(Criterion, 1961) D: Akira Kurosawa, w/ Toshiro Mifune. Rating: NNNNN
(Criterion, 1962) D: Akira Kurosawa, w/ Toshiro Mifune. Rating: NNN
This is a repackaging of a couple of titles from Criterion's recently upgraded Akira Kurosawa collection, but at $73.49 for the pair on Amazon.ca, compared to $41.99 apiece, it's a good deal, and if you've only got the earlier editions the upgraded ones are worth picking up. They feature good commentaries, booklets with insightful remarks by Kurosawa's collaborators, restored high-definition digital transfers and optional Dolby Digital 3.0 sound, which lets you hear the original simulated stereo.
The movies are brilliant and infinitely rewatchable. Yojimbo offers black comedy and bleak atmosphere in the tale of a wandering samurai who takes down two warring gangs. Mifune rocks big time as the grimy, grumpy super-samurai.
Remade almost shot for shot as A Fistful Of Dollars, Yojimbo spawned the entire spaghetti western genre.
Sanjuro, the sequel, sees Mifune's super-samurai involved in clan intrigue. This time there is discernible good and evil and a lighter tone. It's minor Kurosawa, but that still puts it head and shoulders above most other directors' best shots.
EXTRAS Yojimbo and Sanjuro: Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince commentary, making-of doc, booklet with scholarly essay and comments by Kurosawa collaborators. Wide-screen, black-and-white. Japanese w/ English subtitles.
Fiddler On The Roof, 2-Disc Collector's Edition
(MGM, 1971) D: Norman Jewison, w/ Topol, Norma Crane. Rating: NNNN
One of the seven greatest movie musicals gets a fine presentation and a second disc loaded with solid extras. Norman Jewison and Topol turn in a good commentary; composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick offer witty insight into their creative process.
Best of all is the 50-minute NFB doc on Jewison, shot as Fiddler was being made, which provides an outstanding warts-and-all portrait of the director that balances the flattering statements made by the actors. In another segment, Jewison himself adds layers of richness to the show by reading a historical essay over period photos.
The movie is delightful. Jewison released the story from the confines of the stage and shot it so that character, song and dance emerge naturally from the realistic setting.
As the harried 19th-century Russian Jewish villager, Topol holds the screen throughout. Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh and Neva Small match him note for note as the daughters whose modern approach to marriage wreaks havoc on his traditional values.
EXTRAS Disc one: Jewison and Topol commentary. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: docs on lead actresses, score, songs, production design; Jewison looks back, historical background with period photos; Jewison reads Sholom Aleichem stories; vintage NFB doc on Jewison. Wide-screen.
Robert Mitchum - The Signature Collection
(WB) Rating: NNN
(1952) D: Josef von Sternberg, w/ Jane Russell. Rating: NNN
(1952) D: Otto Preminger w/ Jean Simmons. Rating: NNN
Home From The Hill
(1960) D: Vincente Minnelli, w/ Eleanor Parker. Rating: NNN
(1960) D: Fred Zinnemann, w/ Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov. Rating: NN
The Good Guys And The Bad Guys
(1969) D: Burt Kennedy, w/ George Kennedy. Rating: N
(1974) D: Sydney Pollack, w/ Ken Takakura. Rating: NNNN
Robert Mitchum was one of the screen's great movie stars and great actors. If he isn't revered today like, say, Humphrey Bogart, it's because his instincts as an actor ran directly counter to the rigid demands of the superstar persona.
Handsome, tough, knowing, wise, compassionate and sexy, Mitchum could have spent his career playing the classic American movie hero, the guy who's so wonderful, you know even when he's wrong that somehow he's right. But he kept undercutting that guy to reveal his characters' flaws and uncertainties.
In The Yakuza, a first-rate thriller, he's forever baffled. An ex-MP who returns to Tokyo to help a friend in trouble with the Japanese mafia, he understands nothing of the culture and people he loves (a premise that fuels great plot turns, great dialogue and outstanding hard action). There's pain and frustration in his every move, and when he finally does do the right thing, it turns into a moment of humiliation, not heroism.
In Angel Face, an unjustly overlooked film noir, he's wrong from the get-go and knows it, but he just can't escape the spell of femme fatale Jean Simmons. Watch how he hangs on her every move, selling us not on how sexy he is, but on how sexy he thinks she is.
He's generous with all his leading ladies. Watch how he builds up Deborah Kerr in The Sundowners and Eleanor Parker in Home From The Hill, both big, glossy dramas with good moments and bad. Watch, too, how he makes complex people of his Australian drover who fears settling down in The Sundowners and the Texas land baron with family troubles in Home.
Skip The Good Guys And The Bad Guys entirely, a muddled mess that doesn't know what it wants to be and finally descends into a witless chase comedy. Both Mitchum and George Kennedy are completely wasted as, respectively, an over-the-hill Old West lawman and an outlaw facing the 20th century.
This isn't a best-of box. That would need The Night Of The Hunter, Cape Fear and The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. It could also use a decent Mitchum bio. The extras here are thin, though film noir historian Eddie Muller's commentary on Angel Face and Syndey Pollack's on The Yakuza are worthwhile.
EXTRAS Macao: Commentary by Muller, screenwriter Stanley Rubin and Jane Russell; Russell and Mitchum TV interview. Full-frame, black-and-white. English, French soundtracks.
Angel Face: Muller commentary. Full-frame, black-and-white. English, French soundtracks.
Home From The Hill: Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks.
The Sundowners: Vintage making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks.
The Good Guys And The Bad Guys: Vintage making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks.
The Yakuza: Pollack commentary, vintage making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French, Portuguese subtitles.
(Disney, 2006) D: Andrew Davis, w/ Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher. Rating: NN
In their solid commentary, an Drew Davis and writer Ron Brinkerhoff repeatedly call this a love letter to the U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers. On that level, the movie is terrific. A seamless mix of locations and CGI vividly conveys the ocean's power and terror. That sense of extreme peril carries over nicely to the brisk and original training scenes. If they'd stopped there, we'd have a solid short movie.
Tragically, they blew it up to a tedious 138 minutes of private-life soap opera that has aging hotshot rescuer Kevin Costner losing his marriage while up-and-coming hotshot Ashton Kutcher's got emotional problems of his own. And they both have acting problems - their big midpoint mutual revelation is downright embarrassing. Use your fast-forward.
EXTRAS Director and writer commentary, making-of doc, alternate ending, deleted scenes, U.S. Coast Guard short. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, January 30
Viva Pedro: Pedro Almodóvar Classics Collection
(Sony) Eight films by the Spanish director, plus a disc of extras: Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988), All About My Mother (1999), Talk To Her (2002), The Flower Of My Secret (1995), Live Flesh (1997), Law Of Desire (1987), Matador (1986), Bad Education (2004).
The Fabulous Baker Boys
(MGM, 1989) Great drama with Jeff and Beau Bridges as lounge pianist brothers both in love with singer Michelle Pfeiffer.
Flyboys, Special Edition
(Fox, 2006) Historical drama about the men who become America's first fighter pilots during the first world war.