near dark (1987, Achor Bay) D: Kathryn Bigelow, w/ Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Bill Paxton. Two discs, $37. Rating: NNNNN
Before Point Break, Strange Days and K-19, Kathy Bigelow made her feature debut with Near Dark, a savage vampire western that takes its bizarre-hybrid hypothesis with deadly seriousness and offers Bill Paxton the role of a lifetime as a white-trash vampire revelling in destruction.
Bigelow imported the cast of Aliens wholesale, with Lance Henriksen as vampire leader Jesse ("I fought for the South. We lost.") and Jenette Goldstein as Diamondback. Although it has a major ending problem (most of Bigelow's films do), Near Dark displays the director's background as a painter and signals the relentless kinetic inventiveness that has marked her style. Beautiful Tangerine Dream score, too.
This film has been out of print for over five years and is ripe for the kind of deluxe treatment Anchor Bay gives culty genre flicks: a gorgeous transfer, DTS sound, director commentary, DVD-ROM features that include the screenplay, a new 47-minute making-of feature with the director, producer, cinematographer and cast. Bigelow's commentary is quite spare. If you want to hear her mind working at full throttle, check the Strange Days commentary -- she declines to repeat material from the making-of documentary, and if she has nothing to say she shuts up.
EXTRAS Director's commentary, making-of documentary, trailers, storyboards, stills and poster galleries, DVD-ROM features.
the salton sea (2002, Warner Home Video), D: D.J. Caruso, w/ Val Kilmer, Deborah Kara Unger. $35. Rating: NNN
The Salton Sea starts out in L.A.'s crystal meth underworld, then evolves into a rococo revenge thriller, with Val Kilmer as a jazz musician who saw his wife gunned down and has gone underground to seek her killers. Ultimately, it's got too much plot and way too much art direction.
On the other hand, after a decade of dubious choices, it's good to be reminded what a flat-out amazing actor Kilmer is when he's on his game, and he just picks up this picture and carries it on his heavily tattooed back. He gets a good assist from an almost unrecognizable Vincent D'Onofrio as a meth dealer. Worth a rent, for Kilmer. Embracing The Chaos, the producer-actor documentary, is one of those "Isn't everyone on this picture a genius?" compilations, but Meth And Method, the production design documentary, is quite interesting.
EXTRAS Two making-of docs, trailer, English and French versions, French, English and Spanish subtitles.
the count of monte cristo (2002, Touchstone) D: Kevin Reynolds, w/ Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce. $35. Rating: NNN
The problem with adapting Dumas's The Count Of Monte Cristo is that if your star is the right age to play Edmond Dantes, he's too young to play the Count, and vice versa. Oh, and it's 1,500 pages long, spans a quarter-century and has these baroquely detailed revenge plots that seem to take years to come to fruition.
Kevin Reynolds's version, with Jim Caviezel as the Count and Guy Pearce eminently hissable as Mondego, takes considerable liberties with the story but manages to get through the whole thing in 130 minutes. It's not bad, mostly thanks to some very striking art direction and location work and to the stars' performances. Caviezel, mostly known for broody, inarticulate guys (Angel Eyes, The Thin Red Line) is the big surprise here.
EXTRAS For a change, the making-of stuff is worthwhile: a biography of Alexandre Dumas, a production design featurette, a good bit on the art of choreographing sword fights for actors with no fencing background, an excellent interview with screenwriter Jay Wolpert on the challenge of turning a 1,500-page novel into a two-hour movie. Director commentary. English and French versions, English and Spanish subtitles.
the alec guinness collection: kind hearts and coronets, the man in the white suit, the ladykillers, the lavender hill mob, the captain's paradise (Anchor Bay, 1949-55) D: Robert Hamer, Alexander Mackendrick and Charles Crichton, w/ Guinness, Dennis Price, Joan Greenwood, Peter Sellers, Stanley Holloway. Five discs, $120. Rating: NNNN
Light on extras but long on comedy, these Ealing Studios classics showcase the cinema's most chameleon-like actor in roles that range from an obsessed inventor to eight members of the Gascoyne family.
If you like British comedy, a review is irrelevant, but if your principal exposure to Alec Guinness is as Obi-Wan Kenobi, check these out both for his performances and those of a swarm of other veteran British actors.
Aside from The Captain's Paradise, the discs are being issued singly, and good starting points are The Lavender Hill Mob, with Guinness as a mild-mannered bank clerk who masterminds a million-pound robbery, or The Man In The White Suit, a deft blend of character comedy and black social satire from the director of The Sweet Smell Of Success.
Good mastering job, and while the British cinema of the period is not considered much as a visual medium, it's worth noting that three of these films were shot by Douglas Slocombe, who went on to shoot all the Indiana Jones movies.
Also this week
PANIC ROOM (2001, Columbia-Tristar)
Superbit edition of the David Fincher-Jodie Foster thriller designed to hold the fort until the special edition is ready. And there will be one.
MONSTERS INC. (2001, Pixar/Disney) Pixar's latest, with John Goodman as a monster whose job is frightening small children.
THE LONG GOODBYE (1973, MGM) Robert Altman's anti-classical adaptation of Raymond Chandler's mystery, with Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe.
= 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