Jules And Jim
(Criterion/Morningstar, 1962) D: François Truffaut, w/ Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner. Rating: NNNNN
Jules and Jim was a worldwide hit on first release. It lifted the French New Wave to the forefront of critical notice and cemented François Truffaut's position as a first-rate director. It's also highly watchable, with an incredible performance by Jeanne Moreau and remarkable camera work by Raoul Coutard, who supervised this restored high-definition digital transfer.
Two young would-be writers in pre-first-world-war France fall for the same woman, free-spirited and slightly mad Catherine. Their three-way romance plays out over 20 years, and Truffaut makes of it an understated hymn to love and freedom and the trouble they bring.
It's a masterpiece, and the director was not yet 30 when he shot it. Criterion does its usual outstanding job of providing comment and context. Pauline Kael's New Yorker review is a classic, and Truffaut has always been articulate about his work and passionate about cinema, but the inclusion of some of his early essays reveals a ranting arrogance that's quite surprising.
EXTRAS Moreau and Truffaut biographer commentary, Truffaut associates and scholar commentary, doc on novelist Henri-Pierre Roché, Truffaut comments on Roché, trailer, interview with cinematographer Coutard, scholars interview, 1965 French TV show about Truffaut, 1969 French TV show with Truffaut, Moreau and Jean Renoir, U.S. TV show with Truffaut, 1979 Truffaut talk on film, Truffaut audio interview. Booklet with essays by Truffaut, Kael, John Powers. New subtitles. Restored high-def digital transfer. French mono.
Never Let Go
(MGM, 1960) D: John Guillermin, w/ Peter Sellers, Richard Todd. Rating: NNNN
What's New, Pussycat
(MGM, 1965) D: Clive Donner, w/ Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole. Rating: NNN
Never Let Go is a totally forgotten and totally terrific English thriller that catches the spirit of the best American noirs without descending to imitation.
Tight plotting, good direction, camera work and editing and a strong John Barry score keep everything moving to a brutal climax. The story - struggling cosmetics salesman has his car stolen and sets out to get it back - delivers lots of strong emotion and well-drawn characters.
The highlight is Peter Sellers. This is his only turn as a villain, and it is magnificent. As the head of the hot car ring, he's a boiling mass of sheer sadistic aggression barely contained in a smarmy surface.
It contrasts beautifully with What's New, Pussycat, where Sellers is at his looniest, improvising lines and jerking about like a man who hasn't learned to drive his body. He's a psychiatrist treating Peter O'Toole, who can't say no to the women who keep throwing themselves at him.
Woody Allen made his film debut writing and acting here. The picture's a mess, scenes don't so much end as stop. But it's lively and funny and it's one of the movies that launched the onscreen version of the swinging 60s. Sellers and Allen steal the show, but keep an eye on Capucine as the cheating wife; she does great restrained insanity.
Extras Never Let Go: letterboxed; English, French, Spanish subtitles. What's New, Pussycat: wide-screen; English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(Paramount, 2004) D: Brad Anderson, w/ Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Rating: NNN
Is he going mad, or are they out to get him? It isn't long before we figure out which it is. But that doesn't really spoil this study of a man's descent into psychosis, because Christian Bale keeps us riveted.
He turned himself into a walking skeleton for the part, losing a third of his body mass, according to director Brad Anderson's not-very-interesting commentary. He's horrifying, literally painful to watch. John Sharian as his nemesis is equally bizarre, and the two together generate a dread that easily transcends the plot's limitations.
Anderson, who previously visited the descent-into-madness genre in 2001 with Session 9, does a good line in expressionist visuals. He has a quiet way of freezing the sky in an otherwise normal scene that's nicely disturbing.
EXTRAS Anderson commentary, making-of doc, deleted scenes, trailer. Wide-screen. English subtitles.
Seed Of Chucky
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Don Mancini, w/ Jennifer Tilley, Redman. Rating: NNN
This isn't quite the lunatic delight its predecessor, Bride Of Chucky, was. But then, first-time director and Chucky creator/writer Don Mancini is no Ronny Yu. His notion of style is to throw in as many visual quotes as he can from his favourite horror movies.
But there's still plenty of gore, gross humour and outstanding puppetry as homicidal dolls Chucky and Tiffany try to give up killing for the sake of their newly discovered offspring, a sexually confused youth who may equally be Glen or Glenda. The plot makes no sense and doesn't matter, but it's a great excuse to have grotesque puppets playing scenes of family dysfunction.
Jennifer Tilly is back as the voice of Tiffany and, better yet, in the human lead playing herself as a vain, heartless, big-boobed, small-talent actress who stars in Chucky movies. She's deadpan hilarious, and the fact that she didn't get to push it as far as she wanted stands out as a weakness of the film.
She's just as funny on the commentary track and her printed diary segment. She has a sharp eye for human foibles, especially her own, a keen sense of the ridiculous and a matter-of-fact delivery that only heightens the absurdity.
EXTRAS Mancini, Tilley commentary, Mancini and puppeteer commentary, making-of docs, character interviews and shorts, deleted scenes, Tilley diary and short. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(MGM, 2005) D: F. Gary Gray, w/ John Travolta, Uma Thurman. Rating: NN
You know you're in trouble when there's no commentary track on a big new Hollywood movie. It means even the egomaniac director succumbed to shame.
Be Cool has no commentary track. It also has no energy, suspense, wit or charm - none of the things that made Get Shorty, to which it is the sequel, a delight. Get Shorty was a signature role for John Travolta. His Chili Palmer, a Miami Shylock moving in on the L.A. movie business, was all quiet menace and power. Now Palmer is a mere Hollywood producer moving into the record business, and he's all avuncular comfort and emotional neediness. Could anything be less cool?
EXTRAS Making-of doc, deleted scenes, gag reel, music video, mini-docs on performers. Full-screen. English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, June 14
(Columbia, 2005) Will Smith comedy with no commentary track. Could this be a clue?
A Dirty Shame
(Alliance Atlantis, 2004) John Waters again tackles the decency-vs-depravity theme. Guess who wins? With commentary.
(Paramount, 1972) Gritty 70s crime drama with Gene Hackman, Lee Marvin and a very young Sissy Spacek.
Bette Davis Collection
(WB) Some of Davis's best: Dark Victory (1939), Mr. Skeffington (1944), The Star (1952), The Letter (1940), Now Voyager (1942).
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb