(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Rian Johnson, w/ Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner. Rating: NNNN
It's a classic hard-boiled private eye story - one dead ex-girlfriend, one nest of dealers, players, weasels and thugs and one embittered loner ready to smash the whole rotten set-up. The spirit and the snappy dialogue come straight out of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.
The kicker is that it all takes place among contemporary California high school students and it works beautifully. First-time writer/director Rian Johnson has crafted a tight, smart, twisty story that retains the spirit of those hard-boiled 40s classics while adapting their conventions to the new setting. The chilly universe powered by duplicity and doom remains, but battered T-shirts and jeans have replaced trench coats. The big-time mob boss in his glittery nightclub becomes a small-time dealer in his mom's basement.
Johnson and his cast play it with conviction - no coy winks to the audience. The actors are comfortable with noir's low-key acting style and rapidfire dialogue, which also saves them from every young actor's curse, over-emoting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock From The Sun) does a good sleuth, smart and determined, even when he's being beaten up. Noah Fleiss brings unexpected depth to Tug, the rage-fuelled thug, letting us see the confusion and doubt behind the drive to destroy, and Lukas Haas as the gang lord is creepy to the bone.
Johnson keeps his images simple and his focus on the characters, partly to keep the budget down - the film was made for under $500,000 - but partly out of his devotion to Hammett's terse style. On his commentary, Johnson tells us he came to Hammett from the Coen Brothers' Millers Crossing, an homage to Hammett's The Glass Key.
Extras: Director's commentary with actors Nora Zehetner and Noah Segan, producer, production designer and costumer; deleted and extended scenes with director introduction; Zehetner and Segan auditions. Wide-screen, English, French soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(NFB, 2005) D: Ben Addelman, Samir Mallal. Rating: NNN
Here's a good ground-level look at the global economy in action: life inside a Mumbai call centre. The workers are mostly young, from lower-class backgrounds, amazingly cheerful and very determined to make good. They are the reason for India's emergence as an economic powerhouse.
Directors Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal avoid editorializing and let their subjects speak for themselves. What emerges is an interesting mix of traditional values and modern desires, nicely echoed in the shots of the city itself.
Westernization reaches its most extreme form not in the movie, but in the accompanying straight-faced short, Heavy Metal India, which demonstrates that metal music is truly universal and dorky in all cultures.
The directors fill in some necessary context in their commentary, but they're clearly more interested in people than politics, so for once, we're left to draw our own conclusions on globalization.
Extras: Directors' commentary, directors' biographies, short: Heavy Metal India. Wide-screen. French subtitles.
Just My Luck
(Fox, 2006) D: Donald Petrie, w/ Lindsay Lohan, Chris Pine. Rating: N
Even Lindsay Lohan's least discerning fans aren't likely to be impressed by this lacklustre effort that casts the star as a young career woman who loses her extraordinary good luck to the hopeless case (Chris Pine) she falls in love with.
The scenes in which disaster piles itself on the stars have some comic potential that is mildly realized, but neither actor is a strong comedian. Pine plays everything with big doe eyes like he's auditioning for a boy band. Lohan and her buddies (Samaire Armstrong and Bree Turner) crank out their girly shrillness on autopilot, as though they know they're acting a decade too young for their characters and just don't care.
Director Donald Petrie (How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days) telegraphs every predictable gag and plot turn and lets his scenes drag on forever.
Skimpy, uninformative extras. The look at British band McFly, in particular, tells us exactly nothing and seems specifically designed simply to use up concert footage left over from the movie.
Extras: Costume doc, boy band McFly doc, deleted and extended scenes. Wide-screen and full-screen versions. English, French, Spanish soundtracks and subtitles.
(WB, 2006) D: Wolfgang Petersen, w/ Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell. Rating: N
No way does this deserve its two- disc edition. The movie isn't that good, and neither are the extras, which consist of a nothing-special making-of doc, a tedious intern's diary and - the best part - a History Channel doc on giant waves that, even though it's 80 per cent hype, conveys more awe and terror than the whole feature. The film lacks a commentary track and comes in at a tight 98 minutes, so the whole thing could have fit easily on one disc.
The big ship gets whacked by the bigger wave and capsizes. A brave little gang of idiots strike out for the surface on their own. The sensible people who follow the captain's orders all die, of course.
There's no sense to that, but people aren't the point here. Spectacle is, and there are some good ones: a pillar of fire rising from a pool of water, a daring slide for life. Problem is, little of it plays well on the small screen. The sumptuous ballroom, the giant wave and the mass death need size to work, so awe dribbles away to mild interest on the home screen.
The smaller moments fare better. Death by drowning in confined spaces has much built-in tension. But we still don't care about the people. Veterans Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfuss, who has the best role by far as a rich elderly gay man who's suicidal because his lover's dumped him, do their best with what little they've got.
On its own, the movie's an okay time-waster and worth the price of a rental. As a $27.99 purchase (amazon.ca price), it's a waste of money.
Extras: Disc one: making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish. soundtracks and subtitles. Disc two: set design doc, intern's film diary, History Channel doc on rogue waves. Full frame. French subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, August 29
Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World (WB, 2005) Smart, offbeat comedy from Lost In America actor/director Albert Brooks, who plays himself on a State Department-commissioned quest for humour.
14 Hours (Fox, 1951) Snappy noir thriller from veteran director Henry Hathaway.
Trilogy Of Terror (Dark Sky, 1975) Good TV movie chiller anthology lifts off to cult greatness with the third episode, in which star Karen Black is memorably menaced by African fetish doll.
Let's Scare Jessica To Death (Paramount, 1971) And they do, with a good sense of delirium and ghostly atmosphere. Zorah Lampert gives a strong performance as the title target.