(Criterion/Paradox, 1995) D: Matthieu Kassovitz, w/ Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, Said Taghmaoui. Rating: NNNN ; DVD package: NNNNN
Looking back at la haine more than a decade after its succès de scandale at the Cannes Film Festival, where Matthieu Kassovitz won the directing prize, it looks increasingly as if the young director's talent wrote a cheque his career has failed to cash. Crimson Rivers was one thing, but Gothika?
Covering a day in the life of the three young men in a Paris banlieue - housing projects beyond the city proper - Kassovitz cooks up a heady stew of racial tension and police violence and asks what happens when one of his young protagonaists finds himself a gun. It's the French Do The Right Thing, though it's unclear whether there's a right thing to be done.
Criterion's DVD is a two-disc monster: feature-length making-of, sociological add-ons, trailers and a startlingly disarming director's commentary. It's hard to knock Kassovitz as someone who's fundamentally copping his riffs from Scorsese when he admits it up front. "All my talent is stolen," he says.
Extras Director commentary, new feature-length making-of documentary, featurette on the sociology of the Parisian projects, deleted and extended scenes, theatrical trailers, video introduction by Jodie Foster. French audio. English subtitles.
Notes On A Scandal
(20th Century Fox, 2006) D: Richard Eyre w/ Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNN
With its ready-for-springer premise - teacher sleeps with student - and predatory crypto-lesbian narrator, Notes On A Scandal plays an interesting game. On the one hand, it's undeniably trashy. On the other, with Cate Blanchett, Dame Judi Dench and Bill Nighy as the principals, it's unarguably high-end.
Working from Zoe Heller's novel, Notes On A Scandal uses its unreliable narrator and melodramatic style to look at class, sexuality and the construction of self in a London where the new class system is just as firmly entrenched as was the old. These are superb performances (Blanchett, Dench - gosh, there's a shocking critical insight).
The highlight of the DVD is director Richard Eyer's sturdy commentary. The documentary material is mostly promotional.
Extras Director's commentary, assorted promotional featurettes with occasional content overlap. English, French and Spanish audio. English captions.
Not Just The Best Of The Larry Sanders Show
(Sony, 1992-1998) C: Garry Shandling, Dennis Klein, w/ Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, Rip Torn. Rating: NNNNN; DVD package: NNNNN
I'm not sure what the folks at Sony are thinking. Don't you put out all the single seasons first in bare-bones editions, then pop up the special best-of collection with all the bells, whistles and doodads?
For those who aren't obsessively interested in The Larry Sanders Show, one of the first HBO series successes, this is a great introduction - classic episodes from all six seasons, with a load of cast interviews and Shandling's insecurity-laden visits with some of his past guests.
The Sharon Stone half-hour on disc one is a particularly choice piece of "What the hell was I thinking?" on Shandling's part.
On the other hand, who but the most hardcore fan really wants to hear Jeremy Piven musing on his season or so of work? Or Janeane Garofalo telling us how awful she thought she was on the show?
The Larry Sanders Show is an epic of the comedy of embarrassment and insecurity. Shandling was among the least secure of comics, and his neuroses are on full display; there's a certain Woody Allen vibe at work, though Shandling is more willing to admit that he's in show business.
Of course, show business and its discontents are his subject, which makes The Larry Sanders Show a magnet for stars to show up and mock themselves - among others Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, Alec Baldwin and Jerry Seinfeld, and Jon Stewart lurking in the wings as Larry's possible replacement just before he got The Daily Show.
Extras Four episode commentaries, deleted scenes for nine episodes, cast interviews, Garry Shandling visits Alec Baldwin, Sharon Stone, David Duchovny, Tom Petty, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Carol Burnett, feature-length making-of. English audio. Spanish subtitles.
Thieves Like Us
(MGM, 1974) D: Robert Altman, w/ Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNN
The last of Altman's mid-70s classics to reach DVD, Thieves Like Us remains the most underrated of the director's films. Falling between the genre-twisting noir of The Long Goodbye and the environmental sprawl of Nashville, it stands with McCabe And Mrs. Miller as a foray into dark, low-key realism, with Keith Carradine, John Schuck and Bert Remsen as a trio of escaped cons robbing banks in 1936 Mississippi.
This is a stark and beautiful story of love between Carradine and Shelley Duvall, and Louise Fletcher's performance as Mattie led directly to Milos Forman's casting of her in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.
The transfer is beautiful, and we get the original mono soundtrack. On another level, this may be the purest Altman cast ever.
Carradine made his debut in McCabe And Mrs. Miller, Duvall in Brewster McLeod, Schuck's first film was M*A*S*H*, and Remsen was in seven Altman films.
This has been awaiting release for a while - Altman recorded his commentary before he made Cookie's Fortune in 99.
Extras Director commentary. English, French, Spanish audio. English, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, April 24
(Alliance Atlantis) Helen Mirren snags an Oscar for playing Elizabeth II and an Emmy for playing Elizabeth I in the same year. What are the odds?
A Night At The Museum
(20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller does battle with digital effects. At night. In a museum.
Louis Malle: Documentaries
(Criterion/Eclipse) Six discs' worth of Malle's documentaries, including the monumental six-hour Phantom India.
(BBC/Warner) Eleven-part series for the BBC. Remember, nature documentaries are the crack of high-def television. firstname.lastname@example.org