#068

Lucia, Lucia
20th Century Fox DVD

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The peculiar brilliance that seems to have alighted on Mexican cinema in the last few years is a strange phenomenon. No more than two countries at a time can apparently host a renaissance in national cinema. In the 50s it was Japan and Italy, in the 60s it was Sweden and France. In the 70s, it was the United States and Germany. In the 80s, Holland and England. No one knows why.

Right now, China and Mexico are still the leading lights of foreign cinema (with Iran quickly coming up to unseat one of them), and Antonio Serrano’s Lucia, Lucia has joined films like Amores Perros and Y Tu Mama Tambien as part of a wave of masterful, inspired films made by directors who share one, virtually priceless, thing in common: a preternatural confidence with their camera.

The Lucia of the title is played by Cecilia Roth, and the one thing we know for certain is that her husband has disappeared in the middle of the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s. Depending on whether Lucia is a tough bourgeois woman with black bangs, a mousy brunette with low self-esteem, or a wildly sexy redhead, we don’t know just what to believe in the romantic thriller that unfolds from the moment he fails to emerge from an airport restroom.

Since Lucia admits within the first five minutes of the film that she’s lying, we never know what to believe, about her, or about the dignified old revolutionary (Carlos Alvarez Novoa) or the hunky young musician (Kuno Becker) who appear as if from nowhere to help her find the husband she no longer loves.

Which makes Serrano’s film a thrilling little journey with hairpin plot turns that feel, if not exactly plausible, at least satisfying and inexplicably right. Serrano never second guesses his story, or our willingness to be swept along, and that’s a rare gift in film, now or anytime.

Includes (inexplicably) a full-frame version of the film, along with director’s commentary track and “making of” featurettes.

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Johnny English
Universal DVD

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Rowan Atkinson spoofs the Bond franchise in this surprisingly skillful comedy that features, most notably, the onscreen humiliation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, a sure sign of the troubled waters in which the Church of England finds itself these days.

Atkinson is a glorified file clerk at “MI7”, in charge of validating parking passes for secret agents when all of England’s double-O spies are killed. Desperate, they give him a license to kill, and send him off to solve the murders.

The trail leads to a French businessman with ambitions on the throne of England, played by John Malkovich with his usual, vaguely contemptuous élan. Satirizing Bond films is no great feat – the films have long descended into self-parodies – but director Peter Howitt manages to approximate the kinetic, high-tech sheen of the originals, and Atkinson’s talents as a physical comic go a long way toward keeping up the pace.

Includes deleted scenes, a “making of” featurette, and a selection of DVD and CD-ROM games.

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My Darling Clementine
20th Century Fox DVD

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John Ford’s classic western, starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature as a consumptive Doc Holliday, is considered by many the greatest of his Monument Valley westerns, a solemn meditation on the brutality of the frontier and the men who tamed it.

What no one knew – but many suspected – was that the film everyone had seen for decades was at least partially the work of producer David Selznick, a famously meddlesome Hollywood giant who never wavered in his belief that he knew better than anyone on his payroll.

Fox’s Studio Classics reissue of My Darling Clementine brings together the release version with a mostly complete preview version of the film, midway between Ford’s original cut (rumoured to have been three hours long at one point) and Selznick’s version, with its excised scenes and pumped-up soundtrack.

Purists might prefer Ford’s version, especially for its more romantically restrained ending, but the differences are hardly critical, though Fox deserves credit for its scholarly efforts at restoration. Includes a comparison featurette, and a commentary track featuring Wyatt Earp III.

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Cure
Home Vision Entertainment DVD

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Anyone seeking a taut thriller will be disappointed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s story of an amnesiac serial killer who works by hypnosis. A careful re-reading of that summation of Cure’s plot will tell you all you need to know about why the film, on some basic level, just doesn’t work.

Koji Yakusho plays a tightly-wound Tokyo police detective whose wife is slowly losing her mind as he tries to make sense of a series of gruesome, apparently motiveless murders. Since we’ve already been watching the “killer” wander in and out of the lives of his “victims”, the hunt is less important than the abidingly creepy imagery that Kurosawa layers on, much of it purely gratuitous, dreamlike stuff that exists only to elicit shudders from the audience.

It’s easy to imagine Cure being re-made by Hollywood, tidied up and filled out in the manner of Ringu/The Ring. It’s ripe for an ambitious director and a skillful cinematographer who want to make their own Se7en. Includes an interview with the director.

©2004 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.