The Brothers Grimm
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Terry Gilliam, w/ Matt Damon, Heath Ledger. Rating:NNN
In his commentary, Terry Gilliam calls this work for hire, and says he didn't like the script when it was offered to him. This may explain why The Brothers Grimm never achieves the eerie resonance of Brazil or 12 Monkeys.
The story's surface affinities to Gilliam's other work are obvious. It's a fantasy, a reluctant hero's journey into the miraculous, where reason's a trap and only faith, intuition and imagination can triumph.
But it may be a bit obvious and more than a bit schematic for Gilliam. The tale turns real 19th-century folklorists the Grimm brothers into travelling con men running a ghostbusting scam, then shoves them face first into the supernatural. One brother rejects it all and suffers, the other believes. Furthermore, the supernatural features all the devices from their best-known fairy tales: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.
But the fairy tales are cleverly recontextualized and, whatever his personal feelings, Gilliam does make all this into great fun. His artist's eye concocts a wonderfully spooky enchanted forest, and his feel for actors makes memorable villains of Jonathan Pryce and Peter Stormare (Satan in Constantine). Their self-assured sliminess plays beautifully against the bumbling, cowardly innocence of stars Heath Ledger and Matt Damon as the brothers.
Extras - Director commentary, making-of doc, effects doc, deleted scenes. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose
(Screen Gems, 2005) D: Scott Derrickson, w/ Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson. Rating: NNN
This effective and intelligent horror movie gets much of its power from one great storytelling strategy: we know going in that Emily dies, the exorcism fails.
But was she possessed, or were she and the exorcising priest in the grip of superstitious delusion? The priest is on trial for negligence, and, as the trial unfolds, the question grabs us precisely like a good episode of Law & Order.
The strategy affects plot, character and theme, a fact that in turn jacks the shock value way up.
Co-writer/director Scott Derrickson keeps us hooked with eerie atmosphere, good pacing and a careful use of effects that never undermines the film's realism. Laura Linney, as the defence lawyer who may or may not be under demonic attack herself, and Tom Wilkinson as the accused priest deliver fine, low-key performances, with solid support from accomplished stage veterans like Colm Feore.
Jennifer Carpenter plays Emily Rose with extraordinary physical skill that's far scarier than most effects spectaculars.
Extras - Director commentary, making-of docs, deleted scene. Wide-screen.
(Manga Video, 1983) creator: Osamu Tezuka. Rating: NNN
This is the 80s remake, not the original 1962 black-and-white series, but since both were directly controlled by the character's creator, Osamu Tezuka, it's a faithful retelling of the story of the robot shaped like a little boy and imbued with heart and soul.
Of course, he's also got machine guns coming out his ass and laser-beam fingers and he can fly. But action isn't the point. Astro Boy tells straightforward moral tales, respects suffering and doubt and avoids overt moralizing or sloppy sentimentalizing.
Astro Boy himself is a likeable character, cheery but with a little depth and devoid of faux irony. He works well for both small children, his intended audience, and adults. And, despite unavoidable lapses into formula, adults will appreciate storytelling that, in one episode, rings clever changes on Romeo And Juliet and in another does a good job on the poignancy of first love.
Astro Boy and his creator were key figures in the rise of both manga and anime. A 24-page booklet that gives good historical and critical overviews highlights the extras. A good Christmas gift for the small child or anime fan on your list.
Extras - Character, merchandise and manga cover art galleries, subtitled deleted scenes, storyboard sequence, songs, booklet.
Rock 'N' Roll High School
(BVHE, 1979) D: Allan Arkush, w/ P.J. Soles, the Ramones. Rating: NNN
Death Race 2000
(BVHE, 1975) D: Paul Bartel, w/ David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone. Rating: NNN
Big Bad Mama
(BVHE, 1974) D: Steve Carver, w/ Angie Dickinson, William Shatner. Rating: NNN
(BVHE, 2004) D: Kevin O'Neill, w/ Costas Mandylor, Bruce Weitz. Rating: NNN
Producer Roger Corman has been cranking out low-budget schlock since 1954 - over 400 titles by his own count. He's the brain behind the Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe cycle, the biker flicks, the naughty nurse movies.
Corman had a knack for hiring and then trusting unknown talent. His alumni include Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Joe Dante and many others. As a result, some of his pictures turned out to be classics, triumphs of energy and invention over seriously limited resources.
Rock 'N' Roll High School is non-stop fun. P. J. Soles blasts big energy and charm from frame one. Allan Arkush directs at a pace so frantic it put him in hospital. The Ramones are ideal mindless rockers to stand against fascist principal Miss Togar, played to perfection by camp queen Mary Woronov.
Death Race 2000 takes a futuristic cross-country auto race - with points scored for pedestrians killed - and treats it as comedy with a dash of political satire. Sylvester Stallone was never better.
Big Bad Mama is the most polished of the lot, with a decent script, good acting, a strong period feel and a snappy score with uncredited guitar and banjo by Jerry Garcia. Angie Dickinson is a Depression-era widow on a crime spree with her nubile daughters, and Tom Skerritt and William Shatner play henchmen and rivals. As always, high energy, sex, violence and comedy fuel the mix.
Back in the day, these were movies with edge. Incest, blowing up high schools and running down old ladies were not your standard fare. Dinocroc, yer basic prehistoric-monster-on-the-loose flick, shows a touch of that spirit when it gives us puppies in peril, and pulls it off with a straight face and flair.
There's a new Corman commentary for each of these except Dinocroc, but the best is Arkush's commentary on Rock 'N' Roll High School. It's the one from the old laser disc - informative, funny and well worth a listen.
Extras - Rock 'N' Roll High School: Arkush/writer/producer commentary, Corman/actor Dey Young commentary, retro making-of doc, Ramones audio outtakes. Wide-screen. DR2000: Corman/Woronov commentary, retro making-of doc. Wide-screen. BBM: Corman/Dickinson commentary, retro making-of doc. Wide-screen. Dinocroc: wide-screen.
Coming Tuesday, December 27 Coming Tuesday, December 27
Dark Water Dark Water
(Disney, 2005) Another U.S. remake of an Asian chiller, available in unrated and the PG-13 theatrical version.
Into The Blue Into The Blue
(MGM, 2005) Hidden treasure in shark-infested waters, Jessica Alba in a bikini. How bad could it be?
(Sony, 2004) Wong Kar-wai's futuristic romance.
The Mikado The Mikado
(A&E, 1987) Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operetta transplanted from Japan to Roaring 20s England, featuring ex-Python Eric Idle.
= = Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb