Capturing The Friedmans (HBO/Alliance Atlantis, 2003) D: Andrew Jarecki. Rating: NNNNN
capturing the friedmans is the most complex American movie of 2003, a portrait of a family that takes the fun out of dysfunction. Director Andrew Jarecki was making a short film about children's party clowns when he discovered that David Friedman, his principal subject, came from a family that in the late 80s had been involved in an extraordinary criminal case involving the sexual abuse of children in Great Neck, Long Island.
And the Friedmans had started videotaping themselves after the fact.
The result is a Long Island Rashomon, in which the characters' curious legal strategies and tangled emotional lives relentlessly undercut the notion of objective truth. I've seen Capturing The Friedmans three times now, and each time my perception of the family shifts.
This two-disc special edition includes some of the usual items, like the director's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show, plus a mass of material that just adds to the questions. There are longer versions of interviews, confrontations between participants at the film's New York premiere, more home video footage and Jarecki's clown film. This is a DVD issue that really rises to the astonishing challenges of the film.
EXTRAS Director commentary, theatrical trailer, Friedman home movies, new witness interviews, uncut interview with the star prosecution witness, audio tapes, DVD-ROM section with case documents, film of the Q&A at the film's New York premiere. English, French, Spanish titles.
Lost In Translation (Alliance Atlantis, 2003) D: Sofia Coppola w/ Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray. Rating: NNNN
five months from world premiere (Telluride in August 2003) to home video release may be a record for a critically acclaimed independent film. Then again, it may just reflect that necessity of revising the release strategy in the face of this year's accelerated "no-screeners" Oscar campaign. The rush may have affected the DVD release itself. There are a few moments in which the colour registration seems a hair off, with some light background greys coming through as light greens when played through the component outputs. This is not a problem once you switch over to the S-Video outputs, however.
Lost In Translation gives a woozy, jet-lagged feel to its story of a fading American movie star (Murray) who finds himself at loose ends while filming a whisky commercial in Tokyo. He meets the neglected wife (Johansson) of a photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) who's prone to run off to hang out with rock musicians.
Coppola shows uncanny emotional control in her treatment of these two oddly matched actors, and Murray has wandered into that state of comic grace where he's funny even when he's not being "funny."
And anyone who believes Anna Faris's claims that her character's not based on Cameron Diaz probably still believes in the Easter Bunny.
EXTRAS Ten-minute interview with Coppola and Murray, On Location featurette, deleted scenes, extended version of Matthew's Best Hit TV, music video, theatrical trailer. English, French and Spanish versions, French and Spanish subtitles.
Vanishing Point (20th Century Fox, 1971) D: Richard C. Sarafian, w/ Barry Newman, Cleavon Little. Rating: NNNN
you never know what will turn up on DVD. One day Fox sends out Death Wish 2, 3 and 4, released for no discernible reason in bare-bones editions. Another day you get Nell, with Jodie Foster as a linguistically challenged backwoods woman, and you think, "I never wanted to see this again" until you flip the box over and see that it comes with a Foster commentary. Foster's only done one other complete commentary, on Contact. Vanishing Point is in the same package - another catalogue dump, I'm guessing. Then I note that without fanfare - it's not even a special edition - Fox has included both the American and European cuts of the film, the latter seven minutes longer, and has sat director Richard Sarafian down to do a commentary on the one great picture he made in a 35-year career of mediocrity.
Vanishing Point is an existential allegory/car chase movie, pretentious in a way peculiar to the early 70s. Barry Newman plays Kowalski, an ex-cop and ex-race driver who finds himself delivering a supercharged Dodge from Denver to San Francisco as "the Man" tries to run him down. It's a metaphor, man.
What makes it better than that is the way Sarafian and cinematographer John Alonzo (Chinatown) use the spectacular western vistas to represent the limitless freedom Americans imagine is their birthright even as those freedoms are threatened.
EXTRAS American and European cuts, director commentary, theatrical trailer; unfortunately not in the original wide-screen ratio. English, French, Spanish versions, English and Spanish titles.
The Douglas Fairbanks Collection: The Mark Of Zorro, Don Q Son Of Zorro, The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, The Thief Of Bagdad, The Black Pirate (Kino, 1920-1925) w/ Douglas Fairbanks. Five discs. Rating: NNNN
this box from kino gathers up an assortment of Fairbanks silent swashbucklers that were previously available on Kino and Image, and finally brings The Black Pirate over from laserdisc. Self-recommending to fans of silent cinema, but those who aren't familiar with the period might want to check them out, too. Fairbanks - the Jackie Chan of American silent film, who reputedly did all his own stunts - was one of the biggest stars of the 20s, and he also played most of the great swashbuckling characters before Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power came on the scene.
These films also show us a Hollywood cinema at the last moment before the Germans began to arrive. These are the 20s equivalent of action movies, but the camera never moves, preferring to show us actors moving against grandly designed sets.
The Thief Of Bagdad has some of the most spectacular sets of the era, designed by William Cameron Menzies (Gone With The Wind), and The Black Pirate is one of the earliest Technicolor films (two-strip, not the three-strip process of the 30s, so there's almost no yellow). All the movies come with full scores in modern recordings.
If you want to sample the discs individually, The Black Pirate and The Thief Of Bagdad are the place to start, though the single titles have a higher unit cost than the box.
Robin Hood and The Three Musketeers have an awful lot of exposition, though it's fun to see Alan Hale Sr. in his first go-round as Little John, before serving the same function for Errol Flynn in the classic 1938 version of the story.
Small pleasures abound for fans of old-style Hollywood actors - The Maltese Falcon's Mary Astor is the female lead in Son Of Zorro, Anna May Wong turns up as a harem slave in The Thief Of Bagdad, and Donald Crisp, who would win an Oscar for How Green Was My Valley, plays a scruffy buccaneer in The Black Pirate.
EXTRAS Black Pirate: 20 minutes of outtakes, historical commentary by Rudy Behlmer from the laserdisc (the remaster actually keeps his reference to the turnover point).
The Thief Of Bagdad: Orson Welles introduction from The Silent Era TV program, 20 minutes of outtakes, excerpts from Waxworks and Georges Melies's 1905 Arabian Nights.
Zorro: Fairbanks's home movies, Orson Welles's introduction, newsreel footage of Fairbanks sparring with Jack Dempsey.
Robin Hood: Outtakes, Will Rogers's Robin Hood parody from 1923.
Coming Tuesday, February 10
Intolerable Cruelty (Universal, 2003) The Coen brothers' "romantic comedy" starring George Clooney as an amoral divorce lawyer who meets his match in gold digger Catherine Zeta-Jones.
The Ingmar Bergman Collection (MGM, 1965-1973) Four classic Bergman titles - Shame, Persona, The Passion Of Anna and Hour Of The Wolf - plus The Serpent's Egg. Commentaries on all the films, documentary bonus material.
Wonderland (Lions Gate, 2003) Val Kilmer stars in this dreary biography of porn legend John C. Holmes. The second disc has the prize, Wadd: The Life And Times Of John C. Holmes, Cass Paley's doc that is both a biography and a pocket history of the early years of hardcore porn.
In The Cut (Columbia/TriStar) Meg Ryan gets nasty.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb