on Saved! isn't nearly as entertaining as the one she contributed to the Chasing Liberty DVD - 90 minutes of whining self-absorption perhaps more amusing than the movie itself. Saved!, however, is a much better movie, and Moore's very funny as Hilary Faye, the spiteful queen bee of her fundamentalist Christian high school, where life is turned upside down when Malone decides to "save" her gay boyfriend by sleeping with him. Afterwards he's still gay, but she's pregnant.
Saved! is a sharply written comedy about tolerance and respect - Mean Girls with born-agains - and a terrific showcase for a young cast that includes Macaulay Culkin, Eva Amurri as the school's bad girl and a brilliant turn by Martin Donovan as the "hip" principal who's looking for kids who are "down with G-o-d." The many extras are not very interesting. The blooper reel isn't funny, which is odd.
EXTRAS Director/writer/producer and star commentaries, making-of featurette, theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, blooper reel.
The Three Faces Of Eve
(Fox Studio Classics, 1957), D: Nunnally Johnson, w/ Joanne Woodward, Lee J. Cobb. Rating: NNN
Joanne Woodward got her oscar for playing a young Southern woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. The Three Faces Of Eve is a historical curio, a piece of very square filmmaking from Nunnally Johnson, who was better known as a writer and producer. He has almost no flair as a director and employs a strained earnestness that must have seemed appropriate in the first film to deal seriously with this unusual psychological disorder. Woodward's very good, and the film contains one of her rare forays into hot mama territory. It's worth a mention because she usually registers such a serene air of mental health that her attempts at "wild" characters are often quite funny, though I'm not sure that's how she intends them. The DVD's very light on extras for the Studio Classics series.
EXTRAS Scholarly commentary, theatrical trailer, Fox Movietone Newsreel of Woodward's Academy Award acceptance. English, French, Spanish versions, English and Spanish subtitles.Coming Tuesday, October 12
The Battle Of Algiers
(Criterion/ Morningstar, 1965) Three-disc SE of Gillo Pontecorvo's classic drama about the Algerian war of independence.
The Nutty Professor: Special Collector's Edition
(Paramount, 1963) Nine new-to-DVD Jerry Lewis titles, including The Ladies' Man (1961) and The Disorderly Orderly (1964), and this special edition of the film Martin Scorsese called the scariest version of Jekyll And Hyde. They're dancing in the streets in Paris.
The Day After Tomorrow
(20th Century Fox, 2004) The wrong part of the world gets frozen. It misses director Roland Emmerich's house.
Ren & Stimpy: The First Two Seasons
(Paramount, 1991-2) Thirty episodes on three DVDs. I can finally get rid of those VHS shows I taped.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb