Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby
(Sony, 2006) D: Adam McKay, w/ Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly. Rating NNNNN
Having no interest in stock car racing and even less in Will Ferrell as a leading actor (I literally could not watch Anchorman, also directed by Adam McKay, for more than 20 minutes), I skipped Talladega Nights in theatres and fired up the DVD out of a sense of duty. Who knew that Days Of Thunder could be reconstructed as a comedy of idiot egocentricity? This is very, very funny, with full room given to the supporting cast - Gary Cole as Ferrell's wastrel father, Greg Germann adding another yuppie slimeball to his resumé, Sacha Baron Cohen as a gay French Formula One driver, Michael Clarke Duncan in the Robert Duvall role, and the superb John C. Reilly as Ferrell's wingman and rival.
The DVD is constructed as a comic adjunct to the film itself: the commentary is fictional, a full-scale improv comic piece that purports to be from the 25th Anniversary Special Edition, and there are no actor interviews, just character interviews.
EXTRAS Director and cast commentary, sort of; character interviews; deleted and extended scenes; gag reel; Line-O-Rama. English and French soundtracks and subtitles.
Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume 1: Baby Face, Red-Headed Woman, Waterloo Bridge
(Warner, 1931-33) D: Alfred E. Green, Jack Conway, James Whale, w/ Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Harlow, Mae Clarke. Rating: NNNN
I'm struck by how stripped-down and functional the narratives of these early sound films are. All three are less than 90 minutes long, yet they all feel like full movies. They're fast, functional and employ a storytelling shorthand that you simply don't see any more, especially during Oscar season, when movies running under two hours are uncommon. Red-Headed Woman, Baby Face and Waterloo Bridge all date from before 1934, when the Hollywood Production Code enacted in 1930 actually started to be enforced. (For a complete history of the Production Code, see Leonard Leff and Jerold L. Simmons's The Dame In The Kimono.)
They have a darker and more direct approach to sexuality than films made after 1934. Red-Headed Woman and Baby Face are about women who use their sexuality to climb the social ladder, and the leading lady in Waterloo Bridge is a prostitute, a profession that would disappear from American screens shortly after this film was released.
Baby Face is the bluntest film here. Barbara Stanwyck stars as a young woman who flees her small town, where, she implicitly suggests, her father has pimped her out since she was 14, for New York, where she sleeps her way to the top at a bank.
Stanwyck, not the sexiest movie star, never lost sight of her working-class origins. The men in this film exist to simply hurl themselves against her indifference. A very striking performance.
Red-Headed Woman is the same story on a different scale, with Jean Harlow working her wiles on one man instead of six.
EXTRAS Alternate pre-release cut of Baby Face, Baby Face trailer, Robert Osborne introduction. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
The Devil Wears Prada
(20th Century Fox, 2006) D: David Frankel, w/ Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep. Rating: NNN
The principal problem with the Devil Wears Prada is Meryl Streep. Yes, yes, people are talking about Oscars, and her performance is the one thing in the film everyone raves about, but casting Meryl Streep as the queen of all fashion editors tips the balance of the story. What was the story of a young writer confronting a sacred monster is now about a driven career woman bedevilled by barely competent assistants. The problem comes from casting a huge talent in a supporting role, as well as from the filmmakers' decision to make Streep's Miranda Priestly "more sympathetic."
Maybe it's because director David Frankel's done a lot of episodic television (particularly Sex And The City and Entourage), in which you have to make people likeable so the audience will come back every week.
Streep is pretty fabulous. While most of the extras on the DVD are generic, costume designer Patricia Field (the one with the three-pack-a-day voice) on the filmmakers' commentary identifies every single piece of clothing in the movie.
EXTRAS Director/writer/producer/ costume designer commentary, 15 deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, assorted generic production featurettes. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English and Spanish subtitles.
Find Me Guilty
(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Sidney Lumet, w/ Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage. Rating: NNN
Universal opened this in a handful of theatres last March and then started cancelling all plans to take it wide. The DVD was released in July in the U.S. but suddenly fell out of the Canadian DVD release schedule. I was intrigued. How often do you see a movie that its own distributor flees from? Plus, it offers the odd combination of legendary director Sidney Lumet and Vin Diesel in his quick free fall from hot new thing to box office poison.
Surprise! It's pretty good. Recounting the story of the longest Mafia trial in history, Lumet gives us Diesel as Jackie DiNorscio, lifelong criminal and the last man of honour, a would-be stand-up comic who served as his own lawyer to the dismay of his Mob friends, the judge and both legal teams.
Lumet, the master of the telling supporting performance, surrounds Diesel with talents like Linus Roache, Ron Silver, Peter Dinklage, Alex Rocco and Annabella Sciorra. A good rental. Real light on extras.
EXTRAS Director interview. Theatrical trailer and TV spots.
Coming Tuesday, December 19
(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) Jet Li kicks a lot of ass in a very classical manner. What more could you ask for?
When The Levees Broke
(HBO Warner, 2006) Spike Lee's monumental documentary on the destruction of New Orleans.
Lady In The Water
(Warner, 2006) M. Night Shyamalan is so busy disappearing into his own mythomaniacal impulses that you really wish he'd do a commentary for this DVD.
Little Miss Sunshine
(20th Century Fox, 2006) The season's indie hit/quirky character extravaganza, with Steve Carell as a gay Proust scholar.