DVD Traffic Report: 04/29/08

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax)

Following a stroke that paralyzed him nearly completely, Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote his memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by listening to a bedside assistant read out all the letters of the

alphabet and blinking each time she reached the correct one. This film

is about the metaphor described in the book’s title–Bauby’s ruined body

is like a diving bell, keeping him from interacting with the world

outside, but his still-agile imagination is more like a butterfly.

Director Julian Schnabel is a painter-turned-filmmaker who approaches

the matter with an artist’s instinct for aesthetics, and the film’s

first half-hour or so is a tour de force. Cinematographer Janusz

Kaminski, known for his work with Steven Spielberg, creates a

first-person experience full of both beauty and terror, imagining what

the world must have looked like to Bauby in those first few days after

he came out of his coma. The rest of the film, including flashbacks and

fantasy sequences that amount to a contemporary take on Fellini’s 8

1⁄2, is more ordinary (a tearful Max Von Sydow is excellent in what

amounts to a cameo), but Mathieu Amalric gives life to Bauby’s

clear-eyed, life-affirming prose in an expert voiceover. (Related: Julian Schnabel in Pleasantville) Originally published in the White Plains Times.

Buy it from Amazon.com: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


The Golden Compass
(New Line)

I’m not sure if my great affection for the book on which this is based predisposed me to like the movie more or less than if I had come into it blind. Certainly the whole project pisses me off–the film version not only nerfs the book’s critique of organized religion, but also inelegantly lops off the last few chapters of the book, sabotaging any chance writer/director Chris Weitz had of making something close to a satisfying narrative out of his clumsy adaptation of Philip Pullman’s elegant and absorbing novel. Actually, Weitz hasn’t adapted the story so much as he’s tried to skip gracefully across the top of it, hopping at top speed from superficial story point to stunted characterization, and the film’s first half has the feel of one of those highlight reels showing you what you’ve missed in a TV show’s season to date. Apparently he’s scrambling to introduce the mighty polar bear Iorek Byrnison into the story, and it’s true that the pace settles and the film becomes much more compelling in its second half, right before it snubs the audience by dropping a cliffhanger ending that leaves everything up in the air. What’s Lord Asriel doing at the North Pole? God only knows!? Will young Lyra fulfill her quest to save best friend Roger from certain doom? Who can say!? The film’s big saving grace is its visuals, including creamy storybook cinematography by Henry Braham (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) and top-notch visual-effects work from an army of digital artists who had to bring the film’s cast of daemon-animal characters to life–not to mention those ferocious polar bears–which make it surprisingly easy to watch despite the obvious shortcomings in story. I can’t recommend the film, exactly, but the bear-fight between Iorek and arch-enemy Ragnar Sturlusson alone may be worth an investment of five bucks and two hours of your time.

Buy it from Amazon.com: The Golden Compass (Widescreen Single-Disc Edition), The Golden Compass (New Line Platinum Series Two-Disc Widescreen Edition), or The Golden Compass [Blu-ray]


The Living End: Remixed and Remastered (Strand)

It’s been around 16 years since I saw this, but I remember that it looked about as ugly as any film I’d seen up until that time (Gregg Araki is credited as writer, director, editor and cinematographer). I’m not sure what “remixed” means, but advances in digital technology mean that Araki will have the chance to make this “remastered” version of his 16mm feature look a little less junky and a little more deliberately raw. I remember it being an angry film and a crude film, frighteningly bleak and shockingly funny in spots. In some ways it’s a queer take on Thelma and Louise–a road movie about two desperate and pissed off HIV+ gay men on the run.

Buy it from Amazon.com: The Living End: Remixed and Remastered

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