DVD Traffic Report: February 5, 2008

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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner) Sometimes I wonder if I overrated this one, starved as I sometimes am for a sense of lyricism — anybody’s sense of lyricism — at the multiplex. And then I remember the arresting cinematography by Roger Deakins (this, No Country for Old Men, and In the Valley of Elah seeing release in the same calendar year constituting some kind of triple play, even if I have a few problems with Elah); the presence of Brad Pitt as a laconic but intensely charismatic icon; and a sneaks-up-on-you performance by Casey Affleck as a kind of emotional parasite. And I decide that no, it is pretty great, and I look forward to catching it again this week. Here’s what I wrote about it in October: Tracing the roots of celebrity culture all the way back to 1883, writer/director Andrew Dominik imagines the last few months of the life of Jesse James as a hazy battle of wits between the sharp, charismatic bandit (Brad Pitt) and the gang of thieves he no longer trusts. James has good reason to be wary — two of his men are plotting to turn him in for the reward money, and another, the young wannabe Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), exhibits a neediness that borders on creepy. (He even sneaks up on James in the bath.) Close to three hours in length, the film has time to precisely detail the ways Ford’s idolatry of James turned to resentment and betrayal, with an ironic reversal in the last reel. Pitt invests James with charm, humor and occasional murderousness, effectively imagining a man on the downhill side of his own legend. As the outlaw loses his drive (the clear suggestion is that his death was a form of suicide), the film becomes more clearly Ford’s story, and Affleck’s fine performance snaps unexpectedly into sharp focus for the film’s final third. The result is a languorous masterpiece — a revisionist western about myth, moral compromise, and the male ego. (This review was originally published in the White Plains Times.) Buy it from Amazon.com: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford [Blu-ray] or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Combo HD DVD and Standard DVD) [HD DVD] 480_yellowlight.gif 480_across-dvd.jpg Across the Universe (Sony) If you’re unfamiliar with director Julie Taymor’s resume, know that her most successful project to date remains her staging of The Lion King as a Broadway show, and her current project is a Spider-Man stage musical with songs by Bono and The Edge. So you can’t accuse her of playing it safe, or of having even a passing regard for the appearance of sanity. In that context, a period movie musical built around Beatles covers sounds like it could be, if not an especially good film, at least stupendously entertaining folly. Then again, Glenn Kenney calls it a “perfect disaster,” and J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader quips, “If a bullet hadn’t killed John Lennon, this Beatles-scored musical might have.” Still piques my interest. (Also, you know what might make a fun game? Trying to guess a movie title based on the “plot keywords” it’s been assigned on its main-entry page at IMDb. This one is “Bar-Priest-Cigarette Smoking-Statue of Liberty-Premarital Sex.” (“Hrm, was there a priest in Cloverfield?”)) Buy it from Amazon.com: Across the Universe (Two-Disc Special Edition), Across the Universe [Blu-ray], or Across the Universe (UMD Mini for PSP) 480_feast-dvd.jpg


Feast of Love (MGM) I started making time for Robert Benton after he helmed two terrific vehicles for an aged Paul Newman (Nobody’s Fool and Twilight). Nicole Kidman couldn’t save The Human Stain, but it sure doesn’t hurt that he jazzes up this routine romantic dramedy with levels of matter-of-fact sex and nudity that only the old guys in Hollywood seem to have the constitution for. Despite winning efforts by just about everyone involved, almost nobody bought a ticket. I liked it OK — but I got to see it for free. Buy it from Amazon.com: Feast of Love 480_great-world.jpg

Great World of Sound (Magnolia) This story about two workers for a shady talent-scout operation masquerading as a legitimate record label incorporates hidden-camera footage of real auditions by aspiring musicians — to hilarious and/or depressing effect, depending on whom you ask. Steve Erickson’s interview with director Craig Zobel for Film & Video has more information. Buy it from Amazon.com: Great World of Sound 480_2-days-dvd.jpg


Two Days in Paris (Fox) Not bad for a beautiful and successful actress deciding to become an auteur — Julie Delpy got a generally warm critical reception for her first feature as a director (let’s not forget that she has a few screenplay credits already, including the terrific Before Sunset). Metacritic indexes pans from The New Yorker‘s Anthony Lane, who cites “[Delpy’s] determination to confront and annoy,” and from James Berardinelli, who for some reason bookends his review with jokes about the Paris Hilton sex tape. I’m still interested. Buy it from Amazon.com: 2 Days in Paris 480_redlight.gif 480_brave-one-dvd.jpg


The Brave One (Warner) This Neil Jordan joint aims to titillate the audience with an avenging-angel narrative while criticizing, or at least questioning, the spectator’s propensity for being titillated by such things. (It has that agenda, at least, in common with Haneke’s Funny Games, although The Brave One seems far less willing to attack its own audience — it wants you to agree with the thesis, not wrestle with it.) I thought the mix of art movie and revenge thriller was insurmountably muddled. Jordan and Foster might have gotten better mileage, not to mention a wider audience, by playing the genre angle more conventionally and working to subvert its pleasures more subtly. Buy it from Amazon.com: The Brave One (Widescreen Edition), The Brave One [Blu-ray], or The Brave One (Combo HD DVD and Standard DVD) [HD DVD] 480_eliz-2-dvd.jpg

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Universal) Well, at least it has Cate Blanchett — boy, does this movie need Cate Blanchett! Set near the end of the 16th century, The Golden Age covers the arrival in Queen Elizabeth’s court of Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen in full-on romance-novel mode); the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (an intense Samantha Morton); and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Like Marie Antoinette, which imagined the palace as a slackers’ paradise, The Golden Age reinterprets the monarch in modern terms, this time as a career woman whose duty to her people and her military trumps mere sexual attraction. Blanchett is still riveting, but she’s too mild-mannered to dominate the screen, save for one explosive moment when she scolds a lady-in-waiting (“My bitches wear my collars!”) before stomping off to trounce the Spanish. The balance is too restrained to work as soap opera and too silly to play as historical drama. (A version of this review originally appeared in the White Plains Times.) Buy it from Amazon.com: Elizabeth – The Golden Age (Widescreen Edition) or Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Combo HD DVD and Standard DVD) [HD DVD]

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