(Universal, 2006) D: Spike Lee w/ Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Faster. Rating: NNNN
The box blurb calls inside man an edge-of-your-seat, action-packed thriller, which might baffle those reviewers who lambasted Spike Lee for his lack of elementary thriller skills in this heist-hostage movie.
That'd be relevant if making an action-packed thriller had been part of Lee's agenda, which it never was.
Inside Man is a New York character comedy so geographically specific in its gags that I'd have paid to see it with a New York audience. (You can't top the Albanian-speaking woman who shows up with her parking tickets in a little gift bag to get them fixed in exchange for helping the NYPD translate.)
Inside Man is also a thriller that throws away its big mystery in its title and the opening words from Clive Owen's mastermind bank robber. Indeed, half the fun is watching Lee construct this incredibly elaborate machine - full-on SWAT exercises on the streets of lower Manhattan - to create piles of tension around his central star, who blithely ignores it. Denzel Washington is always a pleasure to watch, and never more so than when he's playing against the tension of a film.
This excellent basic DVD's principal extra is one of Lee's highly organized and informative commentaries: how the film got made, necessary shout-outs and political sidebars, and the occasional cackle of delight at his own cleverness. He's allowed with a film this entertaining.
EXTRAS Director commentary, short making-of featurette, discussion with Lee and Washington on their fourth film together. Wide-screen or full screen (the banner's black across the top of the box front) - you want the wide-screen to do justice to Matthew Libatique's 'Scope compositions. English, French and Spanish soundtracks and subtitles
Don't Come Knocking
(Sony, 2005) D: Wim Wenders, w/ Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange, Sarah Polley. Rating: NN
Want to get depressed? how long has it been since Wim Wenders made a good movie? He released Wings Of Desire 19 years ago.
The only thing duller than this Wenders-Sam Shepard collaboration is Wenders's DVD commentary, in which he seems heavily sedated.
Shepard plays an aging western movie star who rides away from the set one day to visit his mom (Eva Marie Saint) and find an old girlfriend (Jessica Lange) and gets more than he bargained for.
Aside from the patent absurdities - Sam Shepard could become a legendary movie star without fixing his teeth? - the film drags on and whines a lot. It's saved from utter disaster by Franz Lustig's cinematography and the supporting performances by Sarah Polley and Fairuza Balk.
EXTRAS Director commentary, NY Premiere Q&A w/ Wenders and Lange, Sundance featurette, short interview with Wenders and Saint. French subtitles.
The Hidden Blade
(Japan, 2004) D: Yoji Yamada w/ Masatoshi Nagase, Takako Matsu. Rating: NNN
Director Yoji Yamada achieved some international repute with The Twilight Samurai after a four-decade career mostly devoted to the popular Tora-san series (he wrote and directed more than 40 Tora-san films).
The Hidden Blade is about samurai who refuse to wake up and smell the gunpowder, holding on to tradition in a rapidly changing social order after the introduction of Western weapons.
This isn't a samurai movie in the martial arts sense; folks hoping for flashy swordplay had best look elsewhere. It is, however, an exquisitely designed character study that balances a noble sensibility with an unexpected fondness for moments of low comedy.
EXTRAS Substandard: a slapdash making-of featurette, a featurette from the Berlin Film Festival that mostly has Yamada walking into buildings and shaking hands with Germans, a short "press conference" that mostly shows Yamada acknowledging the importance of an award he's just received. Japanese and American trailers, excellent DTS soundtrack. Japanese soundtrack, English subtitles.
The Jayne Mansfield Collection: The Girl Can't Help It, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw
(20th Century Fox, 1956-58) D: Frank Tashlin, Raoul Walsh, w/ Mansfield, Tom Ewell, Tony Randall. Rating: NNNN
The rating here is for the long overdue appearance of Frank Tashlin's surrealist comedies, The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw is a minor western "comedy" that stands as a footnote to the long career of director Raoul Walsh (White Heat, High Sierra) and need trouble us no further.
Tashlin was famous as a Warner Brothers cartoonist in the 30s, when he did a lot of great Porky Pig cartoons, before moving to Columbia in the 40s. He also served as cinematic mentor to Jerry Lewis, directing the comic nine times.
The Girl Can't Help It and Rock Hunter are perhaps his most enduring films, in part because of Jayne Mansfield, and in part because they drink deeply of the 50s sensibility. Mansfield is inexplicable outside of her time, so inescapably cartoonish that if she had not existed Tashlin would have had to invent her. The films stand at a satiric remove from their own decade while wallowing in the things they're mocking, the neat trick accomplished by all good satire.
In The Girl Can't Help It, Mansfield plays a nice girl (you can't help but hear, "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way"), mistress to a gangster who wants to make her a star. The film is jammed with legendary 50s rockers furiously lip-synching to their hits: Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent.
In Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Mansfield reprises her stage performance as Rita Marlowe, a bubble-headed Hollywood starlet who becomes entangled with Tony Randall's milquetoast advertising man. Great commercial parodies. Enjoy.
EXTRAS: Scholarly commentaries on the Tashlin films, Mansfield episode of Biography, theatrical trailers. English and Spanish soundtracks and subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, August 15
Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier
(Paramount, 1979/2002) So much for Coppola's declaration that Redux would be allowed to supplant the original Apocalypse Now. Both cuts included, with commentaries and extras. Shame they didn't spring for the Hearts Of Darkness documentary.
Rome: The Complete First Season
(HBO/Warner, 2005) The HBO series no one talked about.
Six Moral Tales By Eric Rohmer
(Criterion/Paradox, 1959-1972) What can you say? They're French and they're real chatty, and the set includes Ma Nuit Chez Maude, Claire's Knee and La Collectionneuse.
Scary Movie 4
(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) Just when you thought the series couldn't get any classier, they've started shooting in high-def video. firstname.lastname@example.org
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb