catch me if you can (DreamWorks/ Universal, 2002) D: Steven Spielberg, w/ Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks. Two discs. Rating: NNNN
steven spielberg's other $150-milliongrosser from last year is a return to lightness after the dystopic fantasy of Minority Report.Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale Jr., who through the 60s passed millions in bad cheques and convinced people he was an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer. He actually passed the bar in Mississippi without going to college.
Tom Hanks plays his Inspector Javert, a humourless bank fraud specialist from the FBI. Excellent supporting players, including the Oscar-nominated Christopher Walken as Abagnale Sr. and Jennifer Garner as a hooker, and one of John Williams's least typical scores.
The two-disc DVD is in what's turning into the standard high-value Spielberg/DreamWorks format. Like A.I. and Minority Report, it offers a superb transfer and a DTS soundtrack (Spielberg owns the company, so it'd better be) isolated on the first disc, no commentary, and a second disc with a wide assortment of extras, including on-set footage, extensive cast and director interviews, design galleries and relevant supporting material like interviews with the real Abagnale and the film's FBI technical adviser.
It's a shame Spielberg dislikes commentaries, since he's smart and very articulate. A Spielberg commentary would be a master class in commercial filmmaking.
DVD EXTRAS Featurettes: Behind The Camera, Cast Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale - Between Reality And Fiction, The FBI Perspective. Photo and design galleries. English, French versions; English, French and Spanish subtitles.
winchester 73 (Universal, 1950) D: Anthony Mann, w/ James Stewart, Stephen McNally. Rating: NNNNN
bend of the river (Universal, 1952) D: Anthony Mann, w/ James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy. $24. Rating: NNN
the far country (Universal, 1954) D: Anthony Mann, w/ James Stewart, Walter Brennan. Rating: NNNN
a lot of westerns are being issued this month on DVD. Paramount just brought out Rio Lobo and Little Big Man (which has not aged well), Fox has an assortment of John Wayne titles later this month, and Universal has 11 titles in its western collection, including Two Mules For Sister Sara and Destry Rides Again. I've picked the cream to review.Much is made of Hitchcock's revelation of Jimmy Stewart's dark side in the great thrillers of the late 50s, particularly Vertigo and Rear Window. But the groundwork for those performances was laid down in the five superb revenge-driven westerns Stewart starred in for Anthony Mann in the first half of the decade. (The Man From Laramie is available from Columbia; The Naked Spur, the best of them, is buried in the MGM archives.)
These are among the finest westerns of the post-war era. Mann had an unusually sensitive eye for landscapes as moral arenas. He had scripts by Borden Chase (Red River) to work from for Winchester 73 and The Far Country, which, being set against the Klondike gold rush, is technically a "northern" rather than a western.
They have striking supporting casts from Universal's roster of contract players: Dan Duryea and Shelley Winters in Winchester; Walter Brennan and John McIntire in Far Country; Royal Dano and Harry Morgan in Bend Of The River. But it's within Stewart's characters, men so emotionally exhausted that the only satisfaction they can take is from killing, that the films evolve as moral struggles. Stewart floundered commercially in the post-war years (It's A Wonderful Life was a huge flop) and didn't find his feet as a middle-aged movie star until he moved into the western - though Harvey, made the same year as Winchester 73, didn't hurt.
Good transfers, though with a few rough patches, but someone at Universal is asleep at the switch. The back of Winchester 73 offers a Jimmy Stewart interview. I clicked it on, expecting a short promotional item, but it's actually a film-length commentary interview that Stewart did for the original laser disc - and that made that LD a collector's item.
When I played it, Bend Of The River activated a request for a parental controls password on two different players. Then the menu came up in wide-screen, followed by the "This film has been altered to fit your television" notice, which is weird because Bend Of The River was shot "flat," 4:3. Mann didn't do a wide-screen film until The Man From Laramie.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, Stewart interview on Winchester 73. English and Spanish versions; English, French and Spanish subtitles.
sea of love: collector's edition (Universal, 1989) D: Harold Becker, w/ Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin. Rating: NNNN
sea of love, perhaps the darkest romantic thriller produced by Hollywood in the 80s, was a career high mark for at least two of the participants. Richard Price turns in his best screenplay, with corrosive, real-feeling dialogue and a tone of emotional exhaustion, and Ellen Barkin gives the most memorable performance of her erratic career. She plays Helen, a divorcee who becomes involved with Pacino's burned-out homicide cop even though he can't decide if she's a murder suspect or not. Though dressed up as a murder mystery, it's really a study of urban loneliness.
In this unusually adult thriller, the cast run at top speed and director Harold Becker (Malice, The Onion Field) does full justice to Price's script. If it survived the studio system today, the ending would be a lot happier, one suspects. Universal has provided an excellent digital transfer, but if you're gonna do a special edition, extras like the trailer should be in the proper aspect ratio.
DVD EXTRAS Informative director commentary, making-of featurette, theatrical trailer, several deleted scenes. English, French and Spanish versions and titles.
love is a many-splendored thing (Fox Studio Classics, 1955) D: Henry King, w/ Jennifer Jones, William Holden. Rating: NNN
this is an intriguing curio, best remembered today for the luxurious Alfred Newman score and its then daring take on interracial romance. Based on Han Suyin's (Jones) best-selling memoir of her relationship with an English newspaper correspondent - here an American correspondent played by William Holden - Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing was a hugely prestigious undertaking in its day, with Oscar-winning stars and extensive location shooting in Hong Kong. It got seven Oscar nominations, including best picture, and won three, for song, score and costume design.
It plays now like an earnest romance about overcoming a problem, but it's certainly worth a rent to see what prestige pictures looked like 50 years ago.
Fox has provided a very lavish anamorphic transfer and a superb extra in the A&E Biography of Holden. It's worth remembering now that for a while in the 50s Holden was the biggest box-office draw in American movies. An interesting three-headed commentary track discusses the film itself, the elaborate cinematographic means required to produce the illusion of Hong Kong and the scoring of the film.
DVD EXTRAS Commentary by historian Sylvia Stoddard, cinematographer Michael Lonzo and music historian John Burlingame, A&E Biography William Holden: An Untamed Spirit, newsreel footage from miscellaneous awards ceremonies, theatrical trailer. English, French and Spanish versions; English and Spanish titles.
Also this week
the unsaid (Universal) Unusual psychological thriller starring Andy Garcia.
comedian (Alliance-Atlantis) Documentary on Jerry Seinfeld's attempt to build an act from nothing. Loaded with extras, including a commentary from Seinfeld and Colin Quinn.
wrong men and notorious women: five hitchcock thrillers (Criterion/ Morningstar) Criterion has boxed its five Hitchcock titles - The Lady Vanishes, Spellbound, The 39 Steps, Rebecca and Notorious - in a reduced-price collection. Some great extras to go with the films.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy