Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales
(Criterion/Paradox, 1962-1972) D: Rohmer w/ Jean-Louis Trintignant, Béatrice Romand, Jean-Claude Brialy. Rating: NNNN
Eric Rohmer, the most relentlessly literary member of the French New Wave, specializes in the repetitive chamber drama. Indeed, all six of his Contes Moraux tell the same story: a man who's attracted or attached to one woman is suddenly distracted by another with whom he spends most of the film before going back to his original attraction.
A decade older than Godard, Rivette, Truffaut and Chabrol, his colleagues at Cahiers du Cinéma, Rohmer took longer to get from his first feature (Le Signe Du Lion) to his second (La Collectioneuse, the fourth of the Moral Tales) than any of his colleagues almost eight years. The first two of the Moral Tales, The Bakery Girl Of Monceau and Suzanne's Career, are both shorts, and the third, Ma Nuit Chez Maud, was filmed fourth.
Rohmer's Moral Tales are rather like Jane Austen's novels, had Austen been a 20th-century French intellectual more interested in the philosophical gradations of attraction than the financial impediments to it. Still, in these pieces he traces over the same small piece of ground, surprised each time by what he finds there.
The results can be infuriating. I've never been able to abide Ma Nuit Chez Maud, an austere black-and-white film shot in Clermont in the dead of winter that contains longer arguments about Pascal's wager than have ever been heard outside of a university. (Google it it takes too long to explain.)
I hate to be shallow, but I'm tempted to say that Rohmer's films became eminently more watchable when he started filming his philosophical romances in resort towns with young women who look good in bikinis. I could be flippant and call Claire's Knee Gidget Goes Cartesian, but that would mock its seriousness as an essay on improbable obsession.
Extras: 80-minute director interview by Barbet Schroeder, producer of most of Rohmer's early films, plus five of Rohmer's short films, his TV program On Pascal, original theatrical trailers. Two booklets: a collection of essays by cinematographer Néstor Almendros, critics Kent Jones and Molly Haskell and Rohmer himself; and Six Moral Tales, Rohmer's original stories that formed the basis for the films. French soundtrack, optional English subtitles.
Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier
(Paramount, 1979/2001) D: Francis Ford Coppola w/ Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall. Rating: NNN
How many things are wrong with this edition?
The package includes both Apocalypse Now and 2001's AN Redux, but in order to maximize DVD space, they're both split between the two discs, which means there's now a short intermission in the film.
In the first video releases of the film, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro decided he didn't want the big letterboxing that would happen to his CinemaScope compositions, so he prepared a 2:1 aspect ratio print. That's what we have here. It's a beautiful transfer, but it's not the theatrical aspect ratio, director- and DOP-approved though it may be.
Apocalypse Now inspired one of the greatest making-of documentaries ever, George Hickenlooper's Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse. It was produced by Francis Ford Coppola's company, American Zoetrope, and released by Paramount, and it's not included here.
And if we really want to make it complete, let's get a commentary track from editor and sound designer Walter Murch, and maybe one from Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne or Frederic Forrest. They were there throughout and are very much alive. It would be nice to hear a voice other than Coppola's; he's spent the last decade or so polishing his legend on his old pictures. (That may explain the absence of Hearts Of Darkness, which shows him in emotional meltdown.)
Oh, and how about a commentary from original screenwriter John Milius, who made some very tart remarks about Coppola's 2001 rethink, the 49-minutes-longer Redux, which doesn't work any better now than it did at its Cannes premiere.
EXTRAS Director commentary on both Apocalypse Now and Redux, half an hour of deleted scenes, extensive featurettes on the sound (it was the first film in 5.1 sound) and about an hour on the post-production. The "Redux marker," which you can turn on while watching Redux, will pop up to indicate exactly when you're watching stuff Coppola added. English and Spanish soundtracks; English, French, Spanish subtitles.
The Simpsons: The Complete Eighth Season
(20th Century-Fox, 1996-1997) C: Matt Groening, w/ Dan Castellenata, Julie Kavner. Rating: NNNN
Watching The Simpsons systematically , you can see that the show's emphasis shifts from season to season. Season Eight is a great Homer season. It includes You Only Move Twice, the James Bond parody with Albert Brooks as Hank Scorpio. It also includes El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Jomer, in which Homer ingests Guatemalan insanity peppers at a chili cook-off and goes on a Castenada-ish journey where he meets his spirit guide, a coyote voiced by Johnny Cash, and The Springfield Files, wherein Homer thinks he sees an alien, prompting a visit from Leonard Nimoy and some deadpan FBI agents from Fox's other popular series.
There's also Homer's Phobia, with guest star John Waters, The Homer They Fall, in which Homer does battle with the heavyweight champion, and the one where he signs on to voice the annoying new character on Itchy & Scratchy.
Fox has done its usual job on the DVD. There are full commentaries on every episode and they finally got Kelsey Grammer in for the commentary on this season's classic Sideshow Bob episode. And check the deleted scenes. Very funny.
I'm still trying to figure out exactly when The Simpsons started to slide. It wasn't in Season Eight, that's for sure.
Extras: Writer/director/animator/cast commentaries, deleted scenes, message from Matt Groening, mini-documentary on the building of The Simpson House (in the real world - they gave it away in a contest), promos with Groening, sketch gallery, and watch Homer's Enemy in Czech or Japanese!
Coming Tuesday, August 22
(Universal, 2006) The underrated comedy with Dennis Quaid as the rather dim president who agrees to be a guest judge on an American Idol-type show. With Hugh Grant as the show's producer.
(Universal, 1944) Classic film noir from Billy Wilder.
Invasion: The Complete First Season
(Warner, 2005-2006) Looking more like the only season of the best of the post-9/11 alien invasion paranoia series.
Sketches Of Frank Gehry
(Sony, 2005) In his 71st year, and his 45th as a director, Sydney Pollack makes his first documentary, a portrait of the architect.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb