ernest hemingway's the killers (Criterion/Morningstar), 1946 version D: Robert Siodmak, w/ Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner; 1964 version D: Don Siegel, w/ Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
the first criterion double-bill DVD pairs the 1946 and 1964 versions of The Killers. It also has Andrei Tarkovsky's student film adaptation, Stacy Keach reading the story and a late-40s radio adaptation with Burt Lancaster recreating the role he played in the movie.
Robert Siodmak (Phantom Lady, Criss Cross) was among the darkest of film noir directors. Blacker-than-night cinematography and a flashback-laden narrative make The Killers (1946) archetypal early noir, and the young Ava Gardner is as one of the genre's most fatale femmes.
There's another connection between the two films: the young Don Siegel was slated to direct the first picture, but instead got a crack at it 18 years later. It was supposed to be the first TV movie, but NBC found it too violent so it went theatrical.
These are lesser films by Criterion standards. No one will ever mistake Siegel for Michael Powell or The Killers -- either version -- for Rashomon or 81/2. But they are important genre films, and it's good to see them getting the Criterion treatment.
DVD EXTRAS Tarkovsky student adaptation; Screen Director's Playhouse radio adaptation, interview with critic/mystery novelist Stuart Kaminsky on the stylistic differences between the films, interview with actor Clu Gulager on the 1964 version, collection of trailers for Siodmak films, production memos for the Siegel film, excerpts from Siegel's autobiography, Paul Schrader's seminal 1972 essay Notes On Film Noir, isolated music and effects tracks for both films, booklet essays by Jonathan Lethem and Geoffrey O'Brien. Optional English subtitles.
fear and loathing in las vegas (Criterion/Morningstar, 1998), D: Terry Gilliam, w/ Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
terry gilliam's adaptation of
Hunter S. Thompson's "savage journey into the heart of the American dream" is a contemporary rarity, what the French call "un film maudit" (a damned film). With a controversy over authorship, a last-minute director change, critical dismissal at Cannes that led Universal to cut the advertising budget and an opening opposite the vile Godzilla remake, it was early doomed to life on video.
This eccentrically brilliant picture has two spellbinding central performances set against Alex McDowell's surreal design. It's an adaptation that's actually as funny, sad and twisted as its literary source. As Gilliam notes on the commentary, it's a film that rewards repeat viewing simply because it's so overloaded with material, performances, strange physical details and "how the hell did they do that?" visual effects, all done on a shoestring.
It has a worthy setting in Criterion's deluxe two-disc special edition -- beautiful wide-screen transfer supervised by Gilliam, three commentaries (one by Gilliam, one with stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro and producer Laila Nabulsi, the third with Nabulsi interviewing Thompson) and a second disc crammed with goodies.
Gilliam's commentary is an early candidate for commentary-of-the-year honours.
EXTRAS: Three commentaries, audio featurette on the screenplay credit controversy, Depp reads his correspondence about the film with Thompson, short documentary Hunter Goes To Hollywood, BBC's 1978 doc Fear And Loathing On The Road To Hollywood, theatrical trailer, TV spots, excerpt from CD version of the book with Maury Chaykin and Jim Jarmusch, stills gallery, storyboard and design gallery, Ralph Steadman art gallery. English subtitles.
eve's bayou (Lions Gate, 1997), D: Kasi Lemmons, w/ Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield. Rating: NNNNN
eve's bayou is a rarity -- a master-
piece that slipped through the cracks back in 1997. There was a Tri-Mark DVD, but this Lions Gate disc has a new anamorphic transfer, the director's cut of the film and a pair of informative and entertaining commentary tracks.
The story of a middle-class black family in rural Louisiana, it's a slice of American magic realism, with aunts who have the second sight, daughters coming of age, adultery and possible incest. It has stunning imagery, a beautiful Terence Blanchard score and a cast who surrender themselves to writer-director Kasi Lemmons's creativity.
If anyone wanted to take a second run at Isabel Allende's House Of The Spirits, Lemmons would be the ideal director.
Eve's Bayou is one of four new discs in Lions Gate's new Signature line -- prestige issues at very reasonable prices, though with some changes from the earlier editions. (O, the high school Othello, loses its second disc, which had the extra that made the DVD a keeper, the 1922 German Othello. Monster's Ball has lost its original commentaries, which were dire, and added a new, much more informative commentary by the writer and directors, plus the Sundance Channel's Anatomy Of A Scene episode, which was announced on the early edition but wasn't on the disc. The tremendous Mexican picture Amores Perros is pretty close to Lions Gate's original DVD.)
DVD EXTRAS: Dr. Hugo (Lemmons's short second film) with commentary, director/producer/cinematographer commentary, director/cast commentary. English and Spanish subtitles.
one hour photo (Fox Searchlight, 2002), D: Mark Romanek, w/ Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen. Rating: NNN
one hour photo, with robin wil-
liams as a photo technician who stalks a family through years of processing their snapshots, is the year's second Wal-Mart alienation film, after the Jennifer Aniston vehicle The Good Girl. It's both an extremely accomplished first feature for rock video veteran Mark Romanek and almost unbearably false.
Many people like the film, praising Williams's stylized, low-key performance in his "I'm a real actor, not a shtick-figure" mode. I prefer the more naturalistic manner of his villain in Insomnia.
The DVD offers good value. It has crystal-clear transfer, an unusually well-prepared director/star commentary where the director points out various visual motifs (for example, the frames within frames, and how most of them are shaped like 4-by-6 snapshots). When you tire of Williams as serious actor boy, there's his memorably lunatic appearance promoting the film on The Charlie Rose Show. Note that Fox has done both an original wide-screen-ratio and a "full-screen" version, so check the box -- the label's on the back, top left corner.
DVD EXTRAS Director/star commentary, theatrical trailer and TV spots, Sundance Channel Anatomy Of A Scene, Cinemax promotional making-of featurette, The Charlie Rose Show with Williams and Romanek. Nifty menus that look like film-processing envelopes.
Also this week
ROAD TO PERDITION (DreamWorks/Universal) Two-disc special edition of the gloomy gangster epic with Tom Hanks. THE LOST HONOR OF KATHARINA BLUM (Criterion/Morningstar) Angela Winkler sleeps with a terrorist and her trial by media begins. Classic of the New German Cinema from directors Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta. KING OF KINGS (Warner Home Video) Nicholas Ray's biblical epic. The life of Jesus as devotional cheese on one level, but also a striking political drama about Roman imperialism. star trek -- deep space nine: season one (Paramount) People at the edge of the galaxy get on one another's nerves.