monsoon wedding (Alliance-Atlantis, 2001) D: Mira Nair, w/ Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey. $35. Rating: NNNNN
Monsoon Wedding, or My Big Fat Punjabi Wedding, is the story of one family's charge toward the arranged wedding of its daughter. The film is set in the overheated chaos of modern Delhi, where ancient culture is jammed up against the new India of cellphones and BMWs.
Half-improvised, shot hand-held in 30 days, with musical numbers and more than 60 speaking parts, Monsoon Wedding is a minor miracle, elevating a film that could have sunk easily into sitcom or melodrama to the status of art. Director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay) has feet in both Eastern and Western cinema, in fiction and documentary, and appreciates both the glory of tradition and the glamour of the modern.
The disc is light on extras, but the transfer is beautiful, and Nair's commentary is one of the best I've ever heard. She guides us through the cultural context of the film without ever being pedantic, offers thumbnail biographies and appreciations of her actors and numerous production stories.
EXTRAS Director commentary, making-of featurette, trailer.
brotherhood of the wolf: collector's edition (TVA/Lion's Gate, 2001) D: Christophe Gans, w/ Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci. 3 discs. $55. Single disc version $35. Rating: NNNN
Brotherhood Of The Wolf has a lot going for it -- a gigantic ravening beast, swooping camera movements, Monica Bellucci nude scenes, Royalist plots, kung fu, papal agents with vials of poison, Vincent Cassel glowering in the corner, animist mythology. It also has a direct line to Hong Kong action cinema through fight coordinator Philip Kwok and editor David Wu, who both worked with John Woo and with the master of the exceedingly odd action film, Ronny Yu (The Bride With White Hair). Sort of the Moulin Rouge of action movies. Brotherhood has a serious cult following, which explains TVA's decision to import the French three-disc SE (only in Canada; the U.S. gets a bare-bones version), with the director's cut and a ton of extras. This Special Edition lives up to the name.
EXTRAS Director commentary, actor commentary with Samuel Le Bihan and Vincent Cassel. Though quite good, the commentaries are the only unsubtitled items in the package. Two-hour-plus documentaries, extensive historical sources interview, storyboard gallery, theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, program booklet with notes, English and French versions, English and French subtitles.
beckett on film: 19 films x 19 directors (Blue Angel Films, 2000) D: Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Conor McPherson and others. 4 discs. $150 U.S. Rating: NNNN
This is a unique, one-time-only project initiated by Dublin's Gate Theatre for the millennium -- all of Samuel Beckett's plays on film. There's everything from the four great full-length plays -- Waiting For Godot, Krapp's Last Tape, Endgame and Happy Days -- to the 45-second actor-less Breath, with internationally known directors and the best actors they could find. There won't be a special edition of this one six months or a year from now, and even if a local theatre decides to stage Beckett's 15-minute monologue, Not I, they aren't going to have Julianne Moore to deliver it. Or actors like Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, David Thewlis, Juliet Stephenson, Barry McGovern and John Hurt.
The condition of the Beckett estate was that not a word of dialogue could be changed and the stage directions had to be observed, which hasn't stopped some directors -- notably Anthony Minghella in Play -- from working hard to make the plays more cinematic. Conor McPherson's Endgame, though, reeks of the proscenium.
The set's really expensive, and the producers put the discs in those awful cheap snapper cases that Warner uses for their regular issues.
And you have to order it off the Web from Ambrose Video Publishing (www.ambrosevideo.com/displayitem.cfm?vid=1035), which is inconvenient.
EXTRAS Booklet with play guide and credits for each film, making-of documentary, on-disc guides to each play.
a hard day's night (Alliance-Atlantis, 1964) D: Richard Lester, w/ the Beatles. 2 discs. $37. Rating: NN
This is a special edition in everything but name, and a model of how not to construct one. Just to lay the blame appropriately, Miramax assembled the package, Alliance did the manufacturing in Canada.
Nothing from Paul or Ringo. Richard Lester sat for an interview but declined to do a commentary. The transfer is not bad until the final concert scene, at which point the visual quality drops precipitously and there's a lot of very obvious edge enhancement by the mastering tech. The original mix of the songs is screwed up -- there's too much bass, for starters. The original mono soundtrack should have been included as an option. Finally, the gatefold packaging feels as if it will fall apart within six months.
EXTRAS Interviews with everyone who's still around but isn't a Beatle. No deleted scenes, no commentaries, no booklet. English and French versions and subtitles.
= 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