The Merchant Of Venice
(Sony, 2004) D: Michael Radford, w/ Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons. Rating: NNNN michael radford (b. monkey, il Postino) has crafted a lively and moving film that owes nothing to the stage yet retains the full flavour of Shakespeare's work, thanks to his careful dialogue trim and the outstanding performances. With a couple of brief explanatory titles and a scene of Jew-baiting that includes Antonio almost casually spitting on Shylock, the ever-moving camera plunges us into a Venice both realistic and fantastic, already decaying and alive with intrigue. It's a masterful opening, firmly establishing the world and setting up everything that follows.
This scene isn't from the play, and some of the words aren't Shakespeare's, they're Martin Luther's, an indication of just how thoughtful Radford's adaptation is. On the commentary track, he and Lynn Collins, who plays Portia, give us other interesting historical bits amidst their amusing and insightful discussion of acting, Shakespeare and the rigours of production.
Shylock's a problematic character for some who see him as an anti-Semitic caricature. Radford's support - he gives Shylock some important, purely cinematic moments - weakens that view, and Pacino's performance destroys it. There's no trace of the actor, only a fully realized human being who suffers and endures until he can endure no more.
Extras Radford, Collins commentary; making-of doc, educational web link. Wide-screen anamorphic. English 5.1. French subtitles.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
(Criterion/Morningstar, 2004) D: Wes Anderson, w/ Bill Murray, Owen Wilson. Rating: NNN there's something in the way Wes Anderson composes a shot and moves his extras just a touch too formally, or puts a single odd object slightly off-kilter in the frame, that recalls Jacques Tati's 50s and 60s M. Hulot comedies. But where Tati kept his plots minimal and gave us a sense that the world itself is funny, Anderson creates elaborate stories that tell you it's his world that's funny. Which it is. Anderson is a good filmmaker with a subtle sense of comic timing that may seem too leisurely but pays off with a giddy airiness. It carries over to the generous extras, and Anderson himself is a funny commentator.
Bill Murray is the ideal actor for Anderson's world. This is their third collaboration, and Murray's inner oblivious phony has never been better served. His Steve Zissou, a poor man's Jacques Cousteau in personal and career crisis, finally has a context where he seems at home, more character than shtick.
The whole cast is funny, but Anderson's quiet sensibility does wonders for some of the other players, Owen Wilson in particular, whose pipe-smoking is worthy of Tati himself.
Extras Disc one: Anderson and co-writer commentary, deleted scenes, making-of doc, trailer. Wide-screen anamorphic. English 5.1, subtitles in English, French and Spanish. Disc two: making-of doc, many interviews, David Bowie songs in Portuguese, intern diary. Plus: fold-out ship drawing.
The Longest Yard
(1974) D: Robert Aldrich w/ Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert. Rating: NNNN this is burt reynolds's finest mo- ment. In a 46-year career with highlights like Deliverance and Boogie Nights, no other film has so captured his athleticism, his slightly corrupt charm and his gifts for both comedy and drama. He's perfect as Paul Crewe, the crooked pro quarterback who ends up in prison. It's the finest football movie ever made, partly because the guards vs. convicts grudge match and Crewe's personal redemption storylines give it meaning for non-fans. It also gains mightily because director Robert Aldrich shot it by mounting real, as opposed to choreographed, football, and knew how to shoot it.
If it's not Aldrich's finest moment, that's only because The Longest Yard has to compete with his Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and The Dirty Dozen. But it gives them a run for the money with its layering of comic moments and attitude onto a grim and gritty, fast-paced prison drama so that each adds to the impact of the other.
A lot of real footballers, cons and guards worked on the movie, and their experience shows in their faces and performances. Eddie Albert is a standout as the vicious warden. After six years of benign idiocy on Green Acres, he must have been aching to unleash his inner monster.
The shoot was a career highlight for Reynolds and producer Albert Ruddy, who'd just come off The Godfather, and they're full of affectionate memories. Reynolds has a part in the Adam Sandler remake that occasioned this release, and he spends some time hyping it. But who needs a remake when we've got this?
Extras Reynolds, Ruddy commentary, two retrospective making-of docs, trailer, remake doc. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French subtitles.
(Tartan, 2004) D: Kim Ki-duk w/ Kwak Ji-min, Seo Min-jeong. Rating: NNN we're back in the doomed obses- sion territory of director Kim Ki-duk's Bad Guy, in theatres earlier this year. But where that film was a study in love as cruelty, this seems more love as worship. It's love that leads two Seoul high school girls into prostitution. But when one leaps to her death with a smile on her face, it's an impulse to sanctify the memory of love for her friend that leads her friend to start sleeping with the johns and giving them their money back. Then a darker adoration leads this girl's doting father to follow her and accost the johns in ever more violent ways.
Kim's loose, naturalistic, location-based style and the tinkly, cheap recurring romantic theme music often link him to early French New Wave. So does his penchant for stories that echo American pulp authors like Cornell Woolrich and James M. Cain. But the French are romantic in their anti-romanticism, and their American sources are hellbent on doomed fatalism. Kim avoids both, and sees a world where shame, not guilt, is the driving force, and redemption, of a sort, is possible through atonement.
Sadly, Tartan's screening copy came without the extras. But the film needs no explanation. Straightforward emotion speaks for itself.
Extras Director interview, making-of doc, photo gallery. Wide-screen anamorphic. Korean 5.1. English and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, May 17
Steve McQueen Collection
(MGM) Four from one of the 60s' most enduring icons: The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and Junior Bonner (1972).
Team America: World Police
(2004, Paramount) Marionette lunacy from the South Park crew.
(Universal) Supernatural horror with the chatty dead. Michael Keaton, Deborah Unger - how bad could it be?
(Fox, 2004) Documentary-style look at the life of the pioneering sex researcher, starring Liam Neeson.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb