Pale Flower (Home Vision/Morningstar, 1964) D: Masahiro Shinoda, w/ Ryo Ikebe, Mariko Kaga. Rating: NNNN
masahiro shinoda, part of the Japanese New Wave of the early 60s, was neither as corrosively subversive as Oshima or Imamura nor as stylistically deranged as Suzuki. He was stuck, for this film, at conservative Shochiku Studios, where they had no idea what to do with this allegorical yakuza flick. The cool black-and-white images put Pale Flower closer to Jean-Pierre Melville than to his Japanese contemporaries, and the story - a yakuza meets a bored rich woman gambler while negotiating his way between two rival gangs - is of less interest than the film's swankly shot milieu, the gambling dens and nighttime streets and dark corners of a non-tourist Tokyo.
There's a tremendous Tàru Takemitsu score, but the film's most audacious musical moment comes when Shinoda sets the climactic killing to Dido's Lament from Purcell's Dido And Aeneas. Stunning transfer - the blacks are really black on this disc.
EXTRAS Director interview. Japanese with optional English subtitles.
La Strada (Criterion/Morningstar, 1954) D: Federico Fellini, w/ Anthony Quinn, Giulietta Masina. Rating: NNNN
winner of the foreign film oscar in 1956, Federico Fellini's La Strada marks a pivotal moment in the director's career. With its sub-proletarian characters and real settings on the impoverished fringes of Rome, it fits into the neo-realist aesthetic. But it also has a pair of American stars, Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart (who was then married to Valentina Cortese and did a bunch of Italian films, including Fellini's Il Bidone), and the milieu of low-rent travelling circus performers gives the film an air of the fantastic.
La Strada also marks the beginning of Fellini's long-term indulgence of spouse Giulietta Masina's Chaplinesque mugging.
I'm not a great fan of La Strada, but this is a spectacularly good transfer from the original negative, with a rich grey scale for the black-and-white cinematography. Aside from a couple of very small glitches just after the hour mark that suggest lost frames, this is as good a transfer as we're likely to see.
The extras aren't great - a dry academic commentary and an Italian television documentary compiled from Fellini's TV appearances - but Criterion solves the language problem neatly. The principal soundtrack is in Italian, which means that Basehart and Quinn are dubbed, but Criterion also has the English-language dub, so Basehart and Quinn's performances are restored, though everyone else is dubbed.
EXTRAS Video introduction by Martin Scorsese, critical commentary, Federico Fellini's Autobiography (Italian TV documentary), English-language , American theatrical trailer. Italian with English subtitles.
X2: X-Men United (20th Century Fox, 2003) D: Bryan Singer, w/ Hugh Jackman, Brian Cox. Rating: NNNN
this is the only sequel of the past summer that surpassed the original, giving us more of full-on berserker Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and a great new mutant in Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler. While the first X-Men was boxed into introducing its characters and sorting out its world - in his commentary, Bryan Singer says it felt like he was making a trailer - the sequel extends into the world and draws on bigger, more dangerous themes.
X2 sets up the third one, so pay attention to the final shot of the water during Jean Grey's voice-over. Also note in the fight scenes, particularly the Wolverine/Deathstrike confrontation, that Singer and fight choreographer Jimmy Edwards are developing a style of wire work distinct from the Hong Kong style.
Fox offers a crisp, shiny transfer, two commentaries, extensive making- of material and the usual array of trailers. Compared to The Two Towers extras, the additional material here tends to be rather surfacey - quick cuts and sound bites from the stars. The LOTR crew figure that anyone watching a 25-minute documentary on sound mixing is actually obsessive enough to want a real documentary on sound mixing. Available in wide-screen or pan-and-scan versions - the banner's at the bottom of the front of the box.
EXTRAS Director/cinematographer and very funny writer/producer commentaries; interactive examination of the Nightcrawler attack, with side-by-side comparisons of animatics, raw footage and finished film; deleted and extended scenes; trailers and teasers; history of the X-Men as comic book characters; fight rehearsals; making-of documentary. English, French, Spanish versions; English and French subtitles.
Let It Come Down: The Life Of Paul Bowles (Zeitgeist/Mongrel, 1998) D: Jennifer Baichwal, w/ Paul Bowles, William Burroughs. Rating: NNNN
toronto filmmaker jennifer Baichwal spent several years creating this documentary, and managed to get some of the last interviews given by Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, three great figures of the outlaw wing of 20th-century American literature. It's a fairly plain documentary, but engrossing to anyone with an interest in the material, and paints a fascinating portrait of a man who had such an extraordinary life that at the end of it he's too exhausted to even raise his head. An interesting release to come out concurrently with the Criterion issue of Naked Lunch, in which a fictionalized Paul and Jane Bowles are played by Ian Holm and Judy Davis.
EXTRAS Not a lot of flash in this non-studio issue, but it includes additional interview footage with Bowles on a variety of subjects and outtakes from the final meeting of Bowles, Ginsberg and Burroughs.
Coming Tuesday, December 2
The Alien Quadrilogy (20th Century Fox) All four Alien films, new transfers, theatrical releases, alternate cuts, feature-length making-ofs and almost the grail - David Fincher's assembly cut of Alien 3.
Pirates Of The Caribbean (Disney) The surprise hit of the summer arrives with three commentaries, including Johnny Depp with director Gore Verbinski, deleted scenes, the usual making-ofs.
The Ben Stiller Show (Warner) All 12 episodes of Ben Stiller's peculiar comedy show.
To Live And Die in L.A. (MGM) - William Friedkin's classic L.A. cop thriller, with William L. Petersen (CSI) and Willem Dafoe as the bad guy.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb