LE CERCLE ROUGE (Criterion/Morningstar, 1970) D: Jean-Pierre Melville, w/ Alain Delon, Yves Montand. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
le cercle rouge - the penultimate film by Jean-Pierre Melville, the master of the French existential policier, where every hood is Jean-Paul Sartre in a trench coat - feels like the most deliberately paced thriller ever made. But this long, minimalist crime procedural is so absorbing that two and a half hours have passed and your watch remains unchecked. A hood (Alain Delon) gets out of prison and begins planning his last big score. The cops are on the trail of his partner, an escaped murderer (Yves Montand), and there's one of those long, silent robbery scenes that are a French specialty.
A great hit in its day, Le Cercle Rouge also represents the end of an era, as black-and-white post-war Paris gives way to colour. This particular breed of tough guy really shows his age in post-1968 France.
The beautiful transfer does justice to Henri Decaë's twilight cinematography (when people turn off a light in this picture, it gets black), and the intriguing clutch of extras includes an interview with Melville's assistant director, excerpts from a 1971 episode of the great French television series Cinéastes De Nos Temps, and on-set footage shot for various TV shows.
A nifty bit discovered in the extras: the climactic chase scene was filmed on the grounds of a country house that belonged to French actor Jean-Claude Brialy.
DVD EXTRAS Interviews with assistant director Bernard Stora, critic Rui Nogueira, Cinéastes De Nos Temps, promotional and interview footage, theatrical trailer, booklet essay by Michael Sragow and introduction by John Woo, interview excerpts from Melville On Melville, interview with composer Eric Demarsan. French with English subtitles.
LOONEY TUNES: GOLDEN COLLECTION (Warner, 1941-1954) D: Chuck Jones, w/ Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck. Four discs. Rating: NNNNN
the miracle of the looney tunes is that they're now 50 and 60 years old, we've been watching them all our lives, and they still make us laugh. Bugs Bunny's remorseless wise guy, Daffy Duck's choleric fantasist, Porky Pig's prim respectability, the Coyote's obsession are among those things that are just permanently funny. I reduced a friend to giggles by simply reminding her of the moment in The Rabbit Of Seville when Bugs jumps on Elmer's head and begins massaging his scalp, his paws perfectly synched to the Rossini score. Two different Looney Tunes collections arrive this week. The four-disc Golden Collection has 56 cartoons, documentaries, commentaries and archival stuff. The two-disc Premiere Collection is a bare-bones 28 cartoons and is missing a lot of the best stuff in the four-disc box, like Duck Dodgers In The 241/2 Century, Wabbit Trouble and Duck Amok.
The four-disc set is more than twice as expensive but worth it, especially since strong sales will encourage Warner to dig back into the archives for more of these collections, to restore and reissue things like the black-and-white Tex Avery cartoons from the 30s, the rest of the Road Runners and missing classics like One Froggy Evening and What's Opera, Doc?
There are a hundred Bugs Bunny cartoons out there, minus what's included here, and a memorable half-hour Coyote/Road Runner that Chuck Jones constructed in the late 70s. I want them.
The Golden Collection is very heavily oriented toward Chuck Jones, the longest-running genius at Termite Terrace, with an assortment of cartoons by Friz Freleng, I. Freleng and Robert McKimson, and a couple of classic Bob Clampett Bugs Bunny cartoons. You can always tell Clampett's Bugs, who's a much sleeker-looking rabbit than Jones's. Mostly excellent transfers, though there were a couple of Porky's where they should have done a better job cleaning the cels.
If you can't justify buying them for yourself, think of the kids. They deserve them, unless you want them to grow up thinking Pokemon is good animation. It's the perfect Christmas present.
DVD EXTRAS Too many to list, but they include the 1975 Camera Three documentary The Boys From Termite Terrace, commentaries, music-only tracks (to better appreciate the genius of house composer Carl Stalling), excerpts from the black-and-white 50s television show, early commercials featuring the cartoon characters, featurettes and appreciations of the characters and animators, a Cartoon Network compilation of "lost" Warner cartoons, including a Private Snafu done for the Department of Defense. English and French versions; English, French and Spanish subtitles.
THE LON CHANEY COLLECTION (TCM/Warner, 1921-27) Various directors. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
a must-have for fans of the silent film, and of interest to anyone who's seen the silent Phantom Of The Opera or Hunchback Of Notre Dame and wonders what else Lon Chaney had in his bag of tricks. The three films included here - Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), The Ace Of Hearts (1921) and The Unknown (1927) - give an outstanding idea of Chaney's range: he plays an emotionally overwrought circus clown, an anarchist assassin and an armless knife thrower. They're also outstandingly good prints. The Ace Of Hearts is a bit scratchy, but it's the oldest of the three. These restorations from Turner Classic Movies feature new scores commissioned by the network, and the package includes two major bonuses, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces, a full-length biography of Chaney directed by silent film expert Kevin Brownlow and narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and a photographic reconstruction (with score and titles cards) of Tod Browning's London After Midnight, the most famous of Chaney's lost films.
Not for everyone, but if you like melodrama, these films have their appeal. It's worth noting that Chaney's co-stars include a young Joan Crawford (The Unknown) and, in Laugh, Clown, Laugh, an even younger Loretta Young, who looks pretty cute until you remember she was 14 at the time.
DVD EXTRAS All three films have commentaries by Michael F. Blake, who's uniquely qualified. He's written two books on Chaney and is an Emmy-winning makeup artist who understands the history of his art. Photo galleries. English with Spanish and French subtitles.
WHALE RIDER (Alliance Atlantis, 2003) D: Niki Caro, w/ Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene. Rating: NNN
i hate to disagree with those who've rhapsodized over this film, but Whale Rider struck me as just another girl inspirational about breaking out of the "old ways" - in this instance, Maori customs in New Zealand. Paikea is the true blood heir of a chief, but Grandpa won't prepare her for leadership her because she's not a boy. The film fails to ask why she wants to be chief in some backwater town when she could grow up and out into the modern world. And what's so great about the "old ways"?
It's beautifully shot, and the DVD transfer is first-rate, and Keisha Castle-Hughes, the lead actor, is a find. But this is mostly, I think, for 10-year-old girls. It's Bend It Like Beckham without all the damned soccer.
DVD EXTRAS Commentary by director Niki Caro, who tells us how great everyone was; deleted scene; theatrical trailer and TV ads; making-of featurette; art and story board gallery. English and French versions, with English and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, November 4
FRIENDS: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (Warner Home Video) The One After Ross Says Rachel, The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS, The One With All The Resolutions, The One Where Everybody Finds Out. Ross gets divorced again, Monica and Chandler are doing it, Phoebe gives birth....
KANAL, ASHES AND DIAMONDS (Facets/Morningstar) Two classics from Polish director Andrzej Wajda. Kanal may be the most depressing movie ever made, but in a good way.
FINDING NEMO (Disney/Pixar) The summer's one indisputable hit, and another of those spectacular two-disc Pixar special editions.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb