Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Last week, I skipped the column for two reasons. First, it was the fourth of July, and with a family to take care of here in the house, there were other things that seemed more important. And second, it looks like Hollywood felt the same way, because it was the slimmest week of releases I can remember. There were a few titles of note, but very few. I decided to just roll those over to this week. I’ll also be back on the review beat this week, with at least 15 new DVD reviews for you before next week’s new release column hits.
I’d like to also address the issue of my LASERDISC 2K6 segment of the column, which I’ve dropped recently. I’m planning to install some HD equipment here at the house. This in no way means I think the HD revolution has arrived, but if I’m going to speak about the subject, then I need to be able to look at what I’m talking about. Until I do that, I’m going to let Herc handle the HD and Blu-Ray duties here on the site. I’ll get back to telling him how wrong he is about everything soon, I assure you.
For now, let’s kick this off with this week’s...
FEATURED TITLE OF THE WEEK
TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK & BULL STORY
I’ve written about this film a few times on the site so far. When I saw it at the AFI Fest here in Hollywood, here’s what I wrote at that point:
When I walked out of the theater earlier tonight, I knew that I really liked this film. But now that I’ve had several hours to digest it, I think I sort of loved this film. It certainly reaffirms my belief that Michael Winterbottom is one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers working anywhere in the world today. Basically, he’s made his ADAPTATION here, a movie about the making of a movie based on an unadaptable novel. Anyone who knows me knows that one of my biggest pet peeves are movies about the making of movies or set against the backdrop of movie making. I can’t even explain why it bugs me so much... but it does. When LIVING IN OBLIVION came out, for example, I heard that it was hilarious and “really gets it,” and I went into it hoping for the best. Instead, it just irritated me pretty much start to finish. When I showed up at the Arclight tonight, I didn’t realize this was a comedy about filmmaking. All I knew was that Steve Coogan was in it, and Winterbottom directed.
Tristram Shandy is a bizarre nine-volume English novel that is basically one giant digression, the titular character setting off to make a point and following his own bumblebee-busy train of thought wherever it takes him, through family stories and philosophical flights of fancy. It’s absolutely unadaptable because it’s not about anything in particular. You could make a film of parts of it, certainly, but in a very strange way, you could only approach the essence of the novel by doing what Winterbottom and screenwriter Martin Hardy have done here: throwing it out almost completely.
This film is about Steve Coogan (played by, appropriately enough, Steve Coogan) and Rob Brydon (played equally appropriately by Rob Brydon), as well as the rest of the cast and crew who are attempting to make a film version of TRISTRAM SHANDY, and for the first 15 minutes or so, the film is simply a telling of the story. By the time Winterbottom finally breaks reality by including a camera crew in the shot, you’ve already bought into the fact that this is a credible movie they’re making. I would have watched the adaptation. What we see happening to Coogan as we follow him through a few days of production parallels the structure of the novel, one digression after another taking him further and further away from the things that are important. In this case, his girlfriend Jenny (an extra adorable Kelly McDonald) and his newborn baby are the things he can’t quite seem to find time for, and what makes this film so affecting is the way that relationship is never treated as a joke. At times, the film is fall-down funny, but there’s a reality to it as well, and Winterbottom seems determined to make this count. Coogan’s come a long way from his Alan Partridge days, and he manages to find real depth in what could easily have been another send-up of vacuous celebrity. Overall, this is a tremendous ensemble piece, and I loved moments like the introduction of Gillian Anderson, the late-night walk across the battlefield, and Coogan trying to soothe his baby to sleep with a song. It’s a wonderful, surprising film at every turn, and I have a feeling I’ll have to see it again to fully absorb why it hit me as hard as it did.
And then when I named this as number eight on my “Ten Favorite Films of 2005” list, here’s what I wrote:
Michael Winterbottom can do anything. It’s just that simple. He can make any sort of film he wants to make, and he seems to be able to slip from genre to genre without missing a beat. So often, we pigeonhole our best filmmakers and try to force them to work in niches. Winterbottom’s filmography flies in the face of that idea, though. CODE 46, 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, 9 SONGS, IN THIS WORLD, THE CLAIM, BUTTERFLY KISS... he doesn’t repeat himself. He has embraced the ease of video without hesitation, and it seems to make him one of the most limber guys working, turning films out as fast as he seems to think of them. With TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK & BULL STORY, he’s made a great comedy, full of genuine wisdom about human behavior and insight into the creative life. Like KISS KISS BANG BANG, this film takes a liberal attitude towards the adaptation process, and it’s essentially a film version of an unadaptable book which solved the problem by making the film about the way the book is unadaptable, in which actually manages to make the same thematic points that the book does. It’s a magnificent piece of writing, but Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Shirley Henderson, Dylan Moran, Kelly Macdonald, Gillian Anderson, and the rest of the exceptional cast all bring their own sense of play to the table, free to ad lib and make the film even more honest and revealing. It sounds like it’s going to be a Christopher Guest-style comedy about filmmaking, but it’s not. It reaches deeper.
The thing that really gets me is the material about fatherhood and the way the entertainment industry pulls you away from your family, almost as a matter of routine. Ten days after my son was born this year, I was in Vancouver on a film set. And as much as I was dying to be on that set the entire time I was in Los Angeles, when I actually got to Vancouver, I wanted nothing more than to get back to my family. That push and pull is no doubt going to be part of my life for many years to come, and learning to balance those things is one of the most important things I have to do. Coogan’s made a career out of playing puffed-up jackasses, variations on his Alan Partridge character, and there’s stuff in this film that could easily be seen as a knowing wink at that image. But he strips all of that away in a few moments, and it’s those moments that elevated this from a great comedy to something else for me. I’m sorry that Frank Cottrell Boyce, Winterbottom’s longtime screenplay collaborator, had a falling-out with the filmmaker and took his name off the film, because I think this represents a sort of summation of all the wonderful work they’ve done together up till now. The film’s getting a release on the 27th of this month, and it’s well worth seeking out if it plays anywhere near you.
And by the way, you haven’t properly lived until you’ve seen Coogan’s impression of a man with a hot chestnut in his pants. Worth the ticket all by itself.
The disc is actually quite nice, with a great commentary by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon that I’m listening to as I work on the column right now. There are several deleted scenes, several of which nicely fill things out, and there’s a great interview with Coogan conducted by Tony Wilson, who Coogan actually played in Winterbottom’s earlier 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE. This is a film that very few people saw in the theater, so do yourself a favor... I almost never recommend films about filmmaking, but this one’s special and well worth tracking down.
30 DAYS: SEASON ONE
Morgan Spurlock is an interesting variety of documentarian. I don’t think he’s the same kind of shameless self-promoter that Michael Moore has become, but I also don’t think he’s able to remove himself completely from the process. He seems to be interested in experiential filmmaking, movies that are built off of gimmicks, but that ultimately hope to illuminate something about the human condition.
In this six-episode series, Spurlock uses the gimmick of having someone spend 30 days in the shoes of someone else, hoping to force them to broaden their own perspectives on some of the more potent topics of the day. Spurlock and his fiancÃ©e Alex are the stars of “Minimum Wage,” as they attempt to survive a month living on $5.15 an hour, and it may be my favorite episode of the series. The other episodes here include “Anti-Aging,” “Muslims In America,” “Straight Man In A Gay World,” “Off The Grid,” and “Binge Drinking Mom.” There are commentaries on four of the episodes, featuring Spurlock and the subjects of the episodes, and there are also extra scenes that never made it to air. Even though I watched the series when it aired on FX, I’m looking forward to revisiting it and seeing the extra features.
BEYOND THE ROCKS
New Yorker Films is releasing this long-lost silent picture starring two of the biggest stars of the era, Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson. There’s an introduction by Martin Scorsese, as well as a short film of Valentino’s, an audio interview with Swanson, and special features detailing the rediscovery and restoration of the picture. If you’re a fan of silent cinema, this is a pretty major find, and I’m excited to see it for myself.
THE BEST OF THE DAVID STEINBERG SHOW
If you love THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW or SCTV, then you should check out this early satire of talk shows that splits its attention between what happens on and off stage. David Steinberg may be the star, but the show features early work by John Candy, Dave Thomas, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, and Joe Flaherty, among others. I’ve only ever seen a few episodes, so it’ll be nice to check out more of this very influential comedy series.
THE BLACK SWAN
You know what would be great? Someone should do a new film about pirates.
At any rate, until Hollywood decides to resurrect the genre, we can look back at classics like this 1942 Tyrone Power vehicle, co-starring the overripe Maureen O’Hara. Harry screened this at BNAT a few years ago, and it absolutely killed the audience. This is a blast from start to finish, about a pirate who is made governor of Jamaica, leading to him having to face off against his former partners in crime. One of them, played by Powers, abducts the previous governor’s daughter, and things kick into overdrive. It’s romantic, it’s exciting, and it looks like Fox has done a nice job with the disc, which I’ll put at the top of my list of titles to pick up this week.
DENNIS MILLER: ALL IN
BILL MAHER: NEW RULES
So... HBO’s got you covered this week whether you like your comedy set at “Bleeding-Heart Liberal” or “Scumbag Conservative,” thanks to these two discs.
As much as I’m amazed by Dennis Miller’s late-career shift from all-purpose-smart ass to right-wing-mouthpiece, he still manages to get off a few good one liners in his latest HBO special.
Bill Maher’s just as biased, although he leans in the exact opposite direction, and thanks to the fact that Maher employs a staff of writers for his HBO series, he actually gets off a fair number of winners over the course of this compilation of material from his show. I’d say this is slightly better, but unless you’re completely opposed to laughing at a political joke unless it exactly mirrors your own point of view, both of these discs offer a fair number of laughs.
DOCTOR WHO: THE COMPLETE FIRST SERIES
Russell T. Davies deserves enormous credit for kickstarting a whole new chapter in the DR. WHO saga, and this first series of thirteen episodes, along with five hours of extra features, is enormously enjoyable. Chris Eccleston and Billie Piper have undeniable chemistry as The Doctor and Rose, his new companion. The show mixes modern high-tech effects work and the same sort of low-rent fun that the show has always been known for, and this should delight old fans while also creating new fans, an impressive trick.
THE DUDESONS MOVIE
Because sometimes it’s just plain fun to watch idiots maim themselves.
THE FUCCONS, VOL. 3: FUCCON! FUCCON! FUCCON!
I don’t know how to describe this bizarre comedy series from Japan. It’s a savage satire on consumer culture and the modern family, and it’s an absurdist comedy starring mannequins. It’s hilariously funny at times, but it’s also profoundly disturbing. You’ll either love it or hate it, but you’ll certainly never forget it.
Lance Henriksen. The Apocalypse. Sean Young. Claudia Christian. Anchor Bay. Sounds like B-movie heaven to me.
GRAND PRIX (2-Disc Edition)
This film may not have a great script, but it’s still one hell of a ride. Shot in 70MM by John Frankenheimer and starring James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Toshiro Mifune, and Yves Montand, this is all about speed, the sensation of racing. Even now, this stuff holds up, and this is one of the big Warner restorations of the year. Can’t wait to see the new print and the fistful of extras.
How is it that a comedy with Kevin James and Ray Romano goes directly to DVD when both guys have giant hit TV series? My favorite thing I’ve seen either of them do was a documentary special they made last year about playing against each other in a golf tournament, and it’s that easy chemistry between the two of them, the obvious result of a real-life friendship, that’s going to get me to check this one out, even if it did get shelved for whatever reason.
KOKO: A TALKING GORILLA (Criterion)
YI YI (Criterion)
Yay! Here are a couple of Criterion titles that once more illustrates the range of what they release, and just how special they are as a company.
Barbet Schroeder and Nestor Almendros worked together to show the world just how remarkable Koko is, and this 1977 film (which I saw once many years ago) really is jaw-dropping. Dr. Penny Patterson’s experiment in teaching sign language to a mountain gorilla was controversial when it occurred, but the questions it raised are still provocative and difficult, and watching this film, you’ll find your own beliefs about what it is that separates us from animals challenged. I know that my first exposure to Koko changed my opinion of our place in the world, and I’m dying to see this one again, especially loaded with as many extras as Criterion’s known for.
What a great cover for a great film. Taiwanese filmmaker Edward Yang’s story of one year in the life of a Taiwanese family is a masterpiece of minimalism, a story about the little details and the big moments that make up a normal life. At close to three hours, the film never once bores, even though it’s hardly what I would call “exciting.” The exhilaration here comes from recognizing yourself in these characters, no matter what cultural differences there are between us.
That Johnny Depp... someone should put him in a big-budget film someday and see what happens. In the meantime, even the worst of Depp’s films are interesting to see what he comes up with as a performer. This is a bit toothless for a film about the Earl of Rochester, a De Sade-sized perv, but it’s got its moments, and it features an impressive cast all the way around, with Samantha Morton and John Malkovich as the other stand-outs.
MARILYN HOTCHKISS’ BALLROOM DANCING & CHARM SCHOOL
Great character actor cast (Marisa Tomei, John Goodman, Sean Astin, Robert Carlyle), but an ungodly title. The cover makes it look like another riff on DANCE WITH ME, but the reviews I’ve read suggest it’s something more, and I’ll give it a chance with my fingers crossed.
MASTERS OF HORROR: HOMECOMING
Not really sure why they’ve dumped the cover style that the rest of the series has used so far, but this is the latest of the MASTERS OF HORROR episodes to reach DVD. Joe Dante took advantage of the creative freedom this series offers to make a wicked political satire. Be warned, though... it’s preposterously one-sided, and it’s got no interest in giving voice to the right. If you’re a fan of Dante’s work, this is a must-see.
I haven’t seen this film yet, but it sounds like wicked fun to me. I like Pierce Brosnan away from the Bond franchise, and now that he doesn’t have to protect his image at all, I’m looking forward to his work even more. So far, I’m digging all the DVDs that the Weinstein Company has been putting out through Genius Products, a genuine improvement from the releases they were putting out through Miramax, and I’m going to get this one immediately.
NEGADON – THE MONSTER FROM MARS
Out of all the titles on this list that I haven’t seen yet, this is the one I’m most excited to get my hands on. Ever since that first story I ran about the film, I’ve been itching to see the whole thing. Follow that link. Check out those trailers. Then tell me you’re not going to grab that as soon as possible. I double dog dare you.
PATRIOT ACT: A JEFFREY ROSS HOME FILM
If you’ve ever seen Jeffrey Ross appear on one of those celebrity roasts or perform live, you know he’s a blisteringly caustic comedian with a healthy sense of cynicism. So color me shocked at this one-hour film that actually manages to be inspirational and even touching at times. Ross was invited by Drew Carey to be part of a USO tour in Iraq, and he took along his video camera. The result is something pretty special. It’s very funny at times, but it also underlines the genuine importance of the USO, and a portion of the proceeds from this DVD will actually go to help fund the organization. Can’t beat that.
PROTOCOLS OF ZION
Ever since 9/11, I’ve heard many people discuss various conspiracy theories, the most loathsome of which suggest that the international Jewish community knew the attacks were coming and warned only other Jews, making sure that no one of Jewish descent died that day. This is, of course, patently absurd, but it’s also rabidly anti-Semetic. Marc Levin’s film examines these rumors and the recent resurgence of interest in “The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion,” a forged book that supposedly exposes the inner workings of the Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. It’s great explosive subject matter, and I’m hoping the film lives up to its promise.
RENO 911: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON
This show gets more and more absurd the longer it’s on the air, and that’s a good thing. I’m glad Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney and Cedric Yarbrough and Niecy Nash all have this outlet for their specific brand of insanity, and that it’s not on one of the big three networks, where it would probably have been cancelled four episodes into its run. It really is just a parody of COPS, but by this point, they’ve spent so much time and energy creating these bizarre characters that the show has a life and an energy all its own.
This is being released in both rated and unrated versions, and it’s the story of Brian Jones, bad boy of the Rolling Stones back in the ‘60s, and one of the earliest casualties of the rock’n’roll lifestyle of that era. I’m not sure how they made this without being able to use the most famous music by the Stones, but I’m interested in his story, and I’ll check it out regardless.
WEEDS: SEASON ONE
I just plain love this show. I didn’t expect to, either. I thought it looked gimmicky and silly when I saw the first ads for it, but I underestimated my long-time crush on Mary-Louise Parker, and I guess I’ve been conditioned to expect that all of these shows about how things are really done in the suburbs are all the same at this point. Not true. This is both funny and poignant, and the show is less about selling pot than it is about how hard it is sometimes to keep moving forward when life conspires to slap you down. Kevin Nealon, Elizabeth Perkins, Romany Malco, and the great Justin Kirk are all excellent on the show, and when you get to the end of this season and see the way they fold THE GODFATHER into this story, you’ll be as hooked as I am, or I’ll be shocked. It’s smartly written, well observed, and funny as shit, and Lions Gate has put together a two disc set with all ten episodes from season one and a fair sampling of extras, too.