(Sony, 2005) D: Dave McKean, w/ Stephanie Leonidas, Gina McKee. Rating: NNNN
A collaboration between award-winning fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, British director David McKean and the effects team at the Jim Henson Company led to this deeply strange fantasy, which wasn't so much released last fall as it escaped. It played in fewer than 50 theatres, and grossed less than $1 million.
I suspect Sony had no idea how to market something that looked like a kids' fantasy film cooked up by Jan Svankmajer in the Quay Brothers' basement. Yeah, it's that weird. Enjoy it before showing it to the kids.
A girl (Leonidas) growing up in the circus longs to run away to "real" life, but only escapes to a world where she needs to find the titular mask to get home and save her mother. The important question is "Could Gina McKee's Dark Queen beat Tilda Swinton's White Witch from Narnia?"
Excellent DVD transfer, the Gaiman/McKean commentary is very interesting, and there's an assortment of effects-centred featurettes.
Extras: Director/screenwriter (Gaiman) commentary; director, screenwriter and cast interviews; scene-specific making of featurettes; poster and art gallery. English, French, Portuguese and Thai soundtracks. English, French Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, Korean subtitles.
(Miramax/Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: John Madden, w/ Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal. Rating: NN
Reuniting Gwyneth Paltrow with her Shakespeare In Love director no doubt seemed like a good idea, particularly as they'd done the play together in London, but they'd have been better off leaving Proof on the stage.
Paltrow plays the daughter of a famous mathematician (Anthony Hopkins) who went mad in her care and then died. (No spoiler he's dead when the film starts.) She keeps talking to him, though, and to her evil sister (Hope Davis) and the hot young nerd (Jake Gyllenhaal) who's going through Dad's papers.
John Madden and company work furiously to "open the play up," but Paltrow's character is less tragic than annoying, as moral absolutists usually are. Also, I'm one of those who think of Paltrow, like Meryl Streep, as better in comedy than in drama.
Extras: Director's commentary, deleted scenes with commentary, short making-of featurette. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles. --
Blood And Wine
(Fox, 1996) D: Bob Rafelson, w/ Jack Nicholson, Stephen Dorff, Jennifer Lopez. Rating: NNNN
Blood and Wine is one of the past decade's better neo-noir exercises. Everyone in the cast (did we mention Michael Caine and Judy Davis?) is trying to double cross everyone else over an expensive diamond necklace.
Particularly memorable are a pre-stardom Jennifer Lopez (her next picture would be Selena) and Caine as a man dying of emphysema but continuing to chain-smoke anyway. The film's commercial problem you don't root for any of the characters is also its artistic glory.
The surprise here is that this is the kind of film (a commercial failure a decade old with a prestige cast) that's usually only issued on DVD when a studio does a catalogue dump, grabbing a bunch of titles at once, and the front of the box does nothing to indicate otherwise. Then you check the back and see the extras, and it's damn near a special edition.
Extras: Director commentary; scene commentary by Jack Nicholson, Stephen Dorff and Caine; a new hour-long making-of. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
The Comedy Central Roast Of Pamela Anderson - Uncensored!
(Paramount, 2006) w/ Anderson, Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman. Rating: NN
Comedy Now! Starring Russell Peters
(VSC, 1997, 2003) w/ Peters. Rating: NNNN
If you've got any sort of video recorder and don't mind the commercials, then neither of these issues is particularly necessary. Indeed, if you taped the Anderson roast off the Comedy Channel a couple of weeks back, you've got the uncensored version; given the language (obscene) and content (likewise), the U.S. version must have run about 20 minutes.
Anderson agreed to be roasted for a large donation to PETA, but the various comics involved quickly realized something: sex tape, breasts, dating mediocre rock stars, Tommy Lee's dick - that's all there is. Courtney Love is actually funnier than most of the comics - though Sarah Silverman and Jeffrey Ross have their moments. Her material isn't off-the rack and she's completely self-mocking.
The way to do this right is the Comedy Central Dennis Leary Roast, also on DVD. It's mostly that posse of Boston comics who have known Leary and one another for decades, and when you insult Leary, you know he's going to get his rebuttal at the end. Anderson has some jokes written for her, and she can't deliver them.
The VSC release of Russell Peters's two appearances on Comedy Now!, however, are gems. Peters is Canada's leading South Asian comic, and he's hilariously sharp. There are more genuine laughs in any 10 minutes of his shows than in the whole 80 minutes of the Anderson roast. If you don't want to wait for the reruns, this is worth grabbing. And it's inexpensive.
Extras: Peters: none. Anderson: "rehearsal" footage, outtakes, interviews.
Coming Tuesday, February 21
La Béte Humaine
(Criterion, 1938) Jean Renoir's classic adaptation of Zola, with Jean Gabin and Simone Simon.
(Sony, 2005) It's a gritty musical about artsy types in New York's East Village. So let's get that Home Alone guy to direct it. Five words: Rosario Dawson plays a stripper.
The Weather Man
(Paramount, 2005) Nicolas Cage plays a TV weather man undergoing a mid-life crisis. Straining credibility, his dad is played by Michael Caine.
All The President's Men
(Warner, 1976) A big upgrade: a two-disc special edition, documentaries on the period, and what may be Robert Redford's first DVD commentary.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb