Director-co-writer Leo McCarey first told this story in 1939 in one of his favorites, <i>Love Affair</i>, scripted by Delmer Daves, with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in the Grant and Kerr roles.
CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
The Hunting Party (B-)
U.S.; Richard Shepard, 2007, Genius
Smarter than the average Hollywood action thriller, this offbeat war movie is based on Scott Anderson's Esquire article "How I Spent my Summer Vacation." The story gives us a racy, break-the-rules trio of American journalists (Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg) embroiled in a bizarre scheme to locate a Bosnian war criminal, the "Fox" (Ljubomir Kerekes) who bears some resemblance to Anderson's real-life target, Radovan Karadzic.
The Hunting Party is a redemption saga, with Gere as Simon Hunt, a TV star correspondent who cracked up on camera and is now trying to win his way back, Ace in the Hole-style. Howard is Duck, Simon's loyal ex-cameraman, now enmired stateside in corporate clonedom, and Eisenberg is the network veep's not-too-swift son Benjamin, sent along for the ride. Eventually, the threesome are mistaken for CIA agents and get tangled up with guerrillas, death squads, mean midgets, lots of booze, guns and two beauties in distress (Diane Kruger and Kristina Krepela).
Writer-director Richard Shepard's last movie was the slick, entertaining buddy-buddy crime thriller The Matador, with Pierce Brosnan bedeviling Greg Kinnear. This is another buddy-buddy show (Gere and Howard click as the pals), but a bit more ambitious; the filmmakers keep invoking The Third Man in the press book. (Dream on, guys.) But though formula sometimes rules, as The Hunting Party races along amusingly. It's absorbing and fun to watch -- as if the cynical-sentimental screwball mood of the Hawks-Hecht classic His Girl Friday had somehow been injected into Mike Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo. (Extras: Commentary by Shepard, deleted scenes, featurettes, original Esquire article by Scott Anderson, trailer.)
An Affair to Remember (A)
U.S; Leo McCarey, 1957, 20th Century Fox
The plush Hollywood romance -- breezily entertaining at the start, weepily emotional at the end -- where all the formulas work and the star couple (sublimely suave Cary Grant as the playboy redeemed and red-headed Brit goddess Deborah Kerr as the beauty who redeems him) become two people we love to watch.
Director-co-writer Leo McCarey first told this story in 1939 in one of his favorites, Love Affair, scripted by Delmer Daves, with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in the Grant and Kerr roles. That film is a classic too, but more rarely seen; screenwriter Nora Ephron's invocation of the later, luscious Technicolor-and-Cinemascope version as the ultimate "chick flick" in her Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan comedy Sleepless in Seattle started a vogue for the later movie that hasn't stopped.
Nor should it. If you're susceptible to the impish, impeccable Grant and the sexy ladylike Kerr (and who isn't?) -- and if you're a cinephile fond of the breezy, humane and humorous McCarey, this is a movie that guaranteed to win your heart. (Extras: Commentary by Joseph McBride and Marni Nixon, featurettes, AMC Backstory, Movietone News short, trailer.)
In the Heat of the Night (A-)
U.S.; Norman Jewison, MGM
We shouldn't blame this movie -- a mix of detective thriller and socially conscious Southern racial drama, with a great cast headed by Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Lee Grant, Warren Oates and Scott Wilson, just because it beat out the more deserving Bonnie and Clyde for the 1967 best picture Oscar (not to mention The Graduate. Or El Dorado). Poitier is Virgil Tibbs, black Philly cop, tackling a murder and battling prejudice down South with the help of Southern police chief Steiger; the supporting cast includes Lee Grant, Warren Oates and Scott Wilson.
Time has treated all these reputations well, as it has the movie itself, director Jewison, cinematographer Haskell Wexler, screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, and editor (and later director) Hal Ashby. I was one of its detractors back in '67, but they've won me over since -- even though Bonnie and Clyde still should have won the Oscar. (Extras: Commentary by Jewison, Grant, Steiger and Haskell Wexler; featurettes; trailer.)
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
Postwar Kurosawa (A)
Japan; Akira Kurosawa, 1947-55, Criterion Collection/Eclipse
Akira Kurosawa, the sensei, the master, one of the finest filmmakers of all time, is most famed for his samurai-era action movies -- like Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Rashomon, all of which rank among the cinema's greatest. But he's also a master at contemporary social realism, as he showed in his heart-breaking masterpiece Ikiru, and this package proves it again: five sharply emotional portraits of post-war Japan, with some of his favorite actors, that combine the verisimilitude of Italian neorealism with the expert crispness and heart of Kurosawa's Hollywood idols John Ford and Frank Capra. (All films are Japanese, with English subtitles, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. No extras.)
The set includes:
No Regrets for Our Youth (B+)
Kurosawa's most explicitly political and progressive film, with Yasujiro Ozu's frequent star, the luminous Setsuko Hara as a bourgeois college student turned crusading feminist and activist.
One Wonderful Sunday (B+)
A nearly forgotten but often marvelous little film, reminiscent of Minnelli's The Clock, in which an impoverished couple, Yuzo and Masako (Isao Numazaki and Chieko Nakakita) wander around Tokyo on a date with only a handful of yen to spend.
Best of this set: an engrossing Capraesque social drama, about a seamy old lawyer (Takashi Shimura), exploiting a tabloid scandal involving a hot-tempered young painter (Toshiro Mifune).
The Idiot (B+)
Kurosawa's highly ambitious modern adaptation of one of his favorite novelists, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, with Masayuki Mori (the murder victim in Rashomon) in the Prince Myshkin-like role, Mifune as his volatile friend, and Hara atypically as a siren. Impressive, failed, but maybe it was a masterpiece; the studio clumsily cut nearly two hours from Kurosawa's original 4½-hour cut.
I Live in Fear (A-)
Mifune in a powerful character role as a domineering old business executive terrified of the bomb -- which Kurosawa says is the secret theme of much of his post-war film work.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Sweeney Todd (B)
U.K.; David Moore, 2006, Acorn Media
If you've just seen the Johnny Depp-Tim Burton movie -- and you should -- here's an interesting alternative version: A realistic TV film based on the legend of the expert, murderous barber who cuts some clients' throats and gives the bodies to his lover, Mrs. Lovett, to bake into meat pies. Great cast: Ray Winstone plays Todd as a low-key, tormented monster; Essie Davis is a juicy Mrs. Lovett; David Warner is a blind judge. And, if you're intrigued by the notion of director George King's and star Tod Slaughter's 1936 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, that campy creepy show (the inspiration for Christopher Bond's play and Stephen Sondheim's musical) is available for peanuts on Alpha and Double Feature. Slaughter, considered the Boris Karloff of '30s British movies, is a real hammy cackler.
U.K.; Roger Michell, 1995, Sony
An intelligent, quite fetching Jane Austen film adaptation from her great novel of fallen gentry and romance deferred. Some Austenites find it a little grubby and over-realistic for their tastes, but it's a nice deviation from the Masterpiece Theatre norm. With Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds.
Johnny Suede (B-)
U.S.; Tom DiCillo, 1991, Anchor Bay/Starz
Early Brad Pitt, before superstardom. He plays, extraordinarily well, a spacey James Dean wannabe, who aspires to Ricky Nelson pop princeliness. A sleeper; the cast also includes Catherine Keener, Nick Cave and Samuel L. Jackson.
Mexico; Maria Novaro, 1991, Facets
A very likable little movie, about regulars at a danzon (dance club). Showcasing famed Mexican star Maria Rojo, it's about a puzzled but determined woman (Rojo), searching for her missing dance partner, from Mexico City to Vera Cruz. (In Spanish, with English subtitles.)
When Harry Met Sally... (B+)
U.S.; Rob Reiner, 1989, MGM
One of the ultimate Manhattan romantic comedies; pals Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan try to stay just friends and, happily for them and us, fail. Rob Reiner's mom becomes immortal here for the line "I'll have what she's having." (You know the scene.) With Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby.
She's Gotta Have It (B)
U.S.; Spike Lee, 1986, MGM
Lee's low-budget gem and feature debut: a witty portrait of the romances of an African American bourgeois gal, Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), who likes variety in her sex life. This is the movie with Lee's immortal line (as pleading Mars Blackmon), "Please, baby; please baby; baby, baby, please."
Breaker Morant (A-)
Australia; Bruce Beresford, 1980, Image The breakthrough movie of the Australian New Wave; the terrific Boer War court-martial film that, like Paths of Glory, deals with massive judicial injustice. With Edward Woodward and Jack Thompson; based on the play by Kenneth G. Ross.
Rising Damp: The Movie (C+)
U.K.; Joe McGrath, 1980, Acorn Media
How much you like this depends on how much you like the TV comedy work -- for me a not-yet-acquired taste -- of the late Leonard Rossiter (one of Stanley Kubrick's favorite actors). Here, the muttering, sputtering, speed-rapping Rossiter malarkeys around in the feature version of his hit TV show about a lecherous and vain landlord.
The Naked Prey (B+)
U.S.; Cornel Wilde, 1966, Criterion
A surprise critical hit in 1966, this almost wordless, dialogue-less adventure tale puts director/star Cornel Wilde into a memorable race for life. As an ivory safari marksman (called simply "The Man") whose exploitive bosses are killed by the local tribe, he's given a chance to survive if, naked and weaponless, he can outrace his tribal pursuers. It's a really thrilling thriller that rivets from the chase's start to its end and should help grant Wilde the minor (maybe not so minor) auteur status he deserves. With Ken Gampu. (Extras: Commentary by Stephen Prince, the film's true-life story inspiration "John Collier's Escape" read by Paul Giamatti, original soundtrack cues, booklet with Michael Atkinson essay and Wilde interview.)
Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers (B-)
U.S.; Fred Sears, 1956, Sony
Earth battles intergalactic terrorism. Couldn't we shoot Bush and Cheney into space to handle this? Starring Hugh Marlowe; ingenious cheapo special effects by the peerless Ray Harryhausen.