Two For The Road
(MGM, 1967) D: Stanley Donen, w/ Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney. Rating:NNNN
Director Stanley Donen thinks this is Audrey Hepburn's best performance, and he should know. He made two of her biggest hits, Funny Face (1957) and Charade (1963). But, as he points out in his thoughtful commentary, this is the film that got her out of ingenue roles and gave her a chance to play a complex, mature woman. It may also be her most difficult role. She covers over 10 years in the course of a difficult marriage and goes from lighthearted naïveté to the bitterest heartbreak, all with a delicate, nuanced grace that never falters. She's also at her most beautiful.
Finney, playing the husband, isn't quite up to her level; he's a bit too much the ham. But he comes through in the clinches.
The film is structured as a series of road trips, beginning with Hepburn and Finney as 30-somethings with a collapsing marriage driving through France and reminiscing about other trips together over the years. There's an effortless flow back and forth among these trips, which are linked through clever thematic transitions and an elegantly gliding camera. At the same time, the mood moves between drama and much inventive, unforced humour, with Henry Mancini's feather-light score holding it all together perfectly.
Extras: Director commentary, restoration comparison. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, French Spanish subtitles.
Rebel Samurai Box Set
(1967) D: Masaki Kobayashi, w/ Toshiro Mifune, Yoko Tsukasa. Rating: NNN ;
Sword Of The Beast
(1965) D: Hideo Gosha, w/ Mikijiro Hira, Go Kato. Rating: NNN ;
(1965) D: Masahiro Shinoda, w/ Eiji Okada, Koji Takahashi. Rating: NNN ;
(1968) D: Kihachi Okamoto, w/ Tatsuya Nakadai, Etsushi Takahashi. Rating: NNN
An excellent introduction to the genre most people know only from Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, these are polished, visually elegant entertainments. They emphasize strong, character-driven stories that focus on the conflict between desire and duty as much as snappy swordplay. Duty was a big value in feudal Japan. Problem was, the country was rife with corruption, while the samurai class, bred for war, found itself with nothing to do in peacetime. It's a natural recipe for intrigue and for people deciding, often reluctantly, that the path of duty is a sham.
Toshiro Mifune, in Samurai Rebellion, gives his usual fine performance as an almost retired samurai who chooses his son's and daughter-in-law's desire over his own duty when the clan lord decides he wants the woman back.
Extras: Director interviews (Samurai Spy and Samurai Rebellion only), scholar essays. Theatrical ratio, black-and-white. Japanese soundtrack. English subtitles.
Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith
(Fox, 2005) D: George Lucas, w/ Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid. Rating: NNN
Even the wise monkeys who hid in the trees when the ponderous prequels came plodding by can enjoy this as a stand-alone whiz-bang spectacle and an okay shot at that rarest of pop culture genres, tragedy. Lucas is a master of spectacle, and this is his best, filled with massive battles, epic swordfights, cool creatures, cooler machines and worldscapes and cityscapes galore. But they're a bit too detailed and too quick for the small screen. That's why God gave us the pause button. You'll need it for the highly technical making-of doc, too.
Lucas wanted to make a movie you could watch more than once. He says so on the commentary track, which is very revealing about his working methods, involving much post-production fiddling and massive reshoots. He doesn't say much about the actors.
But among the 15 mini-docs on disc two are one on Ewan McGregor's remarkable assimilation of Alec Guinness, who preceded him as Obi-Wan Kenobe 28 years ago, and another on Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine, one of the most seductive villains ever to slither onto the screen.
Palpatine, it turns out, is the top Sith Lord, and he's been orchestrating the war and the destruction of the Jedi Knights all along. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is his pawn in this, and they have a great scene at the opera together when Palpatine lures Anakin to the dark side.
Neither Lucas nor Christensen has the depth for tragedy. They're both more soap than Shakespeare. But it's a treat to watch them try.
Extras: Disc 1: Lucas, producer and effects guys commentary. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles. Disc 2: Making-of doc, stunts doc, Darth Vader doc, 15 mini-docs, deleted scenes, photo galleries. Wide-screen.
The Devil's Rejects
(Maple, 2005) D: Rob Zombie, w/ Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie. Rating: NN
You have to wonder what the point of this intensely brutal horror movie is. Rob Zombie sets his little family of trailer-trash sadistic killers (Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley) on the run and presents their brutality in the most graphic, unpleasant way he can. Then he gives them the occasional happy-family scene, squabbling but loving and loyal. In the end, they go out in a Bonnie-and-Clyde blaze of glory to the nobly anthemic strains of Freebird. He wants us to sympathize with these slimeballs and thinks an ice cream scene will make us forget the blood. He says so in the commentary, and it's apparent that he views his audience as malleable cretins with neither memory nor moral centre.
Stanley Kubrick played these games in A Clockwork Orange, but he had points to make about social control and the nature of violence and our response to it. What's Zombie's point? On that he's silent. On the other hand, he's voluble about aesthetics. He reveals his whole detailed game plan in his commentary, and the feature-length making-of on disc 2 sees it carried through.
From an aesthetic viewpoint, Zombie isn't bad. The film moves well and has an edgy Texas Chainsaw Massacre look - which is maybe the point: brutality as an aesthetic. That might explain the long middle section involving the terrorizing and murder of a country band in a motel. It takes at least 20 minutes and has nothing at all to do with the story. But it's so harrowing that the key actors, on a second commentary track, get upset all over again when they recall the shoot. It also explains the rape scene in the extras, presumably a deleted scene, but one that in no way fits into the story line.
So if you're up for brutality, go for it. There's lots of what you want.
Extras: Disc 1: Director commentary, actors Haig, Zombie, Moseley commentary, blooper reel, deleted scenes, Buck Owens song performance. Wide-screen. English, Spanish subtitles. Disc 2: Five-part making-of doc.
Coming Tuesday, November 15
(DreamWorks, 2005) Zoo animals stage a breakout. Animated fun for kids.
The Skeleton Key
(Universal, 2005) Kate Hudson caught in a web of New Orleans magic.
(Sony, 2005) High-tech hijinks with a runaway super-bomber.
(MGM, 1955) One of a trio of classic Rodgers and Hammerstein movies coming out in two-disc extrapacked editions.The others are The Sound Of Music and State Fair.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb