#045

The Chaplin Collection
Warner Bros. DVD

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It’s hard not to call this 8-disc box set close to definitive, probably essential for anyone with an interest in Charlie Chaplin or silent films.

Chaplin’s four most important films - The Gold Rush, Modern Times, The Great Dictator and Limelight - are issued in sparkling transfers, with an extra disc each of documentaries and bonus material. The care taken is obvious, ranging from the original 1925 silent version of The Gold Rush included alongside Chaplin’s 1942 re-release, to the industrial films by Ford and the U.S. government packaged with Modern Times.

It’s the sort of package that invites you to carefully analyze Chaplin, a legendary screen character whose mythic status often insulates him from criticism. The films hold up beautifully, from the epic slapstick of The Gold Rush to the bitterly elegiac Limelight. It’s only his most popular and politically forthright film, The Great Dictator, a satire of Adolf Hitler, that seems somehow inadequate today.

In the bonus documentary, it’s revealed that after the war, when Chaplin learned of the real extent of Nazi atrocities, he regretted making the film. Indeed, even Chaplin’s genius and heartfelt humanism comes up short in the face of such a monstrosity, and the plea for peace that ends the film is probably the only lapse into excessive sentiment in Chaplin’s whole career.

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American Pie w/Beneath the Crust
Universal DVD

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American Pie 2 w/Beneath the Crust 2
Universal DVD

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On the eve of the release of American Wedding, the makers of the phenomenally successful American Pie franchise have put out the unrated versions of the first two films with new bonus discs that scrutinize the films more closely than they deserve.

The Beneath the Crust discs comprise deleted and extended versions of key scenes in the film, which mostly serve to explain why the second film felt so patchy and unsatisfying. It seems that the filmmakers got ambitious the second time around and, apparently inspired by American Graffiti, tried to inject actual drama and character into the formula.

Two whole storylines were filmed and excised, requiring quick re-shoots and the creation of a new gross-out scene - a lesbian sequence that proved a bit hit with audiences. It’s probably a rare, perhaps unintended consequence that a special edition DVD reissue of a hit film comes off as an abject admission of failure.

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Solaris
20th Century Fox DVD

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Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s solemn, Soviet sci-fi classic - considered the “Red” 2001: A Space Odyssey - was intended to be a closer take on the original Stanislaw Lem story. In spirit, though, is evokes the same hushed, static, elongated atmosphere of Tarkovsky’s film, and in practically half the time, something of an accomplishment.

George Clooney plays a near-future psychiatrist and widower sent to a space station where the crew has apparently gone postal. Once aboard, he’s visited by his dead wife, summoned up from his memories by Solaris, the “living planet” the station orbits. If Soderbergh has accomplished anything, he’s brought the ghost story at the heart of the tale into bolder relief. Unfortunately, he manages to do so without much drama or excitement. Includes two “making-of” featurettes and a commentary track with Soderbergh and producer James Cameron.

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Daredevil
20th Century Fox DVD

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The immense anticipation and goodwill from the comic book community that anticipated a Daredevil movie is abundantly documented an hour-long feature included on the bonus disc included with this DVD. While Batman and Superman are the layman’s favorite superheroes, comic geeks have kept the Daredevil story going for forty years, and the interviews with the comic’s various creators and artists give some idea of the abiding fascination the blind vigilante holds for comic cognoscenti.

It’s a shame no one bothered to think twice about casting Ben Affleck in the role, an actor whose unshakably callow persona renders the hero a red leather-encased cipher. Another hour-plus of “making-of” footage showcases the real skill and talent that went into this disappointing feature, where Colin Farrell’s insanely over-the-top performance as the villain stole the show.

click here to read a longer review of this film.

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Till Human Voices Wake Us
Paramount DVD

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Helena Bonham Carter plays a thoroughly convincing undead girl in this slow-moving, thrill-free ghost story set in a small Australian town. Guy Pearce is a stifled psychiatrist - cliché number one - who returns to the small town where he grew up, and the tragedy that changed his life, when his emotionally distant father dies. (Clichés two, three and four - check.) He meets Carter, a girl without a memory, and comes to grip with the past as the flashbacks congeal. (Clichés five and six. Check and check.) No bonus features.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.