The Mothman Prophecies: Special Edition (Columbia/TriStar, 2002) D: Mark Pellington, w/ Richard Gere, Laura Linney. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
with its curious "real world" premise poised between a pretty good episode of The X-Files and a halfway intelligent instalment of Unsolved Mysteries, The Mothman Prophecies is one of the more subtle and affecting big-budget horror movies of recent years.Based on a documented incident, Mothman is a psychological thriller about a town being visited by entities who warn of impending tragedy. No one understands the warning, though, except for Richard Gere's widowed reporter, who one night finds himself in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, with no idea of how he got there. Good star performances and some nice supporting work by Debra Messing, Alan Bates and Will Patton.
I'm not sure why Columbia thought this film needed a special edition, but the extras are not bad: a lengthy, two-part director's diary, a full-length commentary by Mark Pellington, who has a lot to say about the making of the film, deleted scenes on the second disc. On the first is a really superb transfer of the movie, which does justice to the complex visual transitions that Pellington likes to use.
DVD EXTRAS Director commentary, making-of director's diary, five deleted scenes, Halflight music video, theatrical trailers, The Search For Mothman documentary on the mythology of the film. English- and French-language tracks, English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Hell House (Plexifilm, 2001) D: George Ratliff. Rating: NNN
here's a fascinating look at a peculiarly American religious phenomenon: fundamentalist versions of the Halloween "haunted house," where one is shown the wages of sin. The difference here is that the Trinity Church of God near Dallas likes to wow the sinners with abortion, spousal abuse and recreations of the Columbine massacre. Given full access, director George Ratliff was smart enough to realize that he didn't need to demonize the demonizers. He simply lets them hang themselves with their own earnest, well-meant intolerance. Or, to put it more ambiguously, the subjects of the film would probably not object to the way they are depicted.
Not a great film, but an interesting look at the way the Jesus shouters find themselves in a contest not with Satan but with the entertainment/industrial complex, and how they turn the "enemy's" means to their own ends. And the Lord said, "Let there be special effects."
DVD EXTRAS The Devil Made Me Do It, the short film that became the pitch vehicle for the feature, NPR Interview with the filmmaker, theatrical trailer, deleted scenes.
Love Liza (Sony Pictures Classics/Columbia, 2002) D: Todd Luiso, w/ Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates. Rating: NNN
sony pictures classics did a disservice to this film on its theatrical release: the local distributor sent out VHS copies rather than holding a screening. While we could review story and performances (Hoffman as a recently widowed depressive who can't bring himself to open his wife's suicide note), critics were inclined to dismiss or ignore the film as a visual event. Lisa Rinzler's exquisitely graded cinematography was lost in the VHS fuzz.That said, I'm not sure I want to watch Hoffman sink into his messy anguish for 90 minutes or so, although he's certainly very good. The film's worth a rent for Hoffman, for Rinzler's work and for an interesting three-way commentary with Hoffman, director Todd Luiso and screenwriter Gordy Hoffman, who sounds enough like his brother Phil that occasionally you forget who's speaking.
DVD Extras Director/screenwriter/star commentary, theatrical trailer. English, French and Spanish versions, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese subtitles.
Talk To Her (Columbia/TriStar, 2002) D: Pedro Almodóvar w/ Javier Cámara, Darío Grandinetti. Rating: NNN
almodovar won a screen-writing Oscar for Talk To Her, his tale of the relationship between two men who are in love with women in comas. They meet in the hospital where one is an orderly. People who praise the film talk about its tenderness and the emotionally open way the actors communicate. What they don't mention is that the movie is also creepy, in a stalking/borderline necrophiliac way. Let me rephrase that. It's extremely skin-crawlingly creepy, because it seems to drift onto a path that's very sympathetic to a guy who pursues a dream girl who is one step removed from dead.
Almodóvar dances around this on the otherwise fascinating commentary track he shares with Geraldine Chaplin, who has a supporting role in the film. The commentary does have that foreign-language commentary/ foreign film problem: you can watch the film in Spanish with subtitles or watch the commentary, also in Spanish, with subtitles, but you can't watch both sets of subtitles simultaneously. Of course, if you speak Spanish that's another matter.
DVD EXTRAS Director/actor commentary, theatrical trailer. Spanish- and French-language versions, English, French, Portuguese and Japanese subtitles."
Also this week
Die Another Day (MGM) Bond 20 is the first Bond with two Academy Award winners in the cast: Judi Dench's M and Halle Berry as Jinx, an American agent with a penchant for snugly fitted catsuits. Oh, there's a plot, too.
Black Hawk Down: Deluxe Edition (Columbia/TriStar) Three commentaries, including one with veterans of the battle of Mogadishu, two History Channel documentaries, masses of production material.
The Flight of the Phoenix (20th Century Fox) Classic adventure story of men stuck in the North African desert who have to rebuild their plane to escape. With James Stewart.
The Animatrix (Warner) Eight short animated films set in the Matrix universe, scripted by Andy and Larry Wachowski, each by a different Japanese anime director.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb