Million Dollar Baby
(WB, 2004) D: Clint Eastwood, w/ Eastwood, Hilary Swank. Rating: NNNN
Any one-line synopsis makes this sound like schlock: crusty old trainer/manager reluctantly takes on a 32-year-old woman who's determined to become a boxer. But the movie is far better than that.
It's the absence of peace that does it. There's none in Clint Eastwood's old trainer. He's guilt-wracked and sour. He and Morgan Freeman, his assistant, seem like an embittered old married couple, merely tolerating one another. Hilary Swank, the would-be fighter, achieves joy, but it's painful, transitory and comes at a price.
This is a disturbing theme coming from Eastwood, who by all accounts is at peace with himself. But as he says in the thoughtful extras interview, he's not a man who intellectualizes much.
Million Dollar Baby picked up four Oscars - best picture, director, actress (Swank) and supporting actor (Freeman) - and deserves them all. It flows with the seamless naturalness and focus on the actors that is Eastwood's trademark, and it stays with you after the lights come up.
EXTRAS Group interview with Eastwood, Swank, Freeman, making-of doc, parallels between movie and real boxer Lucia Rijker. Wide-screen. Disc one: English, French audio tracks, English, French, Spanish subtitles; disc two: English audio. French subtitles.
Bill And Ted's Most Excellent Collection:
Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure
(MGM, 1989) D: Stephen Herek, w/ Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter. Rating: NNNN
Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey
(MGM, 1991) D: Peter Hewett, w/ Reeves, Winter. Rating: NNN
Bill And Ted's Non-Bogus Disc
(MGM, 2005) Rating: NNNN
They're good movies, but it's the great extras that make this package a keeper. Writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon provide a detailed, amusing account of the characters' development and origins in amateur sketch comedy. It's easy to believe that Bill and Ted are an idealization of their own friendship. A gallery feature presents their handwritten first notes and first draft.
That idealized relationship has a lot to do with the movies' success and enduring charm. So does the absence of teen movie clichés. Bill and Ted aren't stoners, mean-spirited, rebellious or terminally horny. Rather, they have a naive enthusiasm for life and a general, unthinking friendliness. "Puppy dogs," director Peter Herek calls them.
Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves are perfect as the 16-year-old time-travelling airheads. They move and speak as one person and expound their logical absurdities with a spacey sense of discovery all their own.
They're not the movies' only treats. Standout comic turns abound, notably Joss Ackland's petulant Death and George Carlin's suave future dude.
The films are obviously a career high for Herek, Winter and others here. Their recollections of the experience are clear, detailed and joyous. Guitar god Steve Vai is engaging on scoring and creating the air guitar riffs, and there's a whole air guitar feature, with performances and tips from a couple of pros.
Reeves is absent, though he appears briefly, and uncomfortably, in a making-of produced at the time. It's a pity, because Bill and Ted, not The Matrix, is what he'll be remembered for.
EXTRAS Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure: wide-screen; English, French, Spanish subtitles. Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey: making-of doc, wide-screen; English, French, Spanish subtitles. Bill And Ted's Non-Bogus Disc: Bill & Ted cartoon show, episode 1, comic biographies of historical figures, guide to Bill & Ted-speak, making-of doc, writing-of doc, guitar interview, air guitar doc, script gallery. No subtitles
Hide And Seek
(Fox, 2005) D: John Polson, w/ Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning. Rating: NNN
Everything old is new again, including the 60s-style psychological shocker in which somebody's trying to drive the heroine insane and someone normal turns out to be a homicidal lunatic. Those movies had titles like Homicidal, Straitjacket and Berserk!
Now it's A budgets, A-list stars and a simplified plot that leaves out the driving-the-heroine-mad element. Otherwise, it's business as usual. Our protagonists are a deeply disturbed little girl who's seen her mother's suicide, and her psychologist father who's desperate to heal her.
Mild-enough-for-mainstream chills mount, but the first hour is slow and repetitive. There's plenty of time to wonder why they cast Robert De Niro for the dad; any decent middle-aged actor could've done it. But the decision pays off handsomely in the third-act madness. Few other actors would have made such original choices. Watch for the moment when he gives Famke Janssen, as the psychologist with victim written all over her, a barely visible little head shake.
Fanning (I Am Sam, War Of The Worlds), the disturbed daughter, is, no contest, the best child actor since Jodie Foster. She's smart, cute and delivers 27 different kinds of fear with an intensity that blows De Niro off the screen.
Polson has interesting things to say about De Niro's acting and his own efforts to skate over the story's lapses in logic. But at one point he pulls the standard Hollywood excuse for vapidity: "We just wanted to make a popcorn movie" - so don't think. And he's right. Think, and all you'll do is catch a narrative cheat so atrocious it'll make you hurl your popcorn.
EXTRAS Director, writer, production designer commentary; making-of doc; deleted scenes; alternate endings. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
The Bondage Master
(Asia Pulp Cinema, 1996) D: Hitoshi Hoshino, w/ Yukijirou Hotaru, Yoriko Ikuta. Rating: NNN
Japanese rope bondage is a complicated and delicate art. It can sometimes take hours to tie up a single person. There's lots on display in the first half-hour, with much nudity, writhing and a softcore SM show. So this is about making porn.
But we're following a disgraced former doctor who ekes out a living tying up girls for photo shoots and live SM shows, so this is one of those Japanese character studies based on shame, especially when the young medical student with doubts about her calling shows up. Then a bondage model gets murdered, and a lawyer who owns the SM club and works off her dominatrix impulses gets raped, so this is a thriller.
But there's a goofball sidekick and a knock-about climax that pits whips and ropes against yakuza horror clowns with guns. So this is a comedy. Maybe.
It's fun, whatever it is. Decent acting and visuals and the sense of a project wending its own wonky way in the world easily overcome the crappy transfer and full-frame presentation. Take your pick between the Japanese or English soundtracks. The former offers porn-worthy cheesy music and good subtitles. The latter offers creative dubbing and different cheesy music.
EXTRAS Photo gallery. Full-frame. Japanese, English audio. English subtitles.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb