spider-man: special edition (Columbia Tri-Star Home Video, 2002) D: Sam Raimi, w/ Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe. Two discs, $40. Rating: NNN
The top-grossing movie of the year is surprisingly good for a big-budget, CGI-dominated summer effects movie. You have to admire an effects-driven movie whose signature moment is a kiss. Full credit, then, to the unstoppable visual inventiveness of director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Darkman) and the rock-solid casting of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe and a supporting cast that includes James Franco, Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson. The filmmakers also stick fairly close to the Spider-Man origin story.
As for the two-disc Special Edition, it's not very special. The extras are mostly pre-existing marketing items: HBO and E! Channel making-of shows, music videos, trailers and TV spots. Pop-up trivia balloons overlay the film image. The extra material on the history of Spider-Man as a comic book hero isn't bad, particularly if you aren't alreay aware of the character's history. Buyers might want to wait and see if Columbia brings out a Superbit edition, though the transfer and sound here are excellent.
EXTRAS Remarkably sparse main commentary track, given the presence of two producers, Raimi and Dunst. Effects commentary track. Director and composer (Danny Elfman) profiles. E! and HBO making-of featurettes, Chad Kroeger and Sum 41 music videos, outtakes, comic book documentary Spider-Man: The Mythology Of The 21st Century, screen tests, trailer and TV spots, stills gallery, DVD-ROM content. If they'd had any nerve, they would have included the original summer 2001 teaser trailer of Spidey swinging from the World Trade Center.
the sum of all fears (Paramount Home Video, 2002) D: Phil Alden Robinson, w/ Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Alan Bates. $35.
If Spider-Man is a two-disc SE in which an excellent movie is placed in a mediocre package, then The Sum Of All Fears is a a fairly ordinary movie to which the extras add real value, notably a commentary by director Robinson (Field Of Dreams) and novelist Tom Clancy, who introduces himself as the author of the book they ignored. Given the unusual length and clotted prose of The Sum Of All Fears, ignoring the book was probably a good idea. A better idea, though, would have been to leave the villains as Arab terrorists instead of changing them into suave neo-Nazis, the least interesting baddies around. Clancy has some praise, particularly for the performance of Liev Schreiber as CIA assassin Clark, but he's more inclined to point out things like "The President would never be at that exercise," and "The plane's wrong." Not a keeper, but the Clancy commentary makes it work as a rental.
EXTRAS Director/Clancy commentary, director/cinematographer commentary, making-of featurette, trailer, special effects featurette. English and French versions, English subtitles.
signs and wonders (Strand/Mongrel Media, 2000) D: Jonathan Nossiter, w/ Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Deborah Unger. $34. Rating: NNN
Few things are more boring than adultery stories. Nevertheless, Jonathan Nossiter's second feature -- about how Stellan Skarsgård (Insomnia) and Charlotte Rampling's (Under The Sand) marriage collapses when he takes up with Deborah Unger (Crash) -- is perversely fascinating. Shot in digital video in Athens, Signs And Wonders is about people who actively seek out meaning in coincidence -- hence the title -- and are thus trapped in self-defeating behaviours. Tremendous performances by the principals, and Nossiter manages to exploit the deficiencies of early DV rather than trying to mask them. The visual style verges on hallucination as his camera prowls the streets of Athens and the homes of the characters.
EXTRAS Making Mischief, a 35-minute video diary on the making of the film, includes a lot of Nossiter's location-scouting footage and his story development notebooks, which are voluminous.
the triumph of love (Paramount, 2001) D: Clare Peploe, w/ Mira Sorvino, Ben Kingsley. $36. Rating: NNN
French films occasionally force one to ask, "Is this a romantic comedy or the leftovers from someone's philosophy thesis?" It's a game the French have been playing for a long time, as can be seen in this British adaptation of Marivaux's 1743 comedy about romance and the battle between reason and passion.
Mira Sorvino stars as a young princess who feels obliged to find a young man (Jay Rodan) from whose family her family usurped the throne. But she has to gain entry to him though his ferocious guardian and teacher, played by Ben Kingsley.
Sorvino's picked so many crappy scripts since her Oscar, it's nice to see her in a good one that lets her dress in period male drag and seduce every other character in the picture, all in pursuit of true love. It's well-directed by long-time Bertolucci associate Clare Peploe, who makes unusually interesting use of the jump cut in a film where you wouldn't expect it.
inertia (Mongrel Media, 2001) D: Sean Garrity, w/ Jonas Chernick, Sarah Constible, Micheline Marchildon. $35. Rating: NNN
This tiny relationship film from Winnipeg is stuck with a very bad title -- it's like handing every critic a loaded gun. A group of 20-somethings try, with little success, to sort out their screwed-up romantic lives in a Winnipeg winter. There are certain tonal problems. Inertia starts out as a comedy but isn't, and the little Vivaldi-scored visual interludes seem to be the product of a director who listened to people tell him film is a visual medium and suddenly realized he'd made a talkathon. That said, Garrity is a writer-director with definite potential, and Inertia is worth seeing on its own terms. Micheline Marchildon, who plays Alex, is a real find. Good extras for a no-budget Canadian film.
EXTRAS Making-of talking heads documentary, deleted scenes, trailer.
Also this weekAlso this week
WEDDING IN WHITE (Video Services) William Fruet's classic take on Canadian bleakness, in a new transfer with a Carol Kane commentary .
SPORTS NIGHT (Buena Vista Home Video) Aaron Sorkin's other TV series -- the funny one where the fate of the world isn't at stake.
BABYLON 5: COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video) For those who aren't getting the Star Trek: TNG box sets fast enough.
= 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