straw dogs (Criterion/ Morningstar, 1972) D: Sam Peckinpah, w/ Dustin Hoffman, Susan George. Two discs. Rating: NNNNN
at his best, sam peckinpah looks at aspects of people that most of us don't want to acknowledge, which is why Straw Dogs is such a sticking point in his filmography. You can't put its violence down to its genre; it's Scenes From A Marriage if Bergman had kept a shotgun handy.
On the DVD commentary, Peckinpah scholar Stephen Prince makes a couple of interesting claims for Straw Dogs. First, that it's Peckinpah's masterpiece, even over The Wild Bunch. And second, that Dustin Hoffman's David is not the film's protagonist. Since it's a film about violence against women, the real hero is Susan George's Amy. Prince makes a compelling case, particularly since his argument proceeds from a close reading of the film that's before us as he makes it.
What surprised me, seeing Straw Dogs again after 20 years, is how little actual violence it contains (there's the rape scene, now restored to its full horror, and the 20 minutes or so of the third act) compared to the continuous threat of violence in the framing and in the dissonant undertones of Jerry Fielding's brilliant score. I also now understand why Straw Dogs has always left audiences with their guts in a knot. The violence offers no catharsis; it's all tension and no release.
DVD EXTRAS The movie's on disc one with Prince's commentary. The second disc includes an exceptional 80-minute documentary, Sam Peckinpah: Man Of Iron, a 25-minute BBC on-set interview with Dustin Hoffman, new interviews with Susan George and producer Daniel Melnick, theatrical trailer and TV spots. The booklet includes an essay by Joshua Clover and a 1974 Peckinpah interview from Le Devoir.
futurama: complete first season (20th Century Fox, 1999) created by Matt Groening, w/ Billy West, Katey Sagal. Three discs. Rating: NNNN
Futurama, matt groening's series about a 20th-century delivery boy cryogenically frozen to awaken in the year 3000, is as gag-packed as The Simpsons, especially in its use of the image-embedded joke -- signs, direction markers, that sort of thing. It also has The Simpsons' fondness for parody; you have to admire a series that can work large-scale send-ups of Independence Day and Ally McBeal into the same episode.
If Futurama never developed the same culturally intense following as The Simpsons, it's not because it's not funny. It's because it lacked the emotionally resonant structure implicit in The Simpsons' nuclear family. Fox has done very fine transfers, which is no surprise. The show was digitally coloured from the start.
The commentary tracks are one of the main reasons to get this Matt Groening series on DVD. They're on every episode, feature a gang of the creative personnel, including Groening, and are generally entertaining in and of themselves, if not informative in the nuts-and-bolts "how to make an animated series" way. The disadvantage, of course, is that they have to assemble the people to talk about every episode, which explains the slow rate of release for The Simpsons. Aside from the commentaries, it's a little light on extras.
DVD EXTRAS Full commentaries by producers, writers and directors, deleted scenes from several episodes, animatics and storyboards for Space Pilot 3000, concept art gallery. English, Spanish, French versions; English and Spanish subtitles.
who framed roger rabbit (Touchstone Vista, 1988) D: Robert Zemeckis, w/ Bob Hoskins, Charles Fleischer. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
who framed roger rabbit remains a unique extravaganza of cinematic inventiveness, a berserk collision between the "real world" of 40s film noir -- note the Chinatown echoes -- and the "toon world" of cel animation. As producer Frank Marshall points out in one of the features, there's no computer animation anywhere in Roger Rabbit.
It's all hand drawn and composited on an optical printer. No one would do it that way today. For one thing, Mel Blanc and Mae Questel are no longer around to provide the voices of Betty Boop and Bugs Bunny, and it's unlikely they'd be able to get permission to put Bugs in the same movie as Mickey Mouse, and vice versa. Oh, and they'd use computers.
Touchstone provides a dead-gorgeous anamorphic transfer that really shows off the human-toon interaction, an excellent commentary and some very good documentary material. The pan-and-scan version is useful for comparison purposes to show the evils of pan and scan; I'm sure they had better material that could have filled the space.
DVD EXTRAS Like most of Disney's Vista issues, it's loaded: wide-screen and pan-and-scan versions (the pan-and-scan is on the kid-friendly first disc, but keep your kids on the letterboxed, as there's no point in corrupting their taste), all three Roger Rabbit shorts, Who Made Roger Rabbit? featurette, deleted scene with commentary, Toontown Confidential trivia text track, split-screen comparisons of the scenes with and without animation, character gallery, interactive games. English-, French- and Spanish-language versions.
bollywood/hollywood (Mongrel Media, 2002), D: Deepa Mehta, w/ Rahul Khanna, Lisa Ray. Rating: NN
bollywood/hollywood wants to do the cross-culture thing, blending immigrant-community culture-clash comedy with the extravagance of the Bollywood musical.
Alas, Deepa Mehta fails to rise above her essentially dramatic sensibility and lacks the surreal vision that informs Srinivis Krishna's Masala, still the definitive Toronto Indian movie.
Bollywood/Hollywood would be better had Mehta concentrated on managing the comic tone and her cast's considerable charms, and if she'd left out the musical numbers -- and I say that as someone who likes Bollywood song and dance.
As to the extras, I can live without a commentary, since there's a half-hour interview with Mehta, but where are the English subtitles on the Hindi musical numbers? The "musical numbers" gallery clips aren't the wide-screen ones from the movie, but horribly panned and scanned. And who decided to interview star Lisa Ray at a windy outdoor cafe where there's a ton of extraneous sound?
DVD EXTRAS Director and star interview, theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, song gallery, "descriptive video" track, DVD-ROM content.
maid in manhattan (Columbia TriStar, 2002), D: Wayne Wang w/ Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes. Rating: NN
This is the one where Jennifer Lopez plays a hotel maid who, when dressed up in a guest's designer duds, meets Ralph Fiennes's Senate candidate. You can tell they're made for each other because they both have an odd red rinse working in their hair.
If J.Lo is calculating her career to ape Julia Roberts's, then this is her Pretty Woman, as Enough was her Sleeping With The Enemy. Fiennes is a better actor than Richard Gere, but he can't give himself over to this sort of deluxe, Cinderella-in-Dolce fantasy.
A good cast includes Natasha Richardson, Bob Hoskins and Stanley Tucci, but this is an utterly inconsequential film. Putting Lopez in the starring role in Wayne Wang's last film, Centre Of The World, would have been far more interesting. Good transfer, so if you like this movie, here it is.
DVD EXTRAS Almost none, so there may be a special edition coming down the road. Wide- and full-screen presentation on the same side, trailers. English and French versions and subtitles.
= 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