buffy the vampire slayer: the complete third season (Fox Home Video) D: Joss Whedon, w/ Sarah Michelle Gellar, Eliza Dushku. Six discs. Rating: NNNN
For five years, Buffy the Vampire slayer was one of the best shows on television, a genre-jumping combination of grrrl-power action sequences, geek mythology, wacky character comedy and nervy thematic investigations that could only thrive on a fledgling network like WB.
Since the move to UPN, Buffy has officially jumped the shark. Exactly where does the series go once the heroine gives her life to save the universe? Bring her back and do a musical episode, with the allowance that season six's musical episode, Once More With Feeling, was astonishingly good.
The fan consensus is that season three is the best. I'd rank the doomstruck downward spiral of season five higher, but three's right up there. The culmination of creator Joss Whedon's high-school-as-hell metaphor, it ends with a bang. It's the last season with the original cast, before the broody Angel (David Boreanaz) spun off into his own series, and also has the greatest villain combo, the mayor (Harry Groener) and his protege/assassin, rogue slayer Faith (the sublime Eliza Dushku).
Buffy's senior year in high school is complicated by the gradual revelation that the mayor is about to sacrifice Sunnydale to become a demon, and by the return of Angel from Hell or a hell dimension. On Buffy, each season has a full-length arc, and the first three seasons form a bigger single arc, so back story spreads like kudzu. You can start watching in season three, but you're going to be very confused by about the fourth episode. It's also tough to appreciate the character development if you don't know what the characters are developing from.
The DVD transfers are better than broadcast quality, and the producers have decided not to letterbox, which always looks pretentious on a TV series. As a package, the extras are surprisingly Whedon-free, which means no commentaries for Doppelgang-land or Graduation Day. Whenever we see him in the featurettes, it's stuff that's been lifted from the 2000 chats he did for the VHS issue. And when are they going to have a cast commentary? And outtakes, dammit. We want outtakes and bloopers.
DVD EXTRAS: Writer commentaries on Earshot, Bad Girls and Helpless, and director commentary on Consequences. Season three overview, featurettes on effects, weapons, "buffyspeak" and costumes. Design and stills galleries. English and French soundtracks, English, French and Spanish subtitles. On-disc scripts for Faith, Hope And Trick, Band Candy, Lover's Walk, The Wish.
contempt (The Criterion Collection/Morningstar, 1963) D: Jean-Luc Godard, w/ Michel Piccoli, Brigitte Bardot. Two discs. Rating: NNNNN
Adapted from Alberto Moravia's novel, Contempt is Godard's corrosive portrait of a marriage in collapse and the first film to showcase the director's sexual unease. Michel Piccoli plays a screenwriter being bullied by Jack Palance's vulgar producer, who wants to own him creatively and steal his wife (Brigitte Bardot), or at least borrow her for a while.
Contempt is both a polyglot international co-production and a parody of the same, with legendary German director Fritz Lang playing legendary German director "Fritz Lang." He's working on The Odyssey while Palance demands rewrites and inflicts starlets on the production. As such, it's one of those Godard movies that can be enjoyed simply as a movie.
George Delerue's haunting string-orchestra score may be the best on any classical-period French New Wave film as well as the composer's most evocative.
Cinematographer Raoul Coutard supervised the transfer for this Criterion special edition, and the visual quality is stunning. It ought to be, given the film's magnificent Mediterranean settings. A cornucopia of unusual and, certainly for North America, rare extras includes an hour-long discussion between Godard and Lang from the French television series Cinéastes De Notre Temps.
DVD EXTRAS: Scholarly commentary by Robert Stam, The Dinosaur And The Baby -- Lang And Godard, An Encounter With Fritz Lang, Contempt: Godard And Bardot (1963 short film), Paparazzi (1963 short film), 1964 Godard interview from Cinépanorama, 25-minute interview with Raoul Coutard, theatrical trailer. French and English dubbed version, English subtitles.
xxx (Columbia-TriStar, 2002) D: Rob Cohen, w/ Vin Diesel, Asia Argento. Rating: NNNN
Am I the only one who mentally adds a parenthetical "not his real name" whenever I see "Vin Diesel" on a movie marquee? Diesel plays Xander Cage, extreme sports dude recruited by the NSA to stop a Russian anarchist mafioso who wants to nuke Prague, or something.
Rob Cohen created The Fast And The Furious, and in his attempt to create a new franchise he leaves no doubt as to his intent: kill off Bond. In the first scene, they knock off a tuxedoed spy at a Rammstein concert. "Bond, James acck Tell Q I love him."
A return of The Fast And The Furious team isn't a bad thing, especially when Paul Walker isn't in this movie but Italian goth goddess Asia Argento, with her lank hair and tattoos, is.
XXX is actually a lot of fun, and despite the frenetic pace has been thought through so that it's often more logical than a Bond picture.
It also helps that Cohen prefers practical stunts over digital. When that car goes off the bridge early on, a real car goes off a real bridge with an actual base jumper riding it down. I'm still not sure about Diesel as an action star. At times he's more credible as Argento's tattooed love boy than as any kind of spy, even an extreme one. On the other hand, with Stallone moving into Van Damme land as Eye See You goes straight to video, and Schwarzenegger desperately reviving the Terminator franchise, Vin's pretty much all we've got.
DVD EXTRAS: One of Columbia's better recent Special Editions. The 40-minute making-of feels less corporate than those on Spider-Man and MIIB, even if it is dedicated to the greater glory of Rob Cohen, who does a chatty and highly informative commentary track on the picture. Theatrical trailers, design and effects featurettes, deleted scenes with commentary, storyboard comparisons, Gavin Rossdale video. English and French dubbed versions, English and French subtitles.
Blood Work (Warner Home Entertainment, 2002) D: Clint Eastwood, w/ Eastwood, Wanda De Jesus, Jeff Daniels. Rating: NNN
People who like to check the DVD extras before sitting down to the film proper be warned: the making-of documentary on Clint Eastwood's Blood Work gives away the identity of the killer. Of course, anyone with a half-decent attention span and two-thirds of a working brain can figure out the killer's identity early on in this one.
Eastwood plays a retired FBI profiler who's recovering from a heart transplant when the donor's sister shows up demanding that he look into her murder. The LAPD doesn't seem to be having much luck figuring it out.
The film doesn't have a lot of big thrills (the by-product of having a septuagenarian detective), but it's enjoyable on the level of performance and relaxed craft. Eastwood surrounds himself with strong supporting players and gets a wonderfully odd performance out of Jeff Daniels as a marina boat bum. Renter.
DVD EXTRAS: Theatrical trailer, making-of featurette, interview with Paul Rodriguez and Wanda De Jesus. English and French dub, French and Spanish subtitles.
Also this week
THE WIM WENDERS COLLECTION (Anchor Bay) The American Friend, Lightening Over Water, Notebook On Cities And Clothes, all in new transfers and director commentaries.
SIGNS (Disney) Mel Gibson gets morose when crop circles appear on his land. From the director of Unbreakable.
THE GOOD GIRL (20th Century-Fox) Jennifer Aniston realizes there's more to life than retail clerking. Well, duh.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE (Criterion) Ernst Lubitsch's classic screwball comedy about romantic jewel thieves. Finally on DVD.
= 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