About A Boy
The low-key hit comedy About A Boy has more than a few things going for it. Nick Hornby’s novel, while hardly great literature, is as funny and as human a source as a director could want, and while no one would confuse the Paul and Chris Weitz with great directors, American Pie showed that they had a sure hand with comedy, low-brow or not.
The secret weapon, however, is the cast, in particular Hugh Grant, playing a role he admits is much closer to the facts of his character than the fumbling toffs he’s made his career with. Grant is Will, a boy at nearly forty, living happily and irresponsibly off the profits of a Christmas song his father wrote. He's single and loves it, a social vacuum, which nature - and most women, once they get to know him - abhors.
A mildly deceitful dating tactic ends up bringing Marcus, an actual, 12-year-old boy, into his life, and they both, somehow, end up helping each other through the awkward, necessary - and for Will totally overdue - rituals of maturity. It’s a charming story, anchored in Grant’s easy, even gleeful performance as a man whose dream of an uncomplicated life doesn’t stand a chance.
Special features include an utterly unnecessary but amusing “making of”, some rather telling deleted scenes, director’s commentary, music videos, and a dictionary of modern English slang for American audiences.
Philip Lopate’s essay, included in this exhaustive two-disc set of Jean-Luc Godard’s most “commercial” film, insists that the main characters in Contempt - a couple played by Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli - are “likeable” people. I find it hard to agree. Paul and Camille, a writer and his stunning wife, are hardly likeable. Fascinating, expressively unhappy, immensely watchable - yes. Likeable - not a chance, but so few people really are, and that shouldn't preclude making movies about them.
But the pivotal scene, over forty minutes in the couple’s apartment where they slowly tear each other open, Paul’s aggressive insecurity dashing against the breakers of Camille’s capriciousness, is hardly a showcase of two likeable people. It sounds agonzing, but like so many of the classic French “new wave” films, it’s remarkably delicious to watch. Godard’s direction is only amusingly perverse, while Raoul Coutard’s cinematography is exquisite. Bardot isn’t hard to look at, either.
Included is a fascinating hour-long talk between Godard and Fritz Lang, who plays himself in Contempt, documentaries on the sensation that surrounded Bardot at the time, interviews with Godard and Coutard and the hilariously pretentious original trailer.
Ridley Scott’s rarely-seen first film is a beautifully shot, low-budget historical epic that gave notice of what the young director, then only known for his TV commercials, would accomplish. Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine play officers in Napoleon’s army who end up bound together in a series of duels over a point of honour so obscure that neither of them can explain it. Includes a chat between Scott and director Kevin Reynolds (The Count of Monte Cristo), director’s commentary, and Scott’s first short film, Boy & Bike, which makes it essential for Scott fans.
There’s a cracking good war adventure lost somewhere in this overwritten story of codebreakers, spies, and betrayed lovers. The key moment of that lost movie juts up near the end of Michael Apted’s film, a scene where the math geeks trying to break Nazi U-boat codes have to guiltily sit and wait for a convoy to be destroyed for them to get the clues they need. Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet and Jeremy Northam give decent performances in a film suffering from a fatal identity crisis.