#029

Red Dragon
Universal DVD

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The principle accomplishment of Red Dragon to the Hannibal Lecter saga is that it has given one good film - Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs - a prequel as unnecessary as its sequel.

Red Dragon - made once before as Manhunter before Demme’s hit film - is supposed to be our introduction to Hannibal the Cannibal. He’s a free man when we meet him, the sort of over-refined aesthete who thinks evisceration is the only fitting punishment for a flautist who ruins his evening at the symphony.

Apprehended bloodily by FBI profiler Edward Norton, he’s called upon to help Norton catch another serial killer whose modus apparandi is up to Lecter’s standards of overripe, gothic implausibility. Ralph Fiennes’ killer lives in an empty nursing home and thinks he’s turning into a William Blake painting; why he kills is less important than layering his character with arcane but creepily picturesque details like tattoos, jagged false teeth, and an unblinking stare that relieves Fiennes of the obligation to act.

The two-disc director’s edition of the film is a sop to director Brent Ratner’s apparently considerable ego, and includes the usual “making of” features as well as Ratner’s NYU student film, a puzzling little effort that didn’t suggest much of a career for its auteur. Buried amidst all these bonus features and gothic set dressing is a really amazing performance by Emily Watson as a blind girl who falls for Fiennes, which is as vital and watchable as Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter has become, retroactively, a monolith of camp affectation.

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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
20th Century Fox DVD

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This 1947 romance about love beyond death must have been an enormous comfort for untold thousands of women who had lost men in the war. As for the dead men, I’m sure most of them wouldn’t have minded having Rex Harrison represent them to their grieving widows and girlfriends.

Gene Tierney plays a headstrong widow who rents a haunted seaside cottage, and ends up falling for its ghostly tenant, a dead sea captain played by Harrison. The chemistry between Tierney and Harrison is one of the gems in this charming film, and all the more remarkable since they never actually touch each other until the final scene. Includes an A&E Biography documentary on Harrison’s turbulent life, a testament to the havoc a charming man can wreak on a long string of wives.

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Path to War
HBO DVD

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There are those who will find parallels between the story of America’s descent into an undeclared war in Vietnam and current events. The parallels remain to be seen, of course, but there’s a clear thrust at relevance in John Frankenheimer’s film, his last before his death last year.

Michael Gambon plays Lyndon Johnson, the president whose dream of a transforming America’s postwar economic miracle into a social and civil rights revolution was derailed by a war none of his brilliant advisers ever thought could be lost. The cast surrounding Gambon is stellar, but his LBJ, a man pulled by history and poor counsel into crushing tragedy, is a stunning turn, punctuated by the heartbreaking moments when his eyes widen and his face falls, as each new nugget of bad news is fed to him like poison.

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Femme Fatale
Warner Bros. DVD

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Brian De Palma’s evolution from an ambitious if sometimes taste-challenged director into the most skillful maker of soft-core, near-porn thrillers working today is almost complete. The virtuoso camera flourishes we’ve come to expect from a man whose Hitchcock-worship is legendary are the only thing that burnish this story of a sexy jewel thief, played by the lissome Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. The rest is a prescription package of strip-tease, cynical tough talk, voyeurism and glamorous bisexuality that usually goes straight to video for the “couples night” market.

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Jackass the Movie
Paramount DVD

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Trashed rental cars, obscenely misused muscle stimulators, public incontinence, a man dressed like a mouse crawling across a mousetrap-covered floor, wasabi snorted like cocaine and, most memorably, the “bungee wedgie” make this movie-length spin-off of the hit MTV show a glittering low-point of adolescent male humour. It is, alas, undeniably funnier than almost anything else that calls itself a comedy these days.

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The Man from Elysian Fields
TVA Films DVD

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Mick Jagger gives the performance of his sometimes misbegotten film career in this star-studded straight-to-video drama about a failed novelist who goes to work as a high-class gigolo. James Coburn was actually dying when he played a dying, legendary novelist whose young wife pays for companionship, but somehow Jagger manages too look more fascinatingly ruined as the escort agency boss who recruits Andy Garcia after his second novel is rejected. The film has all the earmarks of a screenwriter’s beloved but overearnest project, the sort of lovingly-made film tragically but almost inevitably destined to bypass the theatres despite an all-star cast.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Season Two)
Paramount DVD

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DS9’s evolution into a sci-fi soap opera wasn’t quite complete by its second season, but the elements were falling into place, including the first foray into the sinister but sexy “alternate universe” where the good guys get to be really bad. The metaphysical chin-wagging and rumours of war that set the tone for the first season would return, but not before DS9 turned into the "General Hospital" of the Trek universe.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.