Chinatown: Special Collector's Edition
(Paramount, 1974) D: Roman Polanski, w/ Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway. Rating: NNNNN; DVD package: NNNN
The Two Jakes: Special Collector's Edition
(Paramount, 1990) D: Jack Nicholson, w/ Nicholson, Harvey Keitel. Rating: N; DVD package: NN
Think Beauty and the Beast: Chinatown is a classic, elegant, powerful and timeless. The Two Jakes is a hideous, misshapen thing.
In Chinatown, successful 1930s Los Angeles private eye J.J. Gittes finds his world destroyed when he gets manipulated into scandalmongering. That leads him to murder, conspiracy and love. At the centre of it is a crime both simple and terrible.
Robert Towne's beautifully structured script and Roman Polanski's unobtrusive direction propel us into the heart of that crime with the inevitability of classic tragedy, a feeling enhanced by John Alonzo's moody images and Jerry Goldsmith's haunting trumpet-and-strings score.
Jack Nicholson is at his best as Gittes in Chinatown. His aggression and conflicted emotions interplay wonderfully with Faye Dunaway's emotionally damaged reticence, while John Huston's serene confidence only adds to the chill.
The Two Jakes picks up Gittes 10 years later and immediately drops him into a swamp of overwrought scenes, unintentional comedy, breathtakingly ill-written voice-over and improbable plotting, with a hopelessly soggy finish.
Nicholson, looking years too old for the role, gives us a Gittes made stupid and sentimental by success. Harvey Keitel blows him out of the water as the other Jake, who might have suckered Gittes into making a cold-blooded murder look like a crime of passion.
The extras reflect the movies. Nicholson, Polanski, Towne and producer Robert Evans offer almost an hour of insightful memories on Chinatown. Nicholson is all alone for barely a quarter-hour on The Two Jakes.
EXTRAS: CHINATOWN: Three retrospective making-of docs. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese audio and subtitles. Audio in 5.1 or original mono. THE TWO JAKES: Nicholson reminiscence. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese audio and subtitles.
Under The Volcano
(Criterion, 1984) D: John Huston, w/ Albert Finney, Jacqueline Bisset. Rating: NNNNN; DVD package: NNNNN
John Huston's series of truly great literary adaptations began with his first film, 1941's The Maltese Falcon, and ended with his last one, The Dead, in 1987. In between, the list of his acknowledged classics includes The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948), The African Queen (1951), Fat City (1972), The Man Who Would Be King (1975) and Wise Blood (1979).
Under The Volcano easily stands with the best of Huston's work. It catches the essence of a complex, highly literary novel, even as it turns it into the straightforward narrative of the final day of an alcoholic British consul (Albert Finney) in 1938 Mexico. It creates visual poetry in a casual, offhand manner, layering in meaning without ever straining for effect.
Finney's consul is one of the best portraits of alcoholism ever put on screen. We see him lapsing into blackout even as his words continue to flow, and we can readily chart all the unspoken colours of his despair. Jacqueline Bisset as the wife he loves desperately and Anthony Andrews as his half-brother are equally convincing in their quieter roles.
The extras package is as good as it gets. The contemporary interview with Bisset and the 1984 audio one with Huston offer interesting insights, but they're just the warm-ups. The package also includes Gary Conklin's one-hour making-of doc that provides an intimate, detailed look at Huston working with cast and crew, and Donald Brittain's 98-minute inquiry into the life of Malcolm Lowry done for the NFB in 1976.
EXTRAS Disc one: Producers commentary, writer Guy Gallo selected scene commentary, Danny Huston opening commentary. Wide-screen. Disc two: Bissette interview, Huston audio interview, vintage making-of doc, feature-length Lowry doc, critical essay.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry
(Universal, 2007) D: Dennis Dugan, w/ Adam Sandler, Kevin James. Rating: NN; DVD package: NN
Chuck and Larry is awash in gay stereotypes. The film plays them for cheap laughs, even as it hijacks them to make heavy-handed pleas for acceptance that go so far beyond the demands of the story that it's hard to see them as anything but sincere.
Two very straight Brooklyn firefighters (Adam Sandler and Kevin James) pose as a gay couple to get insurance benefits. They get to experience ostracism and the pain of living a lie. Some of this is funny, some not so much. The soap-in-the-shower sequence comes close to being a comedy classic.
Sandler and James play well together, especially in the bickering scenes that parody married life, and they're surrounded by a comic supporting cast, notably Steve Buscemi as the villainous city inspector and Dan Akyroyd as their captain.
Whatever Sandler and company had in mind, they're keeping it to themselves. All anybody says in the extras is that they ran the script by gay anti-defamation league GLAAD to make sure it wasn't offensive. Otherwise, the extras are like the movie: moderately amusing.
EXTRAS: Sandler, James and director commentary, director commentary, five brief making-of docs, blooper reel, deleted scenes. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish audio and subtitles.
(Alliance Films, 2007) D: Michael Moore. Rating: NN; DVD package: NN
Here comes Michael Moore to savage the American medical system, just as he did the gun lobby in Bowling For Columbine and General Motors in Roger And Me. It's a noble ambition, but for Canadian viewers it isn't much of a movie.
That's because he's pitching entirely to an American audience, and a not very sophisticated one at that. So he spends a lot of time on medical horror stories that all have the same punchline: health management organizations control the system, making their profits by denying treatment without caring who dies.
Moore skips lightly over the history and methods of the HMOs. You'll find more in the extras, most of which seem like scenes deleted for length, but not a lot more.
He spends time extolling the virtues of the British, French and Canadian health systems, painting us all as socialist utopias. It's laughable, and does serious damage to whatever credibility he has left. Check out Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine's 2007 Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore (reviewed in the July 19 issue of NOW) for a good demolition of Moore's journalistic ethics.
Of course, Moore is far more a satirist and polemicist than a journalist. But even here, he falls short. His faux naive persona has become tired and predictable, and he doesn't even try to confront any of the people benefiting from this monstrous system.
Canada has HMOs, too, and we we need our own exposés. EXTRAS Seven on-topic shorts, three expert interviews, film premiere doc. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, November 13
The Princess Bride: 20th Anniversary Edition
The much-loved comic fantasy returns with new extras.
(Accent Cinema, 1973)
Wonderful Czech animation scripted by top French cartoonist Roland (The Tenant) Topor, so you know it's weird.
George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh reunite for another swingin' caper.
(Alliance Films, 2006)
Michael Apted (Blink) directs a strong cast in a historical drama about the abolition of slavery in England.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb