The Last King Of Scotland
(20th Century Fox, 2006) D: Kevin Macdonald, w/ Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson. Rating: NNNN ; DVD package:NNN
Author Giles Foden decribes his novel The Last King Of Scotland as 80 per cent fictional but mostly true. Though the young Scottish doctor who finds himself in the unlikely position of personal physician to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin is made up, most of the stuff about Amin isn't.
The problem with filming this novel is that the expository passages, left unburied by other elements, are quite naked. Foden uses Amin as a symbol of post-colonial Africa, and his book does this with a subtlety the film can't match. The glory of the film is that director Kevin Macdonald shot it in Uganda, often in the actual locations, giving it a real-world documentary feel.
It's also the vehicle for Forest Whitaker's Academy Award-winning performance as Amin, a stunning piece of work in which the actor jumps from menace to appeal in a moment. For fun, pick up the Criterion DVD of Barbet Schroeder's General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait to see what the filmmakers lifted from the 1971 doc (Macdonald name-checks it in the commentary) and just how uncanny Whitaker's performance is.
Extras Director commentary, making-of featurette, deleted scenes with commentary, Whitaker featurette, theatrical trailer. English, French, Spanish audio. English, Spanish subtitles. Streets April 17.
Jonestown: The Life And Death Of Peoples Temple
(PBS/Paramount, 2006) D: Stanley Nelson. Rating: NNNN ; DVD package: NNN
Speaking of charismatic dictators , Stanley Nelson says of his documentary on the mass suicide/murder at Jonestown in 1979 that he wanted it to be about the people but gradually realized he needed to deal with messianic paranoid Jim Jones. That's like making a documentary about Nazism and suddenly realizing you've gotta deal with Hitler.
Jonestown continues to fascinate as a weird collision of Pentecostal Protestantism, 60s street-level leftism and too much bad karma. The documentary captures the views of the survivors and relatives of those who died, but Jones remains an enigma. Perhaps someone will release the TV film Guyana Tragedy, with Powers Boothe's Emmy-winning portrayal of Jones. It deserves revival.
Extras Director interview, 20 minutes of deleted scenes.
(Criterion/Paradox, 1947) D: Jules Dassin w/ Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford. Rating: NNNNN ; DVD package: NNNN
The Naked City
(Criterion/Paradox, 1948) D: Dassin, w/ Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff. Rating: NN ; DVD package: NNNN
Criterion completes its run of Jules Dassin's films noirs with a prison melodrama and a piece of American neo-realism. Brute Force remains a classic of both the prison drama and film noir, with Burt Lancaster as a tough, tortured prisoner and Hume Cronyn as a sadistic head prison guard whose character takes the film into anti-fascist allegory. No, really, and it ain't subtle.
The Naked City is more interesting as a grand influence than as a film. Daringly new for a 1948 Hollywood film, with its adoption of neo-realism's anti-studio approach, it feels like the first half of every Law And Order, a long police procedural with great locations.
Both films are the work of a creative team that includes producer Mark Hellinger, whose last films they were, composer Miklós Rósza and cinematographer William H. Daniels, whose credits stretched from Greed to Valley Of The Dolls. Garbo's favourite cinematographer at MGM, he won his Oscar for the urban grit of Naked City.
The extras packages are what we expect from Criterion: interviews with noir historians, theatrical trailers, informative booklets. The Brute Force booklet includes an exchange of letters and telegrams between Hellinger and Production Code head Joseph Breen, and Naked City has an appreciation by New Yorker writer Luc Sante (Low Life).
EXTRAS Brute Force: critical commentary from noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, interview with criminologist Paul Mason on prison movies, theatrical trailer, stills gallery. Booklet essay by Michael Atkinson, Saturday Evening Post profile of Hellinger from 1947. Streets April 17.
EXTRAS The Naked City: screenwriter Malvin Wald commentary, interview with noir historian Dana Polan, location analysis by James Sanders, theatrical trailer, stills gallery, booklet essay by Luc Sante, production memos from Hellinger to Dassin.
Le Petit Lieutenant
(TLA/Mongrel, 2005) D: Xavier Beauvoir, w/ Nathalie Baye, Jalil Lespert. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: bare bones
A couple of russian illegals are running around Paris killing people for pocket change and dumping them in the Seine. And Nathalie Baye's squad of cynical young cops has to catch them.
Le Petit Lieutenant is a solid procedural that daringly switches protagonists in the middle. I am, however, puzzled by Baye's best-actress award at the Césars, first because she's barely in the first 45 minutes of the film, and while it's a good performance, it's not a patch on Isabelle Huppert's stunning turn in Gabrielle, which was also nominated.
I suspect there's some political thing at work - Huppert has 11 nominations and one win, and some of her losses look very odd in retrospect.
Extras Theatrical trailer, stills gallery. French audio, English subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, April 17
Notes On A Scandal
(20th Century Fox, 2006) Cate Blanchett gets in trouble when a predatory older colleague (Judi Dench) discovers that she's been indiscreet with a student. High-end trash, but what performances, and a Philip Glass score!
Not Just The Best Of The Larry Sanders Show
(Sony, 1992-98) Four discs, 24 episodes, lots of extras. The online fans seem furious that they aren't getting all six seasons, complete, right now. Also available this week, the complete first season.
(Criterion/Paradox, 1995) Or, Boyz N Le Banlieu. This is Mathieu Kassovitz's succès de scandale about the multicultural slums of suburban Paris. As a director, Kassovitz had great promise but little follow-through, but it was a heck of a promise and made Vincent Cassel a star.
Thieves Like Us
(MGM, 1974) The last of Robert Altman's 70s classics finally arrives on DVD. Starring Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall.