PICKS OF THE WEEK
Still Walking (A)
Japan; Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2008, Criterion Collection
No filmmaker ever made more exquisitely wrought and moving domestic movie dramas than Japan's Yasujiro Ozu -- his most loved and memorable being that sublime, beautifully observed and immaculately fashioned 1953 film tale of elderly parents and thoughtless children, Tokyo Story.
But in Still Walking, Hirokazu Kore-eda comes close to matching the master.
Kore-eda, director of the austere, touching Maboroso and Nobody Knows, has been compared before to Ozu (and also to that other Japanese family poet, Mikio Naruse). But he's never seemed more securely in that element than he does in this wonderful, touching, funny and finally profound ensemble tale of three generations of the Yokoyama family: the children and grandchildren of mother Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) and father, and one-time doctor, Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), all gathering for their yearly memorial tribute to the brilliant elder son Junpei, who died years ago in a drowning accident while rescuing a child.
It will be one of their last such Yokoyama family reunions, though none of them quite senses it at the time.
The family party may be robust and lively, but Kore-eda's visual style is often as perfectly crafted and luminously simple as Ozu's. Like Ozu, Kore-eda reveals all these characters quietly, calmly, without illusions, but with unfailing empathy and deep compassion. As with that other respectful son and superb filmmaker, Ozu, he fills his screen with life and humanity and emotion.
This is my personal favorite of all his films. Kore-eda, as much as Ozu this time, invites us into a home, Japanese but universal -- in all its contradictions, all its darkness and light, all its humanity. In Japanese, with English subtitles.
Alice in Wonderland (60th Anniversary Special Edition) (A-)
U.S.; Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson, 1951, Walt Disney, Blu-ray/DVD combo
Of all the many adaptation of Lewis Carroll's enchanting yet oddly disturbing children's story -- the Don Quixote of fairy tales -- this Walt Disney feature cartoon is one of the most sheerly likable. The animators drench the screen with voluptuous color on John Tenniel-derived fantastical images. The songs ("I'm Late," "The Unbirthday Song") are lively, catchy Disney romps.
The boisterous cast of Wonderlanders includes Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter, Jerry Colonna as the March Hare, Richard Haydn as the Caterpillar, Sterling Holloway as the Cheshire Cat, Verna Felton as the Queen of Hearts, and, as Alice, pert little Kathryn Beaumont -- who is also featured on this DVD's extras.
Disney himself apparently didn't like this movie much, though he'd adapted Alice before, in a series of live action/animation shorts back in the '20s B.M. (Before Mickey). As a child, I found literary Carroll straight up both a mesmerizing and scary experience, when I read him at seven or so. Except for the terrifying Cheshire Cat, the Disney version doesn't have the weird intensity that makes the book not just a child's, but an adult classic. Maybe that's what worried Walt. 'Shrooms, anyone? (Extras: color TV Walt Disney intro; guide to Wonderland; games; deleted Cheshire Cat song, "I'm Odd.")
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
Alien Anthology (A)
U.S.: various directors, 1979-97, Twentieth Century Fox, Blu-ray
The astronauts aboard the starship "Nostromo" -- including the seemingly indestructible Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) -- run into a horrendous and all but unkillable space monster. And since the first movie, directed by Ridley Scott, became a big hit and modern classic, the monsters kept coming back. So did Ripley.
This is one of the most visually spectacular, tense, horrific, and thrilling of all science fiction series, with two of the most visually compelling antagonists (Weaver as Ripley, and the Aliens) and one of the most creative star director rosters: Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The video and DVD reissues keep coming back too, but this one may be definitive for a while. (Extras: Five commentaries, one with Scott alone on the original Alien. Among those participating on the others four: directors Scott, Cameron, and Jeunet, writer Dan O'Bannon, cinematographer Alex Thomson, editor Terry Rawlings, tech artists Stan Winston and Richard Edlund, and actors Weaver, Hurt, Skerritt, Stanton, Cartwright, Biehn, Paxton, Henriksen, Perlman and Pinon. Also: documentary; featurettes; interactive notes; deleted and extended scenes; TV specials; isolated scores by Jerry Goldsmith (Alien), James Horner (Aliens), Elliot Goldenthal (Alien3), and John Frizzell (Alien Resurrection); multi-angle studies; photo and still galleries.)
