My Left Foot
Miramax has given this outstanding movie the care it deserves for its re-release. Picture and sound have been digitally remastered, and the well-considered set of extras lightly explores the key elements of the production, its impact and the man it was based on. It's an especially nice touch to include contemporary reviews by key U.S. critics, including Pauline Kael, all of whom make a point of explaining the Dublin context for the U.S. audience.
Daniel Day-Lewis picked up an Oscar for his portrayal of Christy Brown, the Dubliner who attained fame and fortune as a painter and writer despite having muscle control of only his left foot. Born with cerebral palsy, Brown succeeds by dint of sheer determination and massive love and acceptance from his working-class family.
Lewis and Hugh O'Conor, who plays Christy as a boy, have an amazing ability to convey nuanced emotion through rigid bodies, contorted faces and voices that can do little but groan. But they're not the whole show. Christy's family is vital. Ray McAnally, as his father, shows us the hard man and the tender heart he doesn't know he has. As his mother, Brenda Fricker, a supporting-actress Oscar winner, gives a remarkably quiet and restrained performance in a role that must've offered huge temptation for scenery-chewing.
This was veteran stage director Jim Sheridan's first feature, but he seems completely at home in the medium. We're fully immersed in Christy's world, moving at a naturally brisk pace that reflects the characters' energy and high spirits. Despite the subject matter, this isn't a pity party, but a celebration of the Brown family's rough joy and Christy's part in it. Even the big moments zip by (and the film has loads of them, enhanced by Elmer Bernstein's lovely, unobtrusive score) and are never milked for cheap emotion.
EXTRAS Making-of doc, Christy Brown doc, reviews, stills gallery. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
The Man Who Copied
(TLA, 2003) D: Jorge Furtado, w/ Lázaro Ramos, Leandra Leal. Rating: NNN
A minimum-wage photocopier operator spends his evenings cartooning and spying on the girl across the street. But he's too shy and too broke to approach her until a new colour copier brings the chance of a little low-level counterfeiting.
André, our hero, isn't the only one obsessed with money, and before long his fantasy girlfriend, his sexy co-worker and her boyfriend have joined in an escalating spiral of crime.
A deadpan comedy, The Man Who Copied starts slow and builds slow, but the Brazilian film is well shot and acted and propelled by a good pop score. Once it takes off, it offers some surprises. Plenty of animation and some very good split-screen work throughout give us a look inside André's naively greedy mind.
The mix of coming-of-age movie, caper flick and romantic comedy works well, providing some unforced social comment.
EXTRAS Making-of doc, stills gallery. Full frame. Portuguese with English subtitles.
A Lot Like Love
(Disney, 2005) D: Nigel Cole, w/ Ashton Kutcher, Amanda Peet. Rating: NN
For a few minutes in a commentary mostly devoted to cheery self-congratulation, director Nigel Cole and producers Armyan Bernstein and Kevin Messick say something useful about the nature of romantic comedy. They point out that usually it's one simple contrivance, often a lie of identity, that keeps the couple apart. But in this movie it's life itself, a tangled mess of mundane mistimings, that keeps the couple from connecting.
This, they proclaim, makes their movie better because it's more true-to-life. Which demonstrates that they've entirely missed the point of romantic comedy. Romantic comedies are fairy tales, Cinderella in contemporary drag. They may speak truthfully to the heart's longings, but the real-life bits are just window dressing to help sell the tale. (Actioners, by the way, tend to be variations on Jack And The Beanstalk.)
Dumping the fairy-tale logic deprives the movie of much forward motion, and the structure steals even more. The lovers meet every few years when they break up with someone else and don't realize until far into the film that they love each other. Cole and company have also decided to dispense with many actual funny moments, again in the cause of realism.
This leaves us watching a romantic comedy that gets less funny as it goes along, until the crisis an hour in turns it into a tale of existential dread. The man with the plan is 30, jobless and living with his parents, his business destroyed. Then the film gets lighthearted for the resolution.
What keeps this from being utterly joyless is the pairing of Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet, who play well together and seem to be having fun. As the slightly stodgy man with a plan, he's more developed than her alleged free spirit, but the two sparkle and make the sometimes pedestrian scenes work.
EXTRAS Director and producers commentary, deleted scenes, bloopers. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(MGM, 2005) D: Bille Woodruff, w/ Queen Latifah, Alicia Silverstone. Rating: NN
Drab direction and a dullard's sense of pace drag a delightful idea and lots of snappy patter into the doldrums. Lots of strong talents seem to be having mild fun, but you wish they had a better movie to do it in.
Beauty Shop, a spinoff from the Barbershop movies, purports to be a comic look inside that specific world, but it distracts itself and us with pointless plotting as Gina (Queen Latifah), having quit venomous Jorge's (Kevin Bacon) upscale shop, opens her own in the 'hood. Now she's got to deal with paying the bills, a budding classical pianist daughter, a romantically interested upstairs neighbour, vengeful Jorge, a crooked city inspector and a sister-in-law being lured into turning tricks.
Most of it is totally predictable and mostly not funny. It takes away from the unforced drama of race and class centring on the wealthy white clients, and Alicia Silverstone as the only white stylist trying to fit into the all-black shop.
When the women let their hair down and speak their minds in the beauty shop, it does get fast and funny, though softened way down for mainstream consumption. Sheryl Underwood as Catfish Rita and Della Reese as the shop's first customer are particularly memorable. Kevin Bacon's Jorge, all fake accent and mincing mannerisms, is terrific. Latifah sails through her troubles with amiable, regal serenity.
But director Bille Woodruff blocks and paces with a bland TV-like distance that leaches the life from everything. If his commentary is anything to go by, he was totally uninterested in the project. In his 17 minutes of remarks on selected scenes, he says absolutely nothing worth hearing. The other extras are little better.
EXTRAS Director commentary, making-of doc, gag reel. Wide-screen or full-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, August 30
(Alliance, 2005) Jane Fonda returns to the screen.
The Shirley Temple Collection
(Fox) Three golden-age Hollywood classics of cuteness: Heidi (1937), Curly Top (1935), Little Miss Broadway (1938).
(Columbia, 1965) Sam Peckinpah classic western, fully restored, extended and loaded with extras.
(Alliance, 2003) Spectacular martial arts action done without wire work.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb