#023

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Criterion DVD

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Hunter S. Thompsonís tall tale of drug-crazed journalistic excess was considered unfilmable until Terry Gilliam inherited the troubled production, which managed to survive pre-production only because of star Johnny Deppís fervent commitment to playing Thompson onscreen.

The story is incidental - a 1971 trip to Las Vegas by Thompson and his attorney to cover an off-road bike race and a police convention. What actually happens, at least according to Thompsonís hyperbolic retelling, is like a Cheech and Chong routine turned lethal, lashed with Nixon-era paranoia and the churningly sour aftertaste of the 60s. As much as Altamont or Watergate, Thompsonís book was the tombstone of the decade, a record of the point where free love and consciousness-expansion turned into lechery and madness.

Depp and Benicio Del Toro plunge into their roles with obvious relish, and careen through Gilliamís near-plotless anarchy happily. A rich menu of cameos - from Christina Ricci, Ellen Barkin and a very young Tobey Maguire, among others - gives some idea of the hip quotient of the project, which bombed upon release in the summer of 1998, swamped in the theatres by an execrable Godzilla re-make.

Criterionís reissue features a fantastic transfer from film, with priceless deleted scenes and commentary tracks by the director, Depp and Del Toro, and a rambling track with Thompson, frequently punctuated by incoherent shouting and piercing squeals. A second disc includes a notorious 1978 BBC documentary on Thompson, a short record of Thompsonís visit to the set, readings from the original book, correspondence between Thompson and Depp, and a hilarious set of original trailers that document the clueless and doomed desperation with which Universal tried to sell the film.

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The Four Feathers
Paramount DVD

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It looked like a smart move - a venerable romance of Victorian Britainís colonial wars, filmed for the fourth time with a noted Indian director, Shekhar Kapur (Bandit Queen), at the helm. The result, alas, was tepid and flat, an unconvincing period piece full of impeccable production values and not much else.

The DVD release of The Four Feathers includes a brace of documentary featurettes that seem to try and explain the film, as if a heaping serving of context and background will somehow make the film come to life in retrospect. The problem could have been the casting - a bland loverís triangle featuring Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson and Wes Bentley - or Kapurís inability to make either an epic or a dissection of the moment when the Empire began to crumble. What we get is a chemistry-free love story where men in uniform are gleefully subjected to a pageant of abuse and humiliation.

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One Hour Photo
20th Century Fox DVD

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Mark Romanekís thriller about deadly alienation in the icy tundra of the suburbs would have probably worked a lot better if it wasnít so pitilessly successful in depicting a cold, negligently hostile world.

Itís an anti-star turn for Robin Williams, who plays a lonely man obsessed with a family who develop their family snaps in the supersized discount store where he works as a photo technician. Itís a better performance than a similar one Williams made in Insomnia, but it has no room to breathe in Romanekís technically impeccable film.

A ďmaking-ofĒ featurette, Sundance Channel ďAnatomy of a SceneĒ episode, and a Charlie Rose interview with Williams and Romanek included with the disc testify to the directorís skill and commitment. But too much virtuosity can produce, as the film demonstrates so painstakingly, little more than an emotional fairground ride, easily forgotten.

click here for a longer review of this film.

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The Red Badge of Courage
Warner Bros. DVD

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John Hustonís 1951 Civil War drama is like a frozen concentrated epic, a film that feels like it should be an evening long, but abruptly finishes just shy of 70 minutes. Based on Stephen Craneís classic novel, it was a troubled production from the start, and made it onto the screen only after massive studio interference, a depressing saga recorded in writer Lillian Rossí classic book, Picture. Leaden voiceover narration and curiously amateurish acting is married to memorable black and white camerawork and what feels like a scrapbook remnant of Hustonís original, ambitious vision for the film. Suitably packaged with little bonus material except for the original trailer.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.