#043

The Billy Wilder DVD Collection
MGM DVD box set

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If you love Billy Wilderís films, and for some reason you havenít been moved to own copies of two of his undisputed classics - Some Like It Hot and The Apartment - then this box set is a must-have.

After 1963ís Irma La Douce - also in this set - Wilder slowly lost his prime position in the Hollywood pecking order. In the age of free love and executive swingers, his comedies began to feel anachronistic, inspired as they were by the wry morality of continental Europe between the wars. He made three more films after Avanti!, the last film in this set, and spent the last two decades of his life as a ghost haunting Hollywood, a living indictment of the sorry state of the movie comedy post-Wilder.

In Wilderís world, adultery was a redemptive act - watch 1964ís Kiss Me, Stupid, with Dean Martin playing a leering caricature of himself - and prostitutes always had a heart of gold - see Kim Novak in Kiss Me, Stupid, and Shirley MacLaine in Irma La Douce. A scathing satire of Americaís political crisis in the 60s and 70s sneaks into 1972ís Avanti!, and dominates 1961ís One, Two Three, a Cold War comedy starring James Cagney and paced at a pitch somewhere between a rant and a howl.

Thereís a couple of Wilder missteps (Kiss Me, Stupid and 1966ís The Fortune Cookie) and an outright oddity (1970ís leaden The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) but at least one gem. Avanti!, available here on DVD for the first time, stars Jack Lemmon as a harried American executive who arrives in Italy to collect his fatherís body only to discover that the old man was living a secret life every summer with a mistress in a resort hotel. Itís a romantic farce with some frontal nudity - it was 1972, after all - laced with acid asides about American foreign policy and the looming economic crisis.

Six of the eight discs come without bonus material; only Some Like It Hot comes with bonus featurettes, and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes adds an interview with Christopher Lee, who played Holmesí brother, who recalls Wilder as the greatest director heís ever worked with, a judgment vindicated years ago.

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Shanghai Knights
Touchstone DVD

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As a historical comedy, Shanghai Knights is a decent action film. Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson reprise their roles from Shanghai Noon, the martial arts western that scored with the box office if not with critics. The sequel - with Chan and Wilson in Victorian London to avenge Chanís fatherís murder - is more of the same. Chan, who would obviously rather work than sleep, applies his usual mix of charm and physical prowess to another installment in the filmography of the most likeable bad actor ever.

Wilson also turns in a rote performance, yet another lovable jerk with an endless line of psychobabble. The plot is immaterial, and the fight scenes, as with all Chan films, the only real attraction, thankfully available as expanded outtakes on the filmís bonus material.

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Laurel Canyon
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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Lisa Cholodenkoís sour, joyless film about sexual freedom garnered heaps of praise for Frances McDormandís turn as a middle-aged record producer and bohemian free spirit forced to confront a rift between herself and her straight laced, grown-up son (Christian Bale). McDormand is, indeed, in fine form, but the film is a confused attempt to both celebrate and justify her characterís moral obliviousness - quite a contradiction, if you think about it. Includes director commentary and a making-of featurette.

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Juggernaut
MGM DVD

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Juggernautís story of terrorism on the high seas is rich with the morose, overcast atmosphere of Britain under Prime Minister Edward "Ted" Heath. The metaphors in Richard Lesterís 1974 thriller are hardly subtle; a passenger compares the shipís captain to Heath - quite a feat considering heís played by Omar Sharif - and the ship, which leaves port carrying seven bombs planted by an anonymous terrorist, is called the Britannic.

An all-star cast - David Hemmings, Ian Holm, Anthony Hopkins - is led by Richard Harris as the bomb expert flown out to defuse the bombs. Harris is in fine form, seething and raving like the cramped passageways are some fogbound moor. Director Lester is just as good, playing with the sound design and keeping the tension taut right till the curiously downbeat ending. No bonus extras.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.