A Short Film About Love
(Kino/Pixi, 1988), D: Krzysztof Kieslowski, w/ Grazyna Szapolowska, Olaf Lubaszenko. Rating: NNNNN
A Short Film About Killing
(Kino/Pixi, 1988) D: Krzysztof Kieslowski, w/ Miroslaw Baka, Krzysztof Globisz. Rating: NNNNN
These two films are pendants to Kieslowski's magisterial Dekalog, expansions and reworkings of episodes five and six, and previously unavailable on North American video. These are great films, the first an exploration of obsession rather than love, the second the story of two men and two pieces of rope, featuring an endless and almost unwatchably brutal murder scene. Highest recommendation. Kieslowski may be the most imposing figure on the cinematic landscape of the last 20 years, and these are emotionally wrenching examples of his work. The DVDs have been licensed by Kino from MK2 in France, so the extras are all in French with English subtitles. They include a good assortment of interviews with Kieslowski's collaborators and friends, theatrical trailers and some of the director's shorts for good measure. Now, if we can just get Paramount to reissue The Double Life Of Veronique.
EXTRAS Interviews, short films, trailers. Polish with English subtitles.
The Legacy Collection: Frankenstein/Dracula/The Wolf Man
(Universal, 1931-1946) w/ Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. Three two-disc sets. Rating: NNNN
One good thing that's come from Stephen Sommers's Van Helsing is that it's inspired Universal Home Video to issue this trio of two-disc sets of films that represent the core of its classic horror library. It includes five films each for Frankenstein and Dracula, four for The Wolf Man, including a beautiful restoration of The Bride Of Frankenstein, the Spanish version of Dracula, shot on Dracula's sets with a different director and cast, the great monster mash combos of the early 40s, House Of Frankenstein and House Of Dracula, and WereWolf Of London. Plus making-of documentaries, commentaries, original trailers and little goodies like Philip Glass's new Dracula score as an alternative soundtrack to the original film.
The collections are not flawless. The scratchy print of Frankenstein could have been easily repaired in this age of digital restoration, and, for the nitpicky, Dracula's death scene uses the alternate, three off-screen hammer blows that match the Glass opera, not the theatrical original single blow. And was it not possible to reconstruct James Whale's original Bride, the one that he made before the industry censors got hold of it?
Still, any horror fan will want these collections, not to mention any fan of great Hollywood art direction. It's especially fun to watch the sets travel from film to film - the original Dracula sets may be the most recycled Hollywood sets this side of Citizen Kane.
EXTRAS Dracula: Spanish Dracula, Dracula's Daughter, Son Of Dracula, House Of Dracula, Philip Glass alternate score, critical documentary on Dracula, making-of documentary, original theatrical trailers for all films, photo and poster galleries.
Frankenstein: Frankenstein, Bride Of Frankenstein, Son Of Frankenstein, Ghost Of Frankenstein, House Of Frankenstein. New making-of documentaries and critical commentaries on Frankenstein and Bride, original theatrical trailers for all films and the 1938 and 1951 reissue trailers for Frankenstein, production and poster galleries.
The Wolf Man: Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, WereWolf Of London, She-Wolf Of London, commentary on Wolf Man, making-of documentary. All films English with English captions, French and Spanish subtitles, except for the Spanish Dracula, of course, which has English and French subtitles.
The Marx Brothers Collection
(Warner, 1935-1946) w/the Marx Brothers. Five discs. Rating: NNNN
the good news is that we now have the MGM/RKO Marx Brothers movies in crisp transfers. Warner's five-disc, seven-film box set includes A Night At The Opera, A Day At the Races, A Night In Casablanca, The Big Store, Go West, Room Service and At The Circus. Warner has done an excellent job here, with commentaries for Opera (Leonard Maltin) and Races (Glenn Mitchell) and a delightful array of short films and period-appropriate animations from the MGM and WB catalogue. The shorts include Robert Benchley's How To Sleep and A Night At The Movies, a Pete Smith novelty film and a miscellaneous others that I'd assumed were buried forever in the vaults.
These movies are extremely uneven - I defy anyone to parse the plots of The Big Store or Room Service - and often stop dead for extended musical numbers, though the jitterbugging in A Day At The Races is spectacular. If you want to sample, A Night At The Opera and A Day At The Races, the brothers' two biggest hits and the two best-supplemented DVDs here, are also available singly.
The bad news is that the cream of the Marx Brothers' oeuvre are the five Paramount films locked in the Universal vaults - Coconuts, Duck Soup, Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers and Monkey Business - and they're out of print. You can find them, but Image didn't have access to the sort of source material that Warner did for their box set.
EXTRAS Critical commentaries on Opera and Races, theatrical trailers, 14 short films (cartoons, live action, travelogue), 1962 Groucho interview (on Opera). English captions, French and Spanish subtitles. (Fun with subtitles: follow the English dialogue in the French subtitles to see subtitlers' despair at translating Groucho's puns.)
The Fog Of War
(Columbia/ TriStar, 2003) D: Errol Morris, w/ Robert S. McNamara. Rating: NNNN
subtitled eleven lessons from The Life Of Robert S. McNamara, The Fog Of War is a distillation of 20 hours of meetings between documentarian Erroll Morris (The Thin Blue Line) and Robert S. McNamara, the architect of the fire-bombing of Japan in the second world war, secretary of defense during the Vietnam War and founding president of the World Bank. McNamara is honest and candid, except when he chooses not to be, demonstrating that for an octogenarian he tap dances very well.
Listening to him reflect on his life, you can see the ferocious intelligence at work along with his ability to ask discomfiting questions. A vital historical document. Historical figures like McNamara rarely sit down without being in control of the situation these days, and Morris is smart enough to let him talk. There's a gorgeously evocative Philip Glass score, and the DVD includes more than half an hour of scenes deleted from the final cut.
EXTRAS Deleted scenes, trailer and TV spots. French, Spanish, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, May 18
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly: Special Edition
(MGM, 1967) Sergio Leone's Civil War epic, with 18 minutes of restored footage and a full disc of supplemental materials.
The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse
(Criterion/Morningstar, 1933) Goebbels saw Fritz Lang's paranoid masterpiece and proceeded to ban the film and offer Lang a chance to run the German film industry.
Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary
(Zeitgeist, 2002) Guy Maddin's Dracula ballet film.
Walt Disney Treasures
(Disney) Four tin box sets: On The Front Lines (second world war), Mickey Mouse In Living Color, Vol 2, The Chronological Donald and Tomorrow Land.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb