DVD Traffic Report: February 12, 2008

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Gone Baby Gone
(Miramax)

In this gripping, self-assured crime drama, Ben Affleck flexes

directorial muscles that nobody knew he had (except maybe Mama Affleck). Set largely in the

working-class neighborhoods of South Boston, it begins with the

disappearance of a four-year-old girl from her Dorchester home and ends

in deeply ambivalent territory. Frustrated by law-enforcement efforts,

the girl’s aunt and uncle hire a local husband-and-wife

private-investigation team (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) to

pound the pavement for leads. Complicating matters, the girl’s mother

(Amy Ryan, teriff) is a drug addict with unpleasant entanglements of her own.

It takes a while to gel, but eventually works up a tension and

complexity that are underscored by a taut, troubled lead performance

from the director’s younger brother Casey. There’s something going on behind

that character’s eyes that’s hard to figure out, even after the film’s

richly suggestive final scene. It’s not a perfect movie, but there’s a

depth and urgency, not to mention a flotilla of generally expert

actors, that carry it over the rough spots. The elder Affleck, who doubled as

co-screenwriter, avoids pretension or high seriousness — this is highly

entertaining, pulpy stuff. But it generates a provocative atmosphere of

moral ambiguity that lingers for days. It’s a modest film, but an

excellent one. (A version of this review originally appeared in the White Plains Times.)

Buy it from Amazon.com: Gone Baby Gone or Gone Baby Gone [Blu-ray]

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We Own the Night (Sony)

With the heart of Greek tragedy and the soul of film noir, We Own the Night takes an intractable situation as its premise and then spends two hours

showing us bad things happening. Joaquin Phoenix is the devil-may-care

Bobby Green, who manages a successful-but-shady Brooklyn nightclub —

and just happens to have a brother (Mark Wahlberg) and father (Robert

Duvall) in high-profile jobs with the NYPD. They could use Bobby’s help

infiltrating the Russian mob, but his loyalties are elsewhere. Once

Bobby wakes up to the idea that he must choose sides, We Own the Night

so vividly depicts his various betrayals of trust that the sentiment

expressed in the film’s final scene feels somehow both monstrous and

hilarious. Whether you enjoy this will depend in part on how much you

mind a script that spells every little nuance of the story out in

clumsy lines of dialogue — it’s writer/director James Gray’s worst

impulse. But Gray has an appealingly old-fashioned approach to

filmmaking and, of course, a terrific cast. (Phoenix, in particular,

has never been better.) What’s more, he devises two show-stopping

action scenes that propel the film’s second half — including a stylish,

heart-pounding car chase in the rain. Good stuff. (This review originally appeared in the White Plains Times.)

Buy it from Amazon.com: We Own the Night, We Own the Night [Blu-ray] or We Own the Night [UMD for PSP]


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240_lubitsch-dvd.jpgLubitsch Musicals (Eclipse)

If you want the full-on Lubitsch DVD experience, make sure you buy a copy of Criterion’s feature-rich releases of Trouble in Paradise and Heaven Can Wait. If you want more — or if you’d prefer to start with a sampler — pick up this boxed set. The price is certainly right. I found this quote, from biographer Scott Eyman, in Lubitsch’s Wikipedia entry. It’s pretty good, save the gratuitously self-congratulatory knock on the “unsophisticated eye”:

With few exceptions Lubitsch’s movies take place neither in Europe nor

America but in Lubitschland, a place of metaphor, benign grace, rueful

wisdom… What came to preoccupy this anomalous artist was the comedy

of manners and the society in which it transpired, a world of delicate

sangfroid, where a breach of sexual or social propriety and the

appropriate response are ritualized, but in unexpected ways, where the

basest things are discussed in elegant whispers; of the rapier, never

the broadsword… To the unsophisticated eye, Lubitsch’s work can

appear dated, simply because his characters belong to a world of formal

sexual protocol. But his approach to film, to comedy, and to life was

not so much ahead of its time as it was singular, and totally out of

any time.

Buy it from Amazon.com: Eclipse Series 8 – Lubitsch Musicals (The Love Parade / The Smiling Lieutenant / One Hour with You / Monte Carlo) (Criterion Collection)

The Royal Tramp Collection (Dragon Dynasty)

It’s not that I think Stephen Chow can do no wrong. But based on what I’ve seen so far — God of Cookery, Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle — I’ll watch him try just about anything, including the new science-fiction comedy CJ7. The two R-rated action flicks from 1992 collected here — written and co-directed by the prolific Jing Wong — represent old-school Chow; I haven’t seen them yet, but they may not be as polished, idiosyncratic and/or hilarious as his recent, self-directed work. That’s OK; I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Buy it from Amazon.com: The Royal Tramp Collection


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No Reservations (Warner)

Oh, I have plenty of ’em.

Buy it from Amazon.com: No Reservations or No Reservations [Blu-ray]

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