Divorce Italian Style (Criterion/Morningstar, 1962) D: Pietro Germi, w/ Marcello Mastroianni. Rating: NNN
Just below the first rank of Italian directors, the Fellinis and Antonionis, are a host of lesser-known filmmakers like Ettore Scola (That Night In Varennes) and Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) whose work is just as engaging. Among the best is Pietro Germi, whose career ranged from 40s neo-realism to 70s comedy and at times reached the level of a Fritz Lang or Billy Wilder. This is his best movie. Germi is interested in basic emotion, recognizable the world over, which gives his portrait of Sicilian society resonances that transcend borders. He's also a technical master. Fluid, ever-moving camera, dynamic compositions, sharp editing and a strong eye for crowd scenes and minor characters turn what might have been a nothing-special farce into a comic gem.
And he's got Marcello Mastroianni, who'd already honed his timing and his slightly droopy persona in over 50 films by the time he made this. Mastroianni is perfect as the idle baron who conceives a passion for his young cousin and devises an elaborate scheme to murder his syrupy wife. It all goes wrong, of course. Germi moves effortlessly from the baron's mind to the world around him to poke fun at the culture and the man it's created.
Criterion, with its usual care, fleshes out the director and the movie quite well, though the film needs next to no explanation. Germi's way with actors and screenwriters is unique and well worth investigating.
Extras Disc one: wide-screen, black-and-white, high-definition digital transfer. Italian mono with English subtitles. Disc two: doc on Germi, interviews with actors and filmmakers, screenwriter interview, screen tests, booklet of essays by Martin Scorsese, Andrew Sarris, Stuart Klawans.
Enduring Love (Paramount, 2004) D: Roger Michell, w/ Daniel Craig, Rhys Ifans. Rating: NNN
It's easy to bungle mystic thrillers. The Suspect Zeros of this world are far more common than the Sevens. Enduring Love isn't quite that bad, but it never reaches its full potential. Four strangers try to save a boy in a hot-air balloon, and one of them falls to his death. This drives Joe, a writer and lecturer, nearly insane with guilt, and brings Jed, one of the other would-be rescuers, into his life. Jed professes his love for him, but of what sort, and who is he really?
At first, with his "everything happens for a reason" philosophy, Jed seems to be spiritually motivated, which sets him nicely against Joe's über-rationalist all-is-biology stance and gives the film a lot of potential interest. Sadly, it never develops fully, and what might have been an excursion into a realm that feels almost like one of Jonathan Carroll's disturbing yet upbeat novels becomes an okay character-driven piece that sags in the middle and comes to a mundane conclusion.
What earns it three N's is Daniel Craig, whom you might've seen in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. He's a British screen and TV veteran very short on actory mannerisms and long on letting us inside his battling mind and heart. He manages to play the intellectual as neither snob nor neurotic, and that's something we too seldom see.
Extras Wide-screen. English 5.1, 2.0. English subtitles.
Go Further (Mongrel, 2003) D: Ron Mann, w/ Woody Harrelson. Rating: NN
There isn't much here to get a grip on. Actor and environmental activist Woody Harrelson does a campus speaking tour down the U.S. West Coast by bus, and documentary filmmaker Ron Mann goes along for the ride. They park the bus nose to nose with the one Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters rode in the 60s, when Kesey was blowing minds wherever he found them. It's supposed to look like a passing of the torch, but it's more like a gimmick staged for the camera.
So are the shots of meditation by the ocean, endless bicycling and yoga atop the bus. Kesey's crew were mind-blown themselves. Harrelson and company come across as restrained, sensible, media-savvy propagandists positioning themselves as groovy to help sell their message.
It's an important message, but you've likely heard it before and better, often in these pages. If you haven't, you won't learn much here. The team covers a lot of topics: hemp, solar energy, organic farming, toxic food and more, but the information is short, simple and sound-bite light. In between, more bicycling and the occasional musical number.
Near the end, Harrelson says he thinks personal life changes are the most important element in making an environmental difference. But he tells us nothing about why and how he changed his own life and what it cost him. It feels like a bait-and-switch: come see the famed actor/activist on the road with his buddies. Surprise, famed actor/activist just wants to give you a primer on environmental issues. Too bad. If they'd picked an issue and gone with it, they'd have had a far better movie.
Extras Trailers. Wide-screen. English, no subtitles.
National Treasure (Disney, 2004) D: John Turteltaub, w/ Nicolas Cage, Sean Bean. Rating: NN
Of all the actors who should never star in a children's movie - Klaus Kinski, Peter Lorre - Nicolas Cage heads the list. No matter what the part, he's too raunchy, too damaged and too thoroughly adult to make a convincing boys' own adventure hero. To make matters worse, he's at sea here, lost in the gibberish. So he falls back on standard Cage shtick with occasional embarrassing attempts at humour, making an already bad children's movie even worse.
And children's movie is what this is, despite the misleading hype. It's a treasure hunt with lots of clues and a bad guy racing our hero to the goodies. Just the thing for 10-year-olds.
Everything's been tamped down to a Disney-approved safe-for-six-year-olds level. No fistfights, not even a climactic battle between hero and villain; nobody gets shot; no onscreen death; no serious menacing of the heroine. In fact, no serious menace of any sort.
Also no sense. From tiny details like Cage slicing himself to provide ink when there's no urgent need for it, to the villain losing the thread but showing up in the right place anyway, the movie treats its viewers with a contempt that extends even to the extras. There are passwords, secret codes and puzzles to solve, and they'd present little challenge to a bright seven-year-old. Presumably, six-year-olds don't care.
Extras Alternate ending, deleted scenes, opening scene animatic, all with director's commentary; making-of doc, Knights Templar doc, codes and cyphers doc, games, Easter eggs. Wide-screen. English, French 5.1. English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, May 10
The Merchant of Venice (Sony, 2004) Michael Radford (Il Postino) directs Al Pacino in Shakespeare's classic.
The Longest Yard, Lockdown Edition (Paramount,1974) Timed for the probably inferior remake and featuring a Burt Reynolds commentary.
In Good Company (Universal, 2004) Dennis Quaid tries to save his job while new boss Topher Grace dates his daughter.
Assault On Precinct 13 (U, 2005) Remake of John Carpenter's 1976 debut feature.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb