Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
This is what happens when a smart guy spends a decade or so writing big action movies for producer Joel Silver, pictures like Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Eventually, his brain explodes and this craziness comes out, a postmodern, self-referential series of riffs on the action and mystery genres. Robert Downey Jr. stars as a small-time thief and aspiring actor in L.A. He gets caught up in several mysteries when he hooks up with Val Kilmer's private eye, only to discover that "they're all the same case."
When Downey's on his game, he looks like the best film actor of his generation, and he's in that mode here, especially with a brilliantly loony Kilmer to play off. Highly entertaining, unless you really can't stand pomo genre game playing.
Light on extras, but the Kilmer-Downey commentary track is a hoot.
Extras Director/star commentary with Shane Black, Downey and Kilmer; gag reel; theatrical trailer. English, French, Spanish soundtracks and subtitles. --
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls
(20th Century Fox, 1970) D: Russ Meyer w/ Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers and Marcia McBroom. Rating: NNNNN
One of the more inspired pieces of studio madness in the era's waning late-60s days was Fox's decision to hire exploitation auteur Russ Meyer to make a non-sequel to Valley Of The Dolls, with a young, untried screenwriter named Roger Ebert as scenarist. Oh, and to cast the thing with exploitation actors and Playboy models while going for an R-rating. They got an X regardless, and Fox wouldn't let Meyer go back and get added nude footage, so this is, given what Meyer did in films like Vixen! and Mudhoney, almost chaste. It's also almost completely insane. Just try explaining the plot.
As Ebert points out in his excellent commentary, he and Meyer knew nothing about the hot, hip scene they were supposedly uncovering, so they made stuff up. It's a hilarious piece of time-capsule filmmaking, as if Martians had visited Hollywood for six weeks in 1969 and filmed a report on the local mores, with candy-coloured cinematography and outré performances.
Fox has loaded up the two-disc special edition with commentaries, making-ofs and curious featurettes. Great fun. Once you've seen it, you'll never be the same again.
commentary, five-headed cast commentary, making-of feature, production and retrospective featurettes, screen tests, teasers and trailers, photo galleries. English and French soundtracks. English and Spanish subtitles.
The Quiet Earth
(Anchor Bay, 1985) D: Geoff Murphy, w/ Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge and Pete Smith. Rating: NNN
This is not quite as good as i remember it from two decades ago, but the first 45 minutes, in which Bruno Lawrence wakes up and finds that he's apparently the last man on earth, or at least in New Zealand, is brilliantly conceived and executed. And the end has one of the greatest final shots in film history. It does sag a bit for about half an hour, but it's worth a look for anyone who loves apocalyptic sci-fi.
Sam Pillsbury's commentary (he describes himself as the only producer ever to fire himself as a director) is a bit dry but quite informative on the subject of how the film came to be made. It's interesting that director Geoff Murphy, who's still alive and kicking, was unavailable for commentary.
Extras Writer/producer commentary with Pillsbury, theatrical trailer, booklet essay. --
(Mongrel Festival Collection, 2005) D: Gary Yates, w/ Anna Friel, Craig Ferguson and Wendy Crewson. Rating: NNNN
Eve And The Fire Horse
(Mongrel Festival Collection, 2005) D: Julia Kwan, w/ Phoebe JoJo Kut, Vivian Wu and Hollie Lo. Rating: NNN
(Mongrel Festival Collection, 2005) D: Sean Garrity, w/ Jonas Chernick, Callum Keith Rennie and Michelle Nolden. Rating: NN
A stack of eight canadian titles showed up as part of Mongrel's Festival Collection, and I prioritized them from the box synopses on a scale from "this looks interesting" to "I'll check the Weather Channel to see if hell has frozen over." As it happens, the three that floated to the top were the three that had theatrical releases last year and have come out on DVD with director commentaries.
Lucid is the least impressive of the bunch, which is a disappointment, since I enjoyed Sean Garrity's debut, Inertia. Here, he's working with a thrillerish plot about a psychotherapist (co-writer Jonas Chernick, who as an actor makes you think, "So this is what happens when you can't get Don McKellar") whose patients become increasingly delusional under his care. You can see the big twist coming as soon as you realize that the very bad American thriller Stay is almost the same movie, only it's got Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.
Eve And The Fire Horse is a charming reminiscence about growing up Chinese Canadian in Vancouver in the 70s, with the occasional touch of magic realism. The two young actors playing the sisters, Phoebe JoJo Kut and Hollie Lo, are very impressive, and the emotions ring true. First-time director Julia Kwan is distractingly modest on the commentary, noting, "I've always made fun of first-time directors doing DVD commentaries, and now I'm doing one."
Niagara Motel is a mash-up of three of George F. Walker's Suburban Motel plays, weaving together a trio of stories set in Niagara Falls. Its eccentric international cast (what's Kevin Pollak doing in a Canadian picture with talk-show host Craig Ferguson?) and echoing narrative devices lead you to think things will not turn out well, but you remain curious as to how they'll get there. The excellent commentary pairs director Gary Yates with Wendy Crewson until she has to leave to pick up her kids.
Extras Niagara Motel: director/star interview with Yates and Crewson, three production featurettes, short film by Yates, trailers. Eve And The Fire Horse: director/cinematographer commentary track with Kwan and Nicolas Bolduc, short film, deleted scenes, trailers. English/Cantonese and French dubbed versions. Lucid: director/producer/writer star commentary with Chernick and Garrity.
Coming Tuesday, June 21
The John Ford Film Collection and The John Ford-John Wayne Film Collection
(Warner, 1936-64) A pair of very important box sets from Warner Home Video including two-disc special editions of Stagecoach and The Searchers, Ford's great war films The Lost Patrol and They Were Expendable, and his first official "great" film, The Informer.
(Paradox/Criterion, 1970) A bizarre marginal horror film from the late 60s gets the Criterion treatment. Of course, the special effects do represent early work by seven-time Oscar winner Dennis Muren.
(Warner, 2005) No director's commentary is listed, but deleted scenes are promised, which might help fill some of the jaw-dropping logic gaps in Stephen Gaghan's political thriller.
The Hills Have Eyes
(20th Century Fox, 2005) Another remake of a 70s horror classic, this one produced by original director Wes Craven. (Good to see Craven finally make some money off this picture.) From the director of High Tension, Alexandre Aja.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb