The cat's meow (2001, Lions Gate) D: Peter Bogdanovich, w/ Kirsten Dunst, Edward Herrmann. $35. Rating: NNNN
The Cat's Meow is a fictional exploration of the mysterious 1924 yachting trip hosted by William Randolph Hearst (Herrmann) and Marion Davies (Dunst) during which producer-director Thomas Ince died. Fiction is the only way to take it, since no one knows for sure what happened. The period detailing is excellent, and the ensemble cast (Joanna Lumley, Carey Elwes) has a lot going for it, though Eddie Izzard isn't quite pretty enough to play Chaplin, and a little bit of Jennifer Tilly's Louella Parsons goes a long way.
It's an outstanding vehicle for the incandescent Dunst, who doesn't look much like Davies but has the silent film star's vivacious energy. Bogdanovich's commentary is a bit functional, but there are some very good extras, including period newsreel footage and a 1918 Chaplin two-reeler, Behind The Screen.
EXTRAS Director commentary, theatrical trailer, behind-the-scenes featurette, Chaplin short, period newsreel, cast interviews. English and Spanish subtitles.
we were soldiers (2002, Paramount) D: Randall Wallace, w/ Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe. $35. Rating: NNN
From the writer and star of Braveheart comes this recounting of the 1965 Battle of La Drang in the Vietnamese highlands.
Like Black Hawk Down, it depicts the efforts of an overwhelmingly outnumbered American unit in hostile territory. And, like Black Hawk Down, it attempts to remove war from its political context, which, given the still contentious place of the Vietnam War in American history, is a considerable undertaking.
But Wallace lacks Ridley Scott's electrifying technical panache, and the cast of characters never manages to cohere -- Chris Klein is important early on, then virtually disappears until his death scene. We Were Soldiers is held together less by directorial vision than by the obdurate power of Mel Gibson's stalwart performance as Colonel Henry Moore, on whose memoirs the film is based.
EXTRAS: Director commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurette. English, French, Spanish subtitles
the sweetest thing (2002, Columbia-Tri-Star Home Video) D: Roger Kumble, w/ Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, Selma Blair. $34. Rating: NN
Here's one of the cheesier marketing devices: two versions of the Cameron Diaz gross-out gagfest The Sweetest Thing -- the regular theatrical version (white cover) and the unrated version (red cover) on separate, more or less identical discs. OK, they did this with American Pie, but you're supposed to milk your hits. The difference is about six minutes, and they could have put them on the same disc.
Instead, the theatrical version comes in wide-screen and full-screen transfers, for truly discerning cinema buffs. The other difference is that the theatrical commentary is by the creative team (writer, director, producer, cinematographer), while the unrated commentary is by director and stars.
Despite my tolerance for almost any movie that features Cameron Diaz dancing and/or in her underwear, this one stretches that tolerance by rarely being as funny as its conceit. If you must, get the unrated for the musical number about penis size and anal sex. And no, I'm not making that up.
EXTRAS Commentary track, making-of featurette, A Day In The Life Of Nancy M. Pimental, production notes, trailer gallery.
angels over broadway (1940, Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment) D: Ben Hecht, w/ Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Rita Hayworth. $24.95. Rating: NNN
Wait long enough and everything will show up. Angels Over Broadway is one of the great curiosities of pre-war American cinema. Playwright and screenwriter Ben Hecht (The Front Page) went into independent production two decades before it was fashionable with this proto-noir tale of an embezzling accountant, an alcoholic playwright, a New York sharpie and a bad girl with a heart of gold trying to do the right thing for the wrong reasons.
Without the collaboration of regular writing partner Charles MacArthur, Hecht sinks into purple prose halfway between Damon Runyan at his best and Clifford Odets at his worst, but he's aided immensely by his cast, particularly the astonishing 22-year-old Rita Hayworth, and by cinematographer Lee Garmes, whose hundred-odd credits include Scarface, Shanghai Express, Duel In The Sun, Caught and The Lusty Men.
EXTRAS Contemporary trailers for The Big Heat, Gilda and On The Waterfront. English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Also this week
RATCATCHER (1999, Criterion) Magic realism meets Celtic miserabilism in Lynne Ramsay's portrait of Glasgow during a garbage strike.
RESERVOIR DOGS: SPECIAL EDITION (1992, Miramax) Long-awaited two-disc edition of Quentin Tarantino's debut.
The Rookie (2002, Disney) Dennis Quaid in true-life inspirational about a high school teacher who made it to the big leagues in his late 30s.
= 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