Marilyn Monroe Special Anniversary Edition: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
(Fox, 1953) D: Howard Hawks w/ Jane Russell. Rating: NNNN
(Fox, 1953) D: Henry Hathaway w/ Joseph Cotten. Rating: NNN
River Of No Return
(Fox, 1954) D: Otto Preminger w/ Robert Mitchum. Rating: NNN
The Seven Year Itch
(Fox, 1955) D: Billy Wilder w/ Tom Ewell. Rating: NNN
Let's Make Love
(Fox, 1960) D: George Cukor w/ Yves Montand. Rating: NNN
Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days
(Fox, 2001) D: Patty Ivins. Rating: NNN
Yep, marilyn monroe deserves the adulation that's only grown in the 44 years since her death. She still looks like sex as holiest sacrament. It's an illusion, of course, and not hard to parse, the tousled hair and puffy lips signalling recent sex play a big part of it. But the camera loves her, and so do we.
She's nowhere better displayed than in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a smart, funny musical comedy that revels in her persona and comic gifts.
In the other movies, we can get so fascinated by Monroe that we neglect the performances around her. But these were A pictures with top players and directors. Excellence abounds.
Seven Year Itch co-star Tom Ewell stands out as the guilt-ridden man who has an affair while his wife's away. He'd done the role for three years on Broadway and honed his comic everyman to perfection. In Niagara, Joseph Cotten does a terrific job as the jealous husband targeted for murder.
The feature-length Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days makes up for the skimpy extras on most of the discs. Highly detailed insider interviews tell of the collapse of her final project, Something's Got To Give, and the end of her life. The documentary offers a restored version of the film, including Monroe's famed nude scene.
Extras Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: period newsreel, restoration comparison; theatrical ratio; English, French soundtracks; English, Spanish subtitles. Niagara: restoration comparison; theatrical ratio; English, French soundtracks; English, Spanish subtitles. River Of No Return: restoration comparison; wide-screen; English, French soundtracks; English, Spanish subtitles. The Seven Year Itch: good making-of doc, deleted scenes, period newsreel, restoration comparison; wide-screen; English, French soundtracks; English, Spanish subtitles. Let's Make Love: restoration comparison, historical essay; wide-screen; English, French soundtracks; English, Spanish subtitles. Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days: period newsreel; full-screen and wide-screen.
(WB, 2004) D: Anders R¿nnow Klarlund w/ James McAvoy, Derek Jacobi. Rating: NNN
Danish director anders klarlund has turned the apparent limitations of marionettes to his advantage by having his characters openly acknowledge their strings. And, in doing so, he's given a lovely, strange logic to his epic fantasy. Buildings have no roofs. Doors are simple bars above head height. People's parts are replaceable. They're wood and they know it.
The strings are their souls, connecting them to heaven and each other. This gives us a couple of oddly touching and poetic birth and death scenes that add weight and charm to a tale that sends an untried young prince off on a wrongheaded quest while his evil uncle usurps the throne and arms for genocidal warfare.
Klarlund creates a sombre atmosphere well suited to marionettes' slow movement. His moody hand-drawn backdrops and beautifully made miniature sets avoid the usual cute fantasy film fripperies in favour of a dreamy sense of fate reflected in the faces of his hand-carved characters.
A fine British cast headed by James McAvoy (Wimbledon) as the young prince, Derek Jacobi (Gosford Park) as his scheming uncle, and Catherine McCormack (The Tailor Of Panama) lend a suitably epic and vaguely Shakespearean tone, not out of place, to the proceedings.
Strings has won several European festival awards, including best children's/family film at Copenhagen's Robert Festival. But it's no more geared directly to children than The Lord Of The Rings, and plays just fine for any adult with a taste for fantasy.
Extras None, which is too bad. Something on puppeteering would have been welcome. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. No subtitles.
(Columbia, 2006) D: Joe Roth w/ Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore. Rating: NNN
Fine acting by Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore is the prime reason to watch what seems at first glance to be a hardboiled thriller but actually isn't.
An oddly secretive white woman (Moore) carjacked in a black slum triggers a massive police overreaction that sets a race riot brewing, and a black detective (Jackson) who considers the slum his own fiefdom can't do a thing about it.
You may guess the plot twist, but Moore's emotional meltdown and Jackson's quiet frustration are worth it anyway. Edie Falco contributes outstanding, chilling support as a woman obsessed with missing children.
Extras None. Pity. Joe Roth (Christmas With The Kranks) is a good and articulate craftsman. Wide-screen and full-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French subtitles.
(Fox, 2006) D: Aaron Seltzer w/ Alyson Hannigan, Adam Campbell. Rating: N
Writer/director aaron seltzer and co-writer/alleged co-director Jason Friedberg manage three insightful statements in their glum and bitter commentary. They admit they've made a bad movie; they claim that the younger and stupider you are, the funnier you'll find it; and they offer a "Fuck you" to the reviewers they expect to trash their commentary. They're right about everything except the young and stupid part. Nobody this side of the womb is that young and stupid.
On the cast commentary, Alyson Hannigan reads from the legal department's list of prohibited topics, the first of which is knocking your co-workers. And, lo, nobody says a word about Seltzer and Friedberg. No one says much about the movie, either. Hannigan (the girl looking for love), Adam Campbell (her dreamboat), Sophie Monk (the bitch) and Tony Cox (the matchmaker) are eventually reduced to discussing their Blackberries.
Commentary three offers two L.A. reviewers straining painfully to sound insightful. We don't need them; we can see for ourselves that Seltzer is merely replaying scenes from movies like Meet The Fockers, Hitch and My Big Fat Greek Wedding and making them cruder. He's not skewering romantic comedy conventions, just aping them.
Hannigan's considerable talent and charm are wasted in a movie that's forced to stretch shots and gags far beyond their value in a desperate ploy to get a decent running time. They barely manage 75 minutes. But dumb comedy needs speed, and Seltzer lacks the jokes and the skill to keep up the pace.
Extras Writer/director commentary; cast commentary; critic commentary; laugh track; cast interviews; fast-forward version; deleted, alternate and extended scenes; bloopers; making-of spoof. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, June 6
Mommie Dearest, Hollywood Royalty Edition
(Paramount, 1981) Over-the-top biopic about überbitch star Joan Crawford marks both a career high and low for Faye Dunaway. With a John Waters commentary.
Slings And Arrows, Season One
(Acorn, 2003) Paul Gross and Rachel McAdams in a comedy/drama about a dysfunctional Shakespearean troupe.
The Saga Of Gosta Berling
(Kino, 1924) The Swedish silent classic that won young Greta Garbo a Hollywood contract.
A Nos Amours
(Criterion, 1983) Sandrine Bonnaire as a troubled teen who has lots of sex but really only wants to be close to her father.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb