Biggie And Tupac (Video Services Corp, 2002) D: Nicholas Broomfield, w/ Broomfield. Rating: NNNN
with dvd directors' comment-aries growing more plentiful, it's easier to look at a film and decipher the tricks. I find myself watching a big effects sequence and thinking, “Miniature, miniature, CGI, blue-screen, miniature.”
In the commentary on Biggie And Tupac, his documentary on the two murdered rap stars, Nick Broomfield undercuts his own onscreen persona, which in films like Kurt & Courtney and Aileen Wuornos: The Selling Of A Serial Killer is an ambling, not-too-bright guy toting his own boom mike, a less annoying Michael Moore.
What we learn is that Broomfield isn't shuffling around with a mike – he's running around tracking clearances on tiny bits of film and photographs, pestering his principal source until said source decides to ignore his lawyer and go on camera. He's busy, busy, busy, and he has to carry his own boom mike.
Biggie And Tupac is a fascinating look at a closed subculture with a very public face. It includes interviews with Biggie's mom, Tupac's bodyguard and record executive/convicted felon Suge Knight – and aside from Biggie's mom, everybody's trying to spin. Don't know if Broomfield's theory about the murderers is accurate, but it makes an interesting watch. Good transfer, given the variability of the source material.
DVD EXTRAS Director commentary, deleted scenes with commentary, Broomfield interview, discographies, theatrical trailer.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (Disney, 1954) D: Richard Fleischer, w/ James Mason, Kirk Douglas. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
this adaptation of jules verne was a huge leap into Cinemascope for Disney, with A-list stars. Oddly, Disney handed the directorial reins to Richard Fleischer, the son of his old business rival Max Fleischer, the creator of Betty Boop and the great first-generation Superman cartoons.
It's a fun picture, and the effects hold up remarkably well for the era. (OK, not the squid fight, but the opticals and miniatures are all preserved in a gorgeous enhanced wide-screen transfer.) Mason gives a tremendous, tortured performance as Captain Nemo, but Kirk Douglas, in a cheerful, heroic role, is freakishly intense.
You can sneer all you want at Disney, but when its home video department sets its mind to it, it can produce a heck of a special edition.
Disney has always protected its archives; there's money there, so it tends to have more supporting material available for its older films. And, unlike a lot of studios, it does things like make sure the trailer's been remastered and given the same quality transfer as the film itself.
DVD EXTRAS Director commentary. Disney has packed the second disc with extras, including a brand new 85-minute making-of feature, lost footage, design galleries, a featurette on composer Paul Smith, an excerpt from a 1955 World Of Disney on the creation of the squid, deleted scenes, theatrical trailers and, just for fun, Grand Canyonscope, a Daffy Duck cartoon in wide-screen that played theatrically with 20,000 Leagues.
Full Contact (Columbia TriStar/Dimension, 1992) D: Ringo Lam, w/ Chow Yun-Fat, Simon Lam. Rating: NNNN
an absolute bare-bones issue of Ringo Lam's classic Hong Kong actioner. The film has bad girls, betrayal, homoerotic subtext, exit wounds and a bridge heist scene that far outstrips the jewellery heist in Lam's overrated City On Fire.
Lam treats Chow Yun-Fat far less mythically than does John Woo in The Killer and Hard-Boiled, so we get an intriguing, less stylish take on a great star here.
There's an all-region DVD from Mei Ah available; I got it in Chinatown about a year ago. But this transfer from Dimension – it's the same cut of the film – is vastly superior. For one thing, it's anamorphic, and for another, Dimension is not working from a scratchy print and the colours are much less inclined to bleed. A must-have for action fans, and sufficiently superior to the HK issue that it's worth the upgrade.
DVD EXTRAS None. A couple of trailers. English- and Chinese-language tracks, English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Wrong Men And Notorious Women: Five Hitchcock Thrillers 1935-1946 (Criterion/Morningstar) D: Alfred Hitchcock, with Michael Redgrave, Robert Donat, Joan Fontaine, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman. Six discs. Rating: NNNNN
if you bit the bullet and paid the Criterion prices for The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Spellbound and Notorious, you're going to hate this. That's over $200 for the five of them.
You can't complain about the quality of the product. The transfers range from excellent to superb, and they come with some great extras: an extensive audio interview with composer Miklos Rosza on Spellbound, three different radio adaptations of Rebecca, Bruce Elder's scholarly commentary on The Lady Vanishes. I could live without Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane's commentaries on three of the other four, but it's pretty easy to live without a commentary track.
The decade-plus from 1935 to 1946 was a key period in Hitchcock's development as a director, marking his transition from England to America. Spellbound is the only dud in the bunch, though it does have subsidiary recommendations like Bergman's performance and Salvador Dali's dream sequences.
These discs are virtually self-recommending, and now Criterion has boxed them. If you're among those who've been holding out, now's the time to buy. The dot-coms have priced the set very reasonably: dvdsoon.com for $125 and amazon.ca for $140, with the bonus that at that price shipping is free.
DVD EXTRAS The Lady Vanishes: scholarly commentary; The 39 Steps: scholarly commentary, 1937 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation with Robert Montgomery and Ida Lupino, The Art Of Film: Early Hitchcock from Janus films, production design gallery; Rebecca: scholarly commentary by Leonard Leff, isolated music track, screen tests of actresses who didn't get the Joan Fontaine part, production correspondence, 1940 Oscar footage, three radio adaptations, including Mercury Theatre's from 1938, production and design galleries, booklet essay by Robin Wood; Spellbound: scholarly commentary, 1973 interview with Miklos Rosza, NY Public Radio documentary on the theremin, Lux Radio Theatre adaptation with Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli, production and design gallery; Notorious: scholarly commentary, historical commentary by Rudy Behlmer, Lux Radio Theatre adaptation with Bergman and Joseph Cotten, newsreel footage of Bergman and Hitchcock, isolated music track, production memos, production correspondence, promotional gallery.
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King Rat (Columbia-TriStar, 1964) D: Bryan Forbes, w/ George Segal, Tom Courtenay. $30. Rating: NNNN
Watching some of columbia's Bogart films and now King Rat, Burnett Guffey looks like a forgotten genius of American cinematography. He's got some great B movies on his resumé - Framed for Richard Wallace, My Name Is Julia Ross for Joseph H. Lewis - along with A productions like All The King's Men and From Here To Eternity.
Though not an innovator like Gregg Toland or James Wong Howe, he was a remarkable lighting cameraman. Take a look at the opening of King Rat, Bryan Forbes's adaptation of James Clavell's novel about Allied soldiers in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, and you can see the work of a master cinematographer. You'll note the irony of beautifully photographed squalor, but it's hard to argue with your own eyes.
George Segal stars in the title role, the master hustler of the POW camp, offending the stiff-upper-lip provost marshall played by Tom Courtenay and running the camp to his own specifications. Segal was a terrific actor in his youth, and he's got a real handle on King's amoral charisma. This is one of the best POW dramas. I'd put it ahead of Stalag 17 and The Bridge On The River Kwai, even if it lacks their reputation. No extras, but a really gorgeous black-and-white transfer.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, English and French subtitles.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb