(Criterion/Paradox, 1949) D: Yasujiro Ozu, w/ Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara. Rating: NNNNN
On the one hand, Yasujiro Ozu is one of the greatest Japanese directors, and Late Spring is one of his essential films, the first in the series of tiny, austere family dramas that would occupy him for the last 14 years of his career. These are delicate, nuanced portraits of small emotional shifts that turn into seismic emotional events. On the other hand, Ozu's a tough watch on video. That has nothing to do with the medium; Criterion's fine transfer is comparable to the Japanese DVD put out by Shochiku in 2003. The problem is the viewing environment. It's one thing to watch Ozu in a theatre, where there's nothing else to see or do. It's another to sit in your living room, in the light, with a pile of other DVDs available and that little "ding" from the next room telling you you've got mail.
Still, it's rewarding. The Criterion edition offers an excellent commentary by New York Film Festival director Richard Peña. Disc two has a mack daddy extra: Wim Wenders's documentary Tokyo-Ga, a tribute to Ozu and his lost world that is at times quite touching, as in his interview with Ozu's cinematographer, and at times seems like Sans Soleil for stupid people.
Extras Scholarly commentary, Tokyo-Ga, booklet essays by Michael Atkinson and Donald Richie. Japanese with English subtitles.
Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, Season One
(Paramount, 1995) D: Tom Snyder, w/ Jonathan Katz, H. Jon Benjamin, Ray Romano. Rating: NNNN
My favourite weird fact about comic Jonathan Katz is that his college roommate was David Mamet, in whose films he often appears. The deadpan stand-up's moment of glory, however, was his animated series for Comedy Central.
He voices the title character, a shrink dealing with a slacker son and offering psychotherapy for stand-up comics who were, in essence, the only semi-celebrity guests Katz could afford, and for whom he didn't need to write material, since they'd come in and do their acts on the couch. This was one of Comedy Central's first hits. South Park didn't exist when Dr. Katz debuted 11 years ago. Who knew that everyone would soon love Ray Romano, that Joy Behar would end up on The View, where she's not nearly as funny, and Dom Irrera would... well, he's still Dom Irrera.
EXTRAS Assorted commentaries by Katz, director Snyder and various guests, notably Romano, apparently at loose ends now that his series is over; short films from Comedy Central's Short Attention Span Theatre.
Masters Of Horror - Mick Garris: Chocolate
(Anchor Bay, 2005) D: Garris, w/ Henry Thomas, Lucie Laurier. Rating: NNN
Masters Of Horror - Don Coscarelli: Incident On And Off A Mountain Road
(Anchor Bay, 2005) D: Coscarelli, w/ Bree Turner, John DeSantis. Rating: NNNN
Two more instalments of anchor Bay's Masters Of Horror series offer femmes of various degrees of fataleness. The prize is Don Coscarelli's Incident, which is a classic "let's have the monster chase a pretty girl through the woods" number, but also has a nifty twist ending. (Make sure you watch the film before the extras; there's a full set of spoilers in the documentary supplements.)
What's fascinating is that after all the years of doing Phantasm sequels, Coscarelli can still rouse himself for an oddity like Bubba Ho-tep or a nasty little genre exercise like this one. Mick Garris's Chocolate stars Henry Thomas as an emotionally drained young man who finds himself psychically linked to a young woman who's hot as a pistol, though she prefers edged weapons.
Anchor Bay deserves a commendation for the superb DVD packages it's putting together for this series, including commentaries (Incident has two), extensive director interviews, career overviews, short cast interviews and DVD-ROM extras, all very much to the point.
Extras: Director interviews, three production featurettes, director commentary, DVD-ROM screenplay. Chocolate: DVD-ROM original story, Garris interviews Roger Corman. Incident: commentary by Coscarelli and original story writer Joe Lansdale, series trailers.
Ronin: Collector's Edition
(MGM, 1998) D: John Frankenheimer, w/ Robert De Niro, Natascha McElhone, Jean Reno. Rating: NNNN
I'm not sure why MGM decided to do a special edition of Ronin. Eighth anniversary, maybe? If you already have MGM's single-disc issue, with the John Frankenheimer commentary and the alternate ending, that's still here, with a second disc containing interviews and featurettes. Ronin is the story of a disparate group of unemployed intelligence agents brought together to steal an extremely valuable McGuffin from some guys who might be selling to, oh, let's say, Russians.
It's really another of David Mamet's male-bonding puzzle movies (screenwriter "Richard Weisz" is a Mamet pseudonym) set in an alternate universe where everyone nibbles on tight-lipped dialogue and no one is what he seems, except maybe Jean Reno. Of course, there are stunning car chases through the streets of Paris and Nice.
Indeed, in the new documentaries you can see the barely suppressed glee in the eye of stunt car coordinator Jean-Claude Lagniez when he talks about running chases through Paris at 100 miles an hour: "Frankenheimer knew that if he cheated the speed it would look wrong." Natascha McElhone comments that after they finished all the interiors, she suddenly realized the movie was "all about the cars."
Tremendous transfer, good extras. Unless you really want the extras, the upgrade is superfluous, but if you like car chases and Mamet, how can you resist?
Extras Director commentary, alternate ending, six production featurettes in the 15-to-20-minute range, star interviews from the Venice Film Festival, photo gallery. English, French and Spanish soundtracks and subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, May 16
(Universal, 2005) Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane recreate their Broadway roles in this poor adaptation of the musical version of Mel Brooks's film.
(Fox, 2006) Johnny Knoxville pretends to be mentally handicapped so he can enter the Special Olympics. I wish I were making this up.
(Focus, 2006) Sanaa Lathan takes heat from her friends when she starts dating a white landscape architect in the form of the blandly handsome Simon Baker.
The White Countess
(Sony, 2005) Natasha Richardson stars as the sole support of her White Russian emigré family; her mom, Vanessa Redgrave, plays her aunt; and her aunt, Lynn Redgrave, plays her mom. It's a Redgrave festival!
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb