(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Park Chan-wook, w/ Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik. Rating: NNNN
Unlike sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, the first two entries in director Park Chan-wook's revenge trilogy, Lady Vengeance offers a tale of cold-blooded, planned revenge enacted by a female protagonist.
Leading Korean star Lee Young-ae sheds her good-girl image to play a woman who gets out of prison after serving 13 years for a child murder and sets out to kill the man who put her there, only to discover other terrible crimes. Along the way, she tries to reunite with the daughter she gave up in infancy and come to terms with her crushing guilt.
Park's command of the medium and his avoidance of cheap emotion and easy answers produce a powerful drama touching on character, society, philosophy and metaphysics. It's filled with unusual plot turns, striking images and remarkable shifts in tone, from horrific to comic to contemplative.
Lincoln Center film programmer Richard Pena lays out themes and motifs clearly on his commentary track, but you might want to avoid it. As he points out, the film repays repeated viewing and you wouldn't want someone else's analysis to spoil your fun, would you? Park's own commentaries and 40-minute interview give a good look into his creative processes and motives.
Extras Director and star commentary; scholarly commentary; director, DoP and set designer commentary; making-of doc; director interview. Wide-screen. Korean, French soundtracks. English, French subtitles.
Mission: Impossible III
(two-disc collector's edition, Paramount, 2006) D: J.J. Abrams, w/ Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Rating: NNN
If you can get past their puppy-dog enthusiasm (Tom Cruise is weird that way, and it's Alias and Lost creator J.J. Abrams's first feature) and orgy of mutual congratulations, the pair give decent commentary - not too much bitching about hard work and lots of discussion of story and acting.
But the movie itself, with one major exception, will leave you seriously underwhelmed. Super secret agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has retired to teach because he's in love, but a super baddie (Philip Seymour Hoffman) selling a doomsday weapon has a mole in Hunt's organization. This story is about as basic as you can get. The only surprise is that the doomsday device isn't ticking down at the climax.
The acting, like the story, is functional. Veterans like Laurence Fishburne give it their all, but in roles that are neither challenging nor developed, the performances are nothing to rhapsodize over - except for Hoffman's. He plays the heavy like Conrad Black on a bad day: all business, with the unconscious self-assurance of the successful bully. Highly original, big fun and he blows Cruise off the screen.
But acting and story are just here to get us from one big set piece to the next, in which things blow up just fine, almost without pause. Highlights include a battle on a bridge and a plunge down a slanted office-tower roof. The well-done making-of docs devote a lot of time to selling us on the idea that Cruise does his own stunts - admirable if true, but nowhere is Cruise's eerie, mechanical inhumanity more apparent.
Extras Disc one: Cruise and Abrams commentary, making-of doc, deleted scenes, British Academy Awards Cruise tribute. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: six making-of docs, Cruise and Abrams interview, MTV Cruise tribute. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
The Addams Family, Volume 1
(MGM, 1964) creator: Charles Addams, David Levy, w/ John Astin, Carolyn Jones. Rating: NNN
Sitcoms don't usually hold up that well over time. Tastes in humour change and topical references are forgotten. The Addams Family avoids all that by taking place in its own timeless, surreal world of happy ghouls.
John Astin and Carolyn Jones project a wholehearted glee and playful eroticism that transcend the gags, some good and some not. They're clearly having the same kind of fun Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg have in The Avengers, and it's just as infectious.
The set is a great jumble of odd props (check out the painting of the giraffe in a suit), and the lighting is miles above the usual sitcom wash. The 22-episode season was shot on film with no audience, and the quality shows.
The surviving cast members have fond memories and some interesting opinions, but the extras highlights are the little biography of Charles Addams, whose cartoons are the show's source, and a gallery of his work.
Extras Lisa Loring (Wednesday), Ken Weatherwax (Pugsley), Felix Silla (Cousin Itt) and Addams scholar Stephen Cox commentaries on selected episodes, retrospective making-of doc, Charles Addams doc, Addams drawing and photo gallery, theme song doc and karaoke. Full frame, black-and-white. English, Spanish subtitles.
Keeping Up With The Steins
(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Scott Marshall, w/ Jeremy Piven, Garry Marshall. Rating: NN
Keeping Up With The Steins has a good cast - Garry Marshall, Jeremy Piven, Daryl Hannah, Jami Gertz, Doris Roberts, Cheryl Hines, Larry Miller and more - but they don't have much of a movie to act in.
It starts out as a comedy about over-the-top bar mitzvahs, half-million-dollar orgies of breathtakingly bad taste. Young Benjamin (Daryl Sabara) isn't up for it at all, but his Hollywood agent dad (Piven) is determined to outdo his rival (Miller). Benjamin invites the grandfather he's never met (Marshall), whom his father has never forgiven for abandoning the family.
When Granddad shows up, satire takes a back seat to warm-hearted intergenerational bonding. There are still a few laughs. Piven knows how to do barely contained rage, and the sight of a nude Marshall leaping into the pool with his equally nude and much younger girlfriend (a completely waste of the talents of Daryl Hannah) is worth a giggle.
Though director Scott Marshall is the son of actor Garry Marshall, himself a noted director (Pretty Woman, Beaches), he hasn't learned much from his dad. The shots look like TV, and the pace sags badly in some places and collapses utterly in others.
The commentary track they do together is no better. The director and writer/producer Mark Zakarin talk on another commentrary about scenes and gags that got killed because of time and budget. That explains a lot of the film's failures, but doesn't make it any more enjoyable.
Extras Director and writer commentary, Marshall father and son commentary, making-of doc, deleted scenes.
Coming Tuesday, November 7
Wide-screen (Disney, 2006)
Despite good voicing by Owen Wilson, Paul Newman and George Carlin, this wasn't a hit. Light fun for animation fans.
Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection
(WB) Sergeant York (1941), The Fountainhead (1949), Dallas (1950), Springfield Rifle (1952), The Wreck Of The Mary Deare (1959).
Not the definitive Cooper box (missing High Noon and Friendly Persuasion, among others) and a bit light on extras, but still a solid package for Cooper fans.
Police Squad: The Complete Series
Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, the brains behind Airplane, turn their demented attention to television in eight half-hours of Leslie Nielsen doing his idiot cop shtick.
James Bond Ultimate Collection Vol. 1
(MGM) The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), Goldfinger (1964), The World Is Not Enough (1999), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Living Daylights (1987).
These look like the platinum edition Bonds (two-disc sets with outstanding extras) of a few years ago repackaged with a little more bonus material. Volume 2 also comes out this date; volumes 3 and 4 on December 12.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb