THE DEPARTED: (2006, Directed Martin Scorsese.)
Scorsese’s Oscar winning (Yessssssss! About freaking time!) remake of the Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs” remains a solid cops and robbers flick with DiCaprio and Damon playing dueling moles on opposite sides of the law. Now, it could be argued that after years of making challenging personal films, it’s a tad depressing that Scorsese should finally take home the gold for a straight up genre film. But that argument tends to dissipate while watching a high powered cast rip through William Monaham’s giddily profane dialogue.
The 2-disc set has a Richard Schickle documentary made for TCM called “Scorsese on Scorsese” that primarily just Scorsese talking about his movies backed by film clips. It’s entertaining but oddly incomplete. (No mention of “New York, New York” and “The Last Waltz”. And not one word about his actual first theatrical film for Roger Corman, “Boxcar Bertha”.) But Scorsese’s enthusiasm shines through. There are also two featurettes about the making of the film and nine deleted scenes. The big disappointment is that none of them are of the cocaine fueled three way that Jack Nicholson’s character has midpoint in the film. It was reported that Nicholson had a hand in shaping these scenes including at one point snorting coke off the edge of a dildo.
I’ll give Jack this much, he may be pushing seventy but damn, he still knows how to party!
CASINO ROYALE (2006, Directed By Martin Campbell.)
Not only the best Bond film in years but easily the most emotionally engaging Bond film ever made. By going back to the first Ian Fleming novel, the producers were finally able to break free of forty years of history and remake the character from scratch. Bond: Year Zero as it were. It gives Bond a solid character arc and moments of actual peril instead of action kabuki theater. It also has, in the words of blogger John Rogers, “the gayest interrogation scene in mainstream film” As I’m watching it, I come to an interesting conclusion. If Roger Moore were doing this scene, there would be crying. And involuntary urination.
It’s also interesting to note that the film doesn’t sugar coat the fact that in order to be good at his job, he has to shut out any and all possibilities for simple human happiness and instead live a life of suspision and loneliness. It would make for a great double feature with DeNiro’s “The Good Shepard” which covers the same ground. As long as you pluck from that ground the Bahamas locations and Eva Green in a slinky dress.
The two disc set is surprisingly light on extras. (Considering that every film in the newly released James Bond Ultimate Edition is packed to the gills with bells and whistles. Hell, “A View to a Kill” had more extras.) Just three featurettes and a Chris Cornell music video. (Personal note. The song was good but it would have been much better if Shirley Bassey had sung it.)
ONE, TWO, THREE: (1961. Directed by Billy Wilder.)
What happpens when the head of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in West Berlin finds out that his boss’ daughter has secretly married a communist from the wrong side of the Brandenburg gate? We blow a gasket from all the laughing, that’s what.
One of Billy Wilder’s most underrated films. It’s marked some sharp edged jabs leveled at Communism, Capitalism and all points in between. It also has James Cagney’s last starring role ever, (He’d pop up one last time in an extended cameo in Milos Foreman’s “Ragtime”, twenty years later.) and he’s slams through the script at warp speed. It’s also instructive to note that the film was released just months after the Berlin wall went up. Try to imagine a similar themed film about Iraq being made and you realize how pussified American Film Comedy has gotten it the last few years.
The disc is bare boned, save for a trailer but still worth the purchase. With Horst Buchholz as the Commie and Pamela Tiffin (Mmmm, Pamela Tiffin.) as the bubbleheaded daughter.
FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN: (2001: Directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi and Moto Sakakibara.)
A shockingly lackluster script wrapped around some impressive pixel wrangling. This was Squaresoft’s (Now Square Enix.) attempt to break into feature films and the results are not just mixed, they’re bi-polar.
In the credit column, the animation was a high watermark in the attempt to create photo realistic CGI Humans and backgrounds. And on that level, the picture is a triumph. The textures are so lifelike, you could almost reach out and touch them.
On the debit side, the plot feels like a rewrite of “Aliens” by a rabid environmentalist. You’ve got characters going off on long preachy tangents about the spirit of the earth and Gaia theory that would drive Al Gore to drink. And long (but beautifully rendered.) action sequences that don’t really work because you don’t really give a shit for the characters. For hard core animation geeks only.
STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE: THE DIRECTOR’S EDITION” (1979/2001 Directed by Robert Wise.)
When first released in 1979, the first Star Trek movie was considered to be a disappointment because it was felt that the story and characters were short changed by the “Big Effects Sequences”, which weren’t even finished properly due to scheduling issues. So, in 2001, a few years before his death, Robert Wise went to Paramount and asked if he could go back and fix the film. They said yes and this DVD edition is the result.
The good news is that the balance between the character stuff and the visual stuff is better but conceptually, the film doesn’t work. It tries to hard to be about these big ideas involving (As Douglas Adams would say) “Life, the Universe and Everything”. The whole (For want of a better word.) enterprise seems to suffer from a case of Kubrick envy. And it’s at this stage of Wise’s career, his work had a certain deliberate pace to it that the film doesn’t really earn.
On the plus side, it does have one of Jerry Goldsmith’s finest scores and it’s probably the one “Star Trek” film that doesn’t suffer from a second tier budget.
But it doesn’t have the pep and fun that Nicholas Meyer bought to the series in “Wrath of Kahn”.
The two disc set has some nice extras including tons of docs about the making of, including how it was originally supposed to be a new series for a proposed forth network (Years before Fox came into being.) And the yak track has some great “Starlog” level of detail stories about the f/x from Douglas Trumbull and John Dykstra. But this is strictly for Trek completists only.
“SERENITY” (2005. Directed by Joss Whedon.)
One of the most puzzling under-performances in the history of american box office history. Yes, it’s based on a TV show which usually doesn’t bode well. It has a rabid fanbase of geeks which tends to scare off the non geeks in the house. And it’s A Science Fiction film where people carry six-guns and talk like they’re in Dodge City? WHAT THE FUCK?
Whatever the reasons, it doesn’t diminish the fact that “Serenity” is one of the best examples of mainstream studio filmmaking to come down the pike in ages. It’s a great B-movie in the best sense of the word. Larger than life characters, great action, quotable dialogue and just enough political subtext to give it body. It’s one of those films you walk out of and wonder “Why the hell can’t every summer movie be this good”.
And yes, it does help if you see the series before hand. Not so much in narrative but in emotional resonance. There are two moments in the film that while moving in context, sucker punch you if you’ve lived with the characters before hand.
The new two disc edition ports over all the extras from the single disc edition and throws in one new yak track with Whedon, Nathan Fillion, Ron Glass, Summer Glau and Adam Baldwin.. And it’s less a yak track then it is a chance to hear a bunch of friends get together and merciless tease each other. And it has one of my favorite Whedonism. When River (SPOILER ALERT.) is dragged off by the reavers near the end, Whedon chimes in with “And now a girl from an Edward Gorey drawing takes on a Romero Army.” How can you not love a sentence like that?