(Criterion/Paradox, 2000) D: Edward Yang, w/ Nianzhen Wu, Elaine Jin, Issey Ogata. Rating: NNNNN
One lesson that Taiwanese director Edward Yang absorbed from Japanese auteur Yasujiro Ozu is that when you make a film in which "nothing" happens, everything is important. Every cut, every look between characters, every moment has value, and if the comedy needs the emotional weight of the drama, the drama must be handled with the lightness of comedy.
Yi Yi follows a Taipei family for a year but doesn't actually have a plot. It follows the characters, each of whom has his or her own small story, some of which connect to the others, some of which do not. Yang's great influences are Ozu and Michelangelo Antonioni (he has Antonioni's sensitivity to the visual intricacy of urban geography), but his sensibility is his own and he's emotionally freer than either of his influences.
A touching portrait of contemporary family life, Yi Yi, which won a boatload of awards back in 2000, finally gets the DVD transfer it deserves from Criterion. There are interesting extras, though I'd take the director commentary with a grain of salt: interlocutor Tony Rayns, an astute critic of Asian cinema, seems to be guiding the commentary in the direction of his own interests.
Note to Criterion: could we please have Yang's other masterpiece, A Brighter Summer Day?
Extras Director/critical commentary, video interview with Tony Rayns, theatrical trailer, booklet essays by Kent Jones and Yang.
REN & STIMPY
Ren & Stimpy - The Lost Episodes
(Paramount, 2003) D: John Kricfalusi. Rating: NN sad to say, certain artists bene- fit from censorship. It gives them limits that they keep bumping up against and trying to break. When John Kricfalusi was making his original Ren & Stimpy cartoons for Nickelodeon, essentially a kids' network, he was forced into baroque inventiveness to both put his ideas across and hide them from the suits. Moving to Spike for a series of new cartoons, he was essentially freed to do what he wanted within the strictures of basic cable. The "grown-up" Ren & Stimpys just aren't as funny, in part because Kricfalusi's sensibility is pure infantile id - there's no tension between the characters. The contrast between the choleric Ren and the idiotically optimistic Stimpy was what held the old show together.
Extras Introduction by Weird Al Yankovic, episode introductions by Kricfalusi, animatics, pencil tests, storyboard comparisons, animator bull sessions that are often funnier than the cartoons.
Fatboy Slim - The Greatest Hits: Why Make Videos
(Astralwerks/ EMI, 1996-2004) D: Spike Jonze and others, w/ Christopher Walken and others. Rating: NNN
There are no music videos quite like Fatboy Slim videos. The musical creator is so averse to appearing in videos that great directors just show up at his door and offer to do weird and wonderful things for him. The highlights of this collection are, of course, the two great Spike Jonze videos, Praise You and Weapon Of Choice (that's the one with Christopher Walken dancing in the hotel lobby), and the Jonze "audition" video, which is basically a sketch of the Praise You clip done to Slim's Rockafeller Skank. If you already have the Palm director's collection devoted to Jonze, you already have those. And if you don't have that Jonze collection, go out and buy it. And the Michel Gondry collection as well.
The rest of the set is worth having. It has all the official videos, a couple of alternate versions and a Fatboy Slim documentary, as well as live footage of some middle-aged English guy spinning records in front of thousands of people (I refuse to believe that Norman Cook is actually Fatboy Slim. I think he's part of an enormous hoax. I could, of course, be wrong.)
Extras Why Make Videos? documentary, live footage from Brighton, Brazil and Brixton.
Amazing Stories: The Complete First Season
(Universal, 1985) D: Steven Spielberg and others, w/ Kevin Costner, Roberts Blossom, Harvey Keitel. Rating: NNN
The mid-80s do not constitute the best part of Steven Spielberg's career. Coming off the huge success of E.T., he seemed to have bought all that "sense of wonder" crap and, in between Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and his ill-considered adaptation of The Color Purple, exec-produced and developed this anthology series that lasted for a couple of years and 45 episodes without leaving much of a footprint on the cultural landscape. The real producers of the show were Josh Brand and John Falsey, caught between St. Elsewhere and Northern Exposure, which does explain the show's tendencies toward soft-centred whimsy and hardcore sentiment. Amazing doesn't begin to describe it, despite the contributions of directors like Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. Universal's box is a pleasant presentation, and the transfers are clean.
Extras Almost non-existent: 20 minutes of deleted scenes, which works out to less than a minute an episode for season one. English with captions and Spanish subtitles.
(Sony, 2005) D: David J. Burke w/ Justin Timberlake and LL Cool J. Rating: NN
The impressive cast might prompt you to pick this up: Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey (who did three days, tops), Dylan McDermott, Piper Perabo, Cary Elwes, John Heard - but this off-the-rack rogue cop thriller reminds us that if you have the money and they've got the time, you can get pretty much any actor to be in your movie. Justin Timberlake plays an ambitious young reporter trying to uncover a scandal in the local special cop squads. Morgan Freeman is his mentor, McDermott is the crazy bad cop, Cool J is the conflicted bad cop, Heard is the corrupt leader of the squad, Perabo the girlfriend in a coma.
Not bad, but it's all really familiar and really uninteresting, though connoisseurs of bad McDermott performances will want this over-the-top treat.
Extras Making of featurette. English and French soundtracks and subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, July 25
Awesome; I ***** Shot That!
(Thinkfilm, 2006) The Beastie Boys' fan-shot concert film.
The Boondocks: The Complete First Season
(Sony, 2005) Aaron MacGruder's controversial cartoon series.
A Canterbury Tale
(Criterion/Paradox, 1944) Michael Powell's modern take on an old tale, set during the second world war in England.
(TVA Films, 2005) The Gemini-winning teledrama about Dr. Lucille Teasdale, who became one of Canada's first female surgeons and then went to Africa
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb