(Mongrel Media, 2006) D: Jennifer Baichwal, w/ Edward Burtynsky. Rating: NNNNN
Toronto filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal set out with photographer Edward Burtynsky to document his trip to photograph the environmental impact of the Chinese industrial revolution and came back with a film that is both a portrait of the photographer's work and a lavish illustration of industry's staggering scale.
The opening dolly shot in a Chinese factory lasts about eight minutes and achieves an almost Godardian drama because the factory, like the shot, never seems to end. Full credit to cinematographer Peter Mettler for his work here.
It won of a ton of awards - the Film Critics' Association named it both best Canadian film and best documentary of last year, and it won the documentary Genie. Heck, it even had a three-month theatrical run, so it hardly needs further praise. See it. Mongrel's done a nice job with the DVD, including deleted scenes with a director's commentary and interviews with the principal creative forces.
Extras Interviews with Baichwal, Burtynsky, Mettler, deleted scenes with optional commentary, stills gallery, theatrical trailer. English audio. French subtitles.
Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan
(20th Century Fox, 2006) D: Larry Charles, w/ Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian. Rating: NNNN
In case you missed the comedy sensation of 2006, Sacha Baron Cohen created Kazakh news reporter Borat as another of his alter egos on Da Ali G Show. Then he set out in character with director Larry Charles to document America.
Bringing Borat to DVD deprives it of the electrifying experience of seeing it with a roomful of strangers. It's still funny, but given the sustained level of outrage Cohen and his collaborators maintain, watching it with an audience is an experience worth paying for, if only to hear the response to the infamous wrestling scene. (After seeing that, I never want to see another person nude again. Okay, maybe Scarlett Johansson.)
The DVD offers its own pleasures, though. It maintains the film's fiction, much as Cohen did by appearing for interviews as Borat. There's no making-of, which would probably be really interesting, but most of the half-hour's worth of deleted scenes are pretty funny, as is a 16-minute documentary following Cohen/Borat on the promotion trail, including Cannes, the projector breakdown at the Toronto Film Fest and his memorably weird appearances on The Tonight Show and The Late Show. Very nice!
Extras Deleted scenes, promotional tour documentary. English, French and Spanish audio. English and Spanish subtitles.
(PlexiFilms, 1980) D: Christopher Petit, with David Beames, Sting. Rating: NNN
In the liner notes, sandhu sukhdev claims that Radio On has no obvious influences. Hmm... an aimless black-and-white road movie shot by Martin Schäfer, the cinematographer on Wim Wenders's Kings Of The Road, it was produced in part by Road Films, which produced Wenders's films, and there's a featured appearence by Lisa Kreuzer, Wenders's ex-wife and the star of The American Friend.
The influence screams at us. If Wenders had directed Get Carter, it would have looked a lot like this, except it would have had a cameo by Sam Fuller rather than one by Sting (his movie debut).
Its just-this-moment soundtrack featuring David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Ian Drury and Lena Lovich gives Radio On the feel of something pulled from a time capsule. It's more interesting as a historical curio than as a film.
David Beames stars as a London DJ who goes on a long drive north when his brother dies. He meets people. Stuff happens. Or not. It's the directing debut of film critic Petit, who apparently spent the 70s with his eyes glued to Das Neue Deutsche Kino. Not very entertaining.
Extras Notes by Sukhdev; 24-minute short, Radio On Remix, constructed by Petit and sound designer Bruce Gilbert, revisiting the locations but telling us little except that the last 25 years have made Petit an even more pretentious git than he was in 1980.
South Park: The Complete Ninth Season
(Comedy Central/Paramount, 2005-6) D: Trey Parker, Matt Stone. Rating: NNNN
As animated shows go, south Park has one great advantage in that the DIY style of the cut-out animation lets the its creators react to the world very quickly. Simpsons episodes often take a year from conception to completion. South Park episodes seem to have been constructed over a weekend, so they can fast-track comments on the right to die or the Catholic sex abuse scandals.
Season Nine offers several classic episodes, notably Trapped In The Closet, which Tom Cruise allegedly got Paramount to pull from repeats; The Death Of Eric Cartman, in which everyone starts ignoring Cartman, who believes he's a ghost; Two Days Before The Day After Tomorrow, which is exactly what it sounds like; and Bloody Mary, in which Stan's dad worries about being an alcoholic.
For those worried about duplication, Season Nine only put two episodes into the best-of collection, Trapped In The Closet and Best Friends Forever, the Emmy-winning Terri Schiavo episode.
Extras Parker and Stone mini-commentaries on every episode - they pop in, talk for three or four minutes about the genesis of an episode, then go away. Most interesting revelation: they considered doing the Day After Tomorrow script for Team America, but, as Stone notes, "It's hard to do puppet wolves."
Coming Tuesday, March 13
Casino Royale (Sony, 2006)
Meet the new Bond, shorter and blonder than the old Bond. Daniel Craig debuts in the role, and the picture's big fun.
Shortbus (Thinkfilm, 2006)
John Cameron Mitchell's follow-up to Hedwig And The Angry Inch, with Sook-Yin Lee in the role that almost lost her her CBC day job.
Fires On The Plain (Criterion/Paradox, 1959)
Kon Ichikawa's stunning portrait of a group of Japanese soldiers in the final days of the second world war.
The Holiday (Sony, 2006)
With all the talk about Norbit influencing Eddie Murphy's Oscar chances, did anyone think that this rom-com might have damaged Kate Winslet's? Winslet and Cameron Diaz, each disappointed in love, swap houses and meet new guys. Diaz gets Jude Law. Winslet gets Jack Black.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb