The Nutty Professor: Special Edition
(Paramount, 1963) D: Jerry Lewis, w/ Lewis, Stella Stevens. Rating: NNNN
The Ladies' Man
(Paramount, 1961) D: Jerry Lewis, w/ Lewis, Kathleen Freeman. Rating: NNN
Paramount's just issued a flood of Jerry Lewis titles, and these are the prizes. In The Nutty Professor, Lewis's Jekyll And Hyde, nerdy scientist Julius Kelp is transformed into lounge lizard Buddy Love with the assistance of some phosphorescent chemicals. In Kelp Lewis gives us that familiar character, the social incompetent whose speech is strangled by his own insecurities, but Buddy Love is one of his greatest creations. Lewis strenuously denies that Love's a mocking portrait of Dean Martin.
The Ladies' Man is an odder film by far. The fantastic design of the film, a monumental unit set of a hotel that occupied two Paramount sound stages, almost overwhelms the gags in a very loosely structured story about a young man (Lewis, of course) who takes a job at a hotel for women. The film has many classic bits and a showcase role for Lewis's most frequent supporting player, Kathleen Freeman.
The DVDs include a wide assortment of extras, including full commentaries with Lewis and Steve Lawrence, who has nothing to do with the films but gives Lewis a friend to bounce ideas off.
EXTRAS Director commentaries, theatrical trailers, bloopers, deleted/extended scenes. French and English versions.
The Battle Of Algiers
(Criterion/Morningstar, 1966) D: Gillo Pontecorvo, w/ Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi. Rating: NNNNN
There's more to dvds than movies. Presentation and extras also count, especially on the recent Criterion editions of Videodrome, Slacker and now The Battle Of Algiers. Standard studio extras tend to be heavy on pre-produced promotional materials with little rewatch value. Good DVD extras have value in and of themselves. The commentary track on Resident Evil is actually more entertaining than the film.
The Battle Of Algiers is a striking snapshot of an historical moment and a landmark of left-wing agitprop, anti-colonialist division. It's been thrust back into prominence by America's decision to go to war in the Middle East and the revelation that the film's been screened at the Pentagon.
Criterion's two full discs of extras include an interview with Richard Clarke, anti-terror specialist under Clinton and Bush, until Dubya and Condoleezza Rice got tired of hearing all that stuff about al Qaeda.
Pontecorvo's film is still startling and immediate, a tremendous drama of the end of European colonialism with a near documentary feel. It was shot in real locations with several of the participants in the Algerian uprising against the French.
In some ways, this could have been shot last year as a fictional recreation of the mid-60s. But history has had its effects. Our post-9/11 reaction to heroic Arab rebels who leave bombs in cafés is rather different from our mid-60s response to freedom fighters. The Battle Of Algiers has become a more complex film in ways that Pontecorvo could not have anticipated.
EXTRAS The Making Of The Battle Of Algiers; The Dictatorship Of Truth, with Edward Said; five directors discuss the impact of The Battle Of Algiers; Remembering History; How To Win The Battle And Lose The War Of Ideas, with Clarke; Return To Algiers; booklet essays and interviews; theatrical trailer; poster gallery. French with English subtitles.
(Columbia/TriStar, 2004) D: Craig R. Baxley, w/ Andrew McCarthy, Bruce Davison. Rating: NN
Watching the new american re make of the Japanese hit Shall We Dance? made me realize just how Japanese the original film was. The remake is quite faithful, and as a result, the characters played by Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez don't act like Americans. No such oddity with Stephen King's U.S. TV adaptation of Lars von Trier's TV melodrama The Kingdom. If King were to script a film about 13th-century Thailand, the characters would be unavoidably American in tone and behaviour
TV ratings for Kingdom Hospital spiralled downward because it's incredibly complicated. It absolutely demands to be watched, because a lot of the narrative is visual rather than verbal, which puts it at a disadvantage with the American TV audience.
Indeed, it can be recommended more for the work of director Craig Baxley than for that of marquee writer Stephen King, who manages to relive his car accident and work in a whole episode on the curse of the Boston Red Sox, something that never would've occurred to von Trier.
EXTRAS Director/writer commentary, design and production featurettes.
Betty Blue: Unrated Director's Cut
(Columbia/TriStar, 1986) D: Jean-Jacques Beineix, w/ Béatrice Dalle, Jean-Hugues Anglade. Rating: NNN
I always knew there was a longer version of Betty Blue out there, but not being a fan of the film in the first place, I never realized the French version was over three hours long. That's just scary. Columbia's new DVD offers a very good transfer, and the cumulative effect of the added footage quickly moves Betty (Béatrice Dalle) from the realm of slightly mad to full-blown psychotic, leading us to wonder why Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) stays with her. OK, they have lots of sex. She's hot-looking but also prone to stabbing people with forks.
The French are fond of tales of l'amour fou. Elite French culture is very superego-driven, and such tales are where the id comes out. Betty Blue is fou enough for three films. Between Diva and this film, Beineix enjoyed a meteoric rise in the 80s, but meteors burn out. In the past seven years he's directed one feature and a couple of tele-films. And what the hell kind of a name is Zorg?
Coming Tuesday, October 19
SCTV: Volume 2
(Shout Factory/Sony, 1981-2) Nine more episodes from the NBC period, including CCCP1, the episode-length Godfather parody, and Sid Dithers in The Jazz Singer.
Eyes Without A Face
(Criterion, 1960) Georges Franju's haunting masterpiece of atmospheric horror.
Arrested Development: Complete First Season
(20th Century Fox, 2003-4) The best sitcom on television that isn't The Simpsons gets its first season out on DVD just as the second season starts.
The Yakuza Papers: Box Set
(Home Vision/Morningstar) Kinji Fukasaku's legendary series of 70s Yakuza films, including Battles Without Honor Or Humanity (1973). Six-disc set.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb