Gojira; Godzilla King Of The Monsters
(Alliance Atlantis, 1954, 1956) D: Ishiro Honda, w/ Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi. Rating: NNNN ; DVD Package: NNNN
You can count the number of really worthwhile giant monster movies on one hand and still have enough fingers left for a snack. The good ones are the original King Kong, the Peter Jackson remake and - believe it or not - the original Godzilla.
That's the Japanese cut, the one with the sombre tone and the explicit equation of rampaging reptile with nuclear horror, driven home in scenes of Godzilla's victims suffering radiation sickness. It's also 18 minutes longer than the U. S. version and comes without bad dubbing and Raymond Burr.
The monster's still a guy in a rubber suit stomping a cracker-box Tokyo, but with Ishiro Honda's crisp direction and Akira Ifukube's killer score, it's great stompage. It's also the beginning of a worldwide phenomenon whose cultural ubiquity says, in its own humble way, a lot about the power of myth, metaphor and cinema.
Godzilla scholars and demented fanboys Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski have put together informative commentaries for both the Japanese and American versions, plus some cool making-of docs.
Extras Disc one: Japanese version, commentary with Godzilla scholars, story development doc, Godzilla suit creation doc. Full-frame, black-and white. Japanese with English subtitles. Disc two: U.S. version, different commentary by the same two guys. Print essay.
(Fox, 1960) D: Walter Lang, w/ Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine. Rating: NNN ; DVD Package: NNN
Cole Porter songs, terrific dance numbers and gorgeous art direction are the reasons to check out this classic Broadway-to-screen musical.
There's a story in here, too, and it takes up far too much of the over-two-hour running time, something about nightclub owner Shirley MacLaine getting busted for allowing the illegal titular dance, then finding herself torn between swinging lawyer Frank Sinatra and dour judge Louis Jourdan, all in 1896 Paris.
Forget the story and go for I Love Paris, done as an overture, Let's Do It, It's All Right With Me, Just One Of Those Things and a string of other songs. Hermes Pan, who choreographed for Fred Astaire, designed the breathtaking dances. Juliet Prowse's Adam and Eve ballet and the title rave-up are impossibly high-energy delights.
Way too long and very stagily shot, the film's worst problem is Sinatra. He's got no flair for froth, and his condescending, affect-free persona, which works well in thrillers, kills his scenes.
MacLaine, Maurice Chevalier, Jourdan and Prowse blow him off the screen.
The extras are decent but too brief.
Extras Disc one: wide-screen. English, Spanish, French audio, isolated score track, English, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: retrospective making-of doc, Cole Porter and Abe Burrows profiles, restoration comparison. Pamphlet.
Josephine Baker Collection (Kino):
Princess Tam Tam
(1935) D: Edmond Gréville, w/ Albert Préjean. Rating: NNN ; DVD Package: NNN
(1934) D: Marc Allégret, w/ Jean Gabin. Rating: NNN ; DVD Package: NNN
Siren Of The Tropics
(1927) D: Mario Nalpas and Henri Etiévant, w/ Pierre Batcheff. Rating: NNN ; DVD Package: NNNN
La Revue Des Revues
(1927) D: Joe Francis, w/ Hélène Hallier. Rating: NNN ; DVD Package: n/a.
Josephine Baker was a marvel. she made dancing look effortless and spontaneous. She had a Charleston that'd make you think her limbs were ready to fly off her body. She went from broad comedy to pure grace in an instant. She was equally beautiful dressed in the height of fashion or nude in the bath. She had star power to burn.
All this took her from the St. Louis ghetto to 1920s Paris, where she became the Jazz Age incarnate and the highest-paid entertainer in Europe.
The movies are scratchy, but they offer a good look at Baker in action and at French cinema's early days. The stories, a mix comedy, romance and melodrama, have Baker going from rags to riches but never getting the man, who's always white.
The interviews touch on French racism and offer memorabilia, performance clips and a dissection of Baker's talent, but too little on her life.
La Revue Des Revues provides terrific context. It's little more than a string of dance numbers from places like the Folies Bergere. Lavish costumes, dozens of energetic chorus girls, charming hand-tinted colour - it's all lovely.
The performers are polished, but no one can hold a candle to Baker. No one's got her moves or her pure joy.
Extras Princess Tam Tam: interview doc on Baker's films, songs w/ sheet music; full-frame, black-and-white, French audio, English subtitles. Zouzou: interview doc on Baker's life, Baker songs w/ sheet music, gallery of art featuring Baker; full-frame, black-and-white, French audio, English subtitles. Siren Of the Tropics: interview doc on Baker's artistry, silent short, Charleston clip, Folies Bergere program book featuring Baker in fabulous banana skirt, gallery of artwork; full-frame, tinted, silent with piano track, English intertitles.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2007) D: Peter Webber, w/ Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li. Rating: NN ;DVD Package: NN
Hannibal doesn't so much rise as sink like a stone under the weight of the filmmakers' desperate attempt to make him sympathetic, likeable and even a hero.
But we already like Lecter just as he is: unfathomably evil and equally unfathomably tender toward Clarisse Starling. He is profoundly other, and humanizing him just kills that. Consider Dracula, whom Lecter resembles and who stood as an icon of terror for almost a century with scarcely a word of backstory.
You can have some fun here if you pretend the character isn't Hannibal Lecter, the same way that the American Godzilla is fun provided you decide the creature isn't Godzilla.
The story of the little boy who grows up to savagely slaughter the wartime looters who murdered his beloved sister is nonsense. But Gaspard Ulliel (A Very Long Engagement) and Gong Li keep the intensity high, while writer Thomas Harris and director Peter Webber provide a good number of ghoulish set pieces.
The film looks great, and the production design doc is the most informative part of the extras, though the making-of feature and commentary offer insight into the kind of thinking that goes into sequels and protecting the franchise.
Extras director and producer Martha De Laurentiis commentary, making-of and production design docs, deleted scenes with optional director commentary. Wide-screen. English, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, June 5
The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert
Outstanding comedy about three drag queens touring the Australian outback comes loaded with extras.
Eddie Murphy in a fat suit. How original is that?
How To Eat Fried Worms
(Alliance Atlantis, 2006)
Nifty kids' flick for fans of the novel and gross-out hounds everywhere.
(Mei Ah, 1992)
Good first feature by Crouching Tiger director Ang Lee about a Taiwanese tai chi master having trouble coping with his new life in America.