under the sand (2000, Seville) dir. François Ozon w/ Charlotte Rampling, Alexandra Stewart. Rating: NNNNN
One of the year's best films, Under The Sand is elegant and haunting. The apparently ageless Rampling stars as Marie, a woman whose husband (Bruno Cremer) goes swimming in the Atlantic and never comes back. Just when we think he's dead, he starts showing up and hanging around, and the question is whether he's haunting her or she won't let him go. Ozon's visual sense is so acute that at times Under The Sand seems a study of the effects of bereavement on Rampling's exquisite bone structure, but it's a film that works its way into your emotions and won't leave. The transfer is excellent, one of the best I've seen.
the devil's backbone (2001, Lions Gate) dir. Guillermo del Toro w/ Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega. Rating: NNNN
With more films opening nowadays, it's easier than ever for films to slip under the audience radar -- and The Devil's Backbone did just that.
Set in an orphanage toward the end of the Spanish Civil War, The Devil's Backbone is an old-fashioned, atmospheric ghost story by the director of Mimic and Blade 2; de Toro is plainly a major new voice in horror. (This film makes a great double bill with Alejandro Amenábar's The Others, last year's other great ghost movie by an Hispanic director, and Del Toro took the star of Amenábar's Open Your Eyes, Noriega, to play his villain here.)
A spectacularly good transfer, and del Toro does his first DVD commentary, which is short on gossip but long on explaining how to structure a story with images. Any student of filmmaking will find this worth a couple of semesters.
EXTRAS: Director/cinematographer commentary, making-of featurette, theatrical trailer, storyboard, French and English subtitles.
resident evil (2002, Columbia TriStar) dir. Paul W.S. Anderson w/ Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez. Rating: Nn
Resident Evil is a pointlessly complicated, effects-heavy video game adaptation by the director of Event Horizon. It's also a movie that needs a lot more shots of Jovovich kung-fuing zombie Dobermans.
That said, the DVD is raised to rental status by one the year's funniest commentary tracks, with the director, producer and the stars all talking at cross-purposes -- Anderson wants to talk about the locations, the effects and point out the Alice In Wonderland references. Rodriguez and Jovovich just want to make comparisons with each other, so at least half the sentences go unfinished as people keep stepping on each other's remarks. Anderson makes several references to a DVD commentary by the effects supervisor, which isn't here. Either it was never made or, lord help us, there'll be a "special edition" Resident Evil.
EXTRAS: Director/actor commentary track, five making-of featurettes, trailers, Slipknot video, English and French versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
the time machine (2002, DreamWorks) dir. Simon Wells w/ Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba. Rating: NN
A remake/new adaptation of H.G. Wells's classic time travel tale, with Pearce as the scientist who builds it and newcomer Mumba as the hottie from the future. It's a labour of monumental digital effects and art direction, but no more effective or affecting than the old George Pal film with Rod Taylor. The DVD package has what appear to be a lot of extras, but most of them are from the electronic press kit or the HBO "first look" special. The commentary tracks -- two of them -- are informative without being edifying. Added proof that one should shun fantasy/effects films where Jeremy Irons shows up in a baroque costume.
EXTRAS: Director/editor commentary, producer/effects commentary, visual effects featurette, design featurette, one deleted scene, theatrical teaser and trailers.
Also this week
Collateral Damage Arnold Schwarzenegger blows things up.
Dragonfly Kevin Costner is haunted by his dead wife's ghost.
Speed: Five Star Collection A two-disc set paying homage to the only bus-based thriller.
= 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