(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Hal Hartley, w/ Parker Posey, Jeff Goldblum. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
You don't really need the origi- nal to follow the sequel. Director Hal Hartley's 1997 Henry Fool was a low-budget indie about a failing bullshit artist and a garbageman poet. This one's about international espionage.
Fay Grim (Parker Posey), an ordinary housewife and Fool's maybe-widow, gets roped into a CIA plot to recover his journals, now seen as a threat to global stability. The plot involves double and triple agents and clandestine meetings, and violence erupts at every turn.
Hartley presents all of this with deadpan ironic humour, at the same time maintaining a strong espionage feel via a constantly canted camera and loads of fraught-with-meaning looks.
Posey and Jeff Goldblum are great together. He reels off pages of conspiracy gibberish with a remarkable ability to make it sound at times like the absolute truth, at others like pure lies. Posey keeps it terse as a 40s noir actor. Their scenes together are like a dance.
In the insightful extras, "dance" is how Goldblum describes Hartley's approach to blocking. The director and the two actors are very articulate, and they have a lot to say about Hartley's highly individual working methods.
Extras Making-of doc, Higher Definition TV show episode on the film, deleted scenes. Wide-screen. English, French audio. French subtitles.
Blades Of Glory
(DreamWorks, 2007) D: Josh Gordon, Will Speck, w/ Will Ferrell, Jon Heder. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
The premise sounds so bad that you want to run away screaming: two male figure skaters, bitter rivals, team up to form the world's first-ever same-sex figure skating couple.
Yet Josh Gordon and Will Speck have made a smart, funny movie that lampoons a sport long overdue for parody. Jon Heder's peacock routine takes wispy kitsch into the stratosphere, while the JFK and Marilyn duet performed by the movie's villains, the very funny Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, heads straight for the gutter. The announcers deliver breathless inanities at their finest, and the skaters are all monstrous egotists whose at-home clothing looks like skating costumes. All this creates a perfect setting for Will Ferrell's aggressive male stupidity. He plays Chazz Michael Michaels, figure skating's heavy-metal bad boy, all testosterone and cosmically dumb asides. Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), his rival-turned-partner, is a perfect foil as "skating's Little Orphan Awesome," Jimmy MacElroy, a whiny little wisp whose every breath proclaims him a truly gay blade.
Of course, the plot tells us both skaters are firmly heterosexual. But the visuals tell a different story. From the obvious shots of the pair putting their faces into each other's crotches to the subtle, barely glimpsed background drawing, the movie plays with its gay subtext. By the time you get to our heroes' totally bizarre and transcendent final exit, you'll be convinced it's really a gay romance. And the psycho fan's doll play over the closing credits cinches it.
Extensive extras continue the comedy and, in passing, show you a little something about actors on skates that is quite funny in itself.
Extras Making-of, actors-on-skates, costume, psycho fan docs; deleted scenes; gag reel; Arnett and Poehler, Scott Hamilton, and Ferrell, Heder and Arnett interviews. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(Sony, 2006) D: Mary Walsh, w/ Walsh, Andrea Martin. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: n/a.
What starts out as a mild-mannered farce centred on inept Newfoundland Ranger Alan Hepditch (Fred Ewanuick) develops a nasty bite once he arrives in a remote village and discovers an actual murder in place of the routine sheep mutilation he expected.
Before long, drunkenness, drug addiction, kiddie porn, child sexual abuse, madness, religious mania and ladies' league mob violence swamp the screen. It's a dire portrait of Newfoundland village life in 1947, and somebody somewhere is sure to take offence.
Yet the comic tone remains, thanks to gloriously gonzo performances by Mary Walsh, Andrea Martin, Rémy Girard, Cathy Jones, Andy Jones and the rest. So much madness lurks beneath everybody's surface, all of it so specific to the time and place, that we might call it a new genre: Newfoundland gothic.
With all the high-powered lunacy about, Ewanuick (Hank Yarbo on Corner Gas) has a hard time staying afloat. He's the only character without berserk depths, which in this environment makes him strangely unbelievable.
This is Walsh's first shot at directing. She takes a plain, functional approach that keeps performances and story in the foreground, but the visuals look more like television than feature film.
There are no extras, but a Google search reveals that the Newfoundland Rangers were a real force from 1935 to 1950 that employed 204 men in government duties like customs officers and road maintainance. They're part of a highly interesting chapter in Newfoundland's history. Check it out.
Extras Wide-screen. English, French audio.
3:10 To Yuma
(Columbia, 1957) D: Delmer Daves, w/ Glenn Ford, Van Heflin. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: n/a.
The remake with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, due out September 7, gives us a good reason to have a look at the original, which features Glenn Ford as an outlaw gang leader and Van Heflin as a going-broke farmer and family man who gradually gets drawn into arresting him and delivering him to the train of the title.
Ford and Heflin are great casting. Ford's warmth, good looks, obvious intelligence and quiet, down-to-earth manner make him an ideal hero, a role he played often. Here he's the villain, a sly conniver and cold-blooded killer who may not be entirely heartless.
The less attractive Heflin was born to play the weak or corrupt. Here he's the hero, conflicted about his motives and finding it harder and harder to stand his ground when everyone else is giving up, and for very good reasons. Both actors give strong, understated performances against type.
Halstead Welles's script, from a story by Elmore James, effectively builds suspense and gives everyone interesting scenes to play. Veteran character actor Henry Jones stands out as the town drunk.
Director Delmer Daves, who'd done lots of westerns, handles the wide open spaces and the claustrophobic interiors with equal ease. He isn't an outstanding stylist, but he gets the job done gracefully. This may not be one of the great westerns, but it certainly is one of the very good ones.
Sadly, the disc has no extras, but it offers trailers for both the original and the remake. You can have some fun comparing the two.
Extras Wide-screen. English, French audio. English, French subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, September 4
Children Of Men
(Universal, 2006) Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine struggle to save a pregnant woman in a future when humans can no longer reproduce.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2002) Another outstanding kung fu epic from Legend Of Drunken Master and 36th Chamber Of Shaolin director Lau Kar-leung.
Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride
(Anchor Bay, 2006) Documentary on legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and his relations with various Hollywood figures.
(Kino, 1929) Early American gangster flick with heavy German Expressionist influences, making it film noir before its time.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb