sunset boulevard: special edition (Paramount Home Video, 1950) D: Billy Wilder, w/ Gloria Swanson, William Holden. $26. Rating: NNNNN
Paramount dips into the vault to bring restorations of Sunset Boulevard and Roman Holiday to stores, following To Catch A Thief and Houseboat. One complaint: They've put the short documentary Edith Head Remembered on three of these DVDs. (She won one of her eight Oscars for Roman Holiday). That's more overlap than necessary.
Speaking of which, these editions of Sunset Boulevard and Roman Holiday are also included in new gift boxes devoted to Wilder and Audrey Hepburn. The Wilder box includes Stalag 17 and Sabrina. The Hepburn box has Breakfast at Tiffany's and... Sabrina. Given the extensive catalogue Paramount has on both artists, you gotta ask, "Huh?"
That said, Paramount has done a superb job restoring Sunset Boulevard, which had to be rebuilt from scratch. There are some informative extras: a new half-hour making-of, a 15-minute documentary on composer Franz Waxman, an interactive guide to the film's locations and, nicely solving the everybody's dead problem, a scholarly critical commentary by Wilder biographer Ed Sikov.
It finally comes down to the movie, and Sunset Boulevard, a dark and sardonic portrait of Hollywood, lives up to its reputation. Even apart from its endlessly quotable script ("I am big! It's the pictures that got small"), Pirandellian casting coups (Erich Von Stroheim!) and the performance of Gloria Swanson's life as faded star Norma Desmond, this is one of the greats. As critic Andrew Sarris notes in the making-of extra, the audacity of the opening sequence alone would guarantee its status.
DVD EXTRAS Critical commentary, theatrical trailer, making-of documentary, location map, photo gallery, screenplay excerpt for original prologue, The Music Of Sunset Boulevard featurette, photo galleries, English and French dubbed versions, English sub-titles.
roman holiday: special edition (Paramount Home Video, 1952) D: William Wyler, w/ Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck. $26. Rating: NNN
Roman Holiday is gentler, with Hepburn in her first starring role -- and winning an Oscar -- as a princess who goes AWOL in Rome and falls in with Peck's raffish journalist. That Peck is its idea of raffish guarantees the film's genteelness.
For the period, Roman Holiday makes unusual use of real locations, but if Sunset Boulevard looks more daringly modern the longer it hangs around, Roman Holiday seems a curio from a lost civilization. These days, monster movies seem more timely than fairy tales.
DVD EXTRAS Remembering Roman Holiday featurette, restoration featurette, teaser and trailers, photo galleries. English and French dubbed versions, English subtitles.
robin williams: live on broadway (HBO/Columbia Music Video, 2002) D: Marty Callner w/ Robin Williams. $27. Rating: NNNN
In his HBO 98-minute special, comic Robin Williams is in killingly funny form. He starts slowly, but the last hour of the show is comic gold -- frenetic and exhausting, but funny. What's astonishing is that after more than a quarter-century, Williams can still flex these comic muscles -- you can actually see his eyes light up when the prepared bit veers off into something that just occurred to him. Not to give too much away (the urge is to endlessly quote his riffs), but the routine where, in full Scottish accent, he explains the origin of golf is enough to make me forgive Bicentennial Man, Patch Adams and Mrs. Doubtfire. OK, maybe not Patch Adams.
DVD EXTRAS Williams interview, backstage pre-show, montage of strange noises made by Williams.
men in black ii (Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment) D: Barry Sonnenfeld, w/ Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith. $39.99. Rating: N
Men in Black II was a mild annoyance in the theatres, occasionally amusing with a luscious turn by Lara Flynn Boyle as an intergalactic villain. Coming on the heels of the extended edition of Lord Of The Rings and the full disc of interesting documentaries in the Star Wars -- Episode 2 package, it looks much worse, verging on the unwatchable.
It also features among its extras one of the dullest director commentaries ever made. What's very clear listening to Sonnenfeld is that he had no reason to make this film aside from the money, and that level of dedication shows in every frame of this unfunny rehash of the original film. I did enjoy the Will Smith music video, though.
DVD EXTRAS Director commentary, theatrical and television trailer, making-of and creature design featurettes, gallery, music video, Barry Sonnenfeld's Guide To Intergalactic Comedy, a whole bunch of pieces on various design elements of the film for people with really short attention spans, multiple-angle scene deconstructions, alternate ending, blooper reel, DVD-ROM content.
lovely & amazing (Lions Gate Home Entertainment), D: Nicole Holofcener, w/ Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer. $34. Rating: NNN
Keener and Mortimer play sisters, one a failed artist now working in a One Hour Photo shop, the other an actress described by her agent as a neurotic mess. Meanwhile, their mom (Brenda Blethyn) goes into a coma from liposuction complications, their adopted sister is turning into a chronic over-eater and they're both in relationship hell.
The performers are outstanding -- hardly a surprise from indie icon Keener (Being John Malkovich) -- but there's also an excellent supporting cast that includes Clark Gregg, Dermot Mulroney and Jake Gyllenhaal. Holofcener (Walking And Talking, also with Keener) really knows how to shape a narrative when there's no actual spine to the story.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, promotional interviews. English and Spanish subtitles.
ice age: special edition (20th Century Fox, 2002) D: Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha, w/ John Leguizamo, Ray Romano, Denis Leary. Two discs, $36. Rating: NNN
fox's big entry in the computer animation summer flick arena is a peculiar remake of Three Godfathers, the old western where three soldiers are required to get a lost baby back to its family. The soldiers are replaced by a dyspeptic mammoth (Romano), an unusually energetic sloth (Leguizamo) and a sabre-tooth tiger with an agenda (Leary).
It works dramatically and is often quite funny; the voice work is outstanding, particularly Leguizamo's and Leary's. But at the same time, you're thinking, "Well, it's good, but it ain't Pixar." Ice Age lacks the lunatic detail of the best Pixars, and there's a certain indecisiveness in the design, as if they weren't sure how real to make this world. Of course, kids aren't going to worry about that, and it's a painless 90 minutes for parents.
DVD EXTRAS The director commentary is way too self-congratulatory, but there are some entertaining extras: theatrical trailers, Skrat's Missing Adventure and Bunny, original animated short films, scene commentary by Leguizamo in character, animation tests, studio short on voice work (excellent, funny extra, thanks to the self-deprecating Romano), deleted scenes, making-of documentary, production featurettes, DVD-ROM games, English subtitles.
Also this week
MIAMI BLUES (MGM) Fred Ward as a Miami cop in search of Alec Baldwin's psychopath, who's holed up with Jennifer Jason Leigh's hooker.
THE CRIMINAL (Anchor Bay) Joseph Losey's classic 1960 thriller, part of a wave of British crime flicks from Anchor Bay.
WAR AND PEACE (Paramount) This is the four-hour, 1956 King Vidor version, with Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn. It's a warm-up -- the six-hour Sergei Bondarchuk, the longest movie ever to win an Oscar (best foreign film, 1967), is on its way from Image.
AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (New Line/Alliance-Atlantis) The last and least of Mike Myers's spy spoofs.
= 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