the grey zone (Lions Gate, 2002) D: Tim Blake Nelson w/ David Arquette, Harvey Keitel. Rating: NNNN
For a guy whose acting specialty is goofball rednecks, notably in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Good Girl, Tim Blake Nelson is a painfully serious writer-director. The Grey Zone is about the morality of survival, from his own play about Birkenau's Sonderkommando, Jewish prisoners who herded the doomed into the gas chambers and then hauled their bodies to the crematoria. It's a striking and powerful film, helped by a cast that includes Mira Sorvino and Steve Buscemi and an unexpected turn by David Arquette, whom I had previously thought incapable of drawing a serious breath in a movie. It does occasionally play like a play; you can see the theatrical armature beneath the cinematic superstructure, but it works as a film.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, deleted scenes with commentary. Nelson opted not to put a commentary track on the film itself. English and French subtitles.
three colors: blue, white, red (Alliance Atlantis, 1993-94) D: Krzysztof Kieslowski, w/ Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, Irene Jacob. Three discs. Rating: NNNNN
krzysztof kieslowski's enigmatic testament (these were his final films) are organized around the principles of the French Revolution - liberty, equality and fraternity - though the connections can seem as tenuous as some of the links between film and commandment in his Decalogue.
In Blue, Juliette Binoche stars as the sudden widow of a famous composer. In White, a man (Zbigniew Zamachowski) seeks a peculiar form of revenge when his wife of six months abandons him. In Red, Irene Jacob meets a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who likes to listen to his neighbours' cellphone conversations.
These films are visually dazzling. Kieslowski used the same editor and his regular composer, Zbigiew Preisner, on all three, but engaged different cinematographers, giving each film a very different look. The DVD transfers are simply stunning. Kieslowski's later films take unusual notice of small variations of colour, and whoever mastered these DVDs has understood as much. The reds in Red will make your retinae ache.
I've been browsing Three Colors for the last week or so (I've watched Red three times), and have concluded that they hold up very well on repeat viewings - I'd not seen them since their initial release. I think I'm finally warming to Binoche's performance in Blue. Interesting extras, particularly the career discussion and the four Kieslowski student films.
The odd thing about this Alliance Atlantis release is that the word "Miramax" appears nowhere on the box. It's largely the MK2 French package of extras, with some additional material - principally Columbia film professor Annette Insdorf's commentary - added for the American release by Miramax (check the little red "widescreen" banner on the spine - that's a Miramax item), and Alliance is acting as if it's their own, though they do credit MK2.
DVD EXTRAS Interviews and scene commentary with producer Marin Karmitz, editor Jacques Witta, Binoche, Julie Delpy and Irene Jacob, critical commentary by Annette Insdorf, career featurettes on Kieslowski, making-ofs for White and Red, four of Kieslowski's student films, theatrical trailers, interview material from Cannes 94, including Kieslowski announcing his retirement. French (and, for White, Polish) with English subtitles.
in a lonely place (Columbia Tri-Star, 195o), D: Nicholas Ray, w/ Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame. Rating: NNNN
In a lonely place is one of the rare films to consider the idea that Bogart's cool, tough-guy exterior may simply hide a man riven by homicidal impulses. Ray manages to get Bogart to play it, too, and alone among his post-Warner Brothers films, In A Lonely Place makes us believe him capable of murder. Add Gloria Grahame as the woman who goes from alibi to inamorata - Ray liked Grahame so much that he married her - and see one of the most deeply romantic films noirs.
Burnett Guffey's brutally clear high-contrast cinematography makes some of the L.A. night exteriors look like Weegee's crime photos.
The innocuously titled extra In A Lonely Place Revisited is actually an appreciation of the film by writer-director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential).
DVD EXTRAS In A Lonely Place Revisited featurette, restoration short, theatrical trailers. English and French dubbed versions, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese subtitles.
winter kills (Anchor Bay, 1979) D: William Richert, w/ Jeff Bridges, John Huston. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
Imagine jfk fictionalized, cut in half and turned into a surreal black comedy and you get Winter Kills, an adaptation of Richard Condon's most paranoid novel - which is saying something: Condon wrote The Manchurian Candidate.
Jeff Bridges stars as Nick Kegan, the younger brother of an assassinated president living as far from his powerful father (John Huston) as he can. Then the second gunman involved in his brother's assassination suddenly falls into his lap.
Richert arrived at his first film from documentary and decided to get the best people he could, so he hired Hitchcock's art director, Robert Boyle, and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, and a cast that includes Richard Boone, Eli Wallach, Elizabeth Taylor and a memorably weird Anthony Perkins. Beautiful transfer.
DVD EXTRAS Director commentary, Who Killed Winter Kills? interview featurette, theatrical trailer, stills, poster and production art galleries, original screenplay in DVD-ROM.
personal velocity: three portraits (MGM/UA, 2002) D: Rebecca Miller w/ Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk. Rating: NNN
Rebecca Miller directs a triptych of women's tales from her own short stories in digital video, and it's all very literary, with voice-overs and some rather arch links between the separate stories. Ultra-low-budget but definitely worth a rent for the three leads: Kyra Sedgwick as a battered wife, Parker Posey as a New York editor and Fairuza Balk as a newly pregnant woman running away from her life.
Hollywood persistently undervalues these performers, but Miller gives them a chance to shine. One oddity is that the voice-over part is delivered by a male voice. When I read the stories, it struck me as a female voice.
DVD EXTRAS Director commentary, cinematographer commentary, half-hour short of mutual congratulation with Miller, Posey and Balk, an odd, impressionistic, non-narrative behind-the-scenes featurette, theatrical trailer. English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Also this week
MAID IN MANHATTAN (Columbia Tri-Star) Jennifer Lopez continues her remake of Julia Roberts's career. If Enough was J.Lo's Sleeping With The Enemy, this is her Pretty Woman.
FEMME FATALE (Warner Home Video) Brian De Palma directs Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as a bisexual jewel thief. A fair amount of gratuitous nudity.
WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (Buena Vista Home Video) Special Edition of Robert Zemeckis's demented blend of live action and animation, with Kathleen Turner as the voice of Jessica Rabbit. "I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."
FUTURAMA (20th Century-Fox) As Matt Groening's other series winds down, Fox releases the first season on DVD.
STRAW DOGS (Criterion/Morningstar) Sam Peckinpah's classic study of male violence
Columbia Tri-Star has announced a June 3 release for the long-awaited special edition of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. Three discs, multiple commentary tracks, a full disc of making-of, documentaries from the History Channel and PBS. Now, if they can just get David Fincher to finish up the Panic Room SE...