sunshine state (Columbia-Tristar, 2002) D: John Sayles, w/ Angela Bassett, Edie Falco. Rating: NNNN
Sunshine State is one of John Sayles's multi-storyline location dramas, like Lone Star and City Of Hope, centring on a small community in northeast Florida that's being circled by hungry developers.
Sayles's earnestness is the drawback, but his generosity to his performers is his great advantage. The sprawling cast is persistently engaging and sometimes great -- not just the ferocious Angela Bassett and the resigned yet hopeful Edie Falco, but also Jane Alexander, Bill Cobbs, Mary Steenburgen, Timothy Hutton, Alan King, James McDaniel and Gordon Clapp. It's a good, smart movie.
The DVD's a very nice transfer, with some rough, sun-blind scenes that no one's tried to correct. Light on extras, the disc includes a trailer gallery for Sayles's films and a very low-key commentary by the director, mostly location material and character stuff. He does love actors.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, director commentary, French and English subtitles.
the duellists: special edition (Paramount, 1977) D: Ridley Scott, w/ Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel. Rating: NNNN
Ridley Scott's first film, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's short study of honour and obsession, stars Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel as officers in Napoleon's army who fight a series of duels across Europe between 1800 and 1820.
Despite the perversity of the casting -- Scott wanted Oliver Reed and Michael York -- Carradine and Keitel are convincing. As is the film.
Shot for under $1 million, a small budget even in 1977, The Duellists is heavily influenced by Barry Lyndon, but those of us who find that Kubrick film unspeakably dull will much prefer the Scott.
The transfer is very good but could be better. I wish Paramount had done this as a two-disc set, moving the extras off the main disc and allowing the film to be transferred at a higher bitrate. Such a visual extravaganza deserves the sort of treatment Columbia regularly gives movies like Anaconda and Resident Evil.
I wouldn't want to lose Scott's commentary, though. When he's not deciding, 15 years after the fact, that Deckard in Blade Runner is actually an android, he gives excellent nuts-and-bolts tours of his productions.
DVD EXTRAS Director commentary, isolated score with composer commentary, theatrical trailer, Duelling Directors: Kevin Reynolds interviews Ridley Scott, Boy & Bike (Scott's first short film), photo galleries and storyboards, English and French versions, English subtitles.
notorious c.h.o. (Wellspring, 2002) D: Lorene Machado, w/ Margaret Cho. Rating: NNN
This transfer of margaret cho's second one-woman show looks cleaner than the theatrical version but still appears to have been shot by someone's nephew.
Certain elements nag -- the "isn't she great?" audience interviews belong in the trailer, not the film, and her occasional inspirational moments are annoying.
But Cho is still one of our most outrageously honest stand-ups, willing, as she showed in her recovery film, I'm The One That I Want, to get emotionally naked in public. I can't think of another comic of either gender who's willing to discuss a visit to an S&M club in such graphically hilarious detail. And Cho's greatest comic creation, her mother, is on hand, though the commentary, by Cho in the guise of her mom, isn't as funny as one would hope.
DVD EXTRAS Commentary, making-of documentary, theatrical trailer, animated short film written and voiced by Cho.
rio das mortes (Wellspring, 1971), D: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, w/ Hanna Schygulla, Michael König. Rating: NNN
the american soldier (Wellspring, 1971) D: Fassbinder, w/ Karl Scheydt, Elga Sorbas. Rating: NN
wellspring digs deeper into the
Fassbinder archive with this pair of very early films.
Rio Das Mortes tracks two young German layabouts who dream of going to remote Peru, while The American Soldier is a rare Fassbinder genre exercise, a Brechtian gangster film that lets the director and his cinematographer, Dietrich Lohmann, pretend they're at RKO in 1947 making a soul-dead film noir.
Fassbinder worked at a ferocious pace, directing nine films in 1970-71, and these early pictures show a director tossing things off in search of a style. Rio Das Mortes has the flat, functional anti-theatre style of 1969's Katzelmacher, and The American Soldier offers the bizarre spectacle of German actors playing transnational dress-up. These are for Fassbinder completists, so someone please tell Wellspring that, while the Thomas Elsaesser booklet essay is very good, anybody who's buying one of these titles probably has more than one already.
DVD EXTRAS None
the criminal (Anchor Bay, 1960) D: Joseph Losey, w/ Stanley Baker, Sam Wanamaker. Rating: NNNN
joseph losey's art-house career (for example The Go-Between) tends to obscure his beginnings as a director of taut, violent, psychologically precise crime thrillers like The Prowler and, after he fled the blacklist to England, The Criminal.
Also known as The Concrete Jungle, this small genre gem deals with the rise and fall of London crime boss Johnny Bannion, superbly played by Stanley Baker.
Screenwriter Alun Owen (A Hard Day's Night) constructs a maze of traps and double crosses in which the outside world is merely an extension of the prison where the film begins. British jazzman John Dankworth created the score, and Cleo Laine sings the credit song.
To see Baker on the other side of the law, as a cop chasing a homicidal sociopath, catch the roughly contemporary Hell Is A City (also from Anchor Bay), shot around Manchester by director Val Guest.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, filmographies.
miami blues (MGM, 1990) D: George Armitage, w/ Fred Ward, Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Rating: NNN
Miami Blues is almost a Jonathan Demme film. Demme produced, his preferred cinematographer and editor (Tak Fujimoto and Craig McKay) are on hand and, like Demme's best films, this adaptation of the first of Charles Willeford's trio of Hoke Moseley mysteries makes the most of its atmospheric locations.
The ostentatiously grouchy Fred Ward is the putative star, but the picture is stolen by Alec Baldwin as a livewire sociopath who shows up, steals a badge and gun from the protagonist and starts pretending to be a cop. Miami Blues also boasts one of Jennifer Jason Leigh's finest performances as a white-trash hooker with more cunning than any character is willing to credit her for. Not a great film, but certainly a worthwhile rental, and writer-director Armitage, a Demme colleague from the Corman days, would go on to direct Grosse Pointe Blank.
Part of a bunch of just-released MGM catalogue thrillers, including Blue Steel, State Of Grace and Rush.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailer
Also this week
Human Nature (Alliance Atlantis) The Charlie Kaufman script no one talks about, with Tim Robbins as a control freak behavioural psychologist.
Fat City (Columbia Tri-Star) Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges in John Huston's classic about tank town boxers.
Contempt (Criterion/Morningstar) Jean-Luc Godard on filmmaking, from Alberto Moravia's novel.
K-19: The Widowmaker (Universal) Kathryn Bigelow's Russian submarine movie. Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson star. As Russians. No, really.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy