#062

X2: X-Men United
20th Century Fox DVD

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With the first chapter and its mammoth backstory out of the way, Bryan Singer was finally at liberty to explore the characters of his X-Men with the second film, X2: X-Men United. So why does this film feel so sketchy? Why does all of that careful character study get washed away with the tidal wave that concludes the film’s epic battle?

It might be because Singer has stuffed his multi-chapter story with a few more characters than anyone could concentrate on, even in a film three times as long. In addition to the core group of superhero mutants – Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Professor X and Jean Grey – and their nemeses, Ian McKellen’s Magneto and Rebecca Romijin-Stamos’ Mystique, there’s a whole school full of junior mutants, and new characters like Alan Cummings’ fascinating Nightcrawler, a demonic-looking but devoutly Catholic teleporter.

For moments when the camera alights on them, you get a glimpse of the story Singer obviously hopes he’s telling – a dark drama, infused with tragedy, about troubled people afflicted with both a blessing and a curse. With so many promisingly tragic figures filling the frame, it’s inevitable that some of them get left out: James Marsden’s Cyclops and Halle Berry’s Storm are barely more than walk-ons.

An underpowered ending that succeeds as neither a set-up for a sequel or a satisfying conclusion in itself only compounds the sense of disappointment.

A bonus disc of exhaustive featurettes, production documentaries and comic book histories is both expected and unremarkable, except for a short feature on Nightcrawler, which frustratingly hints at the possibilities of the character.

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Bruce Almighty
Universal DVD

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Jim Carrey walks the line between his trademark manic physical schtick and his much less celebrated “serious” acting with this faintly blasphemous re-write of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life.

Carrey, playing a Buffalo TV reporter crushed at the bottom of a streak of bad luck, curses God one time to many, and ends up getting His job. Needless to say, a mere mortal, selfish and vengeful, is ill-prepared to take on the mammoth tasks of the Almighty, and only makes his life worse – in addition to threatening the survival of the human race.

A selection of deleted scenes provide a glimpse into Carrey’s improvisational working method, and hint at why the actor’s attempts at plausibly motivated, human reaction always ring false: directors like Tom Shadyac are too in awe of Carrey’s comic talent to rein in the mugging.

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Special Edition)
MGM DVD

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This amusingly overbuilt children’s movie is a training wheels, period-piece primer for future James Bond fans. No surprise – based on Ian Fleming’s sole children’s book, produced by Bond producer “Cubby” Broccoli, and designed by Bond visual mastermind Ken Adam, it’s Bond-lite, which is to say 007 in an Edwardian frock coat, with the fabulous ride, nifty gadgets, exotic locations and despicable villains. Even Sally Ann Howes, the heroine, is saddled with a sugar-coated Bond girl name: Truly Scrumptious.

Comes in a deluxe, slipcased package with a storybook on the film’s making, and a second disc of vintage and modern featurettes. The film itself is available on a two-sided disc, with widescreen on one side and the inevitable and utterly unnecessary full-screen version on the other.

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La Strada
Criterion DVD

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Fellini’s first masterpiece is, as Martin Scorsese says in his video introduction to the film, the centerpiece of his early period, before he became famous for a career of fantastical, sprawling films like La Dolce Vita and 8 ½.

In a postwar Italy full of discarded props from the American occupation of the country, Anthony Quinn plays Zampano, a bitter brute of a circus strongman, who literally buys his assistant Gelsomina (Giuletta Masina, Fellini’s wife) from her impoverished family. The whole film rides on Masina’s elfin, angelic face, and her embodiment of a simpleminded goodness that might redeem Quinn’s monster. For some critics, that's it's major flaw, but this critic finds Masina's performance touching if, admittedly, exceedingly off-kilter.

Comes with a commentary track by film scholar Peter Bondanella, an optional soundtrack with Quinn and Richard Baseheart’s English dialogue, and a disc featuring a long, vintage Italian TV documentary on Fellini.

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Mondays In The Sun
Lion’s Gate DVD

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This film, starring the always-impressive Javier Bardem, is a terribly somber story of desperate men deprived of their livelihood. Imagine The Full Monty, without the stripping, the whimsy, or any laughs that don’t come from a truly dark place. Bardem plays one of a group of friends, laid-off shipyard workers barely scraping by as their former place of employment gets auctioned off and demolished. They argue in their local bar, and struggle to hold on to the women in their lives. Bleak stuff, but utterly compelling if you’re in the mood. Includes commentary track and “making of” footage.

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Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life
Paramount DVD

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You’d be tempted to call the Lara Croft franchise, now two films long, a sort of “James Bond for girls”, until you remember that, in neither movie nor videogame form, was the pneumatic character was never meant to appeal to women.

Jan De Bont’s globe-spanning action film is even slicker than recent Bonds, filled with massive, death-defying stunts that somehow manage to be less compelling than the ones in Die Another Day or The World Is Not Enough. Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life is a Teflon film, technologically marvelous with a non-stick surface, cold and uninspiring. The fault can probably be traced to Angelina Jolie, who looks marvelous in Lara Croft’s skin-tight silver neoprene wet suit, rides sidesaddle and shoots like a pro, but plays the character with the cold-eyed, feral appetite of a reptile.

Comes with the usual menu of production featurettes and music videos.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.