New releases New releases
the joke (1969, Facets), dir. Jaromil Jires w/ Josef Somr, Jaroslava Obermaierová.
daisies (1965, Facets), dir. Vera Chytilová w/ Jitka Cerhová, Ivana Karbanová. Rating: NN
The Czech New Wave -- which lasted about three years, from 1965 to the Soviet invasion in 1968 -- was an intriguing exclamation point at the end of a turbulent cinematic decade, and produced a couple of unexpected heroes. It also produced films that went beyond the bittersweet middle-aged remorse that marked the best-known films of the movement.
The Joke, adapted from Milan Kundera's novel, is a smartly vicious comedy about party politics. The protagonist returns to his hometown after serving a sentence of years of hard labour for sending an irreverent postcard to a girl he was trying to seduce. She, of course, reported him. Jires, who co-authored the script with Kundera, captures perfectly the crisis of a person with a sense of humour confronting pitiless ideologues who don't get the joke. The film also evokes the way revenge delayed has a way of going awry -- you're no longer taking revenge on the person who wronged you but on that person a decade later, when everything has changed.
While The Joke could have been made successfully at almost any time from the 60s to the present day, Vera Chytilová's Daisies, about two girls, both named Marie, who decide to be bad, simply screams 1965 with its alternating colour filters, discontinuous cutting and social disruption. Daisies' value is more as historical artifact than entertainment.
Since these are likely to be the only DVD issues of either film in the North American market, it would have been nice if Facet Video had found better prints and done a bit of letterboxing so the subtitles in The Joke didn't bleed off the edges of the screen.
EXTRAS: Director filmographies, documentation on the banning of Daisies.
Big-screen rating: N/A
donnie darko (2001, Fox), dir. Richard Kelly w/ Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone. Rating: NNNN
Donnie Darko is an intriguing narrative/thematic hybrid -- Magnolia meets Final Destination, with Gyllenhaal as the troubled teen hero who narrowly escapes death when an airplane engine falls out of the sky into his bedroom, only to find the world unravelling around him.
Writer-director Kelly, 26 when he made the film, is plainly a ferociously ambitious young filmmaker, and enough of a salesman to gather a striking cast around his young star, including executive producer Drew Barrymore (and if you must rent a Drew Barrymore movie this weekend, this is a much better choice than Riding In Cars With Boys) as a high school teacher and Patrick Swayze as an infomercial guru with darker secrets than most.
Donnie Darko was barely released last fall -- not at all in Canada, though it opened in France -- and seems to be one of those films destined to find its audience on home video. It's a dark meditation on family life in suburban America interwoven with a story about time travel and possible psychosis. As such, it's a lot more fun than American Beauty. Good extras -- the second commentary track is a bit of a mosh pit, with about half the actors jostling for room.
EXTRAS: Two commentary tracks, one with writer-director Kelly and Gyllenhaal, the other with Kelly, producer Steven McKittrick and much of the cast (every now and then Barrymore, Mary McDonnell or veteran character actor Holmes Osborne comes up with a gem), 20 deleted/extended alternate scenes, "Cunning Visions" infomercial, music video, production design photo gallery, theatrical and TV trailers, English and French versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
Big-screen rating: N/A
training day (2001, WB), dir. Antoine Fuqua w/ Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke. Rating: NNNN
Director Fuqua, of The Replacement Killers and Bait, here demonstrates what a talented journeyman can do when handed a great actor and a smart, edgy script. Oscar nominee Denzel Washington plays his first villain, a Mephistophelean narcotics cop who is devastatingly smart and charismatic. He's also living proof that power corrupts. In the course of the film's 24 hours, Washington shakes down drug dealers, commits one murder and attempts another, practises street justice that violates almost every guarantee the U.S. Constitution offers American citizens and generally dazes his young trainee, played by Hawke. As for those who question Hawke's nomination, well, he manages to hold his own with the best actor in American movies operating at full throttle, which is more of an achievement than it might seem.
One of the sad things in this current awards season is that the spotlight is entirely on Washington, and has ignored David Ayer's screenplay, which provides Washington with the material for his great performance.
EXTRAS: Director commentary, deleted and alternate scenes, including alternate ending, two music videos, theatrical trailers, English and French-dubbed versions, English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Big-screen rating: NNNN (JH)
Also this weekAlso this week
Riding In Cars With Boys
2001: A Space Travesty
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN= excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN= very good
NNN= worth a peek
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy