Fox’s Cash-in

Performances make Walk The Line work

Walk The Line

(Fox, 2005) D: James Mangold, w/ Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon. Rating: NNN

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And the window keeps shrinking. Three months and 10 days from Walk The Line’s theatrical release to home video. It’s still playing in Toronto at deadline. Walk The Line is not some obscurity it arrives with a passel of Oscar nominations and $100 million theatrical gross. You’d think Fox would hold this for a week just in case Reese Witherspoon or Joaquin Phoenix wins the Oscar and an “Academy Award winner” sticker could be added to the shrink wrap.

As much as I admire the two stars’ nominated performances, there’s no denying that Johnny Cash has the same biography as many movie-worthy musicians: early success followed by drug problems, saved by the love of a good woman. And like most of James Mangold’s films, Walk The Line has a slightly plodding, earnest quality.

The two leads’ electrifying turns are the film’s justification. Phoenix’s work is as great a reach as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote, and while Witherspoon, a native Tennessean, has less distance to travel, she may burrow even deeper into June Carter’s character. And, as noted early and often, they do their own singing.

It’s a good DVD, but a little light. This review refers to the single-disc edition there’s also a two-disc special edition that we have not seen.

Extras Director’s commentary, 10 deleted scenes with optional commentary, theatrical trailer. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles. DTS Soundtrack.

The Ice Harvest

(Focus/Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Harold Ramis, w/ John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Randy Quaid. Rating: NNNN

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One more dark Christmas comedy featuring Billy Bob Thornton, The Ice Harvest, if not as funny as Bad Santa, is the darkest film Harold Ramis has ever directed.

John Cusack plays a Midwestern mob lawyer who rips off his gangster boss (Randy Quaid) for $2 million on Christmas Eve, then can’t quite get out of town. He’s superb – watch his reaction in the scene in the car with Thornton and the trunk in the back seat, and how he plays the unexpected agony of having a knife driven into his foot. All the actors bring their A-game, including Oliver Platt as an over-the-top drunk who gives comic relief and Connie Nielsen as the very fatale femme.

As for the extras, given the amount of time Ramis has spent among the truly funny, you expect something more than his by-the-numbers director’s commentary.

Extras Director commentary, two alternate (even darker) endings, writer’s featurette, making-of featurette, one little prize: restaurant scene w/ Cusack and Thornton, using his Sling Blade voice.

La Bête Humaine

(Criterion/Paradox, 1938) D: Jean Renoir, w/ Jean Gabin, Simone Simon, Julien Carette. Rating: NNNNN

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Between Grand Illusion and Rules Of The Game, Jean Renoir made this dark genre piece. It may be based on Zola, but this tale of adultery, murder and trains smells a lot like James M. Cain. Jean Gabin, the greatest star of his era, is paired with the feline Simone Simon, against all his best impulses. Gabin was at his peak in the late 30s, when he made the epochal poetic realist Marcel Carné classics Le Jour Se Lève and Le Quai Des Brumes and the Renoir triptych of The Lower Depths, Grand Illusion and La Bête Humaine.

Though Renoir is not known for proto-film noir, you can feel the director’s pleasure at playing with familiar narrative elements and the camera’s tactile grasp of the trains and stations of northern France. An excellent Criterion package (look at the texture of the images in the restored print), with a prize introduction by Renoir himself, in which he offers this assessment of Simon: “I still contend to this day that vamps should be played by women with innocent faces. They’re much more dangerous.”

Extras Introduction by Renoir, interview with Peter Bogdanovich, photo and poster gallery, French television footage of Renoir directing Simon, critical discussion of the problems of adapting Zola to the screen. Booklet essays by Geoffrey O’Brien, Ginette Vincendeau. French soundtrack. English subtitles.

NewsRadio: Complete Third Season

(Sony, 1995) creator: Paul Simms, w/ Dave Foley, Maura Tierney, Stephen Root. Rating: NNN

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Perhaps the best of the 90s second-tier sitcoms (the first being The Simpsons, Seinfeld and Friends), NewsRadio’s third-season DVD incarnation gives us a fresh chance to appreciate a pair of great comic character actors – the late Phil Hartman, who gave us a Ted Baxter for the 90s in newsreader Bill McNeal, and Stephen Root as station owner Jimmy James, prone to wild enthusiasms and an ineluctably oblique management style.

The writers managed to avoid third-season relationship burnout between Dave (Dave Foley) and Lisa (Maura Tierney) by amping up McNeal and James in the third season, which may be the funniest of the show’s five. Plus, there’s a rare post-Kids In The Hall drag appearance by Foley.

One annoyance: in the gag reel, Sony has bleeped the language. Come on, folks, NewsRadio wasn’t a kids’ show, and all you need is a warning sticker on the box or bleeped and unbleeped audio tracks.

Extras: Ten episode commentaries by writers and cast, 15-minute gag reel (pretty funny except for the bleeping), production featurettes. English soundtrack. Portuguese subtitles (really).

Coming Tuesday, March 7

Howl’s Moving Castle/My Neighbor Totoro

(Disney 2006/1988) Separate issues of Hayao Miyazaki’s astonishing animations. The former may have won the animation Oscar by the time it streets the latter gets a big upgrade from the old full-screen version.

Jarhead: Special Edition

(Universal, 2005) Jake Gyllenhaal stars in this story of Gulf War I. The special edition includes a commentary track by screenwriter William Broyles and original memoirist Anthony Swofford. That should be… interesting.

Free Enterprise

(Anchor Bay, 1998) A pre-Will & Grace Eric McCormack stars in this peculiar homage to Star Trek fandom, which features William Shatner’s greatest performance as William Shatner. No, really, his rap version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar must be seen to be believed.

I Walk The Line

(Sony, 1970) Sony decides to coattail the Cash biopic with this unrelated story of a middle-aged Tennessee sheriff (Gregory Peck) who falls for a moonshiner’s daughter (Tuesday Weld). John Frankenheimer directed.

= Critics’ Pick

NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact

NNNN = very good

NNN = worth a peek

NN = Mediocre

N = Bomb

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