(ThinkFilm, 2005) D: Paul Provenza, w/ Gilbert Gottfried, Sarah Silverman, Robin Williams. Rating:NNNNN
Conceived by stand-up Paul Provenza and magician Penn Jillette, The Aristocrats features a few dozen comics telling the same joke, an obscene cornucopia known as the The Aristocrats. Some discuss the theory of the joke, decline to tell the joke or denounce the idea of the film.
Alternately hilarious and jaw-droppingly offensive, The Aristocrats is a sort of meta-stand-up-comedy movie mixing the usual suspects (George Carlin, Drew Carey) with unexpected intellectuals in the form of Paul Reiser and Larry Miller and out-of-nowhere star turns by Gilbert Gottfried and Sarah Silverman.
Second viewing allows one to appreciate the way Provenza's structured the film, both in its juxtaposition of comics and in the way the film becomes even more transgressive as it goes along. Not only is Provenza's and Jillette's commentary funny, but the bonus material is as good as the film itself: 90 minutes of comics telling the joke intact, including Gottfried's full version, Bob Saget's gasp-inducing 11-minute rendition and Kevin Pollak complementing his in-film telling in Christopher Walken's voice and doing an utterly different version as Albert Brooks.
Extras: Provenza and Jillette commentary, highlight reel, 90 minutes of various comics telling the joke complete, Aristocrat contest winners.
The Bad Sleep Well
(Criterion/Paradox, 1960) D: Akira Kurosawa, w/ Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura. Rating: NNNN
For Criterion, this is a bare-bones issue. Akira Kurosawa's neglected thriller is a study of corporate corruption ruthlessly exposed by a vengeance-driven salaryman.
Toshiro Mifune made this film between his more physical performances in The Hidden Fortress and Yojimbo, and, like Burt Lancaster and Gérard Depardieu, he is exceptionally interesting in roles that rein in his physical expressiveness. For the first 40 minutes of the film, he's so self-effacing we can't even be sure he's the protagonist.
Watching the film requires a lot of attention. Inspired by contemporary corruption scandals, The Bad Sleep Well has a boatload of exposition, but it's a rewarding 150 minutes, with an unusual tone: slow but relentless. Included is an excellent booklet essay by director Michael Almereyda, who groups it unexpectedly with the director's Shakespeare adaptations and points out the parallels with Hamlet.
Extras: Half-hour Japanese TV documentary, theatrical trailer, booklet essays by critic Chuck Stephens and Almereyda. English subtitles.
(Focus/Alliance Atlantis, 1984) D: Alex Cox, w/ Emilio Estevez, Harry Dean Stanton, Tracey Walter. Rating: NNNN
This new special edition of the cult classic has the same transfer and commentary track as the now out-of-print Anchor Bay tin box, but jettisons that disc's best bonus, a soundtrack CD that is the perfect snapshot of L.A. punk rock circa 1983.
Emilio Estevez's portrait of a self-described "white suburban punk" who finds himself entangled in a vast conspiracy involving dead aliens, a 1964 Chevy Malibu and a weird group of repo men, remains the single justification for an exceedingly dull career. He's paired with Harry Dean Stanton in one of his greatest roles as Bud, foul-mouthed champion of "the repo code."
Repo Man remains one of those movies whose dialogue seeps into your daily conversation. "It happens all the time... People just explode... Natural causes."
Extras: Director/producer/cast commentary with Alex Cox, Michael Nesmith, Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss and Del Zamora; Up Close With Harry Dean Stanton; Repossessed - director/producers retrospective coffee klatsch; deleted scenes. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(Disney, 2005) D: Robert Schwentke, w/ Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean. Rating: NNN
Aside from that French movie, which doesn't count, Jodie Foster's last picture was Panic Room, which featured her as a single mom defending her child with steely determination. In Flightplan, she plays a single mom searching a plane for her lost child with steely determination. It's a rut, like Johnny Depp playing romantic Gypsies.
The chief problem is that Flightplan, after showing us the child, wants us to suspect, along with the flight crew, that the child never existed. The film starts too late in the narrative, and it's difficult to image that Foster, who projects a radiant sanity, may be a little nuts. To see this story done right, check the Columbia DVD of Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake Is Missing.
The DVD's a good rental because of the director's commentary, which gives a fair sense of what it's like to direct a gigantically expensive film with lots of effects and studio suits breathing down your neck. As on the Red Eye DVD, the excellent making-of documentary is loaded with spoilers, including the identity of the villain, so don't watch it first.
Extras: Director commentary, 40-minute making-of documentary, design featurette. English, French and Spanish soundtracks. French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, January 31
In Her Shoes (Fox, 2005)
Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette in a chick flick from Curtis Hanson, director of L.A. Confidential.
The Virgin Spring (Criterion/Paradox, 1960)
Bergman’s classic tale of medieval rape and revenge, with Max von Sydow. For those who don’t find January bleak enough.
Dune – Extended Edition (Universal, 1984)
Not exactly what we’d hoped for, but a brand new transfer of David Lynch’s legendary flop and the threehour television expansion thereof that Lynch removed his name from.
Hill Street Blues: The Complete First Season (Fox, 1981)
Three discs, 17 episodes, but thin on extras – commentary on “select” episodes means two. Charles Haid and Veronica Hamel can’t be all that busy.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb