my wife is an actress (Sony Pictures Classics, 2002) D: Yvan Attal, w/ Charlotte Gainsbourg, Attal. $35. Rating: NNNN
my wife is an actress resembles a Woody Allen comedy from the days when that meant funny and urbane entertainment.
Like Allen, Yvan Attal does triple duty as writer, director and star, playing a Parisian sportswriter married to an actor played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who is actually married to Attal. As he has said to everyone who's asked, "Of course, it's autobiographical."
Yvan is driven to jealous distraction when Charlotte heads off to do a film in London opposite a famous ladies' man (Terence Stamp). Gainsbourg, a bilingual wonder in this, comes by her English accent honestly -- her mother is Jane Birkin.
Attal's commentary is genuinely informative, weighing in on subjects as varied as the problems of buying music rights, the real-world sources of some of the film's incidents and the difficulties of having to direct a sex scene between yourself and someone playing your wife when the actor is your wife.
DVD EXTRAS The commentary creates a slight conundrum for Anglophones. Both film and commentary are in French, subtitled in English, but you can't run both sets of subtitles simultaneously, so you can watch the film with subtitled dialogue or listen to the commentary with subtitled dialogue, but not both. If you speak French, of course, you can watch the film in French and turn on the subtitles for the commentary.
fat city (Columbia, 1971) D: John Huston, w/ Jeff Bridges, Stacy Keach, Susan Tyrrell. Rating: NNNN
having only encountered fat
City in the pan-and-scan print that played on TV in the late 70s, I was shocked at how good it looks in this spectacular high-definition transfer.
Filmed in the small towns and skid rows around Stockton, California, Huston's adaptation of Leonard Gardner's boxing novel about small-timers, has-beens and never-weres is never pretty. However, Conrad Hall's cinematography is beautiful, giving us both the hard noon light and the shadowed interiors of second-rate gyms and arenas. No surprise -- Hall won a pair of Oscars, for Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and American Beauty, and has seven other nominations.
Huston is an erratic director, but the 70s may be his best decade since the 40s. The Man Who Would Be King, Wise Blood, The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean and Fat City, with its atmospheric locations, are films that stand up. There are superb performances, including Keach's, a grand old man of 30, as a broken-down ex-fighter, and Bridges's, coming off The Last Picture Show, revitalizes the cliché of the young kid who could go all the way. And yes, that is Nicholas Colosanto, later of Cheers, as the boxing coach.
It's docked a point because there are literally no extras, not even the theatrical trailer. Great film, though.
DVD EXTRAS French and English subtitles, wide-screen and pan-and-scan versions.
the miles davis story (Columbia Music Video, 2001) D: Mike Dibb, w/ Miles Davis. Rating: NNN
this is a very good two-hour
documentary from England's Channel Four covering Davis's life and career from his childhood in East St. Louis to his death. It includes some quite rare interview footage with Davis and contributions from several of the women in his life, surviving producers like George Avakian and regular Davis collaborators like Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock, plus such relatively rare witnesses as the French musicians who worked on the Elevator To The Gallows soundtrack with him.
Mike Bibb interweaves testimony with a fair amount of performance footage, much of it from European sources and thus relatively unseen in North America. This is a documentary that manages to satisfy the beginner without insulting the hardcore fan.
DVD EXTRAS: Miles Davis album catalogue, text biography.
k-19: the widowmaker (Paramount Home Entertainment, 2002) D: Kathryn Bigelow, w/ Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford. Rating: NN
k-19 is based on the true story of
a reactor crisis on the first Soviet nuclear submarine in 1961, with Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson as the commanders.
Kathryn Bigelow's technique is never in question -- there is no technical challenge beyond the abilities of the director of Point Break and Strange Days -- but the film is hampered by the inherent limitations of the submarine film, a genre as ritualized as the junkie movie. A bunch of men are trapped under the sea, waiting for something horrible to happen. I truly wish I liked this film better than I do, or that the DVD came with an isolated score so we could kill the dialogue.
On the commentary track, Bigelow and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth discuss the film at considerable length -- it's 140 minutes long -- and the talk is always articulate and interesting. But it's also obvious that they don't have the film in front of them. At one point they're talking about editor Walter Murch's contribution in regards to a specific actor, but never mention that the actor in question is onscreen in close-up at that moment.
DVD EXTRAS Director/cinematographer commentary, making-of documentary and production featurettes, English and French language versions, English subtitles.
Also this week
BACK TO THE FUTURE (Universal) The complete trilogy on three DVDs, with lots of extras.
MINORITY REPORT (Dreamworks/Universal) Two-disc Special Edition, though without a Steven Spielberg commentary.
UNFAITHFUL (Dreamworks/20th Century Fox) Diane Lane gives a stunning performance as a suburban wife who falls for a stubbly French guy in Adrian Lyne's unacknowledged remake of Chabrol's La Femme Infidèle.
DOG DAYS (Seville) Ulrich Seidl's festival hit about a bunch of really, really hot people in Vienna.
THE KING OF COMEDY (20th Century Fox) Finally on DVD, Martin Scorsese's essay on celebrity, with Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis and Sandra Bernhard before she got so tiresome.
= 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