#036

Millerís Crossing
20th Century Fox DVD

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The corrupt, midwestern Prohibition-era town where Millerís Crossing takes place is never identified, but it may as well be called Coenville, since itís more specifically a creation of directors Joel and Ethan Coen than any real place at any actual time.

This story of a gang war barely managed and manipulated by wise guy Gabriel Byrne is probably the most restrained Coen film that still seems to attempt some emotional connection with itís audience; from this point on, the Coens would flirt with excess, stylistic or otherwise, and make films more often that not like Barton Fink, also finally released on DVD, films they seem to be making for each other more than anyone else.

At times, itís possible to imagine that youíre watching just any decent period film about speakeasies and tommy guns, until you hit a sequence like the justifiably famous ďDanny BoyĒ botched hit scene, where Albert Finney foils two assassins sent to rub him out in a jaw-dropping spectacle of flames and automatic gunfire. Itís outlandish and audacious, and the product of no other mind than Joel and Ethan Coen.

Byrneís character is familiar enough - weíve seen Humphrey Bogart play it often enough, and Kurosawaís Yojimbo is probably the template for this kind of story, practically a template for the whole genre. Of course, when Bogart or Toshiro Mifune play the crafty gunman, heís rarely beaten up as regularly or as viciously as Byrne is in this film.

Includes a really nice featurette, an interview with cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who would leave the Coens after Millerís Crossing for an only occasionally interesting career as a director.

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The Recruit
Touchstone DVD

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Since weíre told, from practically the first scene, that this story of a young CIA recruit is one where no one is to be trusted, nothing is to be believed, weíre prepared for any number of double-crosses or false trails. Itís a sign of how venerable this kind of film has become, and how itís come to systematically shortchange the suspense itís supposed to be retailing.

Itís directed by Roger Donaldson, whose fondness for the coolly paranoid world of Washington intrigue and espionage was essayed before in No Way Out and Thirteen Days. He gets the details right, inviting us along with MIT grad Colin Farrell into the chilly world of the CIA, a place full of lethal high tech gadgets and low-tech physical trials that might be totally invented, but seems plausible enough, unlike Al Pacinoís Mephistophelean recruiter, or Colin Farrellís cocky, father-fixated recruit, who would have washed out of real CIA training in an hour. Includes a fascinating but wholly unlikely featurette on the agency training program.

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The Animatrix
Warner Bros. DVD

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This collection of animated shorts is meant to flesh out the Matrix universe created by the Wachowski Brothers, and if youíre looking for a sampling of the latest, state-of-the-art digital animation, this is the place to go. If youíre looking for something more than standard-issue apocalyptic paranoia filled with buxom, sword-wielding babes and cool robots, youíre better off with the latest Pixar childrenís film.

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Zulu
MGM DVD

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Itís unlikely that anyone has seen Michael Caineís debut as a star in itís proper widescreen form since the film was released almost forty years ago, so this clean but bare-bones reissue is something of a revelation. Zulu is an accurate re-creation of the desperate defense of a remote outpost by a few dozen British soldiers, against a few thousand crack Zulu warriors, and Cy Endfieldís austere direction will be a revelation for anyone used to the clumsy pan-and-scan version shown on television for decades.

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Father of the Bride
Warner Bros. DVD

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Spencer Tracy could have played the beleaguered dad coping with his only daughterís wedding spectacle in his sleep; itís hardly the most compelling exhibit in his gallery of gruff, put-upon middle-aged men, but itís hard not to enjoy. Elizabeth Taylor plays the spoiled daddyís girl, and Joan Bennett Tracyís charming and purposeful wife, and Vincent Minnelliís film does a nice job of contradicting the myth that the 1950s were a manís decade, so totally do women rule the domestic sphere.

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Objective, Burma!
Warner Bros. DVD

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Errol Flynn plays the heroic leader of a group of crack paratroops fighting behind enemy lines in this skillful piece of wartime Hollywood propaganda. If you like war films, youíve seen this film before - itís a ďlost patrolĒ movie, where a group of disparate, mostly stock-character Ordinary Joes forge bonds in combat while being picked off and while wiping out numberless enemy soldiers. Itís hard to remember that this is something of an original, the first, and most accomplished, of a kind of war film subgenre. Includes two priceless Warner Bros. wartime shorts, one starring Ronald Reagan, who spent the war making this sort of clumsy, earnest propaganda.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.