Sin City Recut and Extended Edition (Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, w/ Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba. Rating: NNNN
This is the edition we all knew was coming when Alliance Atlantis released the bare-bones version back in August. It's loaded with features, including both the theatrical and extended versions of the film, three commentary tracks, making-of docs and a Sin City graphic novel, The Hard Goodbye, source for the Mickey Rourke segment of the movie.
Robert Rodriguez has achieved amazing fidelity to Frank Miller's neo-noir-on-steroids-and-cheap-speed graphic novels. Here, he not only shows and tells you how he did it but offers a 10-minute, sped-up version of the movie that features only the live footage of actors on green screen. You'll be amazed. There and in his commentaries, Rodriguez offers a very personal and playful vision of cinema that reveals him as a committed and ever-growing artist.
Artist/writer Miller, an outsider to film directing, is the one who worked with the actors. He's articulate, and his insights are deep and original. He also knows who the hit man and the blond in the opening sequence are and why one kills the other.
Rodriguez is always an engaging commentator on his own work, with much to say about the film's use of colour. But the second commentary, with guest director Quentin Tarantino, is largely a reprise of the first. The whiny-voiced Tarantino only comments on the scene he actually directed.
The extended version restructures the movie as four distinct films, an enjoyable format whose extra material fleshes out the stories nicely. A feature that allows you to explore the film geographically and by character is also fun, though it adds little to our understanding.
Extras Disc one: theatrical movie, Rodriguez, Miller and Tarantino commentaries, audience-reaction track, making-of docs, geography/character feature. Disc two: extended version, green-screen version, Rodriguez's film school and cooking school, Bruce Willis performing with his band. Both discs wide-screen; English, French soundtracks; English, Spanish subtitles.
Forbidden Games (Criterion/Vid Canada, 1952) D: René Clément, w/ Brigitte Fossey, Georges Poujouly. Rating: NNNN
Winner of a foreign-language Oscar and Venice Golden Lion, Forbidden Games is a classic long-acknowledged for its understated lyrical handling of a grim subject.
When Nazi planes strafe a line of refugees fleeing Paris in 1940, five-year-old Paulette's parents die in a heartbeat, leaving her to wander into the woods, where she's found and taken home by 10-year-old farm boy Michel. The children fall in love and become obsessed with death, killing small animals and creating an elaborate, secret graveyard for them. The adults, of course, remain oblivious.
The juxtaposition of children, love and death makes for a very creepy, disturbing film. But director René Clément films these monsters with warmth and complete sympathy, presenting it from the children's viewpoint. This, in turn, implicates us in their aberration and denies us the easy distancing of psychologizing and anti-war polemics.
Five-year-old Brigitte Fossey gives a remarkable performance filled with nuanced pain and pleasure. Georges Poujouly is equally convincing as Michel, though his role is a bit less demanding.
Oddly for Criterion, there's no commentary track to guide us through the experience, but a well-written essay by British film academic Peter Matthews provides a clear overview of themes, and interviews with Clément and Fossey flesh out the personal dimension.
Extras Clément and Fossey interviews, essay. Theatrical ratio. French, English soundtracks. English subtitles.
The Island (DreamWorks, 2005) D: Michael Bay, w/ Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson. Rating: NNN
Director Michael Bay in his commentary blames poor marketing for this film's theatrical failure, and he's got a point. This well-made, almost intelligent science fiction actioner features good performances and some seriously spectacular action set-pieces.
The almost intelligent part involves a group of people in a managed, isolated setting. Survivors of global contamination, their one goal is to win a place on the titular island, a paradise that's the last clean place on the planet.
But there's something very wrong in this facility. One of the hopefuls, Lincoln (Ewan McGregor) gets curious, finds out the truth and goes on the run with Jordan (Scarlett Johansson) in tow. The administrators, headed by a smoothly sinister Sean Bean, will stop at nothing to get them back.
And that's where the almost intelligent concept collapses into the conflict-resolution methods of the action movie: namely, kill 'em all and blow shit up, both of which are handled with lavish imagination and technical expertise. The two-person mini-jets think jet skis in air are a boy-toy joy, and the collapse of a building's giant logo sign is one of the most elaborate thrill scenes ever filmed.
McGregor's Lincoln is a great blend of unworldliness and action-movie competence, but the explanation for his contradictory character leads to the second half of his performance, when calculating self-interest and smarm rule. I can't tell you how. That'd just spoil things.
Extras Director commentary, action scene making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Godzilla Final Wars
(Sony, 2004) D: Ryuhei Kitamura, w/ Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa. Rating: NNN
This is it for the big G. Toho's shutting him down after a 50-year, 30-feature-film career that turned him into a cultural icon. Okay, to be fair, Godzilla was a cultural icon from the first time he stomped Tokyo way back in 1954. And, to be fair to Toho, it's given him a glorious send-off: big-budget, lavish effects and lots and lots of stomping.
Every monster who ever felt the blast of Godzilla's fiery breath is back, under control of aliens hellbent on world domination. Only the supercops of the Earth Defence Force stand in their way, but the cops have the same mutant gene in their blood as the monsters. Only Godzilla can't be controlled. Massive destruction ensues.
The movie is over two hours long, so there's plenty of time for incoherent ravings from the villains, noble speeches from the UN, broad comedy and awkward romance. There's even a good moment where the American Godzilla gets bitch-slapped. The only regrettable omission is that, though the Mothra's magic munchkins are back, they don't sing the Mothra song. A small lapse in a movie to which the only possible mature critical response is "Wheeeeeee!"
Extras Making-of footage in Japanese without subtitles. Wide-screen. Japanese, English soundtracks. English, French subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, December 20
The Brothers Grimm (Alliance Atlantis, 2005) Terry Gilliam’s charming period fantasy with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger.
Must Love Dogs (WB, 2005) Romantic comedy with Diane Lane and John Cusack.
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (Sony, 2005) Demonic forces beset a teenage girl – which makes her different how?
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb