The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada
(Sony, 2005) D: Tommy Lee Jones, w/ Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam. Rating: NNNN
Here's the path for a modernist western: great success at the Cannes Film Festival, where it wins prizes for screenplay and actor; a marginal theatrical release nine months later; a minimalist DVD. This package has a single extra - a weird, rambling, occasionally inarticulate commentary by director-star Tommy Lee Jones, Dwight Yoakam and January Jones, who plays Barry Pepper's uninterested wife. Scripted in Spanish by Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) and translated into English, The Three Burials sets Jones's aging rancher on an absurd quest to give a proper burial to his friend and undocumented ranch hand Melquiades and to force penitence on Pepper's thuggish border guard.
The film has a visual grandeur that belies the grubbiness of the story, with its casual adulteries and sense of a culture operating in a moral vacuum, which may be the Mexican screenwrit-er's comment on America.
EXTRAS Filmmaker/cast commentary. English and Spanish soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Slings And Arrows
(Paradox, 2003) D: Peter Wellington, w/ Paul Gross, Stephen Ouimette, Rachel McAdams. Rating: NNNN
This tv series combines the thrills of backstage dramedy with the uniquely Canadian tragicomic theme of "dealing with the money." It's a roller-coaster comedy about a Bardcentric theatre festival in an unnamed town (though there are swans in the lake) that, within a very short time, opens a new season, loses its artistic director and greets a Hollywood action star who's taking on Hamlet, which the dead artistic director was supposed to helm. It's very funny and very smart, with a nice sense of the innate clash between impractical theatre types who believe in art and integrity and people in suits who worry about the culture minister and the gift shop. There's a full array of outstanding performances: Paul Gross as the neurotic idealist parachuted in as "interim artistic director," Stephen Ouimette as the dead artistic director who haunts his one-time protege, a pre-Mean Girls Rachel McAdams as the ingenue, and the very funny Sabrina Grdevich as Claire, the ingenue who thinks she's more talented than McAdams. Now, can we please have season two?
EXTRAS Television trailer, deleted and extended scenes, production notes, cast filmographies.
Track Of The Cat
(Paramount, 1954) D: William Wellman, w/ Robert Mitchum, Teresa Wright. Rating: NNNN
Certain golden-age hollywood directors are turning out to look unexpectedly strong in the DVD-era restoration of their films. Michael Curtiz is a lot more than just Casablanca. And William Wellman, long typed as good all-rounder, can now be seen as the director of Roxie Hart, The Ox-Bow Incident, The High And The Mighty and Track Of The Cat. Cat is a strange, stylized western with Robert Mitchum as the junior head of a badly dysfunctional family - weak older brother, alcoholic dad, controlling religious-freak mom, depressive spinster sister. The oddity of the movie is that Mitchum spends much of it in the wilds tracking a black panther that's been killing his cattle while the family noisily implodes back home. Wellman assembled a very striking female cast: this may be Beulah Bondi's best performance, and Oscar-winner Teresa Wright gives a startling and uncharacteristic performance as the spinster sister.
Paramount's transfer brings out Wellman's desire to make "a black-and-white film in colour," and the extras package has some contributions from the likes of Wellman's son, who takes part in the commentary, and Mitchum's daughter, who's written extensively about animal performers in Hollywood movies.
EXTRAS Commentary by William Wellman Jr., cast member Tab Hunter and Wellman biographer Frank Thompson; 45 minutes of making-of featurettes; original theatrical trailer; photo gallery.
Mommie Dearest: Hollywood Royalty Edition
(Paramount, 1981) D: Frank Perry, w/ Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid. Rating: NNN
Speaking a couple of years after the fact, director Frank Perry noted that on Mommie Dearest he felt sabotaged by Paramount, which didn't allow him to preview the picture. He felt, quite sincerely, that if he'd cut back on a couple of the more legendarily over-the-top scenes in his Joan Crawford biopic, it wouldn't have received the critical savaging that it did. The surprise of looking at Mommie Dearest again is that I can understand Perry's point of view. Mommie Dearest would clean up really nice if you trimmed the "no wire hangers" scene and lost "Tina, get me the axe!," but that would have the contradictory effect of making the film even more sympathetic to Crawford. To be faithful to Christina Crawford's tell-all revenge book, it needs the scenes that present Crawford as certifiable.
Faye Dunaway, who more or less disowned the film, is stunning in her recreation of the Hollywood legend. It's her last great performance; she hasn't done anything in the last 25 years that can touch it.
In a commentary both affectionate and sharply perceptive, director John Waters discusses Joan Crawford's career, the felicities of Faye Dunaway's uncanny performance and, having worked with stars in his own films, manages to connect the film to the broader concept of movie stars as people who never experience the real world.
"It's hard to make a movie where the hero is the villain."
EXTRAS Commentary by John Waters, production and historical featurettes, theatrical trailer, photo gallery. English and French soundtracks. English subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, June 13
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (Fox) Russ Meyer's masterpiece, the berserk in-name-only sequel to Valley Of The Dolls, and much funnier. Oh, and Roger Ebert shares the screenplay credit.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Warner) Shane Black created the big 80s actioner with his scripts for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodbye. His directorial debut is a relentless skewering of the clichés he created. If only the Scary Movie/Date Movie crowd had Black's grasp of satire.
Neil Young: Heart Of Gold (Paramount) Neil Young at the Grand Ole Opry, directed by Jonathan Demme. Two-disc DVD set includes Demme's rehearsal diaries and a 1971 TV performance.
The Quiet Earth (Anchor Bay) If you like "last man on Earth" stories, Geoff Murphy's 1985 New Zealand film is one of the best in the genre.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb