#039

Narc
Paramount DVD

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Cop films work from a limited number of models, and while Narc conforms to any number of them, it somehow makes a bad fit in each one.

Jason Patric plays a disgraced undercover narcotics officer offered one last chance for a desk job if he helps investigate the murder of another officer, aided by the dead cop’s former partner, a rogue officer seething with vigilante tendencies played by Ray Liotta.

They’d be a good cop/bad cop kind of team, if either of them could be considered good in any way. Liotta’s Henry Oak is clearly a borderline sociopath, whose instability is a looming omen for the inevitable cover-up or double-cross the film’s climax flows toward inexorably.

Patric, on the other hand, is a strangely opaque screen presence, whose very inexpressiveness indicates any sort of dysfunction - he hardly makes for a sympathetic character with whom you can hope to identify. Thanks to this painful dynamic, there’s no way you can mistake Narc for the other kind of cop flick - the “mismatched buddy” film a la Lethal Weapon.

Toronto stands in for Detroit, shot in the sort of brooding, bruise-blue tones that have become standard for thrillers these days. Includes a selection of “making-of” featurettes, including one establishing a connection between director Joe Carnahan’s and his idol, William Friedkin (The French Connection, Sorcerer, To Live and Die in L.A.), a specialist in this kind of “men under duress” picture.

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Throne of Blood
Criterion DVD

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Akira Kurosawa’s ominous and stylized version of "Macbeth" finally arrives on DVD in an austere Criterion package. In lieu of any documentary footage, Criterion offers a choice of two subtitled translations by eminent Japanese film scholars Donald Richie and Linda Hoaglund.

The transfer, rich in slick blacks and smoke, offers a beautiful version of this haunting film. Moved to Japan’s harsh samurai period from medieval Scotland, Kurosawa tells the familiar story of murder and ambition in a stark, Noh-drama inspired style, with Toshiro Mifune as the doomed knight and an incredible turn by Isuzu Yamada as his grasping wife.

Mifune’s face is frozen in a rictus of rage and fear, while Yamada’s is an expressionless mask, pancaked white, bordered in hair as lank and heavy as seaweed. It’s an abidingly strange film, and struck through with a sense of overpowering dread that serves the story magnificently.

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Chicago: City of the Century
PBS DVD

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This three-part documentary on the first century of Chicago’s history is a beautiful example of what can be done with the right material, and a bit of restraint.

Ric Burns’ mammoth New York documentary series, screened by PBS two years ago, was full of the sort of bloated narration and mythic excess that’s made Burns and his brother Ken (The Civil War, Baseball) parodies of themselves. Patricia Garcia Rios and Austin Hoyt’s Chicago, on the other hand, is restrained and focused, striving to serve its subject more than its style, and benefits mightily by concentrating only on the Chicago of the 19th Century.

During this same period, Toronto also had a boom, a fire, and political unrest, but Chicago, the other major Great Lakes city, manages to seem more epic. Comes with trivia contests, “making-of” footage, and a bonus documentary on Chicago today that nicely compliments the century-old story told on the other three discs.

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Just Married
20th Century Fox DVD

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It’s hard to deny the comic skills of Just Married’s two leads, but confined to a story with less imagination than a decent sitcom, it’s also easy to pity them.

Ashton Kutcher specializes in the sort of dim but charming male idealized in magazines like Maxim, and if Brittany Murphy was only known for the voice of Luanne on “King of the Hill”, she’d be a genius. As two mismatched lovebirds on the honeymoon from hell - you just know that’s how they pitched this dog-eared story - they wade painfully upstream against a supporting cast full of character clichés, threadbare dialogue, and a tiny repertoire of pratfalls that relies too heavily on getting smacked on the nose. Includes two “making-of” featurettes and some entirely superfluous deleted scenes.

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Is Paris Burning?
Paramount DVD

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This 1966 epic about the liberation of Paris after D-Day is a sprawling mess, studded with star cameos that pass in a blink, and a mess of a screenplay that amazingly came from the typewriters of novelist Gore Vidal and future director Francis Ford Coppola. Hamstrung by an obligation to glorify General - later President - De Gaulle, Vidal and Coppola try to embroider the drama by killing off half of their cast, making this supposedly celebratory film a decidedly downer affair. No extras.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.