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Sullivan's Travels [Import]
Sullivan's Travels [Import]
VHS
6 used & new from CDN$ 19.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Oh Preston, Where Art Thou?, Sept. 13 2002
I, like many others of my generation I suspect, first came to know of writer/director Preston Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels" via its association with the Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The latter movie took its name from a film-within-the-film from the former. John L. Sullivan, a director of successful lowbrow comedies, unhappy with his lofty lot in life, itches to make a socially conscious drama about poverty called... wait for it... "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" When it's pointed out that Sullivan, borne from the lap of luxury, could not possibly know the first thing about being poor, he decides to raid the movie studio's costume department for a hobo's outfit, and ride the rails in order to gain some life experience.
From these rather high concept beginnings, one would expect to find a straightforward comedy wherein our hero comes to realize that the poor are people too. That movie is here, to be sure, but it's not presented in any conventional manner. In fact, that part of the story is basically covered within the first thirty minutes. Which leaves the discerning audience member, one who's been paying attention all along and is well-versed in cinematic narrative convention, wondering, "Where do we go from here?" It is to Sturges' ultimate credit that this question is answered in due time and with tremendous skill.
The film is mostly a pure comedy, able to dabble in all different kinds of humour, indulging in farce, screwball, verbal wit, and light romance. But Sturges proves a master at mixing tones, as he is also able to dip a toe into harsh drama, straight social commentary, suspense thriller, and bold satire. It's one of the most versatile films I know, in that it takes a bite from every dish at the buffet, allowing them all to digest together perfectly. Sturges is also a master at using a variety of visual styles to tell his story. He is a wizard of shot composition, framing each scene for maximum stylish effect, but never putting too heavy a hand on the audience's shoulder. And he is at home equally in scenes composed entirely of long, dialogue-heavy takes, or in quickly-edited scenes of mayhem and madness.
But it is Sturges' script that best exemplifies the man's limitless talents. Despite its unconventionality, it's perfectly structured. And even though it relies on several far-fetched coincidences to move the story along, those coincidences never feel manipulative, in that they fit in perfectly with the rag-tag universe Sturges has created. The dialogue, Sturges' bread and butter, is voracious in its wordiness, but very rarely is a word wasted. Every line either contributes to the plot or provides some quick comedy. And oh what lines he's written! There's the oft-quoted rejoinder, which follows Sullivan's plea to the studio execs to allow him to make a movie about society's ills, that it also include "a little sex?" These same studio execs typify the oxymoronic, paradoxical, and epigrammatic dialogue when they proclaim the eccentric but successful Sullivan a "bonehead... but what a genius!" Even the opening dedication is a paradigm of pyrotechnic wordplay, as it calls attention to the "motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons" who make us laugh. That being said, while letting the audience rely on his verbosity to understand the story, Sturges throws in a rather lengthy dialogue-free montage near the movie's middle, that succinctly moves the story through a lot exposition, without ever seeming tedious. O Preston, in these times of hack screenwriters and half-baked ideas, where art thou now?
For the titular character, Sturges chooses Joel McCrea, a rather likable fellow and a bit of a Ryan O'Neal look-alike. He plays Sullivan with straight-laced comic timing and just a hint of gravitas. McCrea, who made three movies with Sturges, ably fills Sullivan's shoes, detailing the man's self-satisfaction, his obliviousness to the world around him, but also his humanity. McCrea also has to act as the film's de facto straight man, especially in the scenes featuring the manic menagerie sent by the studio to watch out for him. Despite some slight fumbles in the middle of the longer takes, McCrea is a proficient guide through Preston-land.
"How does the girl fit in this picture?" asks a jailhouse police officer of Sullivan. "There's always a girl in the picture," comes the reply. "Haven't you ever been to the movies?" With this quick exchange, Sturges is able to both parody and consent to the practice of having a love interest in light comedies. So Sullivan must be matched with a girl. His partner in crime, billed cheekily as "The Girl" in the film's credits, is Veronica Lake. Lake, combined with the solid part that Sturges gives her, rises above her seemingly stock character, to portray a woman of intense realism. In her first scene with McCrea, she brings forth all the girl's most tangible qualities: she is morose, witty, cute as a button, generous, attractive, and armed with a super sexy laugh. Lake is a spunky little spitfire, the prototype for an actress such as Holly Hunter, but armed with a mountain of real-girl sex appeal that makes her far more attractive. She is more than an able match for McCrea, giving credence to their burgeoning, but always subdued, love affair.
"Sullivan's Travels" is many things to many people. I, for one, think its greatest thematic strength is in its satire (its title isn't similar to Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" by accident), detailing how the liberal upper class loves to pander to those less fortunate, but really doesn't want to get too close to the unwashed masses, lest their white gloves get dirty. Sullivan, in the end, does learn some lessons, but is he really a changed man at all? Best set up shop again behind his guarded gates, and focus on his trifling little comedies. For, as the film's ostensible thesis statement says, "There's a lot to be said for making people laugh." Touche, Mr. Sturges, touche.

Jennifer 8
Jennifer 8
VHS
3 used & new from CDN$ 17.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Breathless, Sightless, Dead, Sept. 4 2002
This review is from: Jennifer 8 (VHS Tape)
Writer/Director Bruce Robinson, best known for his cult hit "Withnail & I", has crafted a creditable little thriller in "Jennifer 8". It gets all the technical elements right, features some fine work from its actors, and does its best to screw around with the genre. But it rarely adds up to anything more than the sum of its parts.
One of the strengths of Robinson's script is the stylish and effective dialogue he gives to his police officers. Most of the best bits come from the mouth of Sergeant Ross, like when he tells his wife he can't stay for dinner because it's "Friday night at City Hall... I've got a chance to frighten the fat." He's talking about securing a confession from a suspect, but it hardly matters, doesn't it? "Where are the ladies?" asks Sergeant Berlin, before a party. "Putting on the warpaint," comes Ross' reply. My favourite line, and probably the film's most ostentatious, is this little nugget which falls from the mouth of a visiting FBI investigator: "You're confused... you don't know if Tuesdays come in twos or happen once a week." It's the kind of raw poetry that Quentin Tarantino specializes in (or at least has learned to crib from Elmore Leonard).
Andy Garcia carries the movie on his shoulders. His John Berlin (quite the pregnant name, as the film was released three years to the month after The Wall came down; are John's walls ready to crumble too? Stay tuned...) is a rather complex man, burdened by a shady past that is slowly alluded to, but never fully explained ("I feel like I said sorry on every street in [Los Angeles]," is the closest he comes to an explanation). Berlin is a model of patience and intuition (although I didn't buy the one moment of inspiration that lead him to his key witness; it's a "movie moment" that takes away from the reality Robinson is trying to inject into the film), quiet and reserved for most of the film, but prone to fits of rage when pushed. It's almost like Garcia, fresh off of working with Al Pacino, was modeling his character on that actor's work as Michael Corleone in the first two "Godfather" films. That's high praise, indeed, but Garcia's work here deserves it.
Uma Thurman plays Helena Robertson, "the worst witness [Berlin's] ever had," a blind music teacher who may be the only witness able to identify the man that killed 'Jennifer'. And what fates do "only witnesses" usually have in suspense films? They're the next victim, of course! Which gives Berlin a great excuse to stay close Helena, and fall in love with her. Thurman here really only has two jobs: to look adorable and play blind credibly. The first, of course, she does with ease. I've always thought of Thurman as kind of a female-version of Keanu Reeves: she's at her best when not saying much, and letting her physicality and obvious screen presence carry much of the load. Which she gets to do here. As for that second job, portraying Helena's blindness, Thurman achieves some semblance of credibility there. Affecting a dead-eyed look, you believe her as a blind girl, albeit one with startling mobility.
Lance Henriksen does what Lance Henriksen does best: he makes a rugged, [angry], misanthropic and misogynistic cop, constantly stuck in fourth gear, come across as rather likable. In his hands, with that map of the world face and baritone voice, Sergeant Freddy Ross is almost endearing. He's a big fish in a small pond, the kind of small town man who would name his boat "Duke" and not think twice about vocally ogling the... of the local waitresses. He and Garcia have kind of an oil-and-water relationship, but Henriksen's over-the-top showiness meshes perfectly with Garcia's solemnity.
The one way in which the film doesn't play fair with its audience is in listing John Malkovich's name in the opening credits, and then making us wait eighty-minutes before the man shows up. But when he does, that distinctive whisper of a voice is heard before the face appears, it's vintage Malk.
He plays an FBI investigator named St. Anne, who locks horns with Berlin in several lengthy scenes. Watching Garcia match wits with Malk is a real treat, the latter man's cool and whimsical aura offering a perfect counterpoint to the former's repressed fire. In Malk's hands, St. Anne has seen it all, giving himself leeway to toy with Berlin, trying to catch him in verbal traps and constantly rolling his eyes. But, like Garcia, Malk is able to let his instrument loose, erupting in violent outbursts periodically, which show the character's true power. And in a silly bit of business, Malk, for some reason, chooses to play the latter half of his scenes with a rather comic stuffed nose.
Being an avid fan of the serial killer genre, I was looking forward to finally seeing "Jennifer 8". It lived up to my expectations, mostly, but for some reason I just couldn't fully give my heart to it. I liked it well enough, but it never gave me the visceral thrill I was hoping for. I suspect the reason for this is that this kind of story has been done many times before, often with much more verve and wit and fun. Seen in the shadows of the heavyweights of its genre, "Jennifer 8" is a workmanlike effort, sure to give a modicum of thrills. I recommend it on an intellectual level, but have my doubts about its effectiveness on an emotional one.

Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko
VHS
4 used & new from CDN$ 35.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Everyone Dies Alone; "Donnie" Makes the Interim Bearable, Sept. 2 2002
This review is from: Donnie Darko (VHS Tape)
I've watched "Donnie Darko" three times now in the last five days, and still can't say definitively if I like it. I appreciate the heck out it, am impressed by the imagination and creativity of the filmmakers, and admire the fact that what they put on screen belies their $4 million budget. Most of all, I enjoy the heightened sense of awareness I get every time it finishes. It's a feeling that lets me know, without question, that I've been affected by what I just saw. But when I think about the film rationally, as opposed to emotionally, it crumbles under the weight of its own conceit.
Set in October of 1988, the story follows young Donnie Darko, a seemingly unbalanced teenager who is prone to sleepwalking. On one such night journey he meets a new friend, a 6-foot tall bunny rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. Upon returning home the next morning, he finds that an unaccounted-for airplane engine has crash-landed on his house, crushing the room where he should have been asleep in bed. It's the kind of setup that keeps the audience on its toes for the rest of the film. Where did the engine come from? Who is Frank? What do the fates, which obviously want him alive, have in store for Donnie Darko?
The problem is that writer/director Richard Kelly has some ideas for answers to these questions, but he either: 1) Didn't have the budget to realize them; 2) Didn't want to give them away too early; or 3) Didn't want to give them away at all, preferring for the audience to fill in the gaps on their own. I don't have a problem when most filmmakers choose path #3. The audience should act as a participant in determining the meaning of the film. But they can't do it alone, in a vacuum. Kelly provides clues all along, but they are so hidden and so obscure, that even the most discerning viewer probably wouldn't be able to find them on first (or second, or third pass). It becomes even more frustrating when the ending, supposedly constructed to tie up all loose ends (or at least all loose ends that the writer has bothered tying up), bends and breaks the audience's ability to suspend disbelief. There's one final thread that I still can't logically rationalize, even though I know what was supposed to happen.
Donnie rails against ignore-the-grey-area thinking, claiming that life is more complex than that. I wish Kelly would have heeded his own advice, for he does a lousy job presenting complex characters. Most everyone here is either good or evil, black or white. He loves the beatific Darko family, the progressive young teachers at school, and Gretchen (Jena Malone), Donnie's new girlfriend. He hates, and is unsympathetic to, Kitty, the little girl dance troupe that she exploits for her own ego, and the infomercial pitchman whose theories she buys into wholeheartedly. No scene holds a more pointed example of Kelly's inability to hide his hand, than an emergency PTA meeting. Called because someone has flooded the school and put an axe in the head of its mascot, it is inevitably interrupted by Kitty, who has discovered that an English teacher (Drew Barrymore) is teaching Graham Greene's short story "The Destructors". "Do you even know who Graham Green is?" asks a concerned mother. "I think we've all seen 'Bonanza'," comes the arrogant yet ignorant reply. Kelly didn't even have enough confidence in his good guys -- and by association, their quest -- to give them credible bad guys to rail against. Instead he offers villains whose actions are one step above twirling their moustaches menacingly and tying damsels in distress to railroad tracks.
In Kelly's defense, "Donnie Darko" was his first film. And to his credit, there is a lot here that is either very accomplished or shows potential. I did say that every time I watch the film it affects me in a poignant way, and now I'll tell you why.
First of all, it looks great. Kelly and crew, low budget or no low budget, have made a film that you can stand alongside any big budget blockbuster of the day, and it wouldn't look out of place. They even manage a skillful recreation of the living water effect first seen in James Cameron's "The Abyss". His camera work is ambitious or simple when necessary. In a film called "Donnie Darko", one would expect that light (or the lack thereof) would be an important player. Kelly and cinematographer Stephen B. Poster use clean suburban sunshine in the daytime, and extreme darkness at night. The latter is often punctuated by blinding flashes of light, most notably the brilliant beam that presciently spews from Frank's left eye.
Kelly does fine detailed work making sure the authenticity of the time period is maintained. From the clothes, to the conversations, to, most importantly, the music, everything fits the era to a T. He manages to get fine use out of not one but two Tears for Fears songs: "Head Over Heels" adds power to an effective tracking shot showing the treacherous ecosystem that is Donnie's school; a cover of "Mad World" adds melancholy, without adding melodrama, to the affective denouement (like I said, emotionally the film works, but it can't stand up to reason).
Overall, I'll give Richard Kelly the benefit of the doubt, and deign to recommend his film. Like I said, it offered me enough of a visceral rush that I've seen it multiple times, and look forward to seeing many times more. For all potential audience members, remember this: "Donnie Darko" will not make much sense, at least until you've done some further research into the hidden meanings of the film. Appreciate it as an emotional experience first, and its pleasures will fulfill you.
I guess I liked it after all.

Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain
Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain
by Charles R. Cross
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
51 used & new from CDN$ 1.23

3.0 out of 5 stars Distills The Life That Was Inside Of Him, Sept. 1 2002
Early on you get a good idea of the course Cross is going to follow, when in the Author's Note he casually, but shroudedly, admits to a childhood akin to Kurt's. At least he plays fair with the reader, admitting off the top that he might be predisposed to looking for suicidal tendencies in his subject. But the reader should also take this as a warning: this is not a fan's-eye-view of Nirvana's chart-topping success (Dave Grohl makes brief and scattered appearances throughout the book), but a gloves-off biography of their tortured leader. Read in that light, it is mostly a success. Mostly.
Cross' greatest strength is the depth and breadth of his research. Apparently Courtney Love, Kurt's widow, gave Cross extensive access to Kurt's personal effects. She also sat for repeated lengthy interviews, as did many of the other notable players in Kurt's life. This kind of access gives Cross an insight into his subject that those of us who read all the Rolling Stone and Spin Magazine profiles of the man never got. It's revelatory, to be sure. For example, he is able to quote liberally from Kurt's diary, which lets the reader into Kurt's head. It offers such revelations as the following, which describes his concession to the inevitable path of becoming a junkie: "if I feel like a junkie as it is [due to stomach pains], I may as well be one." Or, in Cross' greatest discovery, he describes a long lost video of Kurt bathing his daughter Frances, in a scene of seemingly domestic tranquility. The camera focuses on father and daughter for a long moment, and then abruptly pans around the bathroom. Cross, an observant viewer, notes that in the toothbrush holder, instead of a toothbrush, is a syringe. His commentary on this image, how it destroys the conventional familial image established moments before, is some of his best work.
Sometimes, however, Cross can go a bit overboard with the facts. Just because he found out a little tidbit like, "[Kurt's] favorite [infant] game was peekaboo, his first tooth appeared at eight months, and his first dozen words were, 'coco, momma, dadda, ball, toast, bye-bye, hi, baby, me, love, hot dog, and kittie,'" doesn't mean it needs to be included. Too often Cross recounts, in laundry list-like prose, trivial facts like this, which really do very little in terms of illuminating the life. It comes across more as showing off his knowledge.
He also, at times, can't help indulging into a bit of pop psychoanalysis, where pop psychoanalysis is not welcome. In Cross' hands a picture of the Cobain family, taken when Kurt was 6, supposedly does a precise job of predicting the sorrow to come. Based exclusively on body language on posture. The picture is included here for your perusal. I, for one, didn't see anything near to what Cross saw. He also, at one point, compares Kurt's image in early band photos to "Christ in Leonardo da Vinci's 'The Last Supper'". I suppose one sees what one wants to see.
And anyone who lived through the period, like I did, will find dubious statements such as the following: "'The Cobain baby' was as talked about across lunch counters and supermarket checkout lines as the Lindbergh baby had been decades before." The Vanity Fair article that revealed Courtney had used heroin during her pregnancy was big news, true. But only within the community. It was not nearly the global tabloid scandal that Cross makes it out to be. Misleading analysis like the preceding calls into question every other statement Cross has to make. It does a lot of work undermining his credibility.
Further compounding the problem is Cross' hit-or-miss writing. For the most part he utilizes an objective, almost journalistic prose style, laying the facts at the reader's feet without unnecessary ornamentation. But every once in a while he will indulge in odd analogies: "Like senior citizens going to a dentists' appointment, the band made sure they were early for this all-important show." Was that bit of superfluous style really necessary? These bits appear out of nowhere in the text, and come off as if the writer had a burst of inspiration, albeit a rather dull one. Though, even when he's playing things by the book, Cross is still prone to blunders. He clumsily describes the *melody* of the song "About a Girl" as "sweet, slow, and *melodic*".
Despite the numerous complaints I've outlined above, Cross' book is still consistently readable; although I suspect that the power of the story being told has a lot to do with that. I've always thought that a biography should be judged on how the author was able to stay out of the way, and let the events of the life present themselves. In this case, Cross is, like I noted above, mostly a success. His reputation as a respected music and entertainment journalist is apparently well-earned, despite some missteps along the way, and his objectivity is very rarely questionable. That being said, his greatest feat, paradoxically, is the way he handles Kurt's final days. Much of it of course is speculation, for no one but Kurt knows how it all went down. But what Cross comes up with to tell this part of the tale is moving and powerful, without ever pandering to melodrama. The final moments are recounted with credibility, pathos, sorrow, and, most importantly, empathy. The book breaks from being a standard biography at this point, adding untold emotion to these well-written scenes. Cross even manages to tie up the book's (and, consequently, the life's) main themes. These final pages do yeomen's work making up for any errors Cross has made along the way, and, ultimately, they make the book a worthwhile read.

Godfather II
Godfather II
VHS
4 used & new from CDN$ 5.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A Sequel That Will Break Your Heart, Aug. 18 2002
This review is from: Godfather II (VHS Tape)
Despite its status as arguably the best movie sequel of all time, "The Godfather: Part II" is in some ways quite formulaic. Following a rigid template he set up in "The Godfather: Part I", Francis Ford Coppola has once again fashioned a story that begins with a festival, features a failed attempt on the Don's life, and offers as a turning point the murder of an untouchable power figure. It repeats successful motifs, and, while being less easily quotable, is composed of a very specific kind of language that lets you know the world into which you've entered.
The biggest difference, though, is the inclusion of flashbacks to Vito Corleone's early life. These scenes, taken from Mario Puzo's original novel, let Coppola indulge an idea he had for another movie, to tell parallel stories of a father and a son at the same age. Far from an indulgence, though, these scenes do wonders in terms of fleshing out the history of the Corleone family. It drapes a more tragic pall over the story, for it becomes clear that Michael Corleone's fate, one that robs him of his soul and leaves him alone and heartbroken, could not have been avoided.
Robert De Niro plays young Vito. When his job at a local grocery is given to the nephew of the neighbourhood boss, one Don Fanucci, Vito must turn to crime to support his family. The scenes with Fanucci, played with broad flair by Gastone Moschin, are impressive. For despite the power and style and fear embodied by the older man, Vito always looks to be in control. Much of the credit should go to De Niro, who was at the time shifting his career into a higher gear that would eventually lead him to Travis Bickle. He is at his best here when the scene calls for silence, displaying a whimsical grace that hides his violent nature. When he opens his mouth to speak it sounds an awful lot like the kind of Marlon-Brando-as-The-Godfather impression you've heard a million times.
If the flashback scenes didn't mesh perfectly with the contemporary scenes, Coppola's little gimmick would seem redundant. Using a variety of devices, the past and the present mesh perfectly into one movie.
The other half of the movie, set in the late-1950s and early-1960s, is epic in scope where the first half was small and personal. Despite the globetrotting antics of the story, it's still a tale of one individual's road to perdition.
Without his father and brother around to steal the spotlight, Michael Corleone firmly establishes himself as the key piece of "The Godfather" puzzle. Gone, however, is the innocent Joe College of the first film, replaced by a detached and Machiavellian man. He's reached the top of the mountain, only to find it a place cold enough to freeze your heart, and lonely enough that you must look inward for solace. It is the internal nature of Michael's character that defines how this story will be told. Many of the killings are hidden, obstructed. "Part I" featured elaborate homicidal set-pieces, each culminating in a charismatic and compelling murder. "Part II" does no such thing. Instead of allowing us to see the bullet enter the eye, or the piano wire go around the neck, we get one murder partially hidden by wind-blown drapery, an attempted smothering that takes place behind closed doors, a suicide shown only in aftermath tableau, and finally a judicious edit, cutting away from the horrible act, to reveal who is really being destroyed by the final killing. Coppola, whose desire to make a personal film is more evident here than in "Part I" (which is, in comparison, almost a popcorn gobbling blockbuster), exhibits artful taste in the way he tells the story.
A story, which rides on the shoulders of Al Pacino. His portrayal of Michael Corleone, to me, is his best work. It is the template for every great performance he will give in its wake: quiet, brooding, and all the while repressing the vaunted Pacino rage. The Michael Corleone of "Part II" is a more mysterious man, a less joyous man, and a more vengeful man.
Despite Michael's (and Al's) ascension to prominence, I always find Fredo to be a more intriguing character. Relegated to a few undignified scenes in "Part I", Fredo doesn't come off much better here. He's still the simplest of the Corleone boys, a condition now explained by a childhood sickness in the flashback scenes. But despite his deficiencies it is Fredo, knowingly or otherwise, who comes closest to taking The Godfather down. John Cazale, who played Fredo, does a remarkable job portraying the man's joie de vivre, his melancholy, and his self-awareness. In Cazale's hands Fredo knows that he will never reach the heights of his brothers, a fact that more or less defines his existence. "You're my kid brother," he incredulously tells Michael, "and you take care of me?"
A couple of newcomers are added to the mix, livening up an already tasty stew. Michael V. Gazzo, as underboss Frankie Pentangeli, brings a welcome dose of humour and brashness to the proceedings. His distinctive voice and broad gesticulations make him a wonderful character to watch. The other newcomer who makes his mark is legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg, who plays Hyman Roth. Sickly and old, Strasberg still manages to imbue Roth with a sense of the man's former vitality, and his current bulldogedness. Strasberg never makes bold choices (as opposed to Gazzo, who is all bold choices), but his quiet tenacity is a perfect match for the same quality Pacino brings to Michael.
At well over 3 hours long, "The Godfather: Part II" would be a torturous chore if it weren't such a fully-packed delight. Every scene is relevant to the plot, suspenseful, and wonderfully artistic. Coppola had an arduous task in trying to top the first "Godfather". While less overtly crowd-pleasing and propulsive, I'd say he pulled it off just fine.

Rushmore (The Criterion Collection) [Import]
Rushmore (The Criterion Collection) [Import]
DVD ~ Jason Schwartzman
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 20.22
32 used & new from CDN$ 3.52

5.0 out of 5 stars Take DVDead Aim On The Rich Boys: The Criterion Collection, Aug. 18 2002
[The following is a review of the Criterion Collection DVD for "Rushmore", and not the movie proper.]
Wes Anderson, a self-described film buff and devotee of the Criterion Collection, must have jumped out of his boots when he found out the company planned a deluxe DVD edition of his second feature film, "Rushmore". But he probably didn't jump as high as I did the first time I found this DVD in my hot little hands. The features included here follow standard DVD format -- audio commentary, photo galleries, video featurettes, behind the scenes footage, etc. -- but done at an excessively high level. They do the film, one of my all-time favourites, deserved justice.
From the main menu, which features the innocent sketches of Eric Chase Anderson, Wes' brother, and snippets from Mark Mothersbaugh's renaissance-style soundtrack, you can select from amongst the Rushmore AV Club, the Audio Commentary, the Max Fischer Players Presents, and Archiva Graphica.
The Rushmore AV Club features various behind the scenes and promotional video clips. The first, "The Making of Rushmore", is ostensibly an Electronic Press Kit, filmed by Eric, intended to be longer (it runs nearly 17 minutes) and more in-depth than most EPK's. Eric shows that he's come by his Anderson genes naturally, as he proves himself to be an observant, low key, and amusing documentarian. The film is basically an annotated introduction to the crew and cast, with an oddball explanation of each person's job. Favourite moment: on his last day, Bill Murray does his interview while getting his head shaved. He convinces Eric to do the same.
The Storyboard sections, which include an option to watch the film's opening scene while Anderson's storyboards play below, are instructive and illuminating. Anderson's simple pencil sketches look like they were drawn by a 6-year old, but planned out by Alfred Hitchcock. They are at once juvenile and precise.
Next we get a complete episode of "The Charlie Rose Show". I'm a big fan of Rose, whose interview style, while often times erratic, never fails to get something interesting from his subject. And when your subjects are Bill Murray (who takes the first half hour) and Wes Anderson (who does a neat 20 minute segment to close the show), how can you go wrong? Murray is charming and thoughtful and insightful (and, duh, funny). Anderson, visible tickled that he's talking to Charlie Rose, is matter of fact about his talents and his film, while engaging Rose in a wonderful little conversation.
Finally, this section includes the film's theatrical trailer.
Next from the main menu is the option to turn on the film's audio commentary track. Shared, although unfortunately not recorded at the same time, by Wes Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson, and star Jason Schwartzman, the track is a treat. Especially for fans of the three men.
You can tell they are all film fans. They deliver the track as if in conversation, sitting next to the listener in a darkened theatre while the film plays in front of them. They talk in stage whispers, so as not to disturb the viewing enjoyment of those around them. It's quite sophisticated that way.
Anderson knows what he wants, and knows how to get it. And he'll tell you how, if you're willing to listen. "Rushmore" seems like a serendipitous experience for him. He's grateful for all the luck he had, from the casting of Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, to figuring out that the locations, to having a vast repository of influences to draw upon at just the right moment. This is even carried through to a story about the genesis of his relationship with Owen Wilson. But Anderson is not just lucky; he's smart, and he works hard to make his own luck.
Wilson comes across as more of a spiritual guide to Anderson than anything. That's not to say that he had any less to do with the screenplay, for it's obvious that he more than pulled his weight. I mean that it's Owen's charismatic personality, his charm, and his wit that the less captivating Anderson can latch on to. And, though he tells some truly interesting anecdotes about how "Rushmore" came about, he really needn't say anything of substance. That slow, Texas drawl just gets me every time!
Schwartzman's contribution surprised me. In interviews he comes across as an unbound-Id, always ready to leap feet first into any situation and make the most of it. But here he candidly admits that, and this shouldn't have been a surprise seeing as he was a first time actor, he was scared witless about being in the film. But as he relaxed into the role, he brought a lot to it (putting the gum on the wall was his idea). And even though it was intimidating at first, he seems to have developed an honest and sincere relationship with Bill Murray, one that he treasures to this day.
The Max Fischer Players Presents section features four delightful video segments. First you get the on-camera auditions of the principle young actors: Schwartzman, Ronnie & Keith McCawley, Stephen McCole, Mason Gamble, and Sara Tanaka. McCole, especially, has a grand old time, sporting a smile on his face as he spits out his lines in a luscious Scottish brogue. The next two features show some of the artwork Max put together for his two plays-within-the-film: "Serpico" and "Heaven and Hell". Finally, The Max Fisher Players, a repertory company made up of high school students, re-enact for the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards "The Truman Show", "Armageddon", and "Out of Sight". They are at once satiric and respectful and innocent. A real joy.
Finally, in Archiva Graphics, you get a motherload of ephemera, including posters, promotional pics, and close-ups of all the in-film art. The detail that Anderson is so noted for is exhibited for close examination.
Even if the film weren't currently in rotation as one of my must-watch-over-and-over movies, the Criterion Collection DVD offers so much "Rushmore"-related material that it would probably still never leave my DVD player.

Godfather I
Godfather I
VHS
Offered by Time Traveller Books
Price: CDN$ 25.00
11 used & new from CDN$ 1.25

5.0 out of 5 stars One More Orange For The Pile: My Take On "The Godfather", Aug. 14 2002
This review is from: Godfather I (VHS Tape)
Generally regarded as one of the finest movies ever made, "The Godfather" would seem to be review-proof. By this point, some 30 years after its initial release, what else could be said of it? Critically it's adored. And those who loathe it are bound to loathe it no matter what I, or anyone else really, has to say.
So instead of doing a standard review, I thought I'd pick out key elements from the movie, elements that struck me as important after my fourth and most recent viewing, but that I haven't seen analyzed to death over the years. This effort will, I hope, shed some new light on the film, going beyond the usual iconic moments (the horse in the bed; the cat on the lap; Sonny at the tollbooth) and memorable dialogue ("I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse"; "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes"; "Leave the gun... take the cannoli") to give you something personally relevant. And if doesn't, then at least it gave me the opportunity to write about "The Godfather" for awhile.
"I believe in America." These are the film's opening lines. Spoken not by Marlon Brandon, Al Pacino, James Caan or even, say, Abe Vigoda, but by Salvatore Corsitto as Bonasera the Undertaker. It begins a long speech about how his daughter was beaten to near death, and as Corsitto tells the tale, the camera slowly zooms out to reveal the darkened office, and then the silhouetted visage of Brando. It begins a curious game of cat and mouse, for it takes a long time for the film to truly reveal whom this story is about. Now, unless you've been living under a rock for the last thirty years, or, more appropriately, been locked in the trunk of a Cadillac, you know whose story is about to be told. But let's wipe away hindsight, and assume you are an audience member in a darkened theatre in 1972, one who hasn't read Mario Puzo's soon-to-be-blockbuster book, who'd forgotten the power of Marlon Brando (it had been almost 20 years since "On the Waterfront"), and had never heard of Al Pacino.
The first scene makes it clear that Vito Corleone is a powerful presence. Is this his story? It would seem so, as his family is gathered together for the luxurious wedding of his daughter Connie (Talia Shire). But then Vito's consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) is introduced, a lawyer who was once taken in by Vito while just an orphan child. Maybe it is the story of these two men, the Sicilian-born Don and his German-Irish adopted son. This idea is nearly cemented when Tom goes to Hollywood, ostensibly to get Johnny Fontaine (Al Martino) out of a binding contract with Jack Woltz (John Marley), but more likely just as an excuse to put a horse's head in a bed. Back in New York, we are introduced to Sonny (Caan), Vito's eldest boy, a hotheaded gorilla more proficient at quenching his animal lusts than at running a crime family. Is it Sonny's story? Could be, could be. See what I mean? It's like a great game of chess: director Francis Ford Coppola deploys his pawns, his rooks, his knights, and his bishops, before ever moving his Queen. But when she finally emerges from her sanctuary, the board is wiped clean with a few bold moves.
Michael (Pacino), in these early expository scenes, only acts as a Greek chorus. A war hero and a college boy, he explains to his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) who his father is, and why he should be feared. And he tries to tell her that that is not him. But then comes the scene at the hospital. Vito has been shot, but not killed, and Michael goes to visit him. Surprised to find no security by his father's room, and aware that this means men are on their way to finish the job, Michael, along with a nurse, decides to move his father to another room. After a near-farcical scene of hide-and-seek in the hospital halls, Michael, in an attempt to reassure his frightened father, whispers the following lines into the old man's ear: "I'm with you now. I'm with you." The double meaning of these words is made quite apparent by Vito's smile and Michael's angst-filled expression. Just when he thought he was out of the family business, circumstances pull him back in. Michael's inevitable coronation, and the film's operatic aftermath, is now inevitable.
About 110 minutes into the movie, Sonny finds out that Connie's husband Carlo (Gianni Russo) has been slapping her around. Ever the vigilant brother, Sonny storms out to teach Carlo a lesson. He finds him on the steps of a brownstone selling drugs, and before Carlo knows what's happening, Sonny is wailing on him mercilessly with punch after punch of staggering power. Er, all except the fourth one, that is. Maybe the filmmakers only had time for one take, or maybe a sloppy editor missed it, but the fourth punch misses Carlo by a good 2 feet. Now, I'm a big believer in the adage, "The exception proves the rule." And this moment is the film's one blemish, standing out like the Glad garbage man at a Goth convention. But sandwiched between the film's first and second half, it manages to prove the perfection achieved by each.
I first saw "The Godfather" after reading the book as a teenager. Not the best way to view any film, and nearly fatal here. I expected to find a lot of the book's rich backstory but didn't. My first viewing was a disappointment. Every subsequent viewing, however, has made me fall more in love with this film than I ever thought possible. And now you know why I chose this alternate method of reviewing: I knew that the hyperbole would flow fast and furious once I begin typing. Despite my best intentions, I couldn't avoid it. That is, ultimately, the power of "The Godfather".

