(Criterion, 1960) D: Jean-Luc Godard, w/ Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg. Rating: NNNNN ; DVD package:NNNNN
It's a film of great artistic and historical importance (one of the tiny handful of movies that changed the way movies are made, launching filmmaking's most exploratory artist), yet Breathless also remains a hugely enjoyable movie. That's thanks to its innovations, but even more to the fine performances by Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.
Belmondo has the beat-up face and studied cool that looks backward to Bogart and forward to John Lennon. He's perfectly cast as the energetic petty criminal who casually kills a cop on his way to Paris to reconnect with Seberg's American journalism student. Seberg has the sort of enigmatic beauty that suggests both openness and secrecy. He's in love. She's not sure. The cops are closing in.
Godard propels them through this simple story with semi-improvised dialogue, hand-held camera work and previously unheard-of jump cuts in the middle of scenes, often in the middle of shots.
How he did all this is thoroughly explained in a string of interviews and a feature-length documentary that goes so far as to track down a boyhood friend of Godard's. Even better are the video essays on Seberg's life and career and Godard's film-as-criticism aesthetic.
Exras Disc one: French TV interviews (1961-64) with Godard, Belmondo, Seberg, filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville. Full-frame. French audio. English subtitles. Disc two: interviews with DOP Roaul Coutard and assistant director Pierre Rissient, D.A. Pennebaker on Breathess's relation to documentary, video essays on Seberg and on Breathless as criticism, feature-length making-of doc, Godard short film. Full frame. French aduio. English subtitles. Book: critical appreciation, excerpts from Godard's critical writing, Truffaut treatment, Godard script.
Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition
(Anchor Bay, 1987) D: Clive Barker, w/ Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins. Rating: NNNN ; DVD package: NNNN
Everybody remembers Hellraiser for its style - all those chains and those S&M Cenobites. Highly cool, highly sexy and a little dangerous.
This was the film that gave S&M imagery a big shove into the mainstream. But what gives it its real, lasting kick is the relentless drive of a frustrated wife who will commit murder to give her back-from-the-dead lover new flesh, even when he threatens her husband and daughter.
Clare Higgins, a respected British stage and television actor, is full of barely contained bitterness, fury and self-loathing even as she revels in her lust. The atmosphere is great, the supernatural stuff still scary, the gore revolting, but Higgins's performance is where the real horror lies.
Sadly, she's not around at all in the extensive extras, some of which are new, including excellent interviews with co-stars Andrew Robinson (the hapless husband), Ashley Laurence (the daughter), Doug Bradley (Pinhead) and composer Christopher Young. Writer/director Clive Barker's articulate commentary, shared with Laurence, and his equally thoughtful interview, are both from previous editions and well worth inclusion here.
Extras Commentary; Robinson, Laurence, composer, Barker and Bradley interviews, Easter egg. Wide-screen.
(Alliance, 2007) D: Bruce A. Evans, w/ Kevin Costner, William Hurt. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
This wasn't well received by the public or the reviewers on its theatrical release, and it's easy to see why: it's loaded with wackiness.
Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a serial killer posing as a loving family man and pillar of the community who finds himself blackmailed by a wannabe (a nicely repulsive Dane Cook). But then William Hurt shows up as the anti-conscience in Brooks's head. It's fun, and Hurt is having a ball, but it does disrupt any suspension of disbelief we might be attempting. Then the idea that Brooks is a really good guy at heart, just addicted to murder, grinds that suspension of disbelief to dust. Real life has taught us that serial killers are a different breed.
Then the subplots kick in. The cop on the case (Demi Moore, hardboiled rich girl) is going through a nasty divorce and being stalked by a different serial killer. Check the deleted scenes for a hint at more Moore subplot; she dates gigolos. Then Brooks's daughter shows up, pregnant and something worse. By now, things are so far out of control, only wild coincidence and a cheeseball dream sequence can get us, lurching, to the end.
Hard to imagine that Bruce A. Evans and co-writer Raynold Gideon, who together penned Starman (1984) and Stand By Me (1986), could concoct such a mess. But their otherwise intelligent commentary and the making-of docs assure us that everybody's taking it all very seriously.
Easy to see why the actors like it. Costner, Hurt, Dane and Moore all get plum roles. Costner, in particular, gets to display his talent for icy evil. Take it all in a spirit of silly fun and the actors' enjoyment and loopy plot developments make for an entertaining rental.
Evans and Gideon proclaim this the first part of a trilogy. I can hardly wait.
Extras Evans and Gideon commentary; writing-of, making-of and character docs; deleted scenes. Wide-screen. English, French audio and subtitles.
Home Of The Brave
(MGM, 2006) D: Irwin Winkler, w/ Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel. Rating: N ; DVD package: N
Nothing wrong with a flag-waving weepie about traumatized soldiers back from the war and unable to fit in, but this one is so formulaic, you think you're watching a disease-of-the-week TV movie. To make matters worse, it keeps trying to smuggle a support-the-Iraq-war message in with its support-the-soldiers one. Repulsive.
Samuel Jackson, the traumatized doctor, stays rigid and closed until his big drunk scene; then he does a good drunk. Boring. Jessica Biel (7th Heaven) is more fun as the driver who loses half her arm in the big, splashy ambush that opens the movie. She ranges from dismay through pluck, rage, self-pity and more. Not her fault that the script says all she really needs is to get laid.
Irwin Winkler's (De-Lovely) direction is plodding at best, and Stephen Endelman's score pours corn syrup over all.
The effect is dispiriting. Even the commentary sounds glum.
Extras Winkler, writer and producer commentary. Wide-screen and full-screen versions. English, French, Spanish audio. English, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, October 30
(Columbia, 2007) They're promising over six hours of extras on the two-disc edition of the web-swinger's latest adventure.
Talk To Me
(Alliance, 2007) Don Cheadle is an ex-con who talks his way into a DJ job, then turns into a community activist.
Twin Peaks: Definitive Gold Box Edition
(Paramount, 1990) Both seasons and the pilot of David Lynch's surreal murder mystery, enhanced with a feature-length doc and other extras.
The Three Stooges Collection: Volume One, 1934-1936
(Sony) The first 19 Stooges shorts, digitally remastered for a sharper poke in the eye.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb