I Heart Huckabees (Fox, 2004) D: David O. Russell, w/ Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin. Rating: NNN
Ok, it's a little heavy-handed, a little talky and a little short on story. But look at that cast. Where else can you see Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin together, let alone doing comedy?
The problems stem from the basic idea: an activist (Jason Schwartzman), disturbed by a small coincidence, hires a pair of existential detectives (Hoffman and Tomlin) whose practice is based on the premise of connectedness. But they insist on investigating his whole life, which centres on a corporate slimeball (Jude Law) who's both his friend and foe. At the same time, the detectives' nemesis (Isabelle Huppert) butts in. She preaches a cruel, senseless universe.
It sounds dull but plays well. Hoffman's gentle mystic fits with Tomlin's hardboiled yet twitchy detail freak like Rogers with Astaire. They bring director David O. Russell's didactic dialogue to life, and make it funny.
The rest of the cast works just as well, and Russell (Three Kings) gives them lots of long takes and close-ups - this is an actors' movie. Between times there's some well-paced slapstick and what may be the best ever - and funniest - attempt at filming the meditation experience.
On his commentary track, Russell earnestly explains his and the movie's philosophical underpinings. It's fairly dreary going, though it reaches its own comic peak when, onscreen, Schwartzman smears Huppert's legs with mud, she writhes with lust, and Russell drones on oblivious.
EXTRAS Russell commentary; Russell, Naomi Watts, Mark Wahlberg and Jason Schwartzman commentary. Anamorphic transfer; wide-screen and full-screen versions. English 5.1, Spanish Dolby surround. English and Spanish subtitles. English captions.
Get Shorty: Collector's Edition (MGM, 1995) D: Barry Sonnenfeld, w/ John Travolta, Rene Russo. Rating: NNNN
Get Shorty is as rewatchable as the book is rereadable. Even when you know what's coming, the saga of Miami loan shark Chili Palmer pursuing a bad debt and in the process becoming a Hollywood producer plays with grace and energy. It's a signature role for star John Travolta, and he makes the most of it.
The entire cast displays the same high spirits, and the extras give us a good look into just how that came about. A lot of the credit goes to Elmore Leonard's novel, especially the dialogue, and the commentaries and extras give it much attention. The half-hour Page To Screen feature goes into detail on Leonard's work methods and includes a brief segment with the real Chili Palmer.
The actors and director are equally insightful discussing their choices and - a rarity - remarking on each other with more than the usual polite "very professional."
One minor complaint is the inclusion of a little teaser doc for the upcoming sequel, Be Cool, due in theatres next month. If you're watching this DVD, it's a cinch you're going to the sequel. Why are they preaching to the converted?
EXTRAS Disc 1: Sonnenfeld commentary. Disc 2: two retrospective docs, Look At Me and Wiseguys And Dolls; mini-doc on deleted graveyard scene; doc on rehearsal; outtakes reel; Page To Screen episode; Be Cool preview doc; photo gallery; theatrical trailer. Wide-screen, digital transfer. English 5.1 DTS surround and Dolby 5.1, French Amboiphonique 5.1, Spanish stereo. English, French, Spanish subtitles. English captions. Insert booklet.
Tout Va Bien (Criterion, 1972) D: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, w/ Jane Fonda, Yves Montand. Rating: NNNN
In 1968, student demonstrations in Paris touched off a general strike and widespread riots. It looked like the revolution was at hand. Jean-Luc Godard, already a star director, teamed up with young activist Jean-Pierre Gorin and set about trying to reinvent the grammar of cinema to make revolutionary political films.
By 1972, it was clear that the revolution wasn't going to happen, and the broadcasters who'd been financing Godard and Gorin found their experiments unairable. The pair brought in prominent left-wing stars Jane Fonda and Yves Montand and produced this fictional account of a strike, using their arsenal of radical techniques and some nice deadpan humour.
More important, they produced a postscript , Letter To Jane, featuring almost an hour of the filmmakers interrogating a photo of Jane Fonda in Hanoi, where she was openly supporting the North Vietnamese at the height of the Vietnam War.
Letter To Jane, with its serious questions about the place of filmmakers and celebrity in politics, is included here and worth the effort for anyone seriously interested in cinema.
The accompanying essays and interviews flesh out the ideas and context calmly and clearly - a good thing, too, since Godard's and Gorin's barrage of enthusiasm sometimes comes across like the Marx Brothers on uppers.
EXTRAS Letter To Jane film, booklet with critical essays and excerpts from a 1972 Godard and 2004 Gorin interview, 1972 video interview with Godard, new video interview with Gorin. Mono sound, French with English subtitles.
Stripperella: Season One (Paramount, 2004) created by Stan Lee w/ Pamela Anderson. Rating: NNN
Someday a symposium will be held on Pamela Anderson, including polysyllabic analyses of her place in the culture of celebrity, and when it happens Stripperella will be at its centre. Here Anderson reaches her apotheosis: an animated character (Erotica Jones) based on her public persona that simultaneously affirms and denies everything that persona allegedly stands for.
As Jones/Stripperella, noted sex object and/or hot babe Anderson is unsexual. All that pole dancing is art, and she's almost never aroused. The character wanders along either oblivious to the drooling men or reacting with a mild "ew" to their more bizarre perversions. Her chief - she's a masked crime fighter and/or secret agent when not stripping - is hilariously bent. She barely blinks.
The sexual gags are corny beyond belief: "We've got to lick (supervillain) Queen Clitoris." They're slowed down and dumbed down so far, you have to figure Spike TV, the series' home, is playing to the moron market. Then they keep going, way past dumb. Is this a put-on? Of what? For whom?
There's more strangeness when Jones meets Anderson and the latter reacts with disdain, and when she shoehorns in awkward animal rights speeches while a human villain goes messily "splat!"
Conventional humour peaks in the strip club scenes. The customer having a lethal heart attack during a lap dance and the dancer subsequently giving a dramatic recital of his last words to his grieving widow is worth the rental price alone.
EXTRAS Full-screen. English stereo sound.
Coming Tuesday, February 22
South Park, The Complete Fifth Season (Paramount, 2002) Osama bin Laden jokes and commentary from Parker and Stone. Major laughs.
My Sister Eileen (Columbia TriStar, 1955) Light, charming musical comedy with Jack Lemmon and Janet Leigh
Reilly: The Ace Of Spies (A&E Home Video, 1983) Four-part miniseries stars Sam Neill as real-life British superspy. No one does spies like the British.
Leave Her To Heaven (Fox, 1945) Nifty psychological thriller with Gene Tierney going nuts as her marriage crumbles.
The Agony And The Ecstasy (Fox, 1965) Actors duel - Charlton Heston's Michelangelo versus Rex Harrison's Pope Julius II - as the Sistine Chapel ceiling gets painted.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb