road to perdition(DreamWorks/Universal, 2002) D: Sam Mendes, w/ Tom Hanks, Paul Newman. Rating: NNNN
with six oscar nominations, including a rare posthumous nod for cinematographer Conrad Hall, Road To Perdition is this week's prestige release, a period gangster epic set in a Midwestern winter and wreathed in velvet darkness.
Tom Hanks plays a hit man seeking revenge on his employers when his wife and younger son are murdered. It's not quite a great film, though director Sam Mendes's commentary can almost convince you that it is; Mendes could sell sugar to diabetics. I still find it's inclined to flinch at the violence in the story to protect its star's image -- though Hanks, in a performance shot through with middle-aged despair, needs no such protection. Worth a rent simply for the late confrontation between Hanks and Paul Newman, a classic faceoff between two great stars.
Excellent anamorphic transfer and, though the disc is light on extras, those included are very good. One rather clever feature is that you can play the commentary as text in the black letterboxing area, in a choice of languages. Just for fun, there are at least three different editions -- wide-screen, pan-and-scan and with or without Digital Theatre Sound -- so check the box carefully.
EXTRAS Extremely well-organized director's commentary, an assortment of deleted scenes with director's comments, a making-of documentary for HBO that's quite good of its kind, photo gallery. English and French dubbed versions, English French and Spanish subtitles for both film and commentary.
metropolis (Kino, 1925) D: Fritz Lang, w/ Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Brigitte Helm. Rating: NNNNN
at 124 minutes, this is the longest version of Fritz Lang's science fiction classic available, almost 40 minutes longer than the "restored" version from the 80s with the Giorgio Moroder soundtrack. It's also the most fully restored, under the auspices of the Murnau Foundation, who turned the restorers loose with every weapon in their arsenal -- to the point of recompositing some of the effects shots from original negative elements when the completed negative was too damaged.
About a fifth of the film is still believed to be permanently lost, and not every shot is pristine, but this isn't simply the best Metropolis we have, it's the most Metropolis we're likely to have for a while. In those terms, it's a superlative issue, apparently transferred at the proper speed and with a new Dolby 5.1 recording of the original orchestral score, which makes this the next best thing to having been in the Zoo-Palast in Berlin during the film's original release. (If you see a $10 Metropolis DVD on the Madacy label, do not buy it.)
DVD EXTRAS 40-minute making-of documentary, including rare Fritz Lang interview footage, 10-minute featurette on the restoration techniques, critical/historical commentary by Enno Patalas, who supervised the reconstruction of the film, and a detailed booklet essay on the sources of the current issue, by Martin Koerber, who supervised the restoration.
the lost honor of katharina blum (Criterion/Morningstar, 1975) D: Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta, w/ Angela Winkler, Mario Adorf. Rating: NNNNN
one of the greatest films of the New German Cinema, this adaptation of Heinrich Böll's novella depicts the savage and systematic destruction of a young woman whose "crime" was a one-night stand with a known terrorist. When the police tire of questioning her, they turn her loose for the modern equivalent of stoning: trial by tabloid. (Böll had an ongoing war with Germany's right-wing Springer papers, and be sure to read the title card that precedes the end credits.)
The film's soul is in Angela Winkler's astonishing performance. Schlöndorff had originally cast von Trotta in the role, so it's a performance thought through moment by moment at the directorial level. But its heart is the political fury that drives the story and maintains its relevance a quarter-century later, when only the colour of the terrorists has changed.
There's a great deal of near-documentary detail here -- when Blum returns home from the interrogation, we can see the fingerprint powder on her telephone -- and tremendous contributions from the very natural hand-held camera work by Jost Vacano, better known as Paul Verhoeven's cinematographer on his recent movies, and the jangling modernist intensity of Hans Werner Henze's score. Now that we have Schlöndorff's masterpiece on DVD, may we please have von Trotta's Marianne And Julianne?
DVD EXTRAS The extras concentrate on contextualizing the film for contemporary audiences: new interviews with Schlöndorff and von Trotta and with Vacano; excerpts from a 1977 documentary on Heinrich Böll. Original theatrical trailer and newly translated English titles.
the day the earth stood still (20th Century Fox, 1951) D: Robert Wise, w/ Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal. Rating: NNN
the day the earth stood still is a bit of an oddity, a big-budget studio science fiction film made by a major studio in the 1950s. It's also kind of stodgy visually and operates as a political allegory to suggest that what the world needs is a kind of liberal humanist fascism to run things so we don't blow each other into oblivion. Really!
Michael Rennie shows up as the envoy from a group of planets to tell us to stop messing with nukes and rockets or the other planets will Death Star us. More curiosity than classic. I'm just waiting on The Grapes Of Wrath and Laura, which are due later this year in the Fox Studio Classics line.
Speaking of the Fox Studio Classics, buy any three titles (keep your receipts) and you can mail them in for F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, one of the greatest silent films. It comes in a superb transfer, with a making-of documentary and a commentary by cinematographer John Bailey (The Big Chill, The Anniversary Party) that presents a unique perspective on a masterpiece of the cinematographer's art. They are not, so far, putting Sunrise on the street.
The new transfer of The Day The Earth Stood Still is up to the other black-and-white transfers in the series, and they've imported the principal extras from the 1996 laserdisc, an hour-plus making-of and a commentary track where director Robert Wise is interviewed by Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time).
DVD EXTRAS Making-of documentary, director commentary, restoration comparison, stills gallery, shooting script. English, French and Spanish versions, English and Spanish titles.
Also this week
THREE COLOURS: BLUE, WHITE, RED (Alliance Atlantis) Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy based on the principles of the French revolution, though you can have fun figuring out how.
RING/RINGU (DreamWorks) In separate issues, both the Japanese original and last year's American remake, so North American audiences can finally compare these exceedingly unsettling horror films.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, DAS BOOT (director's cut), SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, LEGENDS OF THE FALL (Columbia Tri-Star) New Superbit transfers from Columbia's catalogue. No extras, of course.
THE OSBOURNES: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Miramax/Buena Vista) The sitcom puts the fun back in dysfunctional. Comes with optional "Ozzie translator" subtitles.