A Prairie Home Companion
(New Line/Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Robert Altman, w/ Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Garrison Keillor. Rating: NNNN
After Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman has the longest career of any working American director. I can't think of any other director who started working before 1960.
At this point, his best films feel like effortless incursions into strange environments, his camera probing the world of the English country house, a ballet company or a radio show. The environment may be artificial or alien to the audience, but the endless flowing camera movement and improvised dialogue are a stylistic signature that makes Altman's worlds feel as familiar as your backyard.
Working from a Garrison Keillor script about the last night of his venerated radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, Altman offers Kevin Kline as the show's head of security, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as the remnants of a singing family act, Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as singing cowboys and Virginia Madsen as the angel of death.
There's a plot, but as always in Altman, it's not that important. This is a rare film that functions both as a free-floating comedy and a meditation on mortality.
Extras Director-star (Kline) commentary, making-of documentary, deleted scenes, complete musical numbers. English and French subtitles.
(Seville/Warner, 2004) D: Lodge Kerrigan, w/ Damian Lewis, Amy Ryan. Rating: NNNN
Keane is Lodge Kerrigan's third film in a decade, and like his debut, Clean, Shaven (see Coming, below), is an intense study of a man in a delusional state. William Keane is running on emotional fumes and controlled substances, living on disability cheques and searching for his daughter, who may or may not exist. Damian Lewis (Band Of Brothers, Dreamcatcher) is frighteningly good here. If he passed you on the street or came rambling into your space on the subway you'd move away in a hurry, because he's nervous, talking to himself out loud and may smell bad.
I'm not sure there's an audience for this sort of claustrophobic personality study, but it's certainly an interesting film.
The DVD also contains, inexplicably, one of the neatest extras ever, a completely separate alternate cut of the film by producer Steven Soderbergh. There's no information about why it's there, and why Kerrigan's cut was the one released. Soderbergh's is several minutes shorter, and offers a completely different take on Kerrigan's material. He structures the film so our view of Keane takes longer to develop, thus altering the story's emotional tone.
There should've been duelling commentaries.
EXTRAS Producer's cut, theatrical trailer.
South Park: The Hits, Vol. 1
(Paramount, 2006) D: Trey Parker, w/ Parker, Matt Stone. Rating: NNNN
If you've got the last three complete-season box sets of South Park, you've got most of these episodes, which include their savage Paris Hilton rip Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset, the hilarious anime parody Good Times With Weapons, the tender study of forbidden romance Red Hot Catholic Love and the instantly infamous Trapped In The Closet, which gets its DVD debut here.
Parker and Stone have concentrated on more recent episodes because they feel, rightly, that they've gotten better and sharper as they've learned how to do their jobs. Personally, I feel they might have included the two-part epic on the search for Cartman's biological father, but I'm not sure which episode they might have dropped to make room for it.
The mini-commentaries are new and basically explain why each episode was chosen.
Extras Mini-commentaries on all episodes, four bonus episodes and legendary Spirit Of Christmas short film.
(Columbia, 2006) D: Frank Coraci, w/ Adam Sandler, Kate Beckinsale, Christopher Walken. Rating: N
I tried to enjoy click, the latest Adam Sandler mess - I really did. Hit me with a big, dumb comedy. I can watch Happy Gilmore and laugh like a fool when Sandler gets into a fistfight with Bob Barker. Little Nicky was torture, but it was enlivened by the brief appearances of Harvey Keitel and Reese Witherspoon. This one is slovenly even for Sandler, perhaps the laziest movie star comic ever. Scenes don't build to anything, there's no verbal wit, and wherever there's an easy laugh, that's what he goes but not if he has to get off the couch.
It's no surprise that Sandler's best films, Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish, weren't produced by his company or directed by members of his crew.
Sandler plays a workaholic architect who, in search of a universal remote, meets Christopher Walken at the back of a Bed, Bath & Beyond and gets a device that lets him control the universe. Click is less interesting than Clockstoppers, which wasn't that good. If you must see the film, the DVD has a nice package of extras, though the commentary is like sitting in on a stoned frat party at a university known for its low academic standards.
Extras Star/director/writer commentary, various production featurettes, deleted scenes. English and French soundtracks and subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, October 17
The Maltese Falcon: Special Edition
(Warner, 1941) The Maltese Falcon has been on DVD before, but Warner's three-disc edition offers a new transfer, the two earlier versions of the Dashiell Hammett story (the 1931 Maltese Falcon and 1936's Satan Met A Lady), a commentary, new documentaries and a 1941 Warner Brothers blooper reel.
(Miramax, 2005) The final Project Greenlight film locks a group of people in a bar. They're half-drunk, not too bright, they don't like each other and there are monsters outside trying to kill them. Fun.
(Universal, 2006) Dennis Quaid stars as a slightly dim American president who agrees to act as a judge on a familiar-looking TV talent show. Hugh Grant, who's always more fun when he's nasty, plays the snarky English producer.
(Criterion, 1994) Lodge Kerrigan's stunning debut, a portrait of a schizophrenic played by Peter Greene, gets its DVD debut, including an interview commentary with Kerrigan and Steven Soderbergh.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb