#077

The Chaplin Collection Vol. 2
Warner Bros. DVD box set

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The second box set of Charlie Chaplin films from Warnerís should satisfy all but the most fanatic Chaplin or silent film fanatics. Twelve discs long, it collects classics like City Lights and The Kid with overlooked films like The Circus, rarities like A Woman Of Paris and later, offbeat titles like Monsieur Verdoux and A King In New York.

Best of all, the treasure trove of bonus material is enhanced by Time movie critic Richard Schickelís recent feature documentary on Chaplin, as well as two discs of early, shorter silent comedies like The Pilgrim, A Dayís Pleasure and Shoulder Arms. Together with last yearís Volume One set, it should give anyone as decent a chance to appreciate, discover, re-discover, or even re-think Charlie Chaplin as you could expect in your living room.

Itís later films like Monsieur Verdoux, made just after World War Two, that provoke a reaction to Chaplinís work that complicates the reputation of his masterful silent comedies. Chaplin, an unabashedly sentimental humanist, as anyone whoís been moved to tears by the ending of City Lights can confirm, evolved into a disappointed idealist with The Great Dictator. Verdoux revealed a petulant cynicism that emerged after the horrors of a second world war that his Hitler satire did nothing to prevent.

Verdoux was Chaplinís stake through the heart of his Tramp, a fastidious aesthete who kills older women for their money, based on a real character, courtesy of an idea sold to Chaplin by Orson Welles. Chaplin carefully builds up our sympathy for the murderer, then uses it in the final scenes to make his grand statement: an indictment of a society that condemns mere murderers yet celebrates war as heroism.

Itís an idea as stuffed with high moral outrage as it is morally daft, a hopelessly simplistic response to the catastrophic political and historical backdrop to Chaplinís career. It feels as if, forced from the silent world in which he was the undisputed master into a world of sound in which he was a fading light, Chaplin found himself out of his depth. Still, with all of the brilliant work collected in this set, itís easy enough to celebrate that mastery.

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The Cat In The Hat
Universal DVD

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This wholly unnecessary movie adaptation of Dr. Seussí slender but timeless childrenís story actually manages to make Jim Carreyís blowsy Grinch seem faintly sweet. What went wrong with The Cat In The Hat begins with Mike Myersí spectacularly arch title character, and cascades down through the overwrought script, and down to the production design, which ultimately possessed the film like a systemic disease.

First and foremost, thereís nothing in this film thatís appropriate for the age group that first embraced it. Seussí playful rhymes are lost, drowned in so much added plot, and the slow journey to a pleasing moral is entirely derailed by Myersí smirking ad-libs. Itís amazing to hear Seussí widow, on one of the generous menu of bonus features, sounding like she was pleased with this travesty.

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The Commitments
20th Century Fox DVD

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This special edition, two-disc release of Alan Parkerís The Commitments works hard to fill out the world that made the film possible Ė the shabby but proud working class Northside of Dublin.

While the film may have spawned an unfortunate spate of R&B cover bands over a decade ago, that shouldnít obscure how compelling Parkerís film really was Ė a highlight in the career of a director whose work has swung wildly from overwrought (Angel Heart, The Wall) to overweening (The Life Of David Gale, Mississippi Burning).

The second disc of special features details how a cast of remarkable unknowns were assembled, and the Dublin setting beautifully evoked, but it hardly explains how Parker overcame his tendency to an excess of screenplay and camerawork and let the filmís slim story Ė the rise and fall of a bar band Ė just happen.

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Demonlover
Lionís Gate DVD

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Olivier Assayasí thriller about industrial espionage and internet porn is a cold, hard piece of work, populated with characters whose emotionless appetites make for a grim two hours. Connie Nielsen plays an executive playing all sides of a business deal between a French capitalist and a Japanese anime company, while spying for a third company.

There are rapes and murders and cruel plot twists that would brutalize Nielsenís character if she seemed like she had anything to hurt. Like so many recent French films, itís a film about power veneered with wildly chic high style and some truly joyless sex.

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Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines
20th Century Fox DVD

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Once upon a time, comedies cost many millions of dollars to make, featured all-star casts conspicuously short of comics, and sometimes even had overtures and intermissions to break up their epic length.

Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines is as sprawling as its title, a 1965 film about the early days of aviation, whose principal claim to fame is that the production actually built a fleet of airworthy wood-and-cloth planes. Itís the sort of film that spent a fortune to showcase low burlesque and slapstick gags, as well as a gallery of ethnic caricatures true to the rich meanness of its Edwardian setting.

Comes with a commentary track with director Ken Annakin, who also hosts a making-of featurette. Profoundly silly, but strangely enjoyable.

©2004 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.