the awful truth (Columbia Tri-Star, 1937) D: Leo McCarey, w/ Cary Grant, Irene Dunne. Rating: NNNN
when you look at his stylish comedies, it's worth remembering that Leo McCarey began his career in the silent era with Laurel and Hardy. He also directed Duck Soup, the greatest and most anarchic of the Marx Brothers comedies.
He had the ability to inspire his cast to a state of improvisational comic grace, and rarely more so than in this elegantly archetypal screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a married couple who discover during their divorce that they should stay together.
Aside from the stars, there's an unforgettable turn by Ralph Bellamy as Dunne's Oklahoma inamorata. The actor's plunge into silliness nearly sabotaged his future as a leading man -- Grant later finished him off in His Girl Friday.
The majors have been spoiling us with archival goodies, so this transfer is a disappointment. It's a good print, all shined up and well transferred, but not a great print. The slight but noticeable grain in the early scenes suggests second-generation sources, and the image is sometimes a bit soft. It's also a little pricey for a bare-bones catalogue release ($35).
DVD EXTRAS Trailer gallery for Columbia classics. English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
White Oleander (Warner Home Video, 2002) D: Peter Kosminsky, w/ Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer. Rating: NNN
White Oleander, from the novel by Janet Fitch, contains about 85 minutes of superbly constructed drama betrayed by 20 minutes of weak ending.
Newcomer Alison Lohman stars as Astrid, whose mother, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), is imprisoned, leaving Astrid in the care of a series of foster mothers, notably Robin Wright Penn as a born-again Christian who still dresses like an ex-stripper and Renée Zellweger as an emotionally insecure actor in a fragile relationship.
In a movie about the blond leading the blond, Pfeiffer's ferocious mother as intellectual/emotional terrorist is the best performance she's given since The Age Of Innocence, and Wright Penn isn't far behind. More credit, then, to Lohman for holding the screen against these furies.
The extras are fairly ordinary, but the commentary, with director Peter Kosminsky, a veteran of British television, producer John Wells and Fitch -- who didn't write the screenplay -- is unusually strong, though they repeatedly talk past scenes, leaving themselves to play catch-up with the movie.
As usual with Warner, it's available in wide-screen and full-screen versions; the banner's top front.
DVD EXTRAS Director/producer/novelist commentary, two making-ofs, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer. English and French versions, English, French and Spanish subtitles.
moonlight mile (Touchstone, 2002), D: Brad Silberling, w/ Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon. Rating: NNNN
before Moonlight Mile there was nothing in Brad Silberling's filmography to suggest anything but a slick young Hollywood careerist: a ton of episodic television and two features, Casper and City Of Angels, the remake of Wim Wenders's Wings Of Desire.
Who knew he had this depth of feeling? Inspired by the murder of TV actress Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989 -- Silberling was dating her at the time -- Moonlight Mile is a startlingly sombre study of loss, with Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko) as Joe, who finds himself locked into a relationship with his almost in-laws (Hoffman and Sarandon) when his fiancee is killed on the eve of their wedding. Silberling's moved the story back in time by 17 years and removed it from L.A.'s show-business milieu, though Holly Hunter's district attorney is based on Marcia Clark.
Gyllenhaal spends the first half of the film being buffeted by the verbal tornados generated by Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon. (This was the third Sarandon film released in the same fortnight as Igby Goes Down and The Banger Sisters.) It's to Gyllenhaal's credit that he holds his own against these two legends in a "Well, they couldn't get Tobey Maguire" role.
The second half is better, as Gyllenhaal's Joe is forced to confront his own feelings about his lover's death and the tenuous way his life is now tied to a family not his own.
DVD EXTRAS A pair of first-rate commentaries: one by Silberling; the second by Silberling with Gyllenhaal and Hoffman, which is so entertaining it raises this disc's rating; 15 minutes of deleted scenes; a standard-brand making-of. Spanish subtitles.
I am curious yellow/ I am curious blue (Criterion/Morningstar, 1967/68) D: Vilgot Sjöman, w/ Lena Nyman. Two discs. Rating: NNN
Due to its legendary obscenity trials, I Am Curious Yellow -- for decades the top-grossing foreign film in the U.S. -- has a reputation as an antique Swedish hippie porn movie. Well, there's way more talk than action in these pictures, made by director Vilgot Sjöman with, as he describes it, 100,000 metres of film, no script and absolute freedom.
There are a lot of man-in-the-street -- and woman-in-the-street -- interviews on subjects like "Does Sweden have a class system?" and a lot of scenes of the director, played by Sjöman, worrying about his film.
The two I Am Curiouses (actually parallel versions of one film) are like a bad Godard from the same period. Consider them in the context of contemporary Godard films Masculin, Féminin, 2 Ou 3 Choses Que Je Sais D'Elle or Le Gai Savoir -- Sjöman lacks Godard's formal rigour and lacerating intellectual self-doubt, which render even his most time-fixed films interesting three decades on.
Coming across this beautiful transfer of Yellow and Blue (the colours of the Swedish flag, by the way) is rather like seeing a dinosaur walking down the street: it's not exactly entertainment, but I'm glad I got to see it after all these years. (Hmm, is Criterion considering an edition of Robert Kramer's Ice?) A definite renter. I can't imagine watching these twice.
DVD EXTRAS Director interviews, interview with publisher Edward Rosset and lawyer Robert De Grazia on the obscenity trials, sporadic director commentary, theatrical trailer for Blue, video essay on the censorship case by film historian Peter Cowie.
Also this week
IN A LONELY PLACE (Columbia Tri-Star) Nicholas Ray's classic film noir that looks like a murder mystery but is really a study of the violence beneath Bogart's persona.
WINTER KILLS (Ancher Bay) A two-disc Special Edition release of William Richert's adaptation of Richard Condon's thinly veiled paranoid fantasy about the Kennedy assassination. With Jeff Bridges.
8 MILE (Universal) Eminem's movie debut, from the director of L.A. Confidential, Curtis Hanson.
PERSONAL VELOCITY (MGM) Writer-director Rebecca Miller's triptych of women's stories, with Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk.
THE GREY ZONE (Lions Gate) David Arquette and Harvey Keitel star in Tim Blake Nelson's look at collaboration and survival in a Nazi concentration camp.