the last waltz (1978, MGM/UA), dir. Martin Scorsese w/ the Band, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell.
This is the classic of classics when it comes to rock concert films, and the DVD uses the same gorgeous restored print that was recently released to theatres. Aside from a rather dull end-of-concert jam, there's no new footage. (For the 20 or so songs that weren't in the movie, you'll have to buy the Rhino four-CD compilation.) However, the extras include a pair of commentary tracks.
One features Robbie Robertson, grown even more pompous with age, and Martin Scorsese in only his second commentary track for one of his own films.
The other has a menagerie of people including producer Jonathan Taplin, who'd been the Band's road manager and also produced Mean Streets, pop music critic Greil Marcus, who's written extensively about the Band, ex-journalist and occasional Scorsese collaborator Jay Cocks, the always voluble Ronnie Hawkins and the other two surviving members of the Band, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson. Oh, and director of photography Michael Chapman, Mavis Staples, Dr. John and others. Everyone who's ever worked with Scorsese does a Scorsese impression. Great, great sound.
EXTRAS: Commentary tracks, making-of featurette, outtakes, booklet written by Robbie Robertson.
friends: the complete first season (WB), dir. various w/ Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer.
Looking at the first few episodes of Friends, I'm amazed at how quickly the series found its dynamic. That's a tribute to the casting process and the way that six unknown actors were able to quickly establish their personas in the ensemble. It's not all gold -- the introduction of Marcel the Monkey was a misstep that would have sunk most series -- but if you're a fan of the show, this is a must-have. If you're not, it's at least worth a rental, if only to develop an appreciation of the remarkable detail work by series MVP Jennifer Aniston and the quick development of the show's secret weapon, Matt LeBlanc.
EXTRAS: Producers' commentary track on the pilot episode, guided tour of the Central Perk set, guest star gallery.
waking life (2001, Fox), dir. Richard Linklater w/ Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke. Rating: NNN
On the one hand, Waking Life is a fascinating experiment in animation -- a film that was shot with live actors and edited as a film, then handed over to a team of two dozen animators to rework and develop. On the other hand, it's the Crayola version of Linklater's debut film, Slacker, with the protagonist, a college freshman, moving through the streets of Austin, Texas, encountering various philosophical windbags and eccentrics, with exactly that film's problems of pace and tone. Bonus game: spot the Owen Wilson cameo! It's a film that should probably be seen at least twice, and the DVD package is excellent.
EXTRAS: Commentary tracks by Linklater, the producers and animation team, short films by animator Bob Sabiston, animation tutorial, theatrical trailer, English and French subtitles, English and Spanish dubbed versions.
ali (2001, Columbia), dir. Michael Mann w/ Will Smith, Jamie Foxx. Rating: NNN
Ali is a curious disappointment, worth seeing for the performances rather than any dramatic insights into Muhammad Ali's character or history. It's generally a bad sign when a picture has five credited writers and five credited producers.
Ali covers the boxer's life from his first Liston fight through his draft board problems to the Rumble In The Jungle in 1974. Will Smith is an outstanding and unexpected choice to play Ali. If the story is too familiar to be dramatic, Mann is still a master of hand-held, wide-screen composition that you'll see only on the DVD and not on the cassette version. It's not a special edition, though, and Mann, one of the more intimidatingly articulate filmmakers, is among that group of elite directors (Spielberg, Allen, Lynch) who don't do commentaries.
EXTRAS: Theatrical trailer, English and French dubbed versions, English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Also this week
Ocean's Eleven The coolest movie of 2001.
Star Trek: The Next Generation -- Season Two Better than Season One.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy