DVD buys this week include Community Season 2, Doctor Who Series 6, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Girlfriend Experience, Norwegian Ninja, and the long-awaited Dragon Dynasty release of Flying Guillotine.
DVDs: Friends of mine turned me on to the pop culture-savvy (and now in trouble) Community, and I really liked Season 1. In many ways, it reminded me of Spaced (always a good thing), in particular how the characters are always on the cusp of knowing they're in a tv show, because that's basically how many of us see our lives. If you've never seen it, it's about a group of misfits of all ages, sizes, backgrounds and denominations at a terrible community college. Heck, it's not too far of the university experience either. And since I work at a university, well, the show intersects many of my interests, including a penchant for dark/awkward comedy. Chevy Chase even indulges in the occasional slapstick. The DVD package is a lot of fun, dressed up as a class yearbook inside of which all the characters wrote comments and jokes. There's a commentary track on each episode, featuring a variable and entertaining group of cast and crew, two extended episodes, an extremely large number of funny outtakes, 3 mini-episodes dubbed "Study Breaks", and featurettes that generally take the piss, like the end of season/term cast evaluation process. Plus, an small Kickpuncher comic drawn by Jim Mahfood.
Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation owes a huge (but acknowledged - it even starts with a mime) debt to Antonioni's Blow-Up, which I reviewed recently. Like Blow-Up, it's about context and perception, but instead of exploring it through a photographer and a mysterious sequence of pictures, he does so with a professional wiretapper, and an innocuous conversation. The conversation repeats throughout the film, revealing itself or its meaning a little more each time, but also taking on new meaning based on context. Gene Hackman gives an excellent and understated performance as the obsessively private protagonist, and Coppola doesn't go Blow-Up's philosophical route, steering the film towards the thriller genre, albeit a quiet kind of thriller. He certainly shows us a lot of the nitty-gritty of the surveillance business circa 1974, but a remake wouldn't feel incredibly different (though perhaps the character of Harry Caul would have even more anxiety regarding hypersurveillance). And there's a poetry to the images here that I really enjoy, Coppola importing the idea of things hidden and revealed into the cinematography and script elements. The two commentary tracks (director's and editor's) mostly cover different territory and are uniformly interesting, and a vintage featurette shows us behind the scenes footage of the production.
I'm coming in late to Donnie Darko, I know, and my experience is only going to be the director's cut. So is Donnie Darko a teen angst movie about an alienated, schizophrenic young man, or the most intricate time travel movie since Primer (albeit more metaphysical). Well, can't it be both? I can see why this became a cult favorite. It's extremely well made, speaks to two particular generations (those in high school in the 80s, like me, and those of that age when they saw it), and is just imperfect enough in its logic to generate conversation. Huge amounts of conversation. It's one of those films that bears rewatching again and again, each time perhaps with a different filter. It's so layered. Blog fodder? Maybe. The DVD extras are as unusual as the film. The commentary track is a conversation between director Richard Kelly and a slightly intimidated Kevin Smith. The production diary provides random clips from behind the scenes, and comes with an optional tongue-in-cheek commentary track from the cinematographer. There's a documentary on the British reaction (from fans and critics) to the film that's bizarrely shot, though interesting for its look at the UK marketing campaign. And there's the winner of the #1 Fan Documentary contest, which the guys richly deserves for his crazy shenanigans. Some storyboard comparisons (meh) close out the package.
In Poland, a choir girl (Irène Jacob) makes her dream of becoming an opera singer come true, but there's a price to be paid. In France, a music teacher (also Irène Jacob) is intuitively influenced by her double's life and undertakes a just-as-unexplainable relationship with a handsome puppeteer. Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Double Life of Véronique is yet another film I've watched this week that makes more poetic sense than actual sense. I love my DVD shelf. This could easily be part of Kieslowski's later Three Colors trilogy, casting the film in gold, and acts as a particular mirror to Red, also starring Irène Jacob (perhaps Valentine is a third Véronique?). As with Red, the film is full of visual rhyming, reflections, doubles, recurring and intertwining images, all of which gives credence to the thoery that it is in some ways about filmmaking itself. Different but similar characters played by the same actress, perhaps versions of the same character who diverged on the scriptwriter's page, one of which becomes aware of a force manipulating or using her story. Is she a puppet, or a muse? How can she tell after she's lost her connection to her other self? A gorgeous-looking film, and one that may give up different interpretations on each subsequent viewing. Lovely if not flawless (the interrupted divorce court subplot may frustrate). The DVD is part of the Criterion Collection, but aside from a handsome 60-page booklet filled with essays (including text by Kieslowski himself), it's not hugely different from what was included in the much cheaper Three Colors DVD, including an expert commentary by Annette Insdorf. You'll also find 3 early documentary shorts by Kieslowski that paint the picture of failing Polish infrastructures, and another by his mentor, Karabasz. And on the second disc, a making of documentary with a terrific Kieslowski interview, a French featurette on his work before Double Life, and candid interviews with the cinematographer, the composer and leading lady.
Opium & the Kung-Fu Master features Ti Lung as the title character, a man who loses his edge when he becomes addicted to opium, which leads to tragedy before he can get himself cleaned up. Your usual 19th century clan war stuff acts as background. Interestingly, Tang Chia's film starts out as a comedy, with silly, cross-eyed clowns and funky street fights, but when opium is revealed as the true evil it is, the film gets markedly harsher. One can feel China's national shame dripping from this story. Despite this unusual theme for a Shaw Brothers movie, there's plenty of action to go around (with credits for 6 action choreographers). It was made in 1984, which may explain the more-than-typical reliance on stunt-based action (the influence of Jackie Chan), and it's all quite good. Too bad it's completely studio-bound, because I'd have liked to see this production on a larger canvas. Still, a colorful, action-packed story with a strong tragedy at its core.
Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.i. The Nunnery Scene - Olivier '48