#078

Shattered Glass
Lion’s Gate DVD

BUY IT

A movie about a journalist who gets caught making up stories isn’t as dramatically profound or as shocking as Shattered Glass strives to be – most people assume the news to be hopelessly skewed, so much so that when journalists like Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass admit to cooking their stories, the handwringing within the media is far out of proportion to the general indifference of readers.

When Jayson Blair was recently caught filing stories from his apartment with datelines hundreds of miles away, the scandal took out his two top superiors at the New York Times. But when, in 1998, Stephen Glass was caught fabricating a series of immensely popular stories for magazines like Harper’s and The New Republic, no one lost their job but Stephen Glass.

As played by Hayden Christensen, Glass is an eager pup, scampering shoeless around the New Republic’s offices, flattering co-workers and shyly turning in sensational scoops on the fantastically bad behaviour of stockbrokers, politicians and Young Republicans. Glass, as the film shows, wasn’t caught because his articles were considered unbelievable, but because a competing online magazine was miffed at missing a great story.

Hayden’s Glass, initially seen as a sad kid longing for the approval of mother and father figures, becomes by the end of Shattered Glass a scapegoat, a transgressor against journalistic integrity whose sins demand punishment, whose crime leads to banishment. The profession closes ranks, and as in real life, the movie only barely wonders why the appetite for sensational stories that confirm our prejudices doesn’t lead to more Stephen Glasses. (Answer: it does, though most of them are better at covering their tracks than Glass or Blair.)

The DVD includes a 60 Minutes interview with Glass, done just last year, on the publication of his autobiographical novel, The Fabulist. Proof that there are second acts, even for liars.

_______________

Absolutely Fabulous Season Five
BBC DVD

BUY IT

AbFab was supposed to have wrapped up years ago, but two specials and a further two seasons of shows have shown that it’s still not possible to exhaust your material if you want to lampoon the fantastic shallowness of London’s media and fashion culture.

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley are back as Edina and Patsy, the stunningly hateful wannabe celebs whose moral and social code, once dictated by Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful, are now written by Madonna. They’re boomer totems, wickedly self-absorbed caricatures whose spiritual ugliness are only slightly more obvious than the celebrities and has-beens around them. (Guest shots in season five are courtesy Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton, Minnie Driver and Elton John, who apparently take AbFab’s acid-laced portrait of their world with equanimity.)

The series starts off in a spectacularly cruel tone, with the announcement of Edina’s daughter’s pregnancy, which leads to an eruption of abortion jokes and the appearance of a hilariously mean midget midwife who delights – as anyone would – in taunting Edina and Patsy. If the essence of comedy is watching bad things happen to lousy people, then AbFab has to be called state-of-the-art stuff.

_______________

The Rundown
Universal DVD

BUY IT

The Rock is shaping up to be a very watchable action movie star, but the real attraction in The Rundown is that surefire tonic for films in need of inspiration – a turn by Christopher Walken as the villain.

The Rock plays a mercenary “retrieval expert” sent to the Brazilian rainforest to bring back Seann William Scott, who plays the loser son of a gangster with his “Stifler” knob turned down half way. Walken, as the sinister “owner” of a gold-mining town, gets to deliver a speech on the tooth fairy with his patented “English as alien semaphore” cadence.

Walken’s presence is such a feature that one of the short “making of” featurettes is devoted to his presence, which is rightly treated as a stunt, or a special effect.

_______________

Veronica Guerin
Touchstone DVD

BUY IT

Cate Blanchett’s decidedly sexy turn as Veronica Guerin, a Dublin journalist who was assassinated by the Irish drug mafia for her investigation into their affairs, should have been enough to build a movie around. Alas, with Joel Schumacher at the helm, Guerin’s story gets embroidered with lordly camera moves, intrusive music, and perfunctory dramatic pacing that shoves the movie along without letting Blanchett’s character drive the film named after her.

Comes with the usual “making of”, commentary tracks, a couple of “bonus feature” sops to producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s ego, and a film of the real Guerin accepting an award for her courageous journalism.

_______________

Hamilton Mattress
MGM DVD

BUY IT

Hamilton Mattress is a short animated kid’s film made by some of the same people behind the success of Wallace & Gromit and Rex The Runt, an essentially British school of stop-motion animation that could be Pixar’s only real competition.

The title character (voiced by David Thewlis) is an aardvark drum virtuoso who longs for fame and a place among the “beautiful people” – birds, in the case of this anthropomorphic universe. His agent, a caterpillar, takes him to a city in the sky, and a latin nightclub where he almost loses his distinctive features to the plastic surgeon’s knife. It’s kinetically silly stuff that very small kids probably won’t get most of, but it’s short and bright and fast. Comes with “making of” featurettes almost as long as the film itself.

_______________

Colosseum
BBC DVD

BUY IT

Apparently based on the true story of a gladiator who fought in Emperor Titus’ opening games at the Roman Colosseum, this BBC/Discovery co-production does a nice job of appealing to an audience who might find endless shots of ruins described by a parade of talking heads a bit on the dull side. Colosseum uses dramatic re-creation to show the life of a slave who earned his freedom by becoming an attraction in the bloodsport that Rome adored. The actors even speak in a demotic Latin that sounds remarkably like southern Italian dialect.

Includes a bonus documentary on the last day of the city of Pompeii, as the town and its citizens were covered by the ash and lava of a volcanic explosion, which might have seemed a bit less like outtakes from I, Claudius if it were done in Latin, and not middle-class English.

©2004 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.