#035

25th Hour
Touchstone DVD

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Spike Lee’s best film since Do The Right Thing went almost unnoticed when it was released last year, stirring up the slightest bit of media attention mostly for being the first film made in Manhattan since 9/11.

It’s a shame, since it showcased Lee’s first really mature exploration of sympathetic, believable characters in a long time, a remarkable achievement if you’d suffered through the ugly misanthropy of Summer of Sam, probably his worst film. The story of a convicted drug dealer (Ed Norton) making his way through his last day of freedom before being sent to prison was suffused with the same, bruised, emotional stupor that overwhelmed New York in the year or so after the terrorist attack.

The connection between Norton and his hometown’s grief isn’t a perfect fit, but Lee’s films aren’t generally famous for their symmetry or elegance. Lee’s urge to provoke became a bit mannered well before this, his 17th film, but 25th Hour marks the first time that Lee seems willing to let his characters dictate their own actions, as opposed to sending them down a predetermined track, with a series of attitudes or statements as their only character cues.

Includes an uncritical short documentary on the director’s career, a small batch of very watchable deleted scenes, commentary tracks with Lee and screenwriter David Benioff, and a short film tribute to Ground Zero.

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Disney DVD

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The science of Disney’s epic film version of the Jules Verne novel is a bit spotty, but the verve of this 1954 chestnut, with James Mason as Captain Nemo, the original eco-terrorist, and Kirk Douglas as a hyperactive sailor, is hard to deny.

The design of Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, is a gem, all plush Victorian details over sweating iron, and even if the famous “squid battle” scene looks a bit hokey today, Disney includes an earlier version, re-shot to take place in a storm, that’s even more hilarious. In fine Disney fashion, the film comes packaged with a whole disc of great bonus features, including a nice documentary on composer Paul Smith, and “Grand Canyonscope”, a widescreen Donald Duck cartoon that was originally released to precede the film.

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Star Trek: Nemesis
Paramount DVD

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There’s no reason to believe that Nemesis is likely to be the last Trek movie featuring the New Generation cast, despite the film’s advertising campaign. For Trek fans, the break-up of the Enterprise crew is doubtless the film’s great emotional touchstone; for non-Trek fans, you can’t help but marvel that Starfleet relies on such an unnaturally melancholy, ageing officer corps.

The behind-the-scenes featurettes included with the film showcase the usual fascination with high-tech toys and spaceship design, and provide a fascinating glimpse of the almost cult-like community of people who make Trek product. It goes without saying that if you love Trek, you’ll want this; for outsiders, it still seems like sci-fi’s most self-satisfied franchise.

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Battle of Britain
MGM DVD

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Sink the Bismarck
20th Century Fox DVD

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Commandos Strike at Dawn
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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Three war films from a bumper crop of new reissues, providing three fascinating snapshots of the way World War Two was remembered. The Battle of Britain, from 1969, was stylishly directed by 007 veteran Guy Hamilton, with an all-star cast, including Michael Caine, Sir Laurence Olivier, Robert Shaw, and Christopher Plummer and Susannah York as a fighter pilot and his wife enduring marital strife amidst the bombs and blackout. Brisk and anthemic, it’s probably the best of the bloated war epics produced in the aftermath of The Longest Day.

1960’s Sink the Bismarck is a stiff upper lip kind of film, a slightly fictionalized re-telling of the British efforts to sink Germany’s monster battleship in the war’s darkest days. It’s not terrible history, and showcases an austere, even stately sort of action direction that seems quaint today. Even quainter is 1943’s Commandos Strike at Dawn, a story of resistance in a Nazi-occupied Norwegian fishing village which smacks of earnest propaganda, with Paul Muni doing a thousand-yard stare as the saintly fisherman who leads his neighbours in their fight against the wicked Hun. All three discs come bonus-free.

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Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing
20th Century Fox DVD

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This lush yet slightly surreal, Oscar-winning 1955 romance has Jennifer Jones and William Holden fall in love against the backdrop of a skyscraper-free Hong Kong. She’s a widowed Eurasian doctor, he’s a married American journalist, and the bigotry that contrives to keep them apart is shown in the most restrained, even dignified manner imaginable. Includes a Biography feature on Holden, and contemporary newsreel footage.

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Antwone Fisher
20th Century Fox DVD

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Critics attacked Denzel Washington’s directorial debut for it’s Oprah-fied story of overcoming adversity and healing, which only seems churlish when you consider that it was based on a true story, written for the screen by the real Antwone Fisher. Derek Luke gives a great performance as troubled navy seaman Fisher, and while Washington’s direction often feels a bit stately, it’s hard to deny the emotional punch of Fisher’s story, a nightmare of abuse and abandonment redeemed with undeniable dignity. Includes a film interview with Fisher, a “making of” featurette, and a short plug for the Navy film office.

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©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.