CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
Gustave Courbet: The Origin of His World (B+)
France; Romain Goupil, 2007, Facets Video
Only an hour long, Romain Goupil's 2007 documentary on Gustave Courbet, the great French 19th-century realist painter, still expands your mind and heightens your reactions, with the lucidity and grace of all the best art (and criticism). Courbet was a terrific character, a rebel from the bourgeoisie, who accomplished in paint the revolution that he couldn't quite manage in life. A lifelong anti-clericist and socialist, he was an important figure in the Paris Commune, a political indiscretion for which he later paid dearly, with exile and bankruptcy.
But Courbet's super-realist painting, with its working class, nonbourgeois and sometimes heavily erotic subjects, was less celebrated in the 20th century than he deserved, because the vogue in painting went in such a different (far more formalist and empty) direction. Yet he's certainly a master, especially of the human form -- and, in my opinion, far more deserving of critical honors than most of the abstract artists who outstripped him in favor. His paintings still live and breathe -- most notably the scandalous, notorious, dangerously sensual "L'Origine du Monde," a sexual portrait of woman so realistic, and incendiary, that it was hidden away for more than a century by its secretive owners, one of whom was psychologist/writer Jacques Lacan.
Goupil's documentary makes Courbet live and breathe too -- and Facets' excellent DVD is filled out with two fine half-hour shorts on "L'Origine" and another superb Courbet painting "La Place du Mort." (In French, German and English with English subtitles. Extras: The three short documentaries The Origin of the World (L'Origine du Monde), Dead Man's Place (La Place du Mort), and Behind the Scenes of an Exhibition: The Spectacular Transfer of a Masterpiece.
U.S.; Franklin Schaffner, 1970, Fox, Blu-Ray
George C. Scott delivering Patton's flag-backed, five-star, four-letter-word-packed speech with fiery candor and no inhibitions almost seems enough to win him his Oscar. The rest is good epic stuff, with lots of dynamic fierce-warrior emoting from Scott and a smart, absorbing, sometimes breathtaking Francis Coppola (and Edmund North) script. Also in the cast: Karl Malden as Gen. Omar Bradley.
Schaffner, one of the great '50s TV drama class, along with John Frankenheimer, Sidney Lumet, Robert Mulligan and Arthur Penn, is an underrated director. This remains his best. And though it shouldn't have beaten out M*A*S*H for the 1970 Best Picture Oscar, it's still pretty damned good.
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector's Edition(A)
U.S.; various directors, 1971-88, Warner
"I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell the truth, in all this excitement, I kinda lost count myself. But, being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and could blow your head clean off...."
Those of us who think Clint is a great actor as well as a great producer-director have 1971's Dirty Harry to point to. Could anyone have played that part -- the foul-mouthed, rebellious, short-fuse cop -- better? (Including the actors to whom it was offered before Eastwood: John Wayne, Paul Newman and Frank Sinatra?) The follow-ups in the series are a mixed bag, but Sudden Impact is another classic. And they all have their moments. Like this one: "You gotta be askin' yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya? Punk?"
Includes: Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971, A), Magnum Force (Ted Post, 1973, B), The Enforcer (James Fargo, 1976, B), Sudden Impact (Clint Eastwood, 1983, B+), and The Dead Pool (Buddy Van Horn, 1988, B-). (Extras: This seven-disc set is one of the best DVD packages ever. It includes commentaries by Richard Schickel, John Milius, James Fargo, David Valdes and Jack Green, featurettes, interviews, book, lobby cards, San Francisco Zodiac map, production materials, trailers, and Dirty Harry wallet with badge.)
OTHER CURRENT OR RECENT RELEASES
U.S.; Kent Alterman, 2008, New Line, Blu-Ray
Will Ferrell throws up a brick in this '70s-era pro basketball farce.
World Trade Center (B)
U.S.; Oliver Stone, 2006, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Humane bio-drama about the day that changed our world -- for the worse.
U.S.; Breck Eisner, 2005, Paramount, Blu-Ray
The mummy rots.
The Manchurian Candidate (B-)
U.S.; Jonathan Demme, 2004, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Lightning didn't strike twice. John Frankenheimer's '62 version remains a supreme noir.
U.S.; M. Night Shyamalan, 2002, Touchstone/Disney, Blu-Ray Outer space shenanigans and crop signs bedevil Mel Gibson, doing his sweaty-palms, rolling-eyes bit. Not enough, though.
We Were Soldiers (C-)
U.S.; Randall Wallace, 2002, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Ineffective recruiting poster, with Mel Gibson doing his gung ho bit.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider (D)
U.S.; Simon West, 2001, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Lara Croft, stay in the tombs. Angelina, stay away.
Payback Straight Up Director's Cut (D+)
U. S.; Brian Helgeland, 1999, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Mel Gibson takes a whack at the Richard (Donald Westlake) Stark novel that Boorman and Lee Marvin made into the great Point Blank; this time, it's a pointless, nasty blank.
City Slickers (B-)
U.S.; Ron Underwood, 1991, MGM, Blu-Ray
Billy Crystal and his Oscar Show pal Jack Palance ride again.
U.S.; John Woo, 1990, Paramount, Blu-Ray
John Travolta and Nic Cage switch faces for a hellacious shock-after-shock John Woo thriller.
Coming to America (B-)
U.S.; John Landis, 1988, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Eddie Murphy as an African prince. Big grin; multiple roles. One of his better comedies.
Trading Places Special Collector's Edition (B)
U.S.; John Landis, 1983, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Eddie Murphy was never better than in this comedy with dazed and confused Danny Aykroyd and knockout Jamie Lee Curtis about wealth and poverty.
The Untouchables Special Collector's Edition (A-)
U.S.; Brian De Palma 1987, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Remember Bob Stack and Walter Winchell? Al Capone (Robert De Niro) vs. Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) go at it here, with a helping hand from Oscar-winner Sean Connery and screenwriter David Mamet.
The Warriors (B)
U.S.; Walter Hill, 1979, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Urban gangs in excelsis.
The Sand Pebbles (B+)
U.S.; Robert Wise, 1966, Fox, Blu-Ray
The man on the bike, Steve McQueen, in a good adaptation of Richard McKenna's fine first-hand, China-set war novel.
The Longest Day (A-)
U.S.; Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, 1962, 20th Century Fox, Blu-Ray
Producer Darryl Zanuck takes Omaha Beach on D-Day, with John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton and hordes of others.
Blue City (F)
U.S.; Michelle Manning, 1986, Legend Films
How can you make a bad movie using a Walter Hill script from a Ross MacDonald novel? Check it out.
France; Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1982, Lionsgate
High-style French thriller with an operatic background. Lots of elegant fun.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT BOX SETS
Mission: Impossible Ultimate Missions Collection (B-)
U. S.; Various directors, 1996-2006, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Big glossy action and intrigue spectaculars, tailor-made for star Tom Cruise. They hit their marks, but why didn't belle de jour Emmanuelle Beart become an American star after the first? Our loss; France's gain. Includes: Mission: Impossible (U.S.; Brian De Palma, 1996, B), Mission: Impossible II (U.S.; John Woo, 2000, B-), and Mission: Impossible III (U.S.; J. J. Abrams, 2006, C).
The Stan Laurel Collection 2 (B)
U.S.; Various directors, 1918-1926, Kino, Blu-Ray
This set features 21 silent comedy shorts from Stan Laurel, the sapped-face, tentative-acting genius who understudied Charlie Chaplin in the British Fred Karno troupe, was Larry Semon's second banana and later found fame and fortune when he teamed up with a fellow comic once described as "Elephant on tippy-toe": Oliver "Babe" Hardy. If you love silent movie comedy or Stanley, you'll like these. The musical scores are by Neil Brand.