TREMBLING BEFORE G-D (New Yorker/Mongrel Media, 2001) D: Sandi Simcha Dubowski. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
the best documentaries combine human drama with education in completely unexpected ways. Trembling Before G-d is about the spiritual crisis confronting gay Orthodox Jews, whose religious leaders tend to treat them as abominations. Who knew? Having been extensively exposed to Irish Catholicism in my childhood, my response to a religion that condemned my sexuality would be to find another religion. But director Sandi Dubowski, himself gay and Orthodox, has found subjects for whom this is apparently not an option.
Journeying from New York to Israel, he finds a handful of people who will speak on camera but even more who will condemn them, and rabbis who agonize over the issue.
A fascinating document on its own, New Yorker has loaded the second disc with extras, including a short feature about taking the film out on the road ("We had the Christian right and the Orthodox Jews picketing us," observes Dubowski. "I like to say we do interfaith work"), further interview material with the film's subjects and Dubowski's short film Tomboychik. The DVD issue does full justice to this tremendously moving film.
DVD EXTRAS Trembling On The Road, Tomboychik, director interview, More With Rabbi Steve Greenberg: The First Openly Gay Orthodox Rabbi, more with the rabbis, deleted scene, interview follow-ups, theatrical trailer, English with optional English, Hebrew and Spanish subtitles.
THE ADVENTURES OF INDIANA JONES (Lucasfilm/Paramount, 1981, 1984, 1989) D: Steven Spielberg, w/ Harrison Ford, John Rhys-Davies. Four discs. Rating: NNNN
raiders of the lost ark holds up magnificently in this new transfer, and it may even live up to the claim made in the publicity: the greatest action-adventure movie ever. It's certainly in the top five. Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade is a fitting closer to the series, and let's hope the rumours of a fourth film are just that, since Harrison Ford is now older than Sean Connery was when the latter played Harrison's father in Last Crusade.
On the downside, there are no commentaries, since Spielberg doesn't believe in them, and because it's only available as a boxed set, you have to buy The Temple Of Doom along with Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.
On the upside, this is the second-most anticipated release in the history of DVDs, and because George Lucas has repeatedly said the original Star Wars films will never be released on DVD (only the "upgraded" special editions will hit the streets), it may be the most looked-forward-to.
This time, Lucas and Spielberg haven't fucked with the product. All three films are unaltered, which is a relief given L&S's history in this area. The box says "Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark," a marketing decision to unify the series, but the film itself still says "Raiders Of The Lost Ark."
They've gone movies-only on the first three discs, which leaves lots of room for the transfers. The fourth disc has about three hours of making-of material, calling on pretty much all the creative personnel who are still alive. It also includes goodies like a Tom Selleck-Sean Young screen test for Indy and Marion, and the main trailers, including the 1988 "just another day at the office" teaser for Last Crusade.
A worthy package recommended without hesitation to anyone who's sick of watching Raiders panned-and-scanned on TBS. Speaking of which, Paramount has issued this in wide-screen and pan-and-scan and versions. The wide-screen is in the brown box. Why anyone at this point would want a panned-and-scanned (aka full-screen) version is a mystery.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailers, making-of feature for each film, production featurettes on stunts, music, effects and sound, and a DVD-ROM Web link.
THE MATRIX RELOADED (Warner, 2003) D: Andy and Larry Wachowski, w/ Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
the mild geek backlash against The Matrix Reloaded comes from a combination of extreme expectations, a plot loaded with overwrought twists and a lot of Zen chatter in the dialogue. Reloaded, like Mission: Impossible II, works much better if you don't try to sort out the plot threads. If you switch off the dialogue, or use the Spanish-language track, these are art installations in the form of large-scale action and effects movies. Action paintings, if you like.
Indeed, you could argue that the Wachowski brothers managed to get Joel Silver and Warner Brothers to pony up $150 million for The Matrix Reloaded so they could make the most incredibly beautiful, self-indulgent art movie this side of Fellini. Every shot's a painting, and all that aching slow motion in the fight scenes is there to make sure we see just how gorgeously constructed the whole thing is.
The two-disc DVD moves all the extras to the second disc to accommodate a first-rate transfer, though, rather surprisingly, not a DTS soundtrack. The best of the extras is a half-hour look at the construction of the film's monumental freeway chase. More fun that its reputation suggests.
DVD EXTRAS Making-of featurettes on the freeway chase, the Matrix game Animatrix and the film itself; MTV Movie Awards Matrix Reloaded introduction by Justin Timberlake and Seann William Scott. English and French versions; English, French and Spanish subtitles.
THE STICKY FINGERS OF TIME (Strand/CHV, 1997) D: Hilary Brougher, with Nicole Zaray, Terumi Matthews. Rating: NNN
along with the matrixes and the Indiana Joneses, all kinds of oddities turn up in the video mailbox, most of them direct-to-video thingies of little interest. But now and then something like this turns up, with cover copy that seems to promise time-travelling lesbians and just screams, "Play me!" This turns out to be surprisingly good. Terumi Matthews plays a 1950s pulp novelist who suddenly finds herself in New York circa 1996 after being assigned to cover the detonation of a hydrogen bomb. There's a lot of plot and exposition, but it's well written and acted, particularly given the film's budgetary limitations. According to director Hilary Brougher, a quarter-million dollars did it all, including post-production, which is damned impressive, particularly at a time when budgets that small usually mean shot on DV.
Ethan Mass's cinematography is striking, and this is worthier of rental than, say, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, even if it lacks Cameron Diaz butt shots.
DVD EXTRAS Director/cinematographer commentary, theatrical trailer.
THE LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION (Warner) Four discs, 56 classic cartoons, commentaries, documentaries, supporting materials. Porky and Daffy and Bugs, oh my.
Coming Tuesday, October 28
TOKYO STORY (Criterion/Morningstar) Yasujiro Ozu's achingly beautiful masterpiece gets the Criterion treatment.
HYENAS (Kino/Pixi) A startling Senegalese adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Visit heads a trio of African cinema titles from Kino.
THE SPIKE JONZE COLLECTION (The Director's Label) Sixteen music videos from the director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb