DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

DVD Reviews Pt. 2 of 3


Published on February 1, 2005

 

Pt. 2 of 3 – January-February 2005  [Part 1] [Part 3]

Click on any cover to go directly to its review below

De-Lovely The Iron Giant Intimage Strangers The Girl From Paris - DVD
Father and Son - Russian film Bandit Queen Foreign Correspondent The Man of the Year

De-Lovely - the Cole Porter StoryDe-Lovely (2004)
The Cole Porter Story

Starring: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd
Musical performances by Natalie Cole, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Robbie Williams and others
Studio: MGM
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, stereo; Dolby Surround: French or Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Commentary by Director Irwin Winkler and Kline; Commentary by Winkler and Writer Jay Cocks; Making of De-Lovely featurette; Music of De-Lovely featurette; Anatomy of a Scene: Be a Clown; Anatomy of a Scene: Love for Sale; Deleted Scenes; De-Lovely Soundtrack TV Spot; Theatrical trailer
Length: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Rating: ****

We could have included this recent feature film in the music videos because it certainly is a musical – with over 30 great Porter tunes performed during its course. Kevin Kline is a pianist and occasional singer too and actually plays himself most of the scenes of Porter composing tunes or singing while accompanying himself at the piano. So there’s none of the usual mismatch of fingers on the keys with the music which is so obvious to pianists. Director Winkler decided to let singers of today perform the Porter tunes to show how flexible and universal they have been over the years and still are.

Hollywood told the Porter story before – in fact that is made a part of this new film – but they gussied up a number of things, including hiding the fact that although Porter and his Linda really did love one another deeply, he was basically gay and although she accepted that it threatened their marriage in many ways. That aspect is handled quite directly in De-Lovely, but another was ignored – that Linda was actually eight years Porter’s senior (Judd is 20 years younger than Kline). The glamorous lives of the pair are illustrated with lavish surroundings (both were wealthy before they even met) and striking costuming designed by Armani and changing with the different decades in which they lived. A very tragic aspect of his life was his accident when his horse fell on him, crushing his legs, which gave him pain the rest of his life.

A renewed appreciation of Porter’s great musical gift will be had by most viewers. He was unusual in writing both his own lyrics and music. His many love songs obviously derived from his wife as his muse, but being aware of his homosexual connections imparts different meanings to some of those lyrics. The overall framework of the film at the opening and conclusion is for the dying Porter to have an angel (wonderfully played by Jonathan Pryce) guide him thru the important events of his life as he watches the younger version of himself on the stage of the high school auditorium where he attended as a youth. That also becomes an uptempo musical number in the end, as his various friends come to shake his hand. The image quality of the transfer and the sound quality of the surround tracks fit perfectly into the generally classy tenor of the entire production. Some critics groused about the film during its theatrical run but I found it enchanting and beautiful, and a fitting tribute not only to Porter and his music but also to one of my favorite actors, the versatile Kevin Kline.

- John Sunier

The Iron GiantThe Iron Giant

Director: Brad Bird
Animation with voices of: Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel & others
Studio: Warner Bros. 18318
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, English or French, DD stereo
Extras: Commentary by Brad Bird; by Head of Animation Tony Fucile, Story Dept. Head and Animation Supervisor for the Giant; Eight unused scenes incl. alternate opening and Giant’s dream sequence; 13 branching minidocumentaries on key sequences in score, character design, storyboards and animation; Creative consultant Teddy Newton and Bird analyze two sequencesin the film; Vin Diesel in “The Voice of the Giant;” Stills gallery, Filmographies; Theatrical trailers, DVD-ROM features incl. theatrical website, links, web events, chat room access
Length: 86 minutes
Rating: *****

Don’t know why I missed seeing this wonderful animation feature in the theatrical run, but now I get to see it with a huge variety of extras that enlarge on one’s experience of the feature. My take on this enchanting family film is that every family in the nation should take their kids to see it. Iron Giant is clearly part of the recent trend to include more material of interest to adults in such movies to make their family visit to the theater less painful to them. But the adult message it conveys is a strong political one concerning acceptance of diversity, alternatives to military solutions to problems, and unfounded paranoid fears of anything different. One of the film’s sequences analyzed in the extras is their own version of the “Duck and Cover” classroom film shown to 11-year-old Hogarth’s class. It exposes the absurd concept in the 50s Cold War period of teaching school kids to duck under their desks and cover their heads in case an atomic bomb is dropped on them. [The actual 1951 civil defense film was just added to the National Film Registry of landmark movies by the Library of Congress.]

The story concerns a 50-foot-tall alien robot who crash-lands on Earth in the 50s, follows Hogarth home, and is secretly protected and trained in some English communication by the boy. Naturally the U.S. military is soon hot on the trail of the Iron Giant and anxious to bring all their firepower to destroy him – even resorting in the end to a nuclear weapon. The investigator is a hilarious paranoid government agent from whom Hogarth struggles to keep the evidence about his Iron Giant a secret. Delightful animation, story, music – everything.

- John Sunier

Intimate StrangersIntimate Strangers (2004)

Directed by:Patrice Leconte
Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Bonnaire
Studio: Paramount
Video:Widescreen version enhanced for 16:9
Audio: French Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Extras: None
Language: French
Subtitles: English
Length:104 minutes
Rating: ****

Intimate Strangers, the 20th feature film for Patrice Leconte, is a most unusual love story. Leconte (Man on the Train, The Girl on the Bridge) is regarded as one of the best directors in the world. He has paired two icons of French cinema, Sandrine Bonnaire and Fabrice Luchini in this gem of a film which is filled with suspense and subtle humor. A noir style contributes to the delicious psychological suspense which develops in this case of mistaken identity.

One day Anna enters the office of William, a cautious tax accountant, who she assumes to be the psychiatrist down the hall, Dr. Monnier, and in a distraught state settles down to talk with him. William is accustomed to distressed clients, particularly after a death or divorce. But quickly Anna’s mistake becomes apparent to him. But not to her. Though William tries to correct Anna’s belief that he’s the psychiatrist, his attempts are halfhearted and unsuccessful. By the third visit, Anna has learned that William is an accountant and she is appalled that she has revealed her secrets to a “nobody.” But the visits continue. William listens to her as no one ever has.

Both Anna and William are lonely, isolated and unhappy. William lives in the same apartment/office where he lived as a child and his secretary is “inherited” from his now-deceased father. William’s last girlfriend, from whom he is not completely extricated, left him for a bodybuilder. Anna, who works in an upscale luggage shop, describes a complicated and strange marriage. Her husband sounds possibly scary and unstable. After several more “sessions”, William begins to question Anna’s veracity. He wonders and worries about her. Is she in danger? Is she delusional? We are captivated by the suspenseful plot and also fervently wish for these two lost souls to change their lives.This psychological mystery is provocative and unpredictable, romantic and sexually charged, but without any sex or nudity.

The music of Pascal Esteve (who also wrote the score for Man on the Train) adds beautifully to the suspense and reacts to some of the conversations and actions of Anna and William with violins, piano, English horn, clarinet. Esteve has said he drew some of his inspiration from the modern composer, Philip Glass. The exhilarating melodic score is much more than background music.

The supporting cast is first rate. The smaller roles of the psychiatrist neighbor, William’s secretary, his ex-girlfriend, her boyfriend, Anna’s husband, etc. add texture and interest and considerable humor to the plot and understanding of the two main characters. Most of the film takes place in William’s office. [Like most French films, there is much fooling around with cigarettes and smoking...Ed.] Constructed around emotions, Intimate Strangers manages to be just as exciting as an action thriller. This movie could never have been made in America!

-Donna Dorsett

The Girl from ParisThe Girl from Paris (2004)

Directed by: Christian Carion
Starring: Mathilde Seigner, Michel Serrault
Studio: Koch Lorber
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1 Surround
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Director’s Featurette, Outtakes, Trailer, Behind the Scenes
Language: French
Subtitles: English
Length: 103 minutes
Rating: ***

In The Girl from Paris we meet Sandrine Dumez (Mathilde Seigner), a 30 year old woman unfulfilled by the normal successful trappings of her urban life. To the dismay of her mother, Sandrine enrolls in agriculture school so that she can realize her dream of owning a farm. Adrien Rochas (Michel Serrault), the retiring farmer whose farm she buys with the caveat he can remain for 18 more months, is sure she will not last through the winter. It is not clear initially why the curmudgeon Adrien is so embittered, but gradually that is revealed.

Nominated for two Cesar Awards ( France’s equivalent of the Oscars), Seigner (With a Friend Like Harry) and Serrault (La Cage Aux Folles, Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud and numerous others) are perfect in their roles. First time writer/director Christian Carion does a fine job of presenting a realistic view of some of the rigors of farm life. (It is a little too realistic when a sqealing pig is strung up and slaughtered.) Carion’s father was a farmer in Northern France. The subject is clearly near to his heart. The location selected was an area in Southeast France in the Vercors Mountains of the Rhone Alps. Beginning with the opening scene, there is impressive photography of the high mountains and rugged vistas.

Central to the story is the way the two main characters develop their relationship. It is not the stereotypical presentation I would have expected. The gradual bonding is realistic and schmaltz-free. Also a past boyfriend comes to visit and spends the night, but the significance of this encounter is vague. During the winter scenes especially, Sandrine is a poignant picture of loneliness and vulnerability. Particularly intriguing is the hang glider who appears periodically above the mountain peaks. This figure is symbolic, not someone who will arrive to enhance Sandrine’s new alpine life.

I would have preferred a more satisfying ending, better developed and not so abrupt. Nevertheless, this homage to farm life is warm-hearted and substantial, charming but more low-key than we Americans are used to. The captivating scenery of the Rhone Alps alone is worth the price of admission. Particularly lovely are the several scenes of Sandrine and her large herd of beautiful goats. In one scene, Sandrine has to help a goat give birth.

I found the extras not all that absorbing but worth a look. For the 30 minute featurette, the director takes us on a tour of the farm used in the film. My favorite moment of the extras is in one of the goat herding scenes of the Behind the Scenes feature when one of the film people caresses the face of a sweet looking white goat and says (via the subtitle): “Poor baby, we make you do these silly things in the heat.”

The visual imagery is beautiful with vibrant colors and use of natural light when possible, even with interior shots. The use of ambient sound is excellent, such as when the goats travel from off-camera left to off-camera right. It’s as though they are passing through the room! A highly recommended DVD experience.

-Donna Dorsett

Father and Son - RussianFather & Son (2003)

Directed by: Alexander Sokurov
Starring: Andrey Shchetinin, Aleksey Neymyshev
Studio: Wellspring
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Extras: Photo gallery, Weblinks, Trailers (Father & Son, Russian Ark)
Language: Russian
Subtitles: English
Length: 83 minutes
Rating: ***

Father and Son opens with what appears at first to be a highly erotic scene between two naked men in bed. One appears a bit larger and older but both are handsome and youthful in appearance. Though they are flailing about, we see one is simply comforting the other out of a nightmare. When Father and Son was shown at Cannes (where it was a winner), there was much controversy over this way of introducing a father and son. The director Sukurov denied there was anything homoerotic about it.

If you can disregard the lack of a plot and quite a lot of obtuse dialog, you may enjoy, even rave about this visually beautiful and emotional charged film with music by Tchaikovsky and a very ethereal and at moments surreal experience. It has been termed a spiritual parable. The color is not entirely natural. It is slanted toward orange and brown tones but this serves the director’s intent in creating a dreamlike work.

Alexei attends military school but lives with his father. His mother has died. It is unclear how long ago. They live together in an upper level apartment near the sea. They spend a lot of time in their home doing and saying things not very interesting for the most part. Alexei worries about Andrei’s health. Andrei visits his son at school and watches him in wrestling practice. They argue and they fret over each other. They exchange long, soulful, morose looks. They cavort and exercise on the roof. They sleep. They look at old photos. A girlfriend leaves Alexei and breaks his heart because of his too strong bond with his father. She tells him they have built a fortress and she is tired of banging on the door. Alexei takes a ride on a trolley with a friend who remarks “You have a father but I don’t envy you.” Not a lot happens externally.

Perhaps they cling to each other because of mutual grief over the loss of Alexi’s mother. I can relate personally. My father died when I was a small child and there was always the fear of losing my mother as well. And like Alexei, I was an only child.

About midway through this study in obsessive intimacy, the son tells his father that the saints say “A father’s love crucifies and a loving son lets himself be crucified.” He adds that he does not get the meaning. His father replies “Go to bed. Enough.” That’s what I did, unable to absorb the rest of this slow-moving (albeit only 83 minutes) film until the next day. For me, a good plot is important for a satisfying movie. However, though Father and Son can be confusing with its lack of traditional coherence, I recommend it highly for its visual beauty as well as the moving portrait of how Alexei and Andrei ultimately set each other free.

-Donna Dorsett

Bandit Queen - IndiaBandit Queen (1994)

Directed by: Shekhar Kapur
Starring: Seema Biswas, Nirmal Pandey, Manoj Bajpai
Studio: Koch Lorber
Video: 4 x 3 full screen
Audio: DD 5.1 Surround
Extras: None
Language: Hindi
Subtitles: English
Length: 119 minutes
Rating: ***

The epic film Bandit Queen is based on the biography of a legendary folk hero, Phoolan Devi, whose gang robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Vengeful murder on a large scale plays into the story as well. Bandit Queen is not a typical Bollywood movie in regard to use of obscenities and violence, sexual and otherwise. No singing and dancing. The film was mostly banned in India.

Phoolan Devi, who is of low caste, is sold into marriage at age eleven by her father in exchange for a cow and a rusty bicycle. In a heartbreaking scene one moment she is playing with her friends in the river and the next moment she is being sent away with a man 20 years her senior. After leaving her brutally abusive husband, Devi becomes involved with gangs and emeshed in patterns of gang rivalry and revenge. After the murder of the man who had become her lover and protector, she leads a massacre of the adult males in a small village.

Devi, who was a social outcast after leaving her husband, suffered unimaginable abuse and rape over time but managed to gain dignity and respect ultimately. She surrendered after a long and intense police hunt and much government upheaval in 1983 and served 10 years in prison. The newly empowered lower caste government in her state withdrew all 55 charges against her, including 22 murder charges. Devi was elected to parliament in 1994. In 2001, she was gunned down by four men in front of her home in New Delhi.

This film is definitely not my cup of tea with intense realism of violence and abuse. (A village massacre of the adult males is extremely bloody and graphic.) But it does effectively portray the real life consequences of one woman’s reaction to terrible treatment by men brutalized by the culture in which they live.

The cinematography is very beautiful with vibrant color and with compelling acting by Seema Biswas as Devi. Curious about what other films Shekhar Kapur has directed, I did a web search and discovered that the highly respected Indian writer Arundhati Roy wrote an extensive analysis of the film in 1994 when the movie was first released. Roy compared what is revealed from Devi’s memoirs and her biography by Mala Sen (India’s Bandit Queen) with what Kapur chose to exclude from the film.

Kapur was not curious enough to even meet Phoolan Devi! And from Roy’s account, it is apparent that this portrayal of Devi is somewhat one dimensional and excessively focused on rape in an exploitive and manipulative manner. Not that she did not suffer terrible injustice, but the film’s view does not include the complexity of her life and character and a number of instances of strength and intelligence. In the film she’s either an extreme victim or an extreme brute which is the result of Kapur’s inclusions, omissions and alternations. The film does show how Devi evolved from an angry but essentially helpless victim to a leader of men and respected by many. But for a more balanced and complex view, take a look at Arundhati Roy’s analysis of the more complete and undistorted story of Phoolan Devi at: http://www.umiacs.umd.edu/users/sawweb/sawnet/roy_bq1.html

-Donna Dorsett

Hitchcock's Foreign CorrespondentForeign Correspondent (1940)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video: 1.33:1 Full Frame, B&W
Audio: DD Mono
Extras: Trailer, Personal History: Foreign Hitchcock (33 min)
Length: 120 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

A lack of good information from the European front in the mid 1930s prompts the news editor of a large paper to seek out an unusual foreign correspondent. He puts this man, Jones, onto the story in search of information on the impeding war in Europe. A treaty is in the works and the keynote speaker for the European Federation has refused to talk. When Jones goes to a Universal Peace Party event and meets the man, a strange plot unfolds. While entering a conference in Amsterdam the man is shot, and when Jones (who takes the working name of Haverstock) chases down the perpetrator he uncovers a big conspiracy. But who can he trust? The daughter of the Peace Party leader is a good candidate and he is falling for her hard. No one will believe him and his life is in danger. When the pieces begin to fall into place, a strange twist reveals that those who claim to want peace are the instigators of war.

This film originally started as a screenplay that blended many different types of intrigue and controversial topics. The production was stalled and when Hitchcock finally got his hand in it, it was completely re-written to be more up to date and encompass many of the situations and relevant subject matter relating to the Second World War in Europe. Talented writers were employed to add comedy and wit to the story. McCrea has a pleasant unassuming characteristic that made him instantly likable. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Screenplay. It may not be the most memorable of the Hitchcock catalogue, but certainly deserves its place.

-Brian Bloom

The Man of the YearThe Man of the Year (2004)

Starring: Murilo Benicio, Claudia Abreu, Natalia Lage, Jorge Doria
Studio: Film Movement
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 5.1 Portugese, Stereo Portugese
Extras: Trailer, Biographies, Short Film (Eva Saks’ Confection), Preview (Morlang, Inch’Allah Dimanche)
Length: 106 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

This was my first experience with a Film Movement disc (www.filmmovement.com). It is worth going to their website and investigating—they offer a new award-winning, independent, domestic or foreign film every month. You can subscribe to the club for a monthly basis for $20 or for a year for $200 and they will send you a title per month. The selections are made by directors, critics, etc. so the quality of the films are high and not just titles that someone is trying to distribute to the masses. (I’ve only received two so far, but I’ve been very impressed.) In addition to the film, you get trailers, audio commentaries, free tickets, and a short film. The short film that is included on this disc is as sweet as its topic and in the holiday time it is especially poignant.

This Brazilian film is based on the award-winning novel, O Matador by Patricia Melo. Maiquel narrates the story of how he went from a regular nobody to a gangster. It all started with a bet—one he lost. He had to go and dye his hair and while at the hair stylist, he meets the comely Cledir. He wants to go show her off to his friends and ends up in a bar where he meets up with a rather unpleasant fellow, Suel. Threats are made and Maiquel decides that his only option is to kill Suel. That event changes his life. Soon he is a hero of the town and strangers shower him with gifts. His execution of “street justice” made him famous and when an outspoken dentist offers him the chance to make money killing, it isn’t long before he acquiesces. He figures it is for the good of the people and he will only exact more justice for those who couldn’t be punished under normal circumstances. Little does he foresee that his life is getting complicated—a realization that occurs when a young girl (who Suel used to care for) shows up and demands he take care of her. Then, Cledir is pregnant and their relationship begins to go sour. It is too much and he must get out while he still can.

Acting is solid throughout, and the early parts of the film and especially riveting. Towards the beginning of the end of the film, the movie slows a bit, but still maintains for the most part. Camera work is well done, and the colors virtually pop off the screen at times. Every character is well developed even when they don’t have a large amount of screen time. The viewer is easily manipulated as to the likes and dislikes of the characters and how those likes and dislikes change throughout the film–as the character changes. A slight warning is in order for the amount of violence in the film, otherwise, those tired of viewing boring, predictable mainstream films should take a gander at The Man of the Year.

-Brian Bloom




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