#071

In The Cut
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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Jane Campion’s In The Cut is the film where Meg Ryan – American’s Sweetheart, for lack of any real competition – got down and dirty with a graphic nude scene. As long as Ryan’s movie star persona remains viable, that’s what it’ll always be known as, which is sort of a shame.

When we first see Meg Ryan – a New York writer and high school teacher – she’s with her half-sister who, as played by the eternally bruised Jennifer Jason Leigh, gives us our first clue: this is a story about Unhappy Women. Ryan’s Frannie sleeps with unstable men and flirts with her students; her sister lives above a strip club and stalks her therapist – this will not end well.

There’s a serial killer on the loose, and a thuggishly sexy police detective, played by Mark Ruffalo, who may be one and the same. Frannie begins an affair with the cop that commences with the much-discussed Ryan nude turn, one of those audaciously carnal movie sex scenes that’s doing an awful lot to erase the daintily drawn border between mainstream film and porn.

Campion’s film – which looks, sounds, and smells like a thriller – was panned when it hit the theatres for being, well, less than thrilling. It’s hard to imagine just what some of those critics – most of whom must have seen her acclaimed The Piano – were expecting.

Campion is as unlikely to produce a conventional thriller – tricked out with the usual macho heroics and jackhammer finale – as any director alive. Her stock in trade is a twitchy, impressionistic and relentlessly subjective film about female insecurity, the very antithesis of a thriller, which strives to tame a feeling of unease that Campion is happy to let bloom.

It would be more honest to admit finding Frannie and the other characters strictly unsympathetic – when Ryan’s Frannie pronounces that writing is her “passion”, it’s hard to imagine anyone so committed to cultivating her fear and anxiety as capable of the emotional abandon necessary for passion. If you have no patience for the patiently self-destructive Frannies of the world, you should avoid In The Cut.

Comes with a director’s commentary – essential for this kind of film – and “making-of” featurette.

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Planet Of The Apes: 35th Anniversary Widescreen Edition
20th Century Fox DVD

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“Get your hands off me, you DAMN DIRTY APE!”

There are so many things to enjoy, in a shamefaced sort of way, about the 1968 sci-fi hit Planet Of The Apes, prime among them Charlton Heston’s emphatic line readings.

Certainly, no one who lived through the film’s mid-70s revival – all five films released in theatres and on television, to accompany a cartoon series, a short-lived TV show, and a mountain of merchandising – can deny its appeal with a straight face.

This two-disc edition features a crystal clear widescreen re-mastering which, while well done, does no favours for the film’s wincingly over-lit interior scenes. The monkey masks worn by actors like Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter, while revolutionary at the time, haven’t aged much better.

But the apocalyptic fervor of the film, so tied to the politics of the time, is undeniable. A feature-length documentary on the Apes phenomenon, included on the second disc, traces the film’s evolution (a forgivable pun) through the social battleground that was the late 60s and early 70s. Most of all, though, this reissue gives us a chance to glory in the pop-eyed anguish of classic Heston, whose every bellow is a classic.

“It’s a madhouse! A MADHOUSE!”

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Alice In Wonderland: The Masterpiece Edition
Disney DVD

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Disney’s two-disc edition of it’s 1951 animated take on Lewis Carroll’s children’s story feels a bit under-packaged. The film itself is nicely re-mastered, and comes with a classic Mickey Mouse short that spoofs Carroll’s sequel, Alice Through The Looking Glass. But besides some vintage TV spots promoting the film, and a rediscovered musical number, the discs are padded out with a “Virtual Wonderland Party” that even kids might find a bit underwhelming.

The only “making of” featurette is fifty years old, suggesting that the studio was loathe to trot out its pensioned-off animators one more time to tell now-familiar stories of cell painting and sketching.

It’s a shame, because Disney’s Alice is a deeply trippy film, psychedelic in the truest sense of the word, a decade and a half before the hippy era. It’s all to likely that the film, and not Carroll’s very strange tale, lingered in the memory of its juvenile audience, where it burst forth in the age of happenings and freak outs.

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Reconstruction: The Second Civil War
PBS DVD

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The bloody and – in retrospect, at least – noble struggles of the American Civil War glow brightly enough, even a century and a half later, to cast the era that followed into deep shadow. The Reconstruction, as it’s known, was an abortive and violent attempt by the victorious north to re-make the Confederate south, a truly noble project scuttled by two compromised presidents and the tireless efforts of the Democratic party.

This two-part, three-hour PBS documentary does a yeoman job of detailing this heartbreaking history, whose incalculable social failure would resonate for a hundred years, until the Civil Rights movement took up the torch again. It’s also, as one of the producers says in an accompanying “making of”, tauntingly comparable to the reconstruction of Iraq, perhaps more so than the Vietnam comparisons so much in the air these days.

©2004 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.