All About Eve
Fifty-two years later, All About Eve, the 1950 winner of the best picture Oscar, doesn’t feel particularly modern. The world where it’s set - the New York “theatre”, which every character pronounces like it’s an exclusive suburb of heaven - is so changed today, as grubby and diminished as modern manners and fashions seem next to this impeccable piece of classic Hollywood filmmaking.
It would be hard, though, to come up with a modern film as elegantly, pitilessly cruel as Joseph L. Manckiewicz story of ambition and betrayal. Anne Baxter plays Eve, the starstruck fan of Broadway legend Margo Channing (Bette Davis), who insinuates herself into the lives of Margo and her friends, and quickly reveals herself to be a lot more than some wide-eyed, aspiring nobody.
Margo, as we learn during the long, terrible, but famous party scene, is a needy, vituperative, world-class bitch, but Eve is a real monster, evolved to thrive in the world of “the theatre” at all costs. Eve’s comeuppance - at the hands of George Sanders as a fiendish drama critic - is both delightful and horrible to watch, but only one of the magnificently written scenes in Manckiewicz’s script.
Packaged with a commentary by co-star Celeste Holm, Manckiewicz’s son Christopher and biographer Kenneth Geist, an AMC “Backstory” episode on the making of the film, and newsreel footage, this disc happily replaces an earlier DVD version of this undisputed classic.
M. Night Shyamalan is a fantastically talented director who might, one day, stir from merely immense cleverness to real genius. If you love the game good cinema plays with our senses, there’s as little to disappoint in Signs as in his previous films, Unbreakable or The Sixth Sense. It’s not just the crude machinery of suspense and shock at work, but a craftsman’s love of textures, and of lovely, lingering moments in the performance of his actors.
But for a film supposedly about faith and fear and family, Signs is merely a pretty good film about aliens invading the earth. There’s nothing wrong with what Shyamalan does - he is, at barely thirty, as technically adroit as Hitchcock without, perhaps, Hitchcock’s sense of playfulness. That may come, in which case he’ll have equalled a master, but the sense you get from the detailed “making of” documentaries that come with this disc is that Shyamalan aspires to something greater. He has a long way to go.
The Good Girl
The shy, mumbling commentary track by director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White, which alternates between the usual self-congratulatory banalities and some subtly loaded exchanges, is rare among DVD bonus features for being actually illuminating. By the time it’s over, you have a fantastic sense of the insecure but proud world of struggling Hollywood independents like Arteta and White, who secretly know their work is better than most of the crap making millions more than they’ll ever see.
They have the cast to prove it, including mega-star Jennifer Aniston, who proves that she can actually pull off a reasonable impression of mousy, depressed, and desperate as Justine, a young woman trapped in a life she hates. The excellent cast surrounding her - John C. Reilly as her lump of a husband, Tim Blake Nelson as his weasel of a buddy, Jake Gyllenhaal as the boy she has an affair with - are superb, and if The Good Girl stops just shy of being really affecting and devastating, it’s probably only because White and Arteta seem more concerned with the details of “ordinary life”, and lack the audacity to boost the stakes in Justine’s betrayal of both her husband and the boy a bit higher.