the life and death of colonel blimp(Criterion/Morningstar, 1943) D: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, w/ Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook. $60. Rating: NNNNN
With this release of The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp, the Criterion collection has now transferred five of its seven Powell-Pressburger films from laser disc to DVD -- only The Tales Of Hoffmann and a movie-only disc of The 49th Parallel remain in limbo. For those with an interest in history, this disc and 1988's Black Narcissus featured the first two director commentary tracks ever.
Attacked by the British war office and Winston Churchill himself for its unflattering portrait of an aging English military man, Colonel Blimp is really a tribute to a vanished England embodied in a man who's gone from dashing young officer to aging stick-in-the-mud. The film is anchored by Roger Livesey's astonishing performance in the title role. A Powell favourite (I Know Where I'm Going!), Livesey's convincing at all three of the ages he's required to play, and Deborah Kerr (in three roles) and Anton Walbrook give powerhouse support. Part of Powell's and Pressburger's miraculous 1940s, which included I Know Where I'm Going!, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, A Canterbury Tale and A Matter Of Life And Death. And could Criterion please get on to the latter two as soon as possible?
EXTRAS Commentary track by the 83-year-old Powell and Martin Scorsese, making-of documentary, stills gallery, selection of David Low's Colonel Blimp cartoons, English subtitles.
down by law (Criterion/Morningstar, 1986) D: Jim Jarmusch, w/ John Lurie, Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni. 2 discs, $60. Rating: NNNN
Down By Law may be the last great American movie shot in black-and-white. This director-approved edition offers an exquisite transfer, doing justice to Robby Müller's cinematography, which shows both a film-noir appreciation of the mean streets of New Orleans and a Renoiresque love for Louisiana's swamps.
Jarmusch is the deadpan comic of American indie filmmakers, and Down By Law plays like a postmodern Three Stooges, with Lurie, Waits and Benigni (his first American film) in a burlesque of crime flicks, prison movies and prison escape movies.
Going against the current fashion, Criterion has left a mono movie in mono, rather than tricking up a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack.
Jarmusch declines to do a director commentary but instead provides a 75-minute audio-only section and answers 20 questions submitted by e-mail. All the major extras are new; the Jarmusch material and the interview with Müller are from 2002.
EXTRAS Thoughts And Reflections by Jarmusch, Robby Müller interview, 1986 Cannes Festival press conference, 1986 John Lurie interview, outtakes, trailer, Jarumusch music video for Tom Waits's ritual murder of Cole Porter's It's All Right With Me, isolated music track, production and location stills gallery, booklet essay by Luc Sante, English and French dubbed versions, English and French subtitles.
liberty stands still (Lions Gate Home Entertainment, 2002) D: Kari Skogland, w/ Linda Fiorentino, Wesley Snipes. $39. Rating: NNN
With Phone Booth apparently on hold until the FBI catches the Maryland sniper, Liberty Stands Still becomes the picture of choice for people looking for a good movie about the relationship between a sniper and his target. Shot in Vancouver in 18 days, this is essentially a chamber drama on a really big scale. Wesley Snipes is the man with the gun, and Linda Fiorentino the woman whose company made the gun that killed his wife.
Writer-director Kari Skogland plainly intended the film as a contribution to the political debate in the wake of Columbine, but she's also constructed a crackerjack thriller around a pair of powerfully focused actors. Good commentary track.
EXTRAS Director/producer/editor commentary, deleted scenes, alternate angle scenes, trailer, English and Spanish subtitles.
luminous motion (Fox-Lorber/Seville, 1998) D: Bette Gordon, w/ Eric Lloyd, Deborah Unger. $35. Rating: NNN
This is a clever, tricky thriller that shifts in and out of the delusional inventiveness of the protagonist and narrator, a 10-year-old boy (Eric Lloyd) on the road with his mother (Deborah Unger), who is on the run from her marriage and on the perpetual hustle.
Gordon's first film in over a decade (since Variety in 1985) highlights superb production design by Lisa Albin and gorgeous cinematography by the improbably named Teodoro Maniaci, who was cinematographer on Lodge Kerrigan's Clean, Shaven and Claire Dolan and Pattrick Stettner's The Business Of Strangers. One of those movies that slipped through the cracks
EXTRAS Trailer, filmographies.
the circle (Fox-Lorber/Seville, 2001) D: Jafar Panahi, w/ Fereshteh Sadr Orafani, Nargess Mamizadeh. $34. Rating: NNN
FIPRESCI, the international film critics' association, named this the best picture of 2001. God forbid the membership should vote for anything that actually has entertainment value.
The prize is what we call a moral courage award: Jafar Panahi gets extra credit for being an Iranian director critical of Iran. On the other hand, the fact that life is difficult for women in a fundamentalist Muslim theocracy is not exactly news.
A very well-made film, though.
EXTRAS Director interview, trailer, English subtitles.JOHN HARKNESS
= 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