M*A*S*H
M*A*S*H
VHS
4 used & new from CDN$ 16.95

5.0 out of 5 stars I've Been Drafted Into The Army Of "M*A*S*H" Fans, Aug. 12 2002
This review is from: M*A*S*H (VHS Tape)
The Robert Altman style, so familiar to moviegoers over the last thirty years, was unleashed from the womb here. The documentary-style camera work, laying back from the action but given license to zoom in and out as it sees fit, works its wonders best in the operation scenes. Three tables of patients and doctors, all acting at once, and the camera still manages to capture every piece of relevant information, without making the whole mess confusing. The overlapping dialogue, which I imagine gave those charged with subtitling the DVD version fits, works in much the same way. No one would ever confuse "M*A*S*H" for anything but a Robert Altman film.
Despite the absence of battle, "M*A*S*H" is not devoid of blood. The surgery sequences are filled to the brim with the red stuff, and serve as a stark contrast to the movie's more goofy comedic moments. Sometimes within the same scene. One notable example: Hawkeye, with a note of apprehension on his face, must saw off a wounded man's leg. After a few strokes back and forth -- complete with cringe-inducing, nails-on-the-blackboard-style sound effects -- he asks the nurse for a clamp. What for? she asks. To scratch his nose, he cheekily replies, and the laugh they share perfectly diffuses the horrific moment. This scene, to me, is "M*A*S*H" in a nutshell.
When thinking of the characters who inhabit "M*A*S*H"s landscape I am reminded of the realization I had while watching George Cukor's "The Philadelphia Story". It's a film that makes its audience root for the stuck-up rich girl and the spoiled rude millionaire layabout, two character types often cast in roles of villainy, while fostering resentment towards a man who earned his fortune by pulling himself up by his bootstraps, usually the hero. It's a neat trick that that movie pulls off cleanly. And so does this one. Hawkeye, Trapper, Duke, et al., are terribly mean men. They are type-A personalities all, unwillingly to accept anyone who doesn't conform to their lofty, intellectual standards, or their well-developed sense of anarchy. But just as the humour of the film is a defense mechanism against the insanity of war, this cruelty also serves a purpose. Anyone without a strong character and an affinity for the kind of team these men are building must be weeded out and destroyed. It's this realization that allows the audience to sympathize with the tormentors rather than the tormentees. And it allows you to let down your moralistic guard and like them just the same.
Still, there are some moments here that go so far over the line that even a liberal observer like myself, one who can casually accept immorality in movies because art must exist in an amoral state, gasping. "Can I still like these men, given their actions?" I often found myself asking. There are facets of the film that embrace casual sexuality bordering on harassment and casual racism worn as a badge of honour. An example of the former is the way the men treat Hot Lips, "army clown" that she is, as an object of both desire and ridicule. An example of the latter can be found in some of the self-imposed nicknames the men give themselves: Painless Pole, Dago Red, Spearchucker Jones, etc. True, the obscenity of warfare is a much harsher villain than the obscenities the men practice ('obscenity' is too judgmental a word for my tastes, but I'll let it stand in the absence of anything better), which is why the film is allowed to go to such lengths. But be warned that much here is designed to make the audience uncomfortable, and to question their beliefs.
Balancing this discomfort is a dramatis personae full of characters that are wonderfully likable despite their flaws. Hawkeye Pierce is probably the most developed character, brought to life by some witty dialogue and some fine acting by then-unknown Donald Sutherland. Hawkeye is a man of many mannerisms: he calls everyone "Babe", he's constantly hiding behind his downturned cap and thick spectacles, and, with apologies to Karen Silkwood and Woodward & Bernstein, he's cinema's greatest whistleblower, punctuating each moment with the same simple three-note phrase. There's a casual elegance that Sutherland brings to Hawkeye (and every other role he's ever played) that shines through even the swampiest of settings here. Elliott Gould's Trapper is a Zen-like shaggy dog, ravenous in his appetites but dedicated to his surgery. Gould has a calmness about him that belies the man's manic nature, but it all fits together so well. Hawkeye and Trapper are one of film's greatest subversive comedy teams; they seem to share a brain, so easily are their plans hatched and executed.
The rest of the cast, primarily made up of unknowns, are mostly spotless. Duvall, as Frank Burns, brings dignity and composure to a man who is supposed to be inept as a surgeon and as a man. Sally Kellerman is loud and abrasive and stiff as Hot Lips Houliahan, a woman who, despite her sexy exterior, is supposed to be loud and abrasive and stiff. Tom Skerritt brings some southern charm, and a hint of incongruity, to Duke Forrest, Hawkeye and Trapper's cohort in cruelty. Roger Bowen, Rene Auberjonois, Gary Burghoff, John Schuck and Bud Cort all get about the same amount of screentime, fill up the backgrounds admirably, and do yeoman's work when they're called to the front.
Robert Altman, a director whose work and style I've never been able to give my heart to, managed to craft a wonderfully satiric and entertaining little anti-war picture, that I can wholeheartedly endorse. To top off this particularly tasty confection, he's added one of the most self-aware closing credit sequences ever put on film. They are meta-credits, if you'll allow me to coin a phrase. "Attention," comes the squawk of the loudspeaker, "tonight's movie has been 'M*A*S*H'." Before introducing the ensemble, Altman and Co. soften the blow and provide one final laugh.

Memento (Widescreen Limited Edition) [2 Discs] [Import]
Memento (Widescreen Limited Edition) [2 Discs] [Import]
DVD ~ Guy Pearce
Offered by boutiquecinemaniac,com
Price: CDN$ 29.95
24 used & new from CDN$ 3.97

5.0 out of 5 stars Memento Limited Edition DVDisturbs Again, Aug. 12 2002
This review will only deal with the features found on the "Memento Limited Edition 2 Disc Set", and not the merits of the movie proper.
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My only qualm with this DVD edition is the packaging. Wrapped in a tight-fitting but flimsy cardboard box, designed to look like Leonard Shelby's case file, it's almost impossible to get the discs out on first try. I find that I have to open the back to push out the innards, which tends to warp the shape of the box. Found inside are several loose sheets of paper, which look like psychological tests, notes from the case history, and, as you will soon see, the DVD's on-screen menus. The whole thing is ostensibly held together by a little plastic paper clip, whose only real purpose, I've deduced, is to get lost behind my TV set.
The first thing one notices once Disc 1 of the DVD loads is a psychological test, asking the viewer to commit to memory a list of words that will go flashing by on the screen. Don't be alarmed. Although Chris Nolan and Co. have set up the DVD to look like a series of tests, you really don't have to read through or pay much attention to everything on the screen. However, because sometimes they can be quite entertaining, I suggest you do. "Why are these people laughing at you?" asks one question. "We know you did it," ominously states another. This edition can get trippy if you let it.
After the memory flash, you are then asked to select from a list of words the ones you didn't see. Like I said, this isn't really a test, but an ingenious way to present the disc's main menu.
Selecting WATCH plays the movie. Selecting READ allows you to choose between English or Spanish subtitles, while LISTEN allows you to hear the movie in either English or French, 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. CHAPTER sends you right to the scene selection option. And COMMENTS turns on Christopher Nolan's Director's Commentary track.
In my review of the commentary track for "Following", Nolan's first movie, I called his delivery "monotone... somnolent at times" but that he's "so smart and precise about what he's saying you can easily overlook that and become engrossed in the content." I can say pretty much the same thing here. Except that, in some ways, it's a less effective track. Nolan spends a lot of time analyzing the story, deconstructing the main character, his motivations, the structure, etc. They are the kind of out-loud thoughts a screenwriter might use when figuring out his screenplay, but serve little purpose for a viewer watching the film (okay, I suppose prospective screenwriters will get some value out of it). It is thrilling to see how Nolan's big brain works, how he's thought through every situation, and has a reason for including everything in the movie. But it's just one note played over and over for an hour and a half. If Nolan had mixed things up a bit, included more anecdotal information, or behind the scenes goodies, it would have been a stellar track. As it is, it's got a very narrow appeal.

Disc 2 begins much the same way that Disc 1 did, except this time you are asked to view a series of pictures, and then are asked to select which picture from a list wasn't shown. This is, as I'm sure you have guessed, the menu for the additional material features.
Selecting the COMPASS shows you a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, as well as pages from Leonard's Journal. The BOOK allows you to read Nolan's script while listening to the audio track of the movie. You are even privy to the notes he made in the margins of the script, offering further thoughts on how scenes might be filmed. The GLOBE brings forth a whole mess of international promotional material, while the BINOCULARS give the option of viewing the international and North American theatrical trailers.
Selecting the SKULL starts a featurette, produced by the Sundance Channel, called "Anatomy of a Scene". Nolan, his editor, composer, producer, cinematographer, and one actor (Joey Pantoliano) discuss the whys and hows of the production. Particular emphasis is given to the opening few scenes, detailing how they were set up to gently bring the audience into the aesthetic of the film. Overall, the 25-minute segment further cements the notion that Nolan is an intelligent filmmaker, in full control of his cinematic palette.
Although not listed in the features on the DVD box, the much-ballyhooed 'Chronological Version' -- playing the scenes in the order in which they happen rather than back to front -- is here. Trust me. I just watched it. I'm not going to tell you how to find this version, for I think that would be a spoiler on par with giving away the end (beginning?) of the movie. But I will say that this information is available in several places online, so those of you who get frustrated with the puzzle should easily be able to obtain the answers (if not, drop me an e-mail). And I must say, "Memento" is still quite a gripping tale when told this way. But it does make Nolan's reason for telling the story his "gimmicky" way quite clear. The problem with this feature, however, is that it doesn't offer you the option of fast forwarding or jumping from scene to scene. So unless you can watch the whole movie in one sitting, you better not press 'stop'.
If you enjoyed "Memento" because it was a complex puzzle of a film, than I suspect you will enjoy this equally complex and even more puzzling DVD version. I'm almost positive that there is more to this edition than the features I've listed above. And I look forward to hunting for them in the future... or is that the past?

NEW Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back (DVD)
NEW Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back (DVD)
Offered by OMydeals
Price: CDN$ 45.49
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Jay & Bob's Last Hurrah DVDeserves Better, Aug. 7 2002
The following review only talks about the features found on the DVD, not the movie proper.

"Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" is an intentionally slapdash movie that deserves an intentionally slapdash DVD treatment. I'm just not sure that it needed an intentionally slapdash double-DVD treatment.
Disc one features the movie, presented in all its crisp colourful glory. The commentary track that accompanies it, usually a solid staple of all Kevin Smith DVDs, is a real let down. Only Smith, producer Scott Mosier and Jay Mewes show up. And what they deliver could best be described as falling somewhere between a vapid Oscar speech and three drunk guys hanging on too long at the end of the party, well past the point when they were amusing. They basically play a game of "See how many Askewniverse members you can point out that the audience has never heard of." At one point near the end, Smith realizes that they're not doing much more than reading out the closing credits, and wisely says to the audience, "You could do this yourselves." And he's right. The only shining moment on the track is when Mewes excuses himself to go the washroom, and the second he's out the door, Smith and Mosier good-naturedly rag on him. When Mewes returns, they reassure him that they said nothing but niceties while he was gone. That's about the only highlight I can come up with.
Also featured on disc one are a couple plugs promoting other entries in the Dimension Collector's Series.
Disc two is heavy on the extras, most of which are amusing. The rest point only serve to point out the fact that there was a lot of good -- and a lot of puerile -- footage left on the cutting room floor.
The deleted scenes, titled "The Secret Stash" in homage to the comic books store that Smith repeatedly plugs on all his DVDs, function just like the deleted scenes on the "Dogma" DVD: they're useless and pointless. Showing them now only proves why they weren't in the film in the first place. Most deadly are the unfunny Judd Nelson ad-libs, and Ben Affleck's non-sensically riffing on a scene funny enough on the page. However, a lot of hilarious Will Ferrell moments are featured (including a delicious improv scene where he and Jon Stewart throw sexually suggestive puns back and forth) proving that in an alternate universe, this would have been his movie.
The treasures here are the intros that Smith and friends do, specifically, Jay Mewes' sweetly innocent comments. My two favourites: at one point, after Smith discusses the problems he had with G.L.A.A.D. before the movie came out, Jay says, with mock retribution, that he's "not going to send his cheque in this month" to them. Later, Smith self-debates whether Gus Van Sant's name rhymes with 'ant' or 'font', prompting Jay to comment, "Yeah, like do you say tomatoe or potatoe". You've gotta love this stoned-out guy!
There's also an eight-minute long gag reel, which is of the pretty standard, "I can't stop laughing" variety (notable for, once again, Will Ferrell's hilarious straying from the script; this time he's teamed with Jason Lee, who can't keep a straight face). And you get not one but two behind-the-scenes featurettes. It's an exercise in redundancy, if you ask me. The first, produced by Comedy Central, is a rather tame affair. The second, produced specially for this disc, is not. It features the no-holds-barred language that is Smith's bread and butter.
Two features highlight the work of Morris Day and the Time. The first features Smith and Mewes learning the band's relatively simple dance steps, before they are called on stage to end the film. Be warned: the sight of Kevin Smith attempting to dance may scare young children. The second feature is an exhaustive textual history of the band. If you ever have to write a paper on The Time, your research efforts will stop here.
Finally, in the disc's graphical section, you get an on-set photo gallery, what seems like a hundred different possibilities for the film's poster, and comic versions of Jay and Bob. The storyboards section is a dubious inclusion, Smith not being noted for his visual flair. But it does show how wild the Scooby-Doo parody would have been if Smith had had his druthers.
Although I laughed lovingly at the movie, despite its lack of desire to raise itself above the sophomoric, I was slightly disappointed by this DVD. It's a bloated effort, hardly up to the standard Smith and Co. have set by their other issues. Still, for the Smith completist (and who else would see "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" but a Smith completist), the disc is a necessary addition to your collection.

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