The Eye (Palm/Mongrel Media, 2002) D: Danny Pang, Oxide Pang Chun, w/ Angelica Lee, Lawrence Chou. Rating: NNNN
the rather diffuse distribution of The Eye means that it was never able to develop any momentum as a cult phenomenon. It's a genuinely unnerving thriller about a girl (Angelica Lee) who regains her sight through a cornea transplant only to learn that her new eyes belonged to someone with second sight. The fascinating hook visually is that the film takes as its formal premise the problem of how someone with no visual frame of reference, with no idea of how to distinguish what's real and what's supernatural, can organize the world.
The Pang brothers, identical twins, are the hot new directing team from Thailand - though the film is a Hong Kong production - and they have real talent. The Eye is being positioned as the next The Ring, as in "If you loved The Ring... ," but it's not quite that sort of bone-chiller. It is, however, a tremendously atmospheric exercise in suspense. (Street date February 24)
EXTRAS Making-of featurette, U.S. theatrical trailer and TV spots. Chinese and Thai versions, English subtitles.
Runaway Jury (20th Century Fox, 2003) D: Gary Fleder, w/ John Cusack, Rachel Weisz. Rating: NNNN
according to director Gary Fleder, Runaway Jury's great coup as the first film in which Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman appear together was inadvertent. The producers didn't realize that the two hadn't worked onscreen together until after they'd cast them. In the original script they had no scene together. The two wily pros, as a crusading attorney (Hoffman) and a Machiavellian jury consultant, hijack the picture, a John Grisham-based legal thriller. Fleder also makes excellent use of the New Orleans locations for this entertaining film.
The fun's in the extras, especially a longer than usual look at the creation of the Hoffman-Hackman scene, including rehearsal footage, and a dual interview with the two Oscar winners (bits of which turned up in the promotional material, but it's good to have the longer versions). Note that Fox is releasing the film in wide-screen and full-screen versions.
EXTRAS Director commentary, scene commentary with Hackman and Hoffman, making-of documentary, deleted scenes with optional commentary, theatrical trailer. English, French, Spanish versions; English and Spanish subtitles.
The Missing (Columbia/TriStar, 2003) D: Ron Howard, w/ Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones. Rating: NNN
I'm still not sure why Ron Howard's western took such a critical pasting. Perhaps my colleagues decided it was time to take Howard down a notch after he won the Oscar and I just missed the memo. Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett star as an estranged father and daughter. He abandoned his family and went native, and shows up just as her daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) is kidnapped by renegade Apaches who plan to sell her in Mexico. It's an unusually dark film for Howard, who makes spectacular use of elemental New Mexico locations. He gets a performance from Jones that's a lot less clenched than he's given in recent years, in which Jones doesn't seem pissed off that he's taken the gig.
The extras on the second disc are variable. The usual studio-generated making-of material is worth one look. Also included are some short films that Howard directed as a teenager, basically home movies, but cute.
This is another issue with separate wide-screen and full-screen editions. Get the wide-screen - the anamorphic transfer is superb. (Street date February 24)
EXTRAS Despite what they say at Amazon, there's no director commentary. There are making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, a theatrical trailer, Ron Howard's short films and a photo gallery. And Columbia's joined Disney and Universal in the "start with a trailer or three before you get to the menu" crowd. English and French versions and subtitles.
Matchstick Men (Warner, 2003) D: Ridley Scott, w/ Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman. Rating: NNNN
matchstick men is that rare Ridley Scott film set in the contemporary real world, the story of a pair of con men in Southern California, one of whom suddenly finds out he has a 14-year-old daughter. The father-daughter story between an obsessive-compulsive Nicolas Cage and Alison Lohman is the core of the picture, which takes its tone from Cage's fascinating, tic-ridden performance.
With a remarkable visual grasp of Los Angeles - you've never seen an L.A. like this in the movies - Matchstick Men is really worth a look, but make sure you get the wide-screen. I can't imagine this movie panned and scanned.
It doesn't quite work, and I couldn't figure out why till all is revealed in the extras. In the commentary from Scott and the writers, and the interviews with composer Hans Zimmer and editor Dody Dorn, we learn that they were never sure what picture they were making - Mametian con-game thriller, relationship-driven character study, a comedy, a drama, it's all up for grabs. (Street date February 24)
EXTRAS Director/writer commentary, a really excellent hour-plus making-of documentary, theatrical trailer.
Halfaouine, Boy Of The Terraces (Kino, 1990) D: Férid Boughedir, w/ Selim Boughedir. Rating: NNNN
ferid boughedir cast his nephew in this portrait of middle-class life in Tunisia, the story of a boy on the verge of puberty who still gets dragged to the women's bathhouse by his mom. It's like Porky's reimagined by an Arab filmmaker who's in on the joke but not allowed to laugh. I found it fascinating to see a film set in the Arab world that isn't out to make an overt polemical point. Halfaouine is rather like a Tunisian 400 Blows, and the director has a real eye for the vibrant pastels of Tunis and his neighbourhood. Kino has scored a top-notch extra for this disc - Boughedir's 1987 documentary, Caméra Arabe, an hour-long history of contemporary Arab cinema. The ending is unwarrantedly optimistic, projecting a future for Arab cinema that has yet to materialize, but it's a striking and informative film. (Street date February 24)
EXTRAS Caméra Arabe, stills gallery. Arabic with English subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, February 24
Pieces Of April (MGM, 2003) Patricia Clarkson's Oscar-nominated performance is the highlight of this story of a family trying to reconcile. With a doe-eyed anime character - oh, wait, it's Katie Holmes.
Salvatore Giuliano (Criterion, 1961) Francesco Rosi's great docudrama about the legendary Sicilian bandit.
The Chase (Columbia/TriStar, 1966) Director Arthur Penn denounced the producers, screenwriter Lillian Hellman denounced Penn, and this Southern melodrama turned into a fascinating mistake with an eye-popping cast, starting with Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.
The Cola Conquest (Microfilms, 1998) Coke, an innocent sugary beverage or symbol of American imperialism? You be the judge.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb