Lost: The Complete Second Season
(Buena Vista, 2005-06) C: J.J. Abrams, w/ Terry O'Quinn, Michelle Rodriguez, Naveen Andrews. Rating:NNNN
Long-form television -- that is, dramatic series with season-long, or longer, story arcs - face unique problems, especially when a series runs over several years in the unpredictable world of network television. Only rarely do producers know when their series is going to end.
The downside is that you end up, like The X-Files, spinning your narrative wheels from around season five on. In Twin Peaks, perhaps the first series to face this problem, the producer decided that people weren't watching because they cared who killed Laura Palmer, but of course we were, and the endlessly attenuated second season proved it.
Lost, heading into its third season about three weeks from now, is rather Twin Peaks-like. It's got a sprawling cast in an odd situation with several open-ended mysteries and a possibly mystical view of synchronicity.
Season two isn't quite as mind-warpingly quick as season one, but the characters have finally gotten inside the Hatch, which offers its own weird charms, a whole new set of theories try to explain what the island is, and a career-defining performance by Michelle Rodriguez lets her boil down her hard-nosed shtick to a kind of distillation of homicidal bad girl.
Lost is best appreciated in big gulps, on DVD or via home recording, just because it has so many characters and throws so much stuff at the audience from week to week. Plus, the fast-forward button lets you bypass the characters you don't like.
Extras Producer/writer/cast commentaries on six episodes. The seven-DVD set has a full disc of extras, which are mostly negligible, though there's a nice featurette on the design of the Hatch environment and some fun on-set featurettes. Deleted scenes, flashbacks, blooper reel, featurette on the character of Sawyer, discussion of the various theories on "what's going on" and a UK promo directed by David LaChapelle. English, French, Spanish soundtracks.
Lucky Number Slevin
(New Line/Alliance, 2006) D: Paul McGuigan, w/ Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu. Rating: NNN
Screenwriter Jason Smilovic was a freshman in college the year Pulp Fiction came out, which explains a lot about his debut feature. Apparently, those of us who thought the pop-culture-referencing, archly postmodern, neo-Tarantino thriller had passed its sell-by date around about 2002 were wrong.
Josh Hartnett is the title character, an apparent naf who stumbles into a battle between rival crime lords (Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman) and a hit man (Bruce Willis) and the hottie coroner (Lucy Liu).
If you can bear the archness of the genre conceit, it's an entertaining film. Liu escapes her usual typecasting, and it has the first-ever dramatic meeting of Freeman and Kingsley, a great treat.
New Line provides a nice assortment of extras, including a director commentary in which Paul McGuigan (Gangster No. 1) admits that Lucky Number Slevin may indeed be the worst title ever.
Except, possibly, for Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster.
Extras Director commentary, cast/writer commentary with Hartnett and Liu, making-of featurette, deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary, theatrical trailer. English, Spanish soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
(Mongrel, 2006) D: Marc and Nick Francis. Rating: NNN
How can I put this? Black Gold is a well-made, intelligent and honourable documentary about the plight of Ethiopian coffee growers who sell their coffee for $1 a kilo when it will ultimately be sold for $2 a cup.
Directors Marc and Nick Francis have travelled the world, interviewed the guy who represents the growers, gone to coffee trade fairs and worked very hard on the film. If you're interested in the economics of Third World exploitation, here's a strong, human-scale study of it.
It's the sort of movie you see at Hot Docs and say, "Gosh, isn't it terrible about those Ethiopian farmers?" while ordering your caramel macchiato.
I'm not sure who'd want to own the DVD, though. You buy a DVD because it's a movie you want to see twice. (Okay, I often buy DVDs because I'm too lazy to rent.) It's not like Capturing The Friedmans or Bus 174, where there's a compelling dramatic structure. It's a good film, but once you've seen it you've seen it.
This is part of Mongrel's Festival Collection, so if you want to rent it, it's only at Blockbuster for the next few weeks.
Coming Tuesday, September 19
The Spirit Of The Beehive
(Criterion/Paradox, 1973) Victor Erice's classic of 70s Spanish cinema, a study of childhood and memory. New documentary and director interview.
(Maple, 2006) Ellen Page (X-Men:The Last Stand) stars as a teen who seems like meat for a pedophile -- until she turns the tables.
My Name Is Earl
(20th Century Fox, 2005-06) In this unexpected hit sitcom, Jason Lee plays a redneck loser who wins the lottery and decides he needs to make good all the stupid things he's done.
The Devil And Daniel Johnston
(Sony, 2005) An epic documentary on the oddball singer/songwriter, focusing on his psychological problems, which are many and varied.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb