The Graduate: 40th Anniversary Edition
(MGM, 1967) D: Mike Nichols, w/ Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft. Rating: NNNNN ; DVD package: NNNN
The Graduate is one of the world's great movies, a flat-out masterpiece that's infinitely rewatchable.
First viewing presents a strong story loaded with deadpan humour: profoundly alienated university graduate (Dustin Hoffman) returns to his affluent parents' home, begins an affair with an older woman (Anne Bancroft), then falls in love with her daughter (Katharine Ross).
Repeated viewings reveal the remarkable details in the performances. Watch the way Hoffman communicates fear by not breathing, the way Bancroft gets absorbed in small matters in other people's important moments.
Mike Nichols's amazingly precise direction uses razor-sharp timing to deliver much of the humour and emotion. He creates a chilly black-and-white look in the midst of warm California sunshine and sprinkles it with resonant detail that's at first barely noticeable. His bizarre camera angles and cutting points were radical in their day. Now they look like perfectly realized stylization.
The alienated youth theme was pretty new for its time, too. Now it's commonplace, but The Graduate hasn't dated. Sharp visuals, sharp wit and the anguish under that wit have made it a classic.
In the commentary she shares with Hoffman, Ross focuses on the importance of attention to detail; she's not an outgoing person. Other than that, the extras are thoroughly rewarding. Along with very thoughtful appreciations from several filmmakers, Hoffman and Nichols separately provide detailed remarks on the filmmaking process and the actor/director relationship.
EXTRAS Disc one: Hoffman and Ross, Nichols and Steven Soderbergh commentaries, two appreciation docs, Hoffman interview, 25-year retrospective doc. Wide-screen. English, French audio. English, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack.
Away From Her: 2-Disc Special Edition
(Mongrel, 2006) D: Sarah Polley, w/ Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NN
Away From Her is a remarkable movie, but, sadly, there's nothing special about this special edition. There's no commentary under the feature, and the second disc contains only a very brief making-of doc, a few deleted scenes, with commentary, and a short by director Sarah Polley, also with commentary.
But the movie (adapted from an Alice Munro short story) is a powerful experience despite the fact that the extremely painful tale has very little drama (much of it internal) and a destination that's clear from the outset.
Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona (Julie Christie) have been married 40 years. She develops Alzheimer's and moves into a home. He's devastated. There isn't much more to it than that.
The acting carries it. Pinsent and Christie deliver a hundred nuances of everyday pain, fear and repressed anger with perfect naturalism. But there's something dark in the set of Pinsent's eyes and downturned mouth. He's playing the devoted, grief-striken husband to perfection, but every so often his face reads as cold, judgmental and malign to the bone. These moments add a tension that the film otherwise lacks.
Polley treats her subject delicately. Her pace is slow, her tone respectful. Her music choices oversell the pathos a little, but this isn't the kind of movie where lightening up now and then would have been a good idea.
EXTRAS Disc one: Wide-screen. English, French audio. French subtitles. Disc two: Short film with Polley commentary, making-of doc, deleted scenes. Wide-screen.
From Beyond: Unrated Director's Cut
(MGM, 1986) D: Stuart Gordon, w/ Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
Sadly for the literal-minded, the monster in From Beyond looks a little too much like a guy in a rubber suit to be entirely convincing. But that's why we evolved imaginations.
Besides, it's a good rubber suit, the guy has a seriously twisted attitude, and eventually he morphs into a genuinely gruesome monster.
The guy is Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel), and he's already driven young Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) insane with his unholy experiments. So too-clever young shrink McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) drags Tillinghast back to the creepy old house to confront his fears.
Before long, they've turned on the resonator. McMichaels starts to explore the joys of kinky sex, Tillinghast sprouts a new organ and starts eating brains, and everyone gets attacked by creatures from beyond. There's gore everywhere.
There's also over-the-top acting, snappy dialogue, good visuals, a brisk pace and cheerfully berserk attitude - pretty much what you'd expect from guys making a follow-up to their surprise hit Re-Animator, and everything you'd want for good, mindless fun.
This is the version that restores all the nasty bits that the MPAA, the U.S. ratings board, made the filmmakers remove for theatrical release. There aren't a lot, but definitely enough to make a difference.
Stuart Gordon and company keep their commentary casual and amusing, but he gives a more serious talk in his interview, covering, as well as the usual making-of stuff, the need for horror and the union of sex and violence.
EXTRAS Gordon, Combs and Crampton commentary, Gordon interview, restoration doc, composer interview, storyboard/screen comparisons. Wide-screen. English, French audio. English, Spanish subtitles.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Mark Rydell, w/ Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito. Rating: NN ; DVD package: n/a.
Every so often someone cranks up a real old-fashioned morality play in which the wages of sin is death, or at least ruination, and the author is more concerned with driving home the message than with showing you a good time. A good time, after all, is pretty much the definition of sin.
This time, the sin is gambling. Carol (Kim Basinger) is a novelist, wife and mother who's secretly blown the family savings at the casino, where she's met Walter (Danny DeVito), a has-been magician scrounging a living from three-card monte. Clyde (Forest Whitaker) owes large to big-time bookie Victor (Tim Roth), so he's getting his college basketball star brother (Nick Cannon) to shave points.
All this plays out in slightly overwrought style, with Basinger twitching every time she gets near a slot machine and Roth mincing around and wearing his glasses upside down. But it's a good cast - Ray Liotta is in there, too - and everyone's having fun.
Rydell, whose big claim to fame was On Golden Pond (1981), directs like he's doing television. Everything's in the centre of the frame, most scenes make one point only, and the camera seldom gets off eye level.
EXTRAS Wide-screen. English, French audio. English, French subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, September 18
(Anchor Bay, 2006) Mockumentary has Jeff Goldblum, as himself, doing regional theatre to get his girlfriend a green card.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2007) Most people didn't much like Quentin Tarantino's contribution to Grindhouse. Maybe it'll work better as a fleshed-out stand-alone.
Beyond The Gates
(Fox, 2005) Originally titled Shooting Dogs, this has John Hurt and Hugh Dancy as white guys caught up in the Rwandan genocide.
(Criterion, 1931) G.W. Pabst's version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's pointed satire on crooks and capitalists. This is the show that gave us Mack The Knife.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb