Casa De Los Babys
(Alliance Atlantis, 2003) D: John Sayles, w/ Marcia Gay Harden, Lili Taylor. Rating: NNNN
Casa De Los Babys assembles a very impressive cast - Marcia Gay Harden, Lili Taylor, Mary Steenburgen, Daryl Hannah, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Susan Lynch - to play Americans waiting to adopt babies in a hotel in an unnamed Latin American country. The film shows both John Sayles's great strength, his ability to manage the interplay of a large ensemble cast in an unexpected setting and his weakness, his tendency toward earnestness.
His sharply drawn characters exist on their own, but they're also improbable symbols of American imperialism - a heck of a load to put on women who can't have children. Special praise to Sayles for getting Rita Moreno to give her first performance in Spanish in her half-century career.
The DVD includes three half-hour making-of documentaries by Bruno de Almeida that overlap very little. Sayles's commentary, which isn't listed on the cover, offers his usual blend of filmmaking insight and foreign policy lecture.
EXTRAS Director commentary; Beyond Borders, On Location With John Sayles and The Making Of Casa De Los Babys production featurettes; theatrical trailer. English and Spanish with English subtitles.
(Columbia TriStar, 2003) D: Tim Burton w/ Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor. Rating: NNN
Tim Burton's Big Fish is a big, gooey fantasy. Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor play the old and young versions of Ed Bloom, who lives in his own enthrallingly constructed make-believe world, much to the dismay of his grown son, Will, played by Billy Crudup, who wants to know "the truth" about Ed before his father dies. Shot largely on location in Alabama, the film's sweetness is a surprise for anyone used to Burton's darker fantasies, like Sleepy Hollow. The touching father-son story at the core holds the audience to the end.
I'm not sure about the transfer. The many shifts in colour and lighting styles in the film haven't translated very well to DVD. At times, some of the more delicate effects look smeared here.
The density of the "special features" list suggests that there are a lot more extras than there really are. Most of them are bite-sized, five-minute promotional featurettes. Too bad - Big Fish's production design is so interesting that a half-hour featurette would be welcome. They've given Burton an interviewer to help with the commentary, which keeps him more on topic than usual.
EXTRAS Director commentary, numerous production featurettes, theatrical trailer. English and French versions and subtitles.
Stuck On You
(20th Century Fox, 2003) D: Bobby and Peter Farrelly, w/ Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear. Rating: NNN
Watching a Farrelly Brothers commentary is like listening to someone do running narration on home movies. They must be the only film directors who know the name of every extra on the set. Do we need to know that the second jogging woman is played by the wife of Boston Bruin Cam Neely? At one point during the commentary you can hear one of the Farrellys saying, "If we didn't have to identify all these people, we could maybe talk about filmmaking." Stuck On You is the story of conjoined twin brothers played by Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear, the latter of whom wants to leave their small-town Massachusetts home and head for Hollywood to pursue a career as an actor.
The film is sweet and funny, with memorable contributions from Eva Mendes, Seymour Cassel and, as themselves, Cher and Meryl Streep. Yes, Meryl Streep in a Farrelly brothers movie. Make of it what you will.
The extras are mostly useless, though there's a fun blooper reel.
EXTRAS Directors' commentary, deleted/extended scenes, bloopers, three production featurettes, theatrical teasers and trailers. English, Spanish and French versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
Ghosts Of The Abyss
(Disney, 2003) D: James Cameron, w/ Bill Paxton. Rating: NN
Dear Jim. Give it up. No one cares any more. And, really, no one cared back in 1997, it's just that Leo and Kate were so damned cute, especially when he turned blue. They loved the love story, the china, the stern sense of honour and the way they could identify with working-class Leo while wallowing in the upper-deck art direction. Don't be misled by last year's relative box-office success of Ghosts Of The Abyss, your journey to the bottom of the sea in search of the Titanic's wreckage. If it were in IMAX 3-D, people would go see an hour-long documentary about weevils
This is a lovely disc: the extended cut, the handsomely designed menus, the elegant featurettes explaining that you cared so much that, even though you were actually taking submersibles to the bottom of the sea to look inside the Titanic, you were still willing to do digital restorations of the interiors, all crusted up and rusted out.
But unless someone's offering you a job at the Discovery Channel (like they could afford you), you should get back to making real movies. Something where things blow up. Please? You've got to do something to atone for that awful fucking song. Regards.
EXTRAS Theatrical release and extended versions of the film, making-of featurettes, additional footage and a rather clever multi-angle feature where one can choose between all the available video feeds for six minutes of dive time.
Coming Tuesday, May 4
The Last Samurai
(Warner) Tom Cruise is turning Japanese. No, I really think so!
Girl With A Pearl Earring
(Lions Gate) The other performance that Scarlett Johansson didn't get an Oscar nomination for. With Colin Firth as Vermeer.
The Triplets Of Belleville
(Alliance Atlantis) The most relentlessly inventive animated film of the year.
The Marx Brothers Collection
(Warner) The good news is that seven Marx Brothers movies get their DVD debut. The bad news is that it's the post-Duck Soup MGM titles like A Night At The Opera, A Day At The Races and The Big Store rather than Animal Crackers, Horsefeathers and, well, Duck Soup.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb