Orion Pictures Corporation
Paul Verhoeven, the unbuttoned Dutch director who was just going Hollywood, makes lusty dark comedy out of the stuff of our social and political nightmares, violence and depravity.
PICK OF THE WEEK
RoboCop 20th Anniversary 2-Disc Collector's Edition (A-)
U.S., Paul Verhoeven, 1987, MGM
Vacuous over-fast TV news shows, corrupt corporations, vicious executives hell-bent on privatizing government, soulless social mechanization, crime running wild in the streets... All these are part of the scintillating vision of the near future that Paul Verhoeven and his fantastic technicians (including stop-motion expert Phil Tippett) created in the original 1987 RoboCop.
It's a super-thriller about a plan to privatize law enforcement (George W. Bush and Karl Rove take note) and how it goes astray when OCP (Omni Consumer Products) creates a perfect, fool-proof robot cop, constructed out of hardware, munitions and, unfortunately the mind and soul of a real live cop, Alex (Peter Weller), who was killed in a street fight with crooks.
Alex doesn't realize who he was in the past, but his ex-partner (Nancy Allen) does and so do the creeps who made him (including the wonderfully slimy Miguel Ferrer). But the steel cop keeps having inklings...
Better than the two shallow, thudding sequels it spawned, not to mention its many hapless imitators, the first RoboCop is a terrific science fiction action movie, partly because it's so obviously about its own contemporary time. Verhoeven, the unbuttoned Dutch director who was just going Hollywood, makes lusty dark comedy out of the stuff of our social and political nightmares, violence and depravity.
His movie, written by Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, is fast, smart, scary fun, and it attacks the brutal values that infuse many modern action movies, while doing its thrill-making job better than almost all of them.
This 20th anniversary collector's edition contains lots of extras and both the rated and unrated versions of RoboCop. (Good to have, though there's only a 25-second difference.) It's one of those movies that set out to blow you out of your seat. And pretty much does.
Extras: Rated and unrated versions, commentary by Verhoeven, deleted scenes, featurettes, TV spots, and trailer.
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
The Michael Haneke Collection (A-)
Austria/France, Michael Haneke, 1989-2002, Kino
Michael Haneke, the Austrian director who also works in France and Germany, and who made the widely admired Cache, is an international film festival darling who sometimes alienates his critical constituency by the coldness of his style and the sheer graphic nastiness of his violence.
His subject is societal and moral breakdown in the Western European bourgeoisie, and, when he gets his targets in his sights, just like his villains or crackup cases, he's relentless.
This set from Kino includes seven of his films made from 1992 to 2002, and it has two of his masterpieces: The Piano Teacher, the scaldingly perverse, Cannes prizewinner romance with Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Magimel; and Haneke's brilliant ensemble piece about random, inevitable violence, 71 Fragments in a Chronology of Chance.
All of them are worthwhile and finely crafted. All disturb and provoke, none more so than Funny Games, his merciless twisting of the old Desperate Hours besieged-household plot, a movie that might make you queasy whenever you touch a TV remote.
The Seventh Continent (B+)
Austria, Haneke, 1989.
A bourgeois household goes to hell.
Benny's Video (B)
Austria, Haneke, 1992
71 Fragments in a Chronology of Chance (A)
Austria; Haneke, 1995
Brilliant drama of unpredictably interconnected lives.
Austria, Haneke, 1997 (unscreened and unrated)
Chilly nightmare from Franz Kafka's lesser-known novel.
Code Unknown (A-)
France, Haneke, 2000
Another strange "chronology of chance" ensemble, with stunning Juliette Binoche at the center.
Funny Games (B)
Austria, Haneke, 1998
Psychos take over and torment family.
Code Unknown (A-)
France, Haneke, 2000
The Piano Teacher (A)
France; Haneke, 2002
Huppert is a repressed teacher, Magimel her erotically pushy student. Their liaison is dangerous. (Kino)
OTHER NEW RELEASES
The Lives of Others (A-)
Germany, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006
Last year's surprise foreign-language Oscar winner -- it beat out the (superior) favorite, Pan's Labyrinth. Lives is a good, thoughtful political drama about a repressive society in the waning years of German Communism... in 1984, George Orwell's year.
The ensemble: a brilliant, arrogant East German playwright (Sebastian Koch), who tries to straddle the world of the ruling class and the dissidents; his drug-addicted actress mistress (Martina Gedeck); the government snoops out to get them; and the surveillance expert who holds the players' lives in his hands (played by Haneke's actor, Ulrich Muhe). A smart, engrossing film by a young writer-director who has no sentimentality at all for the Marxist old days.
U.S., Joss Whedon, 2005, Universal
Already a cult science fiction movie, this is Whedon's wrap-up for his cancelled Firefly TV series, but it still works if you haven't seen the show. Raffish space adventurers battle the empire while trying to save a telepathic girl from her demons. With Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres.
Extras: Documentary, featurettes, commentary with Whedon and cast, extended scenes.
House of Games (B)
U.S., David Mamet, 1987, Criterion Collection
Mamet's first film as director is a taut little noir about a female academic literary star (Lindsay Crouse, then Mrs. Mamet) who becomes fascinated with a shadowy urban con-game world and the smooth operator (Joe Mantegna) who seems to rule it.
The movie reminds you of The Sting (which preceded it) and Nine Queens (which followed). But it's leaner, icier, darker. Great Mamet dialogue, as usual.
Extras: Commentary by Mamet and con-game consultant Ricky Jay, interviews with Crouse and Mantegna, documentary, booklet with Kent Jones essay.
Cria Cuervos (Cria!) Two-Disc Special Edition (A)
Spain; Carlos Saura, 1975, Criterion Collection
Saura's poignant masterpiece about the effects of fascism and family sorrow, with Geraldine Chaplin (then Saura's partner) as a dead mother whose image we keep seeing and the remarkable child actress Ana Torrent as her eight-year-old daughter, consumed with longing for the past and obsessed with those visions of her mother. Torrent's wide, dark eyes haunt you; so does this film.
Extras: Documentary, interviews with Chaplin and Torrent, trailer, booklet.
The Milky Way (A)
France; Luis Bunuel, 1969, Criterion Collection
After Bunuel's great international success with the sexy, magnificent Belle de Jour, he returned in a way to his non-narrative, experimental Un Chien Andalou roots with this weird all-star picaresque tale of the odyssey of two bums (Paul Frankeur and Laurent Terzieff) on a pilgrimage to the holy Spanish city of Santiago, and of the mélange of Catholic history and heresies they encounter on the way. (Michel Piccoli is the Marquis de Sade and Pierre Clementi is a flower-sniffing devil.)
Utterly personal and laceratingly witty, co-written by Jean-Claude Carriere, this film reveals Bunuel's acid take on religion with clarity, cunning and hilarity. Ole, Luis!
Extras: Documentary, introduction by Carriere, interview with Ian Christie, trailer, booklet with Carlos Fuentes essay and Bunuel interview.
Sacco and Vanzetti (B-)
U.S., Peter Miller, 2006, First Run Features
Every American leftist once knew this story: Two Italian immigrant anarchists in Boston named Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested for robbery and murder, tried and convicted with dubious evidence and a highly prejudiced judge, and then lost highly publicized appeals, becoming the center of a worldwide political firestorm comparable to the Dreyfus Affair (though not as clear-cut.)
Miller's documentary tells the story again, passionately, using archive footage, recreations, interviews with Studs Terkel, Howard Zinn and others, and moving readings of the pair's prison letters by Tony Shalhoub (Sacco) and John Turturro (Vanzetti). You can't quite recapture the frenzy of the times. But the movie, if briefly, rekindles the incendiary drama.
Extras: Interview with Miller, photo gallery.
The Myrna Loy and William Powell Collection. (B)
U.S., 1934-41, Warner Bros.
William Powell and Myrna Loy, that dapper, dippy gent and his all-too-knowing sweetie, were a prime movie couple of the '30s and '40s, and not just for their priceless incarnations of Dashiell Hammett's quick-witted, boozy spouse/sleuths Nick and Nora Charles. They were one film couple who really knew how to play and defer to each other, and one never tires of watching them: their wisecracks and jousts, their lovemaking and merry-making.
Five of their non-Charles joint outings are here, including two gems: the outlandish romantic thriller-drama Manhattan Melodrama (John Dillinger's last night out), with Clark Gable and the lesser-known but absolutely terrific screwball comedy, I Love You Again, co-written by Ben Hecht's His Girl Friday pal, Charles Lederer. Both of these movies were directed by W. S. ("One Shot Woody") Van Dyke and they show Powell and Loy at their champagne best.
Manhattan Melodrama (B)
U.S., W.S. Van Dyke, 1934
Gable is a charming gambler/crook, Powell his straight-arrow D.A. buddy, Loy the doll between them. Classy, absurd, gripping fun.
Evelyn Prentice (C+)
U.S., William K. Howard, 1934
Posh trial melodrama with Powell defending the seeming killer of wife Loy's would-be lover. Classy, absurd; not so gripping.
Double Wedding (C )
U.S., Richard Thorpe, 1937
Crazy double-romantic comedy; has its moments.
I Love You Again (B+)
U.S., Van Dyke; 1940
Buy the set for this one. Powell is an amnesiac con man who spent his forgetful years as a town community angel but then wakes up. Loy is the saucy wife exasperated with Powell's old goody-goody ways but intrigued by this new rascal in his skin. Trust me: It's hilarious.
Love Crazy (B-)
U.S., Jack Conway, 1941
A lesser but okay screwballer with Powell playing nuts, Loy cocking an eyebrow and Jack Carson nearly stealing the show.
Extras: Vintage shorts and cartoons, radio show, trailers.