Schindler's List (Universal, 1993) D: Steven Spielberg w/ Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes. Rating: NNN
I know, I know - only three ns for Schindler's List? Universal offers a beautiful transfer of a very important film. This was the first time I'd seen it since its release - but I'm not going to knock it. David Mamet, however, did note that the Holocaust was about six million Jews who died, not 2,500 who survived.
The rating is for the presentation. With Oscars for best picture, director, cinematography and score, with its important Holocaust theme and the fact that director Steven Spielberg has a long association with Universal, it's shocking that Universal has gone cheap on its basic edition of Schindler's List.
The Gift Edition, which is exactly the same in terms of extras and adds the CD of John Williams's score, splits the movie over two discs. The basic edition is a single-disc flipper.
Oh, and it comes in wide-screen and pan-and-scan versions, and you have to check a sticker to see which one you're getting, or read the fine print on the back of the box.
EXTRAS A 77-minute documentary compilation of interviews with people Oskar Schindler saved from the camps and another on the Shoah Foundation. No commentary, no making-of, no trailer, nothing for the film buffs in the audience. Seriously, Columbia's bringing out a three-disc SE of Panic Room this month, and Universal can't manage a simple director interview? English, Spanish and French versions and subtitles, DTS Soundtrack.
School Of Rock: Special Collector's Edition (Paramount, 2003) D: Richard Linklater, w/ Jack Black, Joan Cusack. Rating: NNNN
jack black stars as dewey finn, a failed rocker who fakes his way into a job as a substitute teacher at a snooty private school and turns his class into a band with an AC/DC fixation. School Of Rock is an odd combination of manipulative Hollywood picture - rebel without a clue learns valuable life lessons from exposure to kids - and impeccable indie credits courtesy of screenwriter Michael White (The Good Girl) and director Linklater (Dazed And Confused, Slacker). A fun disc for a Friday night, with Black in top form and a Joan Cusack performance that leaves you desperate for more; in the commentary, Linklater agrees that she's underemployed in the film. The extras reflect the spirit of the movie, including Black's plea to Led Zeppelin to use The Immigrant Song in the film, Web links to the original Web site for the film, which is a hoot in and of itself, and a rather casual making-of.
EXTRAS Director/star commentary, kid actors' commentary, making-of, trailer and teasers, MTV Jack Black diary, kid actors' video diary of the Toronto festival premiere, interactive Web links. English, French versions, English subtitles.
Salvatore Giuliano (Criterion/Morningstar, 1961) D: Francesco Rosi w/ Frank Wolff, Salvo Randone. Rating: NNNNN
francesco rosi's breakthrough film is this enigmatic post-neo-realist docudrama about the events surrounding the death of Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano, who was killed in July 1950. Working with a largely non-professional cast on the same locations where the real events took place, Rosi builds a political context around a central vacuum. Giuliano barely exists as a character save through his impact on those around him, notably Pisciotta, his first lieutenant and betrayer.
Criterion provides a beautiful black-and-white transfer, with just the right amount of grain and an interesting assortment of extras. After watching the movie, pop in the second disc. There's newsreel footage released within days of Giuliano's death. Excellent critical commentary from Peter Cowie, who's usually found on Criterion's Bergman discs. Now can we have Rosi's Illustrious Corpses?
EXTRAS New interview with Rosi; career documentary on Rosi, The Director And The Labyrinth; critical commentary; theatrical trailer; booklet essay by Michel Ciment. Italian with English subtitles.
Myra Breckinridge (20th Century Fox, 1970) D: Michael Sarne w/ Raquel Welch, Rex Reed. Rating: NNN
myra breckinridge often turns up on worst-films-of-all-time lists for a reason. It's astonishingly dreadful. What the hell were these people thinking? Fox has decided that it deserves a special edition as part of its new flight of Raquel Welch releases. The first side features the original theatrical release and a Raquel Welch commentary. It's wonderful to recognize the "I should have killed the director" undertone in her remarks and to hear her use the word "didactic." The other side of the disc contains the director's cut and Michael Sarne's commentary. His version of the film clarifies the narrative, making it more obvious that the film was a dream, for one thing. Myra Breckinridge is the story of a gay Hollywood-obsessed movie reviewer (Rex Reed, typecast in his shot at glory) who has a sex change operation and becomes Raquel Welch in a bid for Hollywood power. Mae West plays a talent agent. It's what Fox thought would appeal to a hip young audience in 1970. They were wrong on just about every level, though it is fun to hear Sarne defend the nearly indefensible in his commentary.
For Welch's best performance, look for The Last Of Sheila. Warner has announced its release for June.
EXTRAS Director's cut, star and director commentaries, theatrical and director commentaries, AMC Backstory episode on the film, theatrical trailers and teasers. English and Spanish versions and subtitles.
Richard III (Criterion Morningstar, 1955) D: Laurence Olivier, w/ Olivier, Ralph Richardson. Rating: NNNN
criterion brings the third of Olivier's great Shakespeare adaptations to DVD in a glowing transfer. Olivier had a great success with his insinuating, sly Richard during the war, and the film version is perhaps his most enjoyable Shakespeare film. His Hamlet is great, but that film suffers from the severe textual cuts. While Henry V gives us the glory of heroism, Richard III is like Iago; the villain is the most interesting character, and Olivier knows it. With its spectacular supporting cast - Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom - this is the standard by which all other Richard IIIs are measured. Criterion's transfer gives full value to the glowing Vistavision compositions, which the commentary, by a pair of English theatre types, does not. Though they do have a lot to offer about the play and the performances, they're basically uninterested in the film as a film. They don't notice, for example, the way Olivier composes the crowd scenes like late medieval paintings. On the other hand, the extras include an utterly fascinating mid-60s BBC interview with Olivier by Kenneth Tynan.
EXTRAS Critical commentary, booklet essay, 1966 BBC interview with Olivier, stills and production galleries, 12-minute promo trailer, theatrical trailer.
Coming Tuesday (March 16)
Demonlover (Lions Gate) A thriller from Olivier Assayas with Gina Gershon and Chloë Sevigny about high-powered lawyers and cyber-porn anime.
The Commitments: Special Edition (20th Century Fox) Throw away that awful pan-and-scan version - Fox has a new wide-screen two-disc SE, with making-ofs, retrospectives and an Alan Parker commentary.
21 Grams (Alliance Atlantis) Method writhing from Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts. Bad things have happened. No indication of any extras on the disc.
Veronica Guerin (Buena Vista) Cate Blanchett plays the Irish journalist who took on drug dealers. That didn't work out very well for her.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb