The Door In The Floor
(Focus/Alliance Atlantis, 2004) D: Tod Williams, w/ Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger. Rating: NNNN
We Don't Live Here Anymore
(Warner, 2003) D: John Curran, w/ Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, Peter Krause. Rating: NNN
Both these films are superbly acted melodramas of marital collapse. The Door In The Floor, from the first third of John Irving's A Widow For One Year, charts the failure of Jeff Bridges's and Kim Basinger's marriage after the death of their twin sons. We Don't Live Here Anymore is a four-hander from two stories by Andre Dubus. Dubus stories have become In The Bedroom and House Of Sand And Fog, so we know what to expect. We Don't Live Here Anymore, with its interchanging couples (Mark Ruffalo and Laura Dern, Naomi Watts and Peter Krause), may actually be the movie people think Closer is. I've rated it slightly lower because the DVD has no extras and only an acceptable transfer. The Door In The Floor has a gorgeous transfer, and if the commentary track is too cluttered to be useful, there's an interesting interview with John Irving and an episode of the Sundance Channel's Anatomy Of A Scene that offers some real insight into the making of the film.
EXTRAS Door: director/production team commentary, making-of featurette, John Irving interview, Sundance Channel's Anatomy Of A Scene. English, French versions, English captions, French subtitles. Live: theatrical trailer. English, French versions, English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(20th Century Fox) D: Alex Proyas, w/ Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan. Rating: NNN
Alex Proyas, once the great hope of science fiction movies (Dark City), has become a whore like the rest, devoting his considerable talents to a great big summer effects movie starring Will Smith. Smith plays a past-obsessed Chicago cop who sets out to prove that a robot has killed James Cromwell's visionary robot scientist just as there's about to be a massive robot upgrade. As one might guess, this has little to do with Isaac Asimov's I, Robot story collection aside from the appropriation of his three laws of robotics. It's entertaining. Smith is always engaging, and there's good support from Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood and Chi McBride, but the massive deployment of digital effects leads to diminishing returns. A lot of the big scenes are like the one in The Matrix Reloaded where Neo fights 100 Agent Smiths. Oh, look! The digital effects are fighting! BFD. Excellent transfer and kick-ass DTS soundtrack.
EXTRAS Director/screenwriter commentary, making-of featurette, stills gallery, theatrical trailer, DTS soundtrack. English, French, Spanish versions, English and French subtitles.
(Thinkfilm/MGM, 2003) D: Bob Smeaton, w/ the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin. Rating: NNN
Languishing in the producer's son's garage and the uncatalogued portion of the Budge Crawley collection in the National Archives, Festival Express emerges like a prehistoric dragonfly preserved in amber for three decades. Ken Walker conceived the idea of putting the Dead, the Band, Joplin, Ian and Sylvia, Buddy Guy, Delaney and Bonnie and many others on a train as a rolling rock festival across Canada, from Toronto to Winnipeg to Calgary. There are some terrific performances here, including a hard charge through Slippin' And Slidin' by the Band and a chilling reading of the Dead's Altamont song, New Speedway Boogie, and some touching scenes involving Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia on the train; Joplin would be dead three months later. But it's less interesting as a music doc than as a snapshot of a moment in time.
EXTRAS Almost an hour of extra footage, including numbers by the Grateful Dead, Joplin and Buddy Guy; extended material from the film's new interviews; making-of documentary explaining why the film disappeared for almost 30 years; photo gallery; theatrical trailer.
(Kino, 1924), D: Carl Theodor Dreyer, w/ Walter Slezak, Benjamin Christensen. Rating: NNNN
Sex In Chains
(Kino, 1928) D: William Dieterle, w/ Dieterle, Mary Johnson. Rating: NNN
Different From The Others
(Kino, 1919) D: Richard Oswald, w/ Conrad Veidt, Leo Connard. Rating: NNN These three titles from Kino share the subtitle "Gay-Themed Films Of The German Silent Era." Different From The Others is a plea for tolerance in the early post-war period, when German law made life hard for gays and easy for blackmailers. It's fascinating, not least because Conrad Veidt, who plays a gay violinist, would the same year play Cesare, the somnambulist, in The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari. This version is a reconstruction of the film from fragments of surviving prints.
Sex In Chains is about a falsely imprisoned man who finds himself torn between his wife and his cellmate. Coming at the end of the German silent era, it's a lurid melodrama treated with taste, a peculiar combination that would later serve director William Dieterle well in Hollywood.
The prize here is Carl Theodor Dreyer's early masterpiece Michael, a story of artistic and romantic obsession shot by two of Weimar's greatest cinematographers, Karl Freund (The Last Laugh) and Rudolph Maté, who would go on to shoot The Passion Of Joan Of Arc and Vampyr for Dreyer. Walter Slezak plays the title role (it's startling to see, in the beauty of youth, an actor best known for his middle-aged character roles in Hollywood), a young artist longed for by both his mentor, played by the great Danish director Benjamin Christensen, and a princess played by Nora Gregor, who would later star in Renoir's The Rules Of The Game.
I'd up the rating except that there's a new English DVD from Eureka with the same commentary but two different transfers of the film, two different scores and a 20-page booklet. Of course, it's also more expensive. EXTRAS Excellent if dry critical commentary on Michael, and a Dreyer filmography. English intertitles. Different and Chains are bare-bones releases.
Coming Tuesday, December 21
Shaun Of The Dead (Universal) Two English slackers wake one morning to find London overrun by zombies. More fun than 28 Days Later. No, seriously - it's funny.
The Simpsons: Complete Fifth Season (20th Century Fox) The Cape Fear Parody. Homer Goes To College. Seymour Skinner's Badass Song. The Last Temptation of Homer. Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacy. Another great season, and just in time for the holidays.
Mikey And Nicky (Home Vision/Morningstar) With its long, anguished and apparently improvised scenes between John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, it's the perfect pendant to the Criterion Cassavetes box set, even if it was written and directed by Elaine May.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb