Young Mr. Lincoln
(Criterion/Paradox, 1939) D: John Ford, w/ Henry Fonda, Alice Brady, Ward Bond. Rating: NNNNN
John Ford established himself as an official great director with The Informer in 1935, but 1939 was the year he became Hollywood's patron poet of Americana, making three films on subjects ranging from the Revolutionary War (Drums Along The Mohawk) to the western frontier (Stagecoach) to this portrait of Lincoln as, in Ford's words, "a young jackleg lawyer."
Young Mr. Lincoln is an exquisitely realized piece of historical fantasy that deals with Lincoln as a mythic figure in the landscape of the American imagination, and Bert Glennon's camera treats him as such.
Ford uses Henry Fonda's height as an intimidation factor, particularly in the trial scenes where he towers over Donald Meek's desiccated prosecutor and Ward Bond's false witness. (One of the reasons that Fonda is so interesting as Tom Joad for Ford a year later is that he's not a little guy as underdog.)
Glennon shot all three of Ford's 1939 films, and this is the one that didn't get an Oscar nomination. The exquisite Criterion transfer reveals what an injustice that was. Criterion's two-disc edition puts the movie on the first disc and the extra interviews on the second. And check the booklet - Geoffrey O'Brien's essay is excellent, and the booklet also includes one of the most unusual tributes from one giant of the cinema to another, Sergei Einstein's essay on Young Mr. Lincoln, which he calls the one American film he wishes he'd made.
Extras The first half of Lindsay Anderson's 1992 BBC Ford documentary, hour-long BBC interview with Fonda from 1975, audio interviews with Fonda and Ford, Academy Award Theatre radio dramatization, booklet essays by O'Brien and Eisenstein.
The Weather Man
(Paramount, 2005) D: Gore Verbinski, w/ Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis. Rating: NNN
An unexpected film in many ways - who'd have expected this from Gore Verbinski, on hiatus between Pirates Of The Caribbean movies? - The Weather Man stars Nicolas Cage as a Chicago TV weatherman in the throes of a mid-life crisis, dealing with his father's terminal illness, his ex-wife's loathing and his children's adolescent rebellions.
In a Hollywood movie, this character is supposed to have some sort of explosive cathartic moment, and you expect it from an actor as extravagant as Cage can be. But this character just behaves like a real person. It's one of Cage's most intriguing and subtly unlikeable performances, and what's really interesting is that the film doesn't much like him either. Yet he still demands our sympathy.
The DVD's light on extras - a Cage-Michael Caine commentary would have been really interesting.
Extras Extensive if fairly standard studio-packaged making-of featurettes, theatrical trailer. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
King Of The Corner
(Ardusty/VSC, 2004) D: Peter Riegert, w/ Riegert, Eli Wallach, Isabella Rossellini. Rating: NNN
If you're looking for a mid-life crisis double bill, King Of The Corner - out on DVD just a week after it opened on screens here - pairs interestingly with The Weather Man. Veteran character actor Peter Riegert wrote and directed this story of a market research guy worried about his teen daughter and his aging father (Eli Wallach) while trying to hold on to his job and being blindsided by his ambitious young assistant.
It's a small, pleasant film that demonstrates you can get very good actors to show up on your low-budget movie if they're past their sell-by date and you only need them for a couple of days. Look! It's Rita Moreno! There's a slightly self-satisfied quality to the film, though Riegert, a deadpan and self-sufficient actor, has projected that quality since his Animal House days. As a director, he treats his central character with far more sympathy than Gore Verbinski treats Nicolas Cage.
Extras Director's commentary, Riegert's Oscar-nominated short film By Courier, featurette on Riegert's travels with the film.
(New Line/Alliance, 2005) D: Tony Scott, with Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Lucy Liu. Rating: N
Saw the envelope from Universal and thought, hmmmm, which Keira Knightley movie is it? It turned out to be the one where she plays a bounty hunter in a film "based on a true story, sort of" - meaning that there was a young woman named Domino Harvey who was Laurence Harvey's daughter and who became a bounty hunter. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure nobody's ever detonated a pile of explosives inside the Stratosphere Casino in Las Vegas.
That said, Tony Scott directs like someone with attention deficit disorder. He's gone so far down the stylistic path he started on in Enemy Of The State that he may as well just make experimental films and dispense with character and narrative. Domino comes very close to utter incoherence, though one has to manage a grudging fondness for any film in which a character says, with a straight face, "If 2 Live Crew has taught us anything...."
Extras Director/writer commentary, script meetings as commentary, biographical featurette on Domino Harvey, featurette on the film's visual style, deleted scenes, theatrical teaser and trailer. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, February 28
Pride And Prejudice
This month's other Keira Knightley release, featuring her Oscar-nominated performance as Elizabeth Bennett.
Just in case you haven't been taping the PBS series....
The Ice Harvest
One more and Billy Bob Thornton will have a trilogy of psycho Christmas movies. Thornton and John Cusack rip off a gangster (Randy Quaid) but can't get out of town.
NewsRadio: The Complete Third Season
Odd thought - station owner Jimmy James may be the most normal character Stephen Root has ever played.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb