300: Two-Disc Special Edition
(WB, 2006) D: Zack Snyder, w/ Gerard Butler, Lena Headey. Rating: NNN ; DVD package:NNN
Sadly, there are people who do not realize that silliness is an artistic virtue, or that superheated imagery and testosterone-drenched dialogue have aesthetic merit. This movie is not for those people. This movie is for people who thought Sin City wasn't brutal enough.
In 380 BCE, 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas held off a massive army led by Persian god-king Xerxes. That basic story, taken from 5th-century BCE historian Herodotus by way of Sin City creator Frank Miller's graphic novel, offers ample opportunities for brutality. But like Sin City, this is an all-CG movie, and director Zack Snyder is so in love with its potential that the brutality becomes subordinate to design coolness.
So there's carnage. "Which is what we're here for," says director Snyder (Dawn Of The Dead), making his one semi-insightful remark in an otherwise vacuous commentary.
For insight, the disc-two making-of docs do an okay superficial job, but the prize goes to a pair of scholarly entries, one describing Spartan life, the other comparing Herodotus with the Miller version with the movie.
Serious stuff for what's basically a Hercules movie. All the elements are here: the buff, mostly naked hero, gaudy bad guys, monsters (really good ones), snake-hipped dancing girls and noble-chinned acting (convincingly done by Butler, Headey and the rest). Tragically, though, Snyder omits the one key shot that would have made his epic a classic: the bum shot. Can't have a mythic muscleman movie without one good shot of the hero's buttocks straining manfully. The Spartans would not have approved.
Extras Disc one: director, writer and cinematography commentary. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Disc two: movie-comic-history comparison doc, Spartans doc, Frank Miller doc, short making-of docs, massive 14-chapter making-of doc, deleted scenes with commentary. Wide-screen. English, French subtitles.
Everything's Gone Green
(WB, 2006) D: Paul Fox, w/ Paulo Costanzo, Steph Song. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
It sags a bit in the middle, but that's a small flaw compared to the various delights offered by this light romantic comedy look at slacker life.
Directionless young Ryan gets a job with the BC lottery corporation, meets a girl and gets involved in a lottery scam with her boyfriend. Very slender plot, but the script is by popular novelist Douglas Coupland, and it's filled with his deadpan humour, highly original twists and amiable digressions.
Paul Fox directs with a note-perfect sense of comic timing. He lingers just long enough on the visual asides and captures a great sense of Vancouver.
As Ryan, Paulo Costanzo has a wonderful deer-in-the-headlights look and a naive charm that erodes nicely as the story progresses. He and Steph Song, the leading lady, are made for each other. In the generally excellent smaller roles, Aidan Devine shines as Ryan's cheerfully oblivious boss.
Fox and Coupland's commentary offers lots of solid insights into the creative process on both script and production levels.
Extras Fox and Coupland commentary, extended scenes, photo gallery. Wide-screen.
Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore
(Mongrel, 2007) D: Debbie Melnyk, Rick Caine, w/ Michael Moore, Harlan Jacobson. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
This film takes basically the same approach as Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine's last outing, Citizen Black. While he's on tour, the filmmakers try to question their subject and set up a longer interview, and in between encounters they lay out his career and use the opinions of friends, colleagues, rivals, journalists and experts to explore his character.
The difference is that Black is presented as enigmatic, but right up front the filmmakers present their conclusion about Michael Moore: he's a dishonest journalist and an unpleasant person. The movie bears them out. They've got solid evidence that he actually got two interviews with General Motors CEO Roger Smith but chose to pretend that he hadn't in 1989's Roger & Me, the movie that launched his career as a left-wing gadfly. They've also got evidence that he misled his viewers in some of Bowling For Columbine (2002).
Moore's inaccuracy is no surprise to any Torontonian who's seen Bowling For Columbine. His take on Canadians as so peaceful we don't lock our doors is laughable.
But Moore has had an impact on American society and documentary film. The former subject gets well discussed toward the film's end. But the latter is reserved for the extras, where a panel of distinguished documentarians provide a concise summation of documentary and ethics.
Extras: documentary discussion, deleted scenes. Wide-screen.
20 Million Miles To Earth: 50th Anniversary Edition
(Columbia, 1957) D: Nathan Juran, w/ William Hopper, Joan Taylor. Rating: NNN ; DVD package: NNN
Before there was CGI, there was stop-motion animation, the art of moving small-scale models one frame at a time to create the illusion of dinosaurs, giant gorillas - anything you can imagine. There have been two masters: Willis O'Brien, who created the original King Kong (1933), and Ray Harryhausen. Inspired by Kong, he worked under O'Brien, then went on to create a string of classic fantasies: Jason And The Argonauts (1963), The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (58), Valley Of The Gwangi (69), The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad (74) and Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger (77).
Harryhausen worked by himself. He designed the sequences. He designed, built and animated the models. He worked out new ways to integrate the animation with live action. He inspired everybody from George Lucas to Tim Burton. And he did it all on low budgets.
20 Million Miles To Earth, the tale of a tiny, hideous alien that grows and grows until it's battling an elephant in the streets of Rome and trashing the Coliseum, offers lots of solid entertainment. It isn't quite Harryhausen's finest work, but only because it's less elaborate than his mythology-based epics from the 60s.
The movie is colourized, with an option that lets you toggle between the colour and black-and-white versions. Harryhausen is all over the extras, praising the colourization, which he supervised. He's right, it's a better movie in colour. More importantly, in colour it's a movie that kids will watch and love. Kids love monsters. Get 'em started young and they'll love old-school monsters forever.
Extras Disc one: Harryhausen and visual effects artists Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett. Wide-screen, colour and black-and-white. English, French subtitles. Disc two: retrospective making-of and appreciation doc, colourization doc, Harryhausen and Tim Burton conversation, Joan Taylor interview, composer Mischa Bakaleinikoff doc, photo galleries including Harryhausen artwork. Wide-screen.
Coming Tuesday, August 7
(Paramount, 2007) Shia LaBoeuf stars as a teen who becomes convinced that his neighbour's a serial killer.
(Mongrel, 2006) Tony Gatlif (Latcho Drom) continues his exploration of Romany life with a story about Asia Argento hunting her suddenly vanished lover.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
(MGM, 1978) Nifty two-disc edition of the remake of the the 1956 alien paranoia classic, just to get you ready for the current remake, slated for release this month.
Elvis: That's The Way It Is
(WB, 1970) He's still dead, but the product lives on. Okay mix of documentary and performance, as Elvis and entourage get ready for a Vegas show.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb