PICK OF THE WEEK
Ivan's Childhood (A)
USSR, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962, Criterion Collection
Andrei Tarkovsky's first feature film, the magnificent Ivan's Childhood (1962), won the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion and established the director as a major international art film master. It's still a dazzler and a shocker, an anti-war film of jolting intensity and shimmering lyricism: the nightmarish tale of a young boy, Ivan (played by 14year-old Nikolai Burlyaev), who has lost his entire family to the Nazi invaders, has acted as a scout for the Russian partisans and now fights with the Soviet Army on dangerous missions that may ultimately claim his life.
Tarkovsky's most popular and accessible film, and his most universally acclaimed during his lifetime, Ivan's Childhood is not necessarily typical of this great, stubborn, obsessively poetic artist. There are shots and scenes, of romantic birch forests and eerie battlegrounds, as beautiful and haunting as any Tarkovsky later made. But the film's very accessibility is what sets it apart from his offbeat masterpieces to come: Andrei Roublev, Solaris and The Sacrifice. Deeply influenced by the visual coups of director Mikhail Kalatozov and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky in their 1957 classic The Cranes Are Flying, working from original author Vladimir Bogomolov's script of his popular novel, and collaborating with buddy Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky (who later made it to Hollywood in the '80s), Tarkovsky made a film of passion, terror and esthetic bliss -- a portrait of innocence ravaged by war that has never lost its force and grace.
Extras: Video appreciations by Vida T. Johnson; interviews with actor Burlyaev and cinematographer Vadim Yusov.
BOX SET CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Volume Two (B)
US; various directors, 1948-85, Warner Home Video)
Even the second- or third-class MGM Golden Age musicals can be pretty entertaining, and this seven-film box set, loaded with extras, boasts at least one top-notcher, Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in Vincente Minnelli and Cole Porter's rousing Doug Fairbanks parody The Pirate plus two classy second-tier vehicles for the great Fred Astaire, the British-set Royal Wedding (Queen-to-be Liz's) and the whimsical Big Apple period piece The Belle of New York.
Kelly, Garland and Astaire were the monarchs of the MGM musical salad days, but it's also fun to watch the set's two Mario Lanza pop-opera movies (What a voice!), and Mickey Rooney ripping it up as Lorenz Hart in the corny all-star Rodgers and Hart bio-musical, with its lousy script and great R&H score. Kelly pops up again, with Sammy Davis Jr., Mikhail Baryshnikov and others co-hosting the 1985 compilation movie That's Dancing! And the extras in the whole set ooze with kitsch, delight and nostalgia.
The Pirate (A)
U.S.; Vincente Minnelli, 1948
With Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and Walter Slezak.
Words and Music (C+)
U.S. Norman Taurog, 1948
With Mickey Rooney, Tom Drake, Perry Como, Lena Horne and Garland.
That's Dancing! (B-)
U.S.; Jack Haley, Jr., 1985
Royal Wedding (B+)
U.S.; Stanley Donen, 1951
With Fred Astaire and Jane Powell.
The Belle of New York (B)
U.S.; Charles Walters, 1952
With Astaire and Vera-Ellen.
That Midnight Kiss (C-)
U.S.; Norman Taurog, 1949
With Mario Lanza, Kathryn Grayson, Jose Iturbi and Ethel Barrymore.
The Toast of New Orleans (C)
U.S.; Norman Taurog, 1950
With Lanza, Grayson and David Niven.
Extras: Commentaries; documentaries; "making of" featurettes; TCM interview with Donen; Kelly introduction to That's Dancing!
Raymond Bernard Box Set(A)
France, 1932-34, Eclipse/Criterion Collection
Raymond Bernard is an unjustly forgotten and neglected French writer-director, rediscovered in recent years, whose specialty was the literary, intellectual epic. The son of theatrical legend Tristan Bernard, he began on stage with his father, made his film debut as an actor with Sarah Bernhardt in 1915's Jeanne Dore, switched to directing, made a huge splash with the silent epic The Miracle of the Wolves (1924) and hit his peak in the early sound era with the two classics in this set. He kept active until 1958's Le Septieme Ciel. Mostly ignored by the New Wave, he was rediscovered when the five-hour Les Miserables was found and restored after many years of neglect.
Wooden Crosses (A)
Bernard's great anti-war World War I film about a tight-knit company and its bloody fate, with Pierre Blanchar, Charles Vanel and Antonin Artaud. It is considered the French equivalent of All Quiet on the Western Front. Howard Hawks (unofficially) remade it in 1936 as The Road to Glory.
Les Miserables (A)
The original three-part, five-hour version of Victor Hugo's wildly popular social novel, restored here, is the best Les Miserables I've seen. Harry Baur is a perfect, rugged Jean Valjean; Vanel is brilliant as the relentless Javert; the staging is vigorous and exciting.
OTHER NEW RELEASES
US, David Fincher, 2007, Paramount
Pretty engrossing movie from modern noir specialist Flincher about the famed San Francisco Zodiac killer (who partly inspired the villain of Clint Eastwood and Don Siegel's Dirty Harry.) The inspiration is real life, the conclusion is dubious, the fine cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.
The Bourne Files Box Set (B)
The first two Bourne movies packaged together, with Matt Damon as the slick, amnesiac agent on the run. The first, which has more humor, is the superior: a Day of the Jackal-style full-throttle romp. Franka Potente (Run Lola Run) and Brian Cox support Damon twice; Julia Stiles and Joan Allen sign on for the second. Based on Robert Ludlum's thrillers.
The Bourne Identity (B+)
U.S., Doug Liman, 2002, Universal
The Bourne Supremacy (B-)
U.S., Paul Greengrass, 2004, Universal
The Rainmaker (A-)
U.S., Francis Ford Coppola, 1997, Paramount
The official title is John Grisham's The Rainmaker, which shows how much Grisham's star has waxed and Coppola's has waned. But Coppola works too little, and this was one of the best dramatic thrillers of 1997, another brisk, knowing Grisham courtroom melodrama with Matt Damon as a young lawyer in a baptism of fire with an explosive insurance suit involving Claire Danes; Danny De Vito, Mickey Rourke and Jon Voight are among Damon's teachers. No Godfather, but good stuff.
Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring (A)
France, Claude Berri, 1986, MGM World
One of the best-loved French films of the '80s: Berry's lusty, warm-hearted, funny and sad adaptation of the two interconnected Marcel Pagnol Provence-set novels. It's about land and fate. The cast couldn't be better: Yves Montand, Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu and the astonishing ingénue/belle de jour Emmanuelle Beart. Even non-art film audiences adore this one, and with good reason.
Les Enfants Terribles (A) France, Jean-Pierre Melville, 1950, Criterion Collection
This superb collaboration between director Melville and scenarist/narrator Jean Cocteau is close to the best work of both men -- adapting together Cocteau's famed '20s novel about a mad, rebellious brother and sister and the hermetic world they create together and then destroy. Very personal and perverse, eerie, disturbing, brilliantly crafted, with a bizarrely appropriate score from Bach and a magnetic performance, as the sister Elisabeth, by Nicole Stephane.
Extras: Commentary by Gilbert Adair, interviews with Stephane and others, short, trailer, still gallery, booklet with Cocteau drawings and interview.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Raise the Red Lantern (A)
China, Zhang Yimou, 1991, MGM World
Terrific period romance-tragedy with Gong Li.
To Live (A)
China, Zhang Yimou, 1994, MGM World
My favorite Zhang, a superb drama of China's transition to Communism, with Gong Li.
Greece, Michael Caccoyannis, 1977, MGM World
Splashy adaptation of Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis with Irene Papas.
Exterminating Angels (C)
France, Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2000, IFC