Paul Thomas Anderson’s offbeat romance was not the film Adam Sandler fans wanted to see, as its disappointing box-office take amply showed, but its poor performance compared to Anderson’s previous films - Boogie Nights especially, but also Magnolia - demonstrated not even Anderson’s fans “got” the film.
Which is a shame, because Punch-Drunk Love will probably be something of a classic when Boogie Nights is a footnote to Anderson’s career, and Sandler’s reputation as a comic actor is as obscure as that of Fatty Arbuckle, or Harry Langdon.
Words like “offbeat” or “quirky” might give the impression of a film rendered lopsided and graceless by its own self-conscious strangeness, but it couldn’t be further from the case. Anderson’s film sets up its own improbable dynamic from the first scenes, and pursues this ominous yet serendipitous logic right to the end of its economical hour and a half running time.
Much has been made of Sandler’s use of his comic persona - the lovable doofus simmering with hidden rage - to create Barry, the hapless novelty toilet plunger salesman moved to extraordinary acts of strength and love. It’s probably the best thing he’ll ever do, aided by a supporting cast that includes Emily Watson as his love interest, and Anderson regulars Luis Guzman and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
The two-disc Special Edition features a beautiful, Superbit transfer of the film on one disc, and a truly creative menu of special features on the other, including a short film and several impressionistic “Scopitones” based on footage from the movie, as well as deleted scenes and more.
If you’ve seen L.A. Confidential, you’ll experience a bit of déjà vu watching Ron Shelton’s Dark Blue, another film about top-down corruption in the L.A. police department. It’s no surprise, since both films are based on stories by modern crime noir writer James Ellroy, though Ellroy fans might find themselves sighing at his latest recycling of themes and characters.
Kurt Russell plays a third-generation rogue cop, an enforcer hopelessly implicated in his superiors’ ugly misuse of the system, and Scott Speedman plays his rookie partner, whose conscience is troubled by the blatant abuse of the law he’s seeing. Familiar sounding? The big change from L.A. Confidential is a creative update from the 50s to the eve of the Rodney King riots. Shelton’s direction is as sure and as conventional as you’d expect from the journeyman director. Includes three unremarkable “making of” featurettes.
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie
If Hayao Miyazake hadn’t already made masterpieces like Spirited Away, a film like Cowboy Bebop, based on the popular TV series, would be the benchmark for anime features. The most beautiful work in the film probably occurs during the credit sequence, though there are some breathtaking touches throughout this story of bio-terrorists and hardboiled bounty hunters on a fantastic near-future Mars colony that looks like 1979 New York crossed with Blade Runner’s stygian L.A.
The film, like a lot of anime, is a sci-fi collage that tosses in practically every cliché and trope: Native-American spirituality, rogue corporations, cyberpunk hacker culture - you name it. Unlike most anime, however, some care was taken with the character animation, and the usual big-eye Sailor Moon cartoon faces and static camera moves are rare. It remains to be seen, however, what relevance a “making-of” special feature has to a film created entirely on drawing boards and in computers.
The White Sheik
Federico Fellini’s first movie - Orson Welles’ favorite by the director - was already that most overused of film-critic adjectives - “Felliniesque”, which is to say full of wild-eyed acting, human grotesques, and a loving fascination with the city of Rome.
Leopoldo Trieste and Brunella Bovo play provincial newlyweds on their honeymoon, but while he plans a stodgy sightseeing tour, she runs off to meet her heroic crush, the actor who plays the White Sheik in a “fumetti”, a melodramatic illustrated magazine series. The two of them are basically tossed about and gently abused by the big city, before finding each other again just in time for their audience with the Pope.
Includes a fantastic reminiscence of the making of the film by Trieste and Bovo, full of marvelous anecdotes about working with Fellini and moviemaking in post-war Rome.
The Song Of Bernadette
Jennifer Jones plays Bernadette Soubirous, a sweet, simple girl whose life was transformed when she claimed visions of the Virgin Mary in 19th century France, transforming Lourdes, her sleepy hometown, in to a major pilgrimage site. The marvel of this Oscar-winning 1943 film is how grippingly dramatic it remains even if you lack the faith in miracles that made Bernadette’s sainthood possible, thanks to Jones’ luminous yet self-effacing role at the centre of everything. A Biography documentary on Jones included with this fantastic transfer tells the story of a respected movie star who never quite became a movie goddess, despite her beauty and the tragic life story, and the efforts of David O. Selznick, her second husband, to make her one.