U.S.: Ridley Scott, 1979, 2003
With Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright and John Hurt (who lends his torso to one of the scariest moments in movie history). Contains both the original 1979 theatrical version and Ridley Scott's 2003 Director's Cut.
Aliens (A-) U.S.: James Cameron, 1986, 1991
With Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen. Ripley goes looking for Aliens again. She finds them. Not as good or dramatic as the first picture, it's still one of the most continuously exciting, step-on-the-gas and slam-you-to-the-wall movie roller-coaster rides ever. Contains both the original 1986 theatrical version and Cameron's expanded 1991 "Director's Cut" Special Edition.
U.S.: David Fincher, 1992, 2003
With Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Henriksen and Pete Postlethwaite. Ripley on a prison planet. Guess who shows up. Fincher's first big blast. Contains both the original 1992 theatrical version and the expanded 2003 Special Edition (Restored Workprint Version).
Alien Resurrection (B)
U.S.: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 199
With Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Brad Dourif, Dan Hedaya and Dominique Pinon. Ripley clone and young Ryder run into some old friends. God damn, they're hard to kill. Contains both the original 1997 theatrical version and the 2003 expanded Special Edition.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Life As We Know It (D+)
U.S.; Greg Berlanti, 2010, Warner Home Video
Even as we speak, American film romantic comedies get glossier and glossier, sillier and sillier, more and more awash in clichés and glamour-puss nonsense. Take this movie. (Please!) Its premise is simple and ridiculous: Gorgeous Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl of Knocked Up, a good romantic comedy) and studly Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel, of Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, a bad one) have a date with each other, thanks to their matchmaking best friends. Holly looks a little like a less saucy Diane Lane. Eric looks like an elongated Rob Lowe.
They don't like each other, because he's a sort of a jerk and an ostentatious stud, and she's got a temper. Nasty surprise: Their friends later die in an accident, and their will stipulates that Holly and Eric must live together in the late friends' old house and bring up little baby Sophie (played by three Clagett family tots and two Liddells). That's one of the stranger damned wills I've ever heard of, but no lawyer in Atlanta is apparently smart enough to crack it, and Sophie is a little sweetie, so Holly and Eric movie in together -- even though he's a TV director for the Atlanta Hawks, and she has some important glamorous, desirable, well-paying job that slips my mind. Maybe she's an agent for romantic comedy movie scripts?
Never mind. They've been maneuvered into the house together: the hunk and the babe. Complications now arise. Will they bicker? Will they bond? Will they fall in love? Will they do it? Will Josh Lucas, as kindly doctor Sam who dates Holly, mess everything up? (Sam looks like a softer Paul Newman.) Will Sophie do cute things and take her first steps? One really wonders.
Part of the problem here is that Eric is such a selfish, obnoxious type, that you keep wanting him to be arrested for reckless egotism. But, since this is a movie, and he's the top-billed guy, we know he'll be domesticated, prove to have a kinder, gentler side. When the filmmakers want him to express deep feeling they have him strip to his underpants -- an image that so entranced the marketing department they've put Josh in boxer shorts on the Life poster, with Heigl and one of the baby Sophies.
What this movie needs is less glamour and more laughs. But Life as We Know It keeps throwing away opportunities for comedy, such as a possible messed-up double date night where everybody runs into each other at the house and refuses to leave. The writers (Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson) concentrate instead on glamour, deep feelings and hot underpants.
You Again (C)
U.S.; Andy Fickman, 2010, Touchstone Pictures
Another terrible movie romantic comedy, which, out of respect for my old screen crush on Jamie Lee Curtis, I should probably ignore. But duty calls.
Consider this truly ludicrous premise. A now successful glamour-yuppie named Marni (Kristen Bell), who was bedeviled all through high school by sadistic schoolmate Joanna (Odette Yustman), discovers that the "ideal" girl marrying her best-pal brother...is Joanna!
Wow! Who knew?! But wait, there's more. Once everybody gets to the wedding, Marni's mom Gail discovers that the sadistic schoolmate Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) who bedeviled her all through high school...is Joanna's mother!
Wow! Incredible