Le Grand Voyage
(Mongrel Media, 2004) D: Ismaël Ferroukhi, w/ Nicolas Cazalé, Mohamed Majd. Rating:NNN
The Mongrel Media folks have done something bizarre even for them. In an effort to make their Film Festival collection widely available, they've struck an exclusive distribution deal for those titles with Blockbuster. I've no idea how this will work out, but I do like the idea of people going to Blockbuster to get Agatha And The Storm or Morlang from the baffled clerks.
Or Le Grand Voyage, an ambling road-trip movie in which a fairly assimilated young French Arab (Nicolas Cazalé) is pressed into service to drive his father (Mohamed Majd) from France to Mecca - about 3,000 miles - so his father can make the pilgrimage required of Muslims.
It's not terribly dramatic, but it's worth watching for the slowly growing rapport between father and son, even though they irritate each other into blind rages. Junior drinks, for one thing, and Dad does things like throwing Junior's cellphone in the trash while he's sleeping. There's also the touristic aspect of seeing Istanbul's Blue Mosque and Mecca during the hajj.
Extras None. French and Arabic soundtracks. English subtitles.
(Dimension/Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Greg McLean, w/ John Jarratt, Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath. Rating: NN
One of the more incomprehensible trends in horror movie plots is the tendency to simply grab the protagonists and torture them for a couple of hours. It's innate to the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but what about Saw, Hostel, The Passion Of The Christ? Who's the audience for a movie where the characters are trapped and slowly dismembered?
Wolf Creek falls into this category, complete with that neat disclaimer "Based on a true story," so the filmmaker can claim the sicker elements are part of the documentary record.
If you like this sort of thing, Wolf Creek isn't bad. It offers some nice outback locations and a certain lightness of touch early in the story, before the vacationing students run into a very bad person.
Extras Director/cast commentary, making-of documentary, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
The Greatest Game Ever Played
(Disney, 2005), D: Bill Paxton, w/ Shia LaBeouf, Stephen Dillane. Rating: NNN
For a formulaic underdog sports movie, The Greatest Game Ever Played is pretty good, in large part because of the lead actors, Shia LaBeouf as the American amateur golfer who faced Brit legend Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) in the 1913 U.S. Open. It doesn't hurt that Bill Paxton decided that he didn't want the golf to look anything like golf on television.
This is an unusually class-conscious movie from Disney, and in a good, resentful way. Paxton and his crew do a good job of period recreation without falling into the pitfalls of the roughly contemporary Legend Of Bagger Vance, which, director Robert Redford seemed to think, was about nubby sweaters and peaked caps.
The extras are fairly standard, though the commentaries are quite decent, including Paxton's (full of enthusiasm about his cast) and one by screenwriter Mark Frost, who wrote the original book, about the historical context.
Extras Director commentary, writer commentary, making of featurette, featurettes on the game and Francis Ouimet. English and French soundtrack. French subtitles.
The Children Are Watching Us
(Criterion/Paradox, 1944) D: Vittorio De Sica, w/ Luciano De Ambrosis, Isa Pola. Rating: NNN
Vittorio de Sica and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini collaborated on several monuments of Italian neo-realism, including The Bicycle Thief and Umberto D. This is not one of those classics, but it is an interesting film. It's often linked to Visconti's Ossessione as an instance of proto-neo-realism, but that's more because of who made it than because of what it is.
Neo-realism took Italian cinema to the streets and countryside, using non-actors as often as it used Anna Magnani. The Children Are Watching Us is an Italian Scenes From A Marriage (and an adultery) through the eyes of Prico (Luciano De Ambrosis), the child of the couple in question. That shift to a child's point of view is very unusual for the time and certainly anticipates an ongoing preoccupation of De Sica's later neo-realist films.
But it is studio-bound, with elaborately choreographed camera movements and very precise lighting that would become anathema once people got a look at Rossellini's shaky tripod and grainy film stock in Open City. Recommended without reservation to fans of the Italian cinema. The non-connoisseur might start with Umberto D or The Bicycle Thief.
Extras Interviews with star De Ambrosis and De Sica scholar Callisto Cosulich; booklet essays by Peter Brunette and Stuart Klawans. Italian soundtrack. English subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, April 18
(Criterion/Paradox, 1955) The three-disc Criterion Collection set offers both cuts of Orson Welles's badly damaged 50s thriller, and the third disc contains lots of documentation and three episodes of the Harry Lime radio series.
Breakfast On Pluto
(Sony, 2006) Cillian Murphy (Red Eye) stars as a gay Irish orphan who flees Ireland to become a transvestite cabaret artiste in London. From Crying Game director Neil Jordan.
(Koch, 1976) Lina Wertmüller's Oscar-nominated story of a small-time Italian hood (Giancarlo Giannini) who finds himself in a concentration camp.
Cross Of Iron
(Henstooth, 1977) Sam Peckinpah's epic second world war picture, with James Coburn and James Mason as Wehrmacht officers.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb