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you ever noticed how many movies revolve around illegal activities?
Robberies, scams, murder and mayhem may be frowned upon here in the
real world but they're a recipe for a darn good time at the movies.
If Hollywood's creative minds ever decided to put their skills to
the test, they'd form a league of evil that would give the Legion of
Doom a run for their money.
The three discs reviewed this time out on the surface have
absolutely nothing in common but all revolve around crime. From a
tough-as-rusty-nails classic to a neo-noir thriller/comedy hybrid to
an all-out farce. Remember kids, don't try this at home.
1967 (2005) - MGM (Warner Home Video)
If you're looking for an object lesson in the kind of movie
they just don't make anymore, you could do a lot worse than John
Boorman's Point Blank.
Based on the novel by Richard Stark (the hardass pseudonym of
Donald Westlake), Point Blank
stars Lee Marvin, the kind of man's man movie star who has no
equivalent among today's soft-boiled crop of actors, has a
splintered narrative that requires the audience to pay
attention, and is influenced heavily by the films of the French
nouvelle vague. Mel Gibson's 1999 remake Payback
is to Point Blank as a
Hostess Twinkie is to a gourmet éclair.
Marvin plays Walker (no first name, just Walker), a man
swindled by his partner and left for dead during a robbery on
Alcatraz. He's approached by a mysterious Keenan Wynn who offers
information that will lead to the recovery of Walker's lost
$93,000. In return, Wynn expects him to help bring down the
criminal corporation known only as The Organization. This suits
Walker fine, although destroying the Organization is a distant
second-place concern behind getting back his 93 grand.
Marvin was an actor of surprising adaptability, capable of turning
himself into an irresistible force or a loosey-goosey tall drink of
water. In Point Blank, he's at
his most granite-edged, roughing people up (though never actually
killing anyone, it's interesting to note) and walking into
situations with grim purpose and casual authority. When a thug
shoots at him in a parking garage, Marvin calmly takes two steps
back behind a pillar and waits for the cops to take care of the
shooter for him.
But Marvin's tough portrayal wouldn't be nearly as effective if not
for John Boorman's inspired direction. He enlivens this pulp story
with stylish visuals, brilliant sound and editing (the sequence with
Marvin's echoing, menacing footsteps spilling over into subsequent
shots is one of the most memorable you'll ever see), and outstanding
use of locations. Thanks to Boorman, Point
Blank takes on a haunted, dreamlike quality. Is Walker
even real or is he a driven spirit of vengeance? Both of these are
valid interpretations, as are countless others. Of course, you don't
need to go all metaphysical to enjoy Point
Blank but it's to Boorman's credit that the tools are
there for you if you care to pick them up.
Warner's DVD presents Point Blank
in a gorgeous 16x9-enhanced transfer that preserves Boorman's
careful widescreen compositions. The audio is presented in its
original mono form and sounds more than adequate. There are not a
lot of extras on here but every one is a keeper. The
Rock is a two-part vintage documentary focusing on the
location shoot on Alcatraz Island. The second part is the more
interesting, interviewing a former inmate as he returns to the
Best of all is an audio commentary by Boorman and Steven Soderbergh
(whose movie The Limey owes
more than a few debts to Point Blank)
that we really should have nominated for a Best
Audio Commentary Bitsy Award last year if we'd had our
act together and listened to it in time. Boorman and Soderbergh
cover everything a good audio commentary should, including
anecdotal, thematic and technical concerns. If you're interested in
filmmaking, the disc is worth picking up for the commentary alone.
Perhaps part of the reason we didn't get to this sooner is that it
was given something of an under-the-radar release. When Bill sent me
a list of available review discs and I saw Point
Blank on it, I had to ask if it was the Boorman movie
because I had no idea it had even been released. Well, it has and
I'm thrilled to have it. Point Blank
is a great, tough movie, well worth seeking out on DVD.
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/B+
2005 (2006) - Focus Features (Universal)
I don't envy the marketing departments tasked with selling
movies like The Ice Harvest.
If you sell it as an all-out comedy, audiences will be surprised
when the movie turns out to be much more serious than they
expected. But if you sell it as a thriller, they're bound to be
disappointed by its lack of... well, thrills. While The
Ice Harvest isn't the most ingenious or satisfying
dark comic neo-noir you'll ever see, it does register as an
enjoyable, low-key potboiler.
John Cusack stars as Charlie, a mob lawyer who comes up with a
plan (never fully explained) to rob his employer of a couple
million dollars. He teams up with Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), a
porn merchant who, like Charlie, is desperate for a way out of
his dead-end life in Wichita, Kansas. The movie opens with the
money having already been stolen. The rest of the story details
the twelve hours on Christmas Eve following the crime during
which Charlie and Vic must sit out an ice storm before they can
hit the road.
the plot does take a few twists and turns, The
Ice Harvest isn't exactly a story-driven movie. Its
pleasures mainly lie in watching the great cast at work. Cusack and
Thornton have a terrific rapport, easy enough that you understand
why two such different guys would partner up but also highlighting
the edge of mistrust between them. Randy Quaid has a small but
memorable role as the mob boss, while Oliver Platt all but commits
grand theft cinema as Pete, Charlie's drunk friend who is now
married to his ex-wife. Connie Nielsen is a convincing femme fatale.
Director Harold Ramis, previously known exclusively for comedies
like Groundhog Day, acquits
himself well here. He keeps the movie's tone on track, not skimping
on hard-edged violence but leavening it with a sense of dark comedy.
Universal's DVD captures the look of the movie extremely well.
Extras include a couple of extended alternate endings, interesting
to look at but wisely changed, an amusing outtake with Thornton, and
a few featurettes. Cracking the Story
interviews screenwriters Richard Russo and Robert Benton along with
Scott Phillips, whose novel provided the basis for the film. Not bad
but not as detailed as I'd have hoped. Beneath
the Harvest is a fairly standard promotional
behind-the-scenes piece while Ice
Cracking takes a closer look at a key scene. Finally,
Ramis provides a decent if somewhat unenthusiastic commentary track.
The Ice Harvest is not in the
same league as some superior films of its type, such as Cusack's
Grosse Pointe Blank or the
underrated Miami Blues. But it
is something of a refreshing throwback to movies of an earlier
generation that didn't have pretensions of greatness but merely
aimed to tell an entertaining story. The
Ice Harvest accomplishes that handily. It may not stick
with you long afterwards but it's enjoyable enough for as long as it
Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/C+
Pink Panther: Special Edition
2006 - MGM/Columbia (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Every so often, a film critic finds him or herself in an
uncomfortable situation. They either have to bash a movie that
everyone loves but them or admit to enjoying a movie that it
seems everyone else hates. I don't usually have a problem doing
the former so now that I'm in the latter position, I suppose I'd
better just bite the bullet and admit it. I enjoyed Steve
Martin's remake of The Pink Panther
and I don't care what anybody else says about it.
For many people, the very idea that someone other than Peter
Sellers and Blake Edwards would even attempt a Clouseau picture
verges on the blasphemous. This strikes me as odd, since the
Panther series has never
been considered untouchable. Alan Arkin attempted the character
as far back as 1968 in the little-seen Inspector Clouseau. Worse
yet, Edwards himself cobbled together a post-mortem Panther
with the greatest hits pastiche of Trail
of the Pink Panther, then attempted to replace the
late Sellers with the likes of Ted Wass and Roberto Benigni in
the misbegotten sequels Curse
and Son of the Pink Panther.
The way I figure it, if you're not going to get bent out of
shape about Ted freakin' Wass starring in a Pink
Panther movie, you should at least cut somebody like
Steve Martin a little slack.
plot of the remake is pretty similar to all the other Panther
films. The fabulous Pink Panther diamond disappears following the
very public murder of a famous soccer coach (Jason Statham in a
brief cameo). Assigned to crack the case is Inspector Jacques
Clouseau. Unlike the rest of the series, Panther
'06 is designed as an origin story of sorts for Clouseau. He is
handpicked for the assignment by Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin
Kline taking over the Herbert Lom role), who merely wants a bumbling
patsy to fumble the investigation while he solves the crime himself,
thus securing the Medal of Honor. Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of
sense but most of these movies aren't exactly Agatha Christie-style
models of airtight plotting.
What matters in a Panther
movie is whether or not you laugh and I did. I laughed when I saw it
in the theatre and, much to my relief, I laughed again when I
revisited it on DVD. Now, nothing is more subjective than comedy. I
know that and you know that, so what makes me laugh might just make
you stare at me like I'm the world's biggest imbecile. Perhaps I am
but that's not going to make me stop enjoying Clouseau's endless
attempts to pronounce the word "hamburger", the clever
cameo by Clive Owen, or those ridiculous camouflage outfits
(complete with camouflage ears) worn by Martin and Jean Reno. I even
laughed at the fart joke, which ordinarily would have me in despair
for the state of comedy in film today.
I'm the first to admit that this is far from being a great comedy.
The attempt to give Clouseau some depth is a big mistake and Martin
performs these "Poor Clouseau" moments with a hangdog
expression that will make you miss Peter Sellers more than anything
else in the picture. Not all of the jokes are winners, either.
Although some of the lamer moments, like when Clouseau performs the
Heimlich on his choking secretary, are at least partially redeemed
by a good punchline (the egg she's choking on flies out the window,
hits a bicyclist, who then crashes into an outdoor café which
explodes for absolutely no reason). But enough of the jokes work,
and Martin, Kline and Reno are all good enough in their roles to
make the inevitable prospect of a sequel not entirely unwelcome.
Sony's special edition DVD packs quite a bit onto its single disc
(as well as providing very fine video and audio quality, as one
might expect). By far the most interesting extra is the alternate
opening sequence, a slick computer-animated short that's absolutely
gorgeous but totally at odds with the movie itself. The imagery from
this sequence is also sampled in the disc's main menu. Director
Shawn Levy provides an optional commentary for this as well as a
collection of deleted scenes (including a surreal airplane bit that
didn't work in the movie but is pretty funny on its own), Beyonce's
complete performance of the song A Woman
Like Me, and the film itself. I wasn't looking forward to
his feature commentary but I was very pleasantly surprised. Levy
conveys a lot of information, points out what works and what doesn't
(identifying a particularly clumsy edit, he admits that he tried to
hide it by including a jarringly loud music cue), and provides
insight into Martin's working methods. If you didn't like the movie
in the first place, nothing Levy says is going to change your mind.
But if you thought it was funny, his commentary is well worth a
listen. Other extras include a trio of mini-featurettes including
one on the final animated title sequence, Beyonce's music video for
the song Check on It, and
something called "Sleuth-Cams", basically just raw video
footage from the set. This gives a good fly-on-the-wall feel of what
it was like to make the film but it also confirms the very real
truth that making movies is often quite boring.
I can't quite say that this new Pink
Panther is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. While many people
certainly hated it, I wouldn't go so far as to say I loved it. I
did, however, like it, sometimes a lot. No, it's not as good as the
Peter Sellers films in their prime. But that series didn't hit the
ground running, either. If nothing else, this strikes me as a good
family comedy. There were a lot of kids in the theatre when I saw
this and they all seemed to love it. Personally, I'd much rather
have my kids watching this than something like Yours,
Mine and Ours. Given time, maybe they'll discover the
Sellers films as well.
Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/B+
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