Stage And Spectacle: Three Films By Jean Renoir (The Golden Coach, French CanCan, Elena And Her Men)
(Criterion/Morningstar, 1953-1956) D: Jean Renoir, w/ Anna Magnani, Jean Gabin, Ingrid Bergman. Rating: NNNNN
jean renoir was the cinema's great naturalist, a paternal influence on the Italian neo-realists and a direct influence on Satyajit Ray, his assistant on The River. Then, in the mid-50s, he came out with these films, studio-bound Technicolor spectaculars (The Golden Coach was the first Technicolor film shot in Italy) that pivot around great star performances. As Renoir aged, he turned increasingly to the past, especially to his father's era, the 1890s. When he returned to France with French CanCan in 1955, he'd been away from the country for 15 years, and his previous French film, The Rules Of The Game, had been a failure and a scandal on its initial release. So his retreat to the past may have been a commercial decision as well as a psychological one.
Yet these highly theatrical films - about an 18th-century commedia dell'arte troupe touring in Peru, the birth of the Moulin Rouge, and a Polish princess (Ingrid Bergman) who becomes involved in a political scandal in 1889 France - are the unexpected masterpieces of Renoir's late career. They're arguably his last great films before the slow decline of his 60s films into a slightly strained triviality.
All three are studies of real love in highly artificial environments, each with a central female character pursued by three men of different classes and backgrounds, and each woman chooses idiosyncratically at the film's climax. Françoise Arnoul's Nini in French CanCan comes to the most complex realization of her fate, and it is glorious.
Criterion has mastered all three films magnificently, doing full justice to the cinematography. Try to count how many shades of blue Michel Kelber wrings out of French CanCan, or how many in-scene lighting changes Claude Renoir pulls off in The Golden Coach.
Extras include more than an hour of Renoir being interviewed for French television by Jacques Rivette, the second hour of David Thompson's British TV documentary (the first half is on Criterion's The Rules Of The Game) and introductions to The Golden Coach and French CanCan by Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich, from the old laser discs.
If you want a definition of what a great director does, compare the climactic musical number from French CanCan with the opening club number of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge.
EXTRAS Introductions by Renoir, Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese; Jean Renoir Parle De Son Art; Renoir: Hollywood And Beyond, Part 2; new interview with French CanCan art director Max Douy; booklet essays by Andrew Sarris, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Christopher Faulkner.
Kill Bill, Vol. 2
(Miramax/Alliance Atlantis, 2004) D: Quentin Tarantino, w/ Uma Thurman, David Carradine. Rating: NNN
having now seen kill bill, vol . 2 three times, I hold to my initial opinion: the third act is just too long. After getting through the film's centrepiece, from the Bride's interment by Budd (Michael Madsen) to her confrontation with Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), one of the most vicious fights in movie history, there's 55 minutes left, and all those long Carradine/Thurman dialogue scenes. Being a more rock, less talk kind of guy, I'm convinced that Tarantino could take 20 minutes out of the last hour of the film without hurting it a bit. Excellent transfer on the DVD, a terrific deleted scene (to prove, I guess, that Tarantino didn't actually leave everything he shot in this lengthy two-parter) and a making-of that's mostly QT talking about whatever comes into his head. Remember, if you hate buying a movie twice, a few more editions of Kill Bill are coming; there will be a more elaborate one down the road.
EXTRAS Deleted scene, behind-the-scenes featurette, live performance by Chingon from the KB2 premiere. (Where's the damned trailer?) DTS soundtrack. English and French versions, English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Korean subtitles.
Predator: Wide-screen Special Edition
(20th Century Fox, 1987) D: John McTiernan, w/ Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers. Rating: NNNNN
the only collision of two icons of the 80s hard-action movie - Arnold Schwarzenegger just off The Terminator and director John McTiernan right before Die Hard - led to one of the most enduring action epics of the decade, a movie that would have trouble getting made today, when studios are terrified of taking the hard-R rating for violence. (See King Arthur for proof.) Predator holds up remarkably as a kick-ass entertainment. Its great supporting cast includes Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura and Bill Duke, and the film uses a 70s horror flick plot structure to introduce a bunch of characters who go into the woods and start dying horribly.
McTiernan's commentary is unusually good for this director, including a really interesting observation on his own aesthetic: "I used to go to a lot of foreign movies, but I never read the subtitles. I realized that I don't care what people say in movies. I do care how they look and what they do."
EXTRAS Director commentary, retrospective making-of featurette, extensive special effects featurettes on the creation of the predator, deleted scene, outtakes, footage of the original "red suit" predator, stills gallery. English, Spanish and French versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
Village Of The Damned
(Warner, 1960) D: Wolf Rilla, w/ George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, and
Children Of The Damned
(Warner, 1963) D: Anton M. Leader w/ Ian Hendry, Alan Badel. Rating: NNN
an unexpected treat from the archives here - both Village Of The Damned films on one side of a disc, both in crisp black-and-white wide-screen transfers, with commentaries. Village Of The Damned is an odd classic of 60s science fiction, adapted from John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos. Everyone in the town of Midwich passes out, and when they wake up a whole bunch of women are pregnant. When the children arrive, they have powers, blond hair and glowing eyes.
The second, written by future Oscar-winner John Briley (Gandhi), is less classical science fiction than Cold War parable. The surviving "children" join forces and the great powers try to figure out what to do about it.
These are period curios, the kind of film no one makes any more (despite John Carpenter's recent remake of Village). Their DVD value is enhanced by piggybacking them on a single disc and adding a pair of interesting commentaries by screenwriter Briley on Children and scholar Steve Haberman on Village.
EXTRAS Writer and scholarly commentaries, theatrical trailers.
Coming Tuesday, July 17
The Martin Scorsese Collection
(Warner) Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Who's That Knocking At My Door?, GoodFellas, After Hours and Mean Streets in long-overdue special editions, all with Scorsese commentaries.
The Scar, Camera Buff, No End, Blind Chance
(Kino) Four films by Polish master Krzyszstof Kieslowski, before he became the world-famous multi-part-epic genius guy, imported from MK2 by Kino.
Candyman: Special Edition
(Columbia/TriStar) Special edition of one of the classic modern horror stories. Watch this film, then try looking in a mirror and saying "candyman" five times. You can't do it.
Lateline: The Complete Series
(Paramount) All 19 episodes of the sitcom set in a late-night news show, with Al Franken. Wait a minute. Al Franken had a series?
Coming in November
I noted when Warner issued the MGM Marx Brothers comedies that we really needed to get the Paramount Marx Brothers comedies: Horse Feathers, Coconuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business and Duck Soup. Universal has announced them for November 9. And a boxed set of W. C. Fields classics for the same date.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb