(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Bong Joon-ho, w/ Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hie-bong. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNNN
The creature is only the most obvious bit of creativity in this thoroughly entertaining monster movie. A mutant mix of fish and lizard with a long prehensile tail, it emerges from the Han River in Seoul, Korea, to swing under bridges like a monkey and prance daintily over the ground, scooping up citizens left and right.
The good guys are just as original. No scientist. No action man. They're a dysfunctional working-class family hell-bent on rescuing their beloved daughter and on the run from government scientists who want them because they've been infected with the monster's virus. They couldn't care less about the monster.
All this is handled deftly by director Bong Joon-ho, who delivers character drama, low comedy, social satire and social commentary along with his solid thrills and never lets one intrude on the others. It's all specifically Korean, but Bong invited an Anglo friend to interview him. Tony Raines, not credited on the movie, knows enough about Korea, Bong and this movie to question him from every conceivable angle: production, casting, effects, plot, character, theme, genre, details of Korean life.
In the end, we have as fine a look at a movie as a commentary track can give. That's backed up by solid making-of docs, highlighted by a piece on the gross-out factor of filming in the sewers.
Extras Disc 1: commentary, deleted scenes, director's reflections. Wide-screen. Korean, English, French audio. English, French subtitles. Disc 2: extensive making-of docs, gag reel. Full- frame. Korean audio. English subtitles.
Les Enfants Terribles
(Criterion, 1950) D: Jean-Pierre Melville, w/ Nicole Stéphane, Edouard Dermithe. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNN
The criterion cover calls this "Jean Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles" and almost everyone agrees that this is the greatest of the handful of films written by 20th-century France's leading poet, dramatist, artist and all-around genius.
Thing is, though, the film was directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, known for hard-boiled thrillers like Le Samoura#&239; (1967) and Bob Le Flambeur (1956) and an acknowledged forerunner of France's New Wave. Whose movie is it? That question occupies much of the time in the extras and reaches heights of inanity with a pair of scholars wandering around a Cocteau exhibit, fawning and preening like mincing weasels. Critic Gilbert Adair does a better job in his commentary. Either way, Cocteau's sensibility is all over this claustrophobic tale of a very unwholesome relationship between a weakling brother ( Edouard Dermithe) and the sister who dominates him (Nicole Stéphane).
That means highly unnaturalistic, mythic elements, dreams and repressed homosexuality. Highly enjoyable if you can get past the two major flaws.
First, Dermithe gives a good performance but he's 10 years too old and far too healthy for the role. Second, the first two-thirds delivers only brother and sister yelling at each other. It gets old fast.
Extras Making-of reminiscences, Stéphane interview, critics discuss the film, booklet with Cocteau drawings, Gary Indiana critical essay, Melville interview. Full-frame, black-and-white. French audio. English subtitles.
(Paramount, 2007), D: David Fincher, w/ Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo. Rating: NNN; DVD package: n/a
This is an okay movie, and quite good in spots. Don't rent it. Don't buy it. Save your money for the extras-laden special edition coming next year. It promises hours of interviews with participants in the real case, extensive making-of material - a David Fincher trademark - and James Ellroy, who's got a better handle on true crime than anyone else in the business.
You'll need all those extras because the real-life hunt for the Zodiac killer spanned more than a decade, beginning in 1969, and covered a big chunk of California, and Fincher and company appear to have done their best to be comprehensive and factually accurate. "Appear to have done" because there are no extras here, and without them the story suffers from that flatness that characterizes much true crime, real life being notoriously short on dramatically satisfying climaxes.
Fincher gets around this to some degree by centring his story on three men: Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), the cartoonist who became obsessed with the Zodiac killer and wrote the book this movie is based on, David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), the San Francisco detective who led the hunt, and Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), the key crime reporter. All three are good actors, but Gyllenhaal is overshadowed by Ruffalo's energetic, thoughtful detective and Downey's precise, detailed portrait of a deliberate alcoholic.
Gyllenhaal's mildly neurotic obsessive is a bore by comparison, and he doesn't arrive at centre stage until after the midpoint, when we finally discover where this movie is going. With its two-and-a-half-hour-plus running time, that's a long wait.
There are lots of good scenes of police and press procedure and some creepy murders. But really, wait for the special edition.
Extras Wide-screen. English, French audio. English, Spanish subtitles.
The Number 23
(Alliance Atlantis, 2007) D: Joel Schumacher, w/ Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
Here's a movie that plays better the second time around, and better on TV than on the big screen.
A dogcatcher and devoted family man (Jim Carrey) stumbles across an obscure novel whose tale of a doomed detective weirdly reflects his own life even as it drives him to madness and disaster by infecting him with an obsession with the number 23. Virginia Madsen plays his loving wife.
But none of that matters a whole lot. The documentary in the extras that attempts to give some weight to the 23 obsession, a real-world phenomenon, only exposes, inadverently, how empty it is, and the twist ending is a textbook example of a plausibility gap you could drive a truck through.
The real fun is in the scenes from that obscure novel. Visual stylization runs wild, from graveyard gothic to private-eye noir, with a nice side trip to an almost idyllic childhood done as a pop-up book, which actually works - a 2-D image of a 2-D illusion of 3-D that creates the illusion that you're looking at a 2-D image of a 3-D reality.
Carrey and Madsen get to play the doomed detective and the femme fatale in those scenes, and that's the second source of fun. They're both slightly exaggerated in a way that really brings that stylization to life, and they seem to be having the time of their life.
Director Joel Schumacher (Batman Returns) explains on his amiable commentary that he encouraged everyone to take chances.
Extras Director commentary, theatrical and extended versions, making-of doc, visual style doc, number obsession doc, numerology doc, deleted scenes, pop-up factoids. Wide-screen. English, French audio. No subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, July 31
Popeye The Sailor: 1933-38, Vol. 1
Four discs, 60 cartoons and lots of extras. You'll need your spinach to get through it all.
20 Million Miles To Earth
Two-disc edition of classic stop-motion animation from master of the form Ray Harryhausen, who shares the commentary.
A critical look at Michael Moore, the filmmaker who's built his reputation by taking a critical look at American society.
John Travolta and James Gandolfini are detectives on the trail of a couple who murder lonely women, based on the same case that gave us 1970 trash classic The Honeymoon Killers.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb