The Dying Gaul
(Mongrel, 2005) D: Craig Lucas, w/ Peter Sarsgaard, Patricia Clarkson, Campbell Scott. Rating: NNNN
Given what the studios generate, we often see the best work of our best actors at film festivals and when product arrives on DVD. The fact that The Dying Gaul's awful title is discussed as such and explained in the film doesn't make it less awful. But the film has career-best work from Peter Sarsgaard as a gay screenwriter and Patricia Clarkson as the wife of a bisexual studio boss (Campbell Scott) who begins stalking her husband's latest discovery in gay chat rooms. This is a three-hander with an elaborately developed sense of morality about fidelity and artistic integrity, and Sarsgaard and Clarkson are so good that you're inclined to ignore Scott, one of those actors who's so consistently excellent that we tend to undervalue him.
EXTRAS Deleted scenes, alternate ending.
(Criterion, 1967-1970) D: Dennis Muren, Jack Woods, w/ Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt. Rating: NNN
Ninety per cent of you are wondering what the heck Equinox is. The other 10 per cent are thinking, "They gave Equinox a Criterion edition?" Equinox is a legendary backyard horror movie filmed by enthusiastic young movie geeks in the mid-60s. It later went on to a career as a midnight movie.
"Backyard" horror movies are almost literally that - films shot in someone's backyard. The Blair Witch Project is aesthetically a close relative. Equinox has a certain significance, though, because most films of its type were not made by people who went on to win nine Academy Awards, which director Dennis Muren did as part of the A-team at Industrial Light & Magic, creating effects for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, ET and the Jurassic Park series.
This Criterion box offers both cuts of the film, the original made by Muren and his pals and the quite different theatrical release cut by producer Jack Harris (The Blob), with director commentaries on both cuts and a big pile of interesting extras. The spectacular presentation doesn't make Equinox much more than it is, a film its own makers often mock on the commentary track while taking the blame for the amateur acting.
EXTRAS Two cuts of the film, filmmaker commentaries on both cuts, introduction by Forrest J. Ackerman, cast interviews, deleted scenes, test footage, stills galleries, other film work by the Equinox creators. Booklet essays, including one by George Lucas.
The Hills Have Eyes: Unrated
(Fox, 2006) D: Alexandre Aja w/ Aaron Stanford, Kathleen Quinlan. Rating: NNN
In its unrated version, this re make of The Hills Have Eyes may be the nastiest of the current spate of 70s horror remakes, and it should be - the original was no slouch in the brutal violence department. Wes Craven's company had a lot to do with the remake. Craven himself was in post-production on Red Eye, but his producer, Marianne Maddalena was fully involved, and Alejandre Aja, the director of High Tension, is plainly a fan. While Craven kids around on much of the commentary track, he is quite sharp on the differences between the original and the remake, and appreciative of Aja's talents. I'd note that the biggest difference between the original and the remake is that the monstrous family of mutants prowling the desert hills in the original had personalities, while those in the new version wear a lot of makeup. Billy Drago and Robert Joy are surely better actors than Michael Berryman was in the original, but his Pluto, played without makeup, was scarier than any of the new ones.
Aja is a director with a taste for the psychotic. We'll see how long he lasts in Hollywood before he does a kids' movie or runs back to France. Still, this isn't a bad start. There's an excellent making-of, but watch the movie first; the doc's very heavy on spoilers.
EXTRAS Director/writer/producer commentary with Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur and Marianne Maddalena, producer commentary w/ Wes Craven and Peter Locke, full-length making-of documentary, production diaries. English, Spanish soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(TVA/Sony, 2005) D: Thomas Vinterberg w/ Jamie Bell, Bill Pullman. Rating: NN
(TVA/Sony, 2005) D: Lars Von Trier, w/ Bryce Dallas Howard, Isaach de Bankolé, Danny Glover. Rating: N
About halfway through Manderlay, Lars Von Trier's latest American fantasy, I began to think that if I could screen Manderlay and Dogville in court for a jury, I could commit any crime against Von Trier and get away with it. He scripted both Dear Wendy (directed by his Dogme associate Thomas Vinterberg) and Manderlay. Like Dancer In The Dark, they critique American culture from the remove of Europe. Von Trier, who refuses to fly, has never been to America. As I noted when Dancer came out, there are so many legitimate grounds on which to criticize America that you hardly need to make up new ones. Dear Wendy, which purports to take on gun culture, might as well be set on Mars.
Manderlay is the follow-up to Dogville, with Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron's daughter, and the blind girl in M. Night Shyamalan's The Village) replacing Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe replacing James Caan as her gangster daddy. There are one or two holdovers from the earlier film (Chloë Sevigny turns up in a small role), but most of the cast is new. Howard's Grace moves to Alabama, where she finds a plantation where slavery is still in effect seven decades after the Emancipation Proclamation.
As with Dogville, Von Trier's "American" speech sounds like nothing ever spoken by humans. And, of course, the ending is hugely ironic. Grace becomes the very thing she wanted to stop. Message: People are bad, especially Americans, and only I, Lars Von Trier, see these truths.
EXTRAS None. Manderlay: English soundtrack w/ French subtitles. Wendy: English and French soundtracks. French subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, June 27
(Sony) Existential thriller with Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, from Austrian angstmeister Michael Haneke.
Failure To Launch
(Paramount) The continuing stillbirth of Sarah Jessica Parker's attempt to reinvent herself as a romantic movie star. She's getting Jennifer Aniston's castoffs.
Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll
(Image) Two- and four-disc special editions of the 60th birthday show arranged for Berry by Keith Richards in 1987. Apparently, Chuck was an ungrateful prick about the whole thing. On the other hand, I know lots of "nice" people who didn't invent rock 'n' roll.
Imagine Me & You
(20th Century Fox) Piper Perabo plays a newlywed tempted by a lesbian relationship.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb