(Columbia, 1965) D: Sam Peckinpah, w/ Charlton Heston, Richard Harris. Rating:NNNN Major Dundee would have been a great film if the budget hadn't been slashed and if director Sam Peckinpah hadn't been fired and the picture cut way down, first by producer Jerry Bresler and then by the studio. The whole story and much more is well told in the commentary by three veteran Peckinpah scholars and, in a strong 20-minute documentary excerpt, by people who were on the shoot. The film isn't quite great, even with the first-rate restoration, which includes a very good new alternate score. Peckinpah didn't get to shoot everything he wanted, and it shows.
The first half sees Charlton Heston's Dundee put together a small force to chase a marauding Apache band in the waning days of the Civil War. But his outfit, composed of Union cavalry, Confederate prisoner volunteers, civilian prisoners and black soldiers, is at war with itself. The further they ride into Mexico, the more savage they become, and Dundee is more and more like some driven, half-mad Ahab. The second half comes to a strong conclusion, but it sags to a degree, and some of the themes and conflicts are left unclear.
Heston has never been better. He dumps his typical heroic posing in favour of a grim character portrait that makes a strong centrepiece for a powerful movie. With its grit, realism, strong performances and ongoing Peckinpah themes, it can be enjoyed on its own terms and as a precursor to the director's masterpiece, The Wild Bunch, which followed a mere five years later.
Extras Historians' commentary, extended and deleted scenes, excerpt from Peckinpah biopic, stunt doc, outtakes, artwork. Wide-screen. English, French subtitles.
Schultze Gets The Blues
(Paramount, 2005) D: Michael Schorr, w/ Horst Krause, Harald Warmbrunn. Rating: NNN This very assured first feature applies formal camera technique to a near-documentary subject to produce an oddly engaging movie. It plays like a comedy with the laughs toned down, and it's warm-hearted without being at all sugary. Schultze takes early retirement in a German mining town and settles into fishing with his buddies. He badly needs a change, but he doesn't know it until he hears some zydeco on the radio, which prompts him to pick up his accordion and head for Texas and the Louisiana bayou.
It sounds like feeble fish-out-of-water foolery. But Michael Schorr shoots almost everything in single-shot, static-camera scenes. For slow meditation on the bleakness of an empty life, there's nothing sadder than watching a man polish his garden ornaments.
Horst Krause gives a perfect performance as Schultze, a dull man with his own natural dignity. Despite his passivity, he holds our attention and sympathy and fits perfectly with the non-actors who fill out many of the minor roles. A a result, we're rooting for him and yearning for him to find himself.
Schorr has found some great locations and gotten good performances out of his non-actors. He's very helpful in his commentary on how to do that and why he made his choices.
Extras Director commentary. Wide-screen. German with English subtitles
(Alliance Atlantis, 2003) D: Prachya Pinkaew, w/ Tony Jaa, Petchtai Wongkamlao. Rating: NNN The ads promise no stunt doubles, no wires and no CGI, and for once they're telling the truth. This is old-school martial arts cinema, packed with full-contact fights and stunts, all of them performed by highly talented and apparently indestructible people. Tony Jaa heads the pack as the soon-to-be monk who leaves his remote village to recover a stolen Buddha head from sinful Bangkok. He's a specialist in muay thai, a traditional Thai martial art with religious overtones that features knee and elbow strikes, high jumps and kicks. Jaa shows them off with grace and power in a string of extended fight and chase scenes against a variety of equally adept foes. You can get a closer look in the extras, which feature a good but too short demonstration of classic muay thai moves and some nice alternate-angle chase footage.
Jaa and company have clearly been studying their Jackie Chan, but they're not quite in that class yet. Jaa looks comfortable onscreen, but he's no actor, and the script stops making sense about halfway through. Not that it matters a whole lot. The fun's in the action, and there's plenty of it.
Extras Muay thai demonstration, live stunt show, stunt scene outtakes, rap video, rap video making-of doc. Wide-screen. Thai, English soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Robert Luketic, w/ Jennifer Lopez, Jane Fonda. Rating: NN There are moments on the commentary track when director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) unwittingly tells us exactly what went wrong. He says repeatedly that he simply told Wanda Sykes to say whatever line came into her head. Sykes is funny and talented, and she's got the wiseass sidekick role the perfect place to drop zingers. Sadly, hers don't zing.
Luketic thinks they do. He mistakes good line delivery for good lines. As a result, Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez play it for all they're worth while the scenes just lie there, ill-written and about one-10th as witty as The Philadelphia Story. About one-10th as complex, too. A mother as monstrous as Fonda's Viola Fields would surely have scarred her son in some way or other, but there's nary a hint of that in the script or in Michael Vartan's monotonously sweet performance.
It's only when things turn physical that the movie's any fun at all, and that's due to the pleasure of watching Fonda, a somewhat stuffy icon, get down 'n' dirty. She's clearly having the time of her life as the high-powered former TV interviewer who's determined that her brilliant surgeon son will never marry this little nobody dogwalker (Lopez). Fonda has the overblown grand dame down pat, and Lopez does the good girl well enough, though she's less convincing when she turns to vengeance.
The film is beautifully shot and lit, and the costumes are gorgeous. They get their own mini-doc in the extras, but, sadly, it's as weak as almost everything else here.
Extras Commentary with director, producer, actor Wanda Sykes, production designer and director of photography; making-of docs on stars, dirctor, locations, costumes. Wide-screen and full-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles
Coming Tuesday, September 6
(Maple, 2004) Controversial ensemble drama with Sandra Bullock and Don Cheadle.
Garbo Signature Collection
(WB) Anna Christie (1931), Mata Hari (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), Queen Christina (1933), Anna Karenina (1935), Camille (1936), Ninotchka (1939).
Garbo Silent Collection
(WB) The Temptress (1926), Flesh And The Devil (1926), The Mysterious Lady (1928).
(Fox, 1961) Outstanding version of Henry James's classic ghost story, The Turn Of The Screw.
(Sony, 2004) Mystic drama from Korean wunderkind Ki-duk Kim.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb