#080

Matrix Revolutions
Warner Bros. DVD

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The one thing that can be said with certainty is that, with Matrix Revolutions, the Matrix movie franchise is probably over. It is a long overdue finale, and one that may have squandered the good feeling the series created five years ago with the first film.

The faintly holy sense of mystery that helped make The Matrix so much more than a quickly dated cyber-fi flick demanded exploration, I’m sure, but it bogged down into a portentous liturgy of undergraduate talking points ten minutes into the anxiously awaited Matrix Reloaded.

Revolutions is only better inasmuch as two great battle set-pieces cut down on the time available for characters to regard each other through oily shades and intone with spiritless solemnity about truth or destiny.

Actually, the best thing about it is that it was almost the best movie about a Christ figure made in years. It’s a shame for the Wachowski Brothers that someone actually went and made a movie about Christ.

The second disc of material included with Revolutions mostly concerns itself with the real accomplishment of the series – the special effects. Film like The Matrix (and the other teetering trilogy of our time – the Rings films) are best looked at as R&D projects, and lesser filmmakers will thank the Wachowskis the way homeowners can thank NASA for smoke detectors.

One particular short feature on the evolution of “bullet time” – the time-freezing camera pans that made the first Matrix so stunning – is almost worth buying both discs, since it reveals how a wildly difficult special effect turned into a software application in a few years.

Another feature attempts to explain the history of the Matrix timeline, a pointedly political bit of imagining on the part of the Wachowskis, and the weakest thing about the series once you shine a light on it.

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The Pink Panther Collection
MGM DVD

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As a child watching the ‘70s entries in Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther series, I was disappointed when the first two appeared on TV one night. To my 8-year-old mind, The Pink Panther and Shot In The Dark were dull, corny and – worst of all – featured precious little of Peter Sellers falling down stairs, affecting absurd disguises, or mangling words with Inspector Clouseau’s mincing French accent.

Today, the comedy-a-go-go tone of the first two films, full of a sharp, pre-hippy ‘60s style (Henry Mancini’s music deserves credit here), are much more winning than the convulsive slapstick of the later three. In the documentary bonus that comes with this nicely-packages 6-disc set (padded patent vinyl with pink accents – very nice), we learn that there wouldn’t have been more than one Pink Panther film if Sellers had his way.

The first film was originally a star vehicle for David Niven, but Sellers stole it from him in short order. The second was a stage play that Edwards was asked to direct, and he could only imagine making it if the detective was re-written as Clouseau. While the creation of Clouseau was an entirely accidental process, the films had a charm that Edwards’ often-stiff direction couldn’t suppress. But when they were revived in a new decade, the charm had turned into a brute comedy that only a little boy could love.

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The Gospel Of John
NAE DVD

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The controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s cinematic passion play eclipsed this much more faithful gospel epic while it was still in the theatres, and the Gibson film in the editing suite.

Henry Ian Cusick plays a swaggering Christ in this word-for-word adaptation of the fourth Gospel for the screen. Cusick’s Christ is a much more active protagonist than Jim Caviezel’s doomed saviour, but then Cusick has over two hours to take Christ from a young man on the verge of his destiny to Pilate’s judgment.

Just the same, there’s more cinematic charge in a minute of Gibson’s bloody and harrowing film than in an hour of Philip Saville’s stately, amber-lit pageant. This is Christ’s story suitable for children and the squeamish, but you have wonder at the logic of letting the various authors of the Gospels act as scriptwriters.

Gibson might have taken liberties with material, but his movie is just that – a movie, thrilling and gut-wrenching and fantastic. The Gospel Of John has to parse out narration from dialogue from words written almost two millennia before the first movie, and – though it’s probably blasphemy to suggest it - it might have been served better with the services of a decent editor.

Comes with a third, very necessary disc full or resource material and “making of” featurettes.

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The Grapes Of Wrath
20th Century Fox DVD

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Fox’s Studio Classics line has featured some idiosyncratic choices in the past year or so, but there’s no arguing the word “classic” put anywhere new John Ford’s 1940 The Grapes Of Wrath.

It’s a strange film – a mix of sentimental studio morality and a stark visual style that brings to mind either the evocative black and white photography commissioned by Roosevelt’s government to document the suffering of the Depression, or the woozy romanticism of Winslow Homer’s paintings.

Henry Fonda plays the laconic but dignified Tom Joad, a character that became an archetype before the film’s last reel finished. John Ford’s austere direction undercuts the “country folks” dialogue that would have deadly in another director’s hands, while Greg Toland’s camerawork is nothing short of perfect.

Includes an A&E Biography of Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and some newsreel footage of the devastating prairie dust bowl.

©2004 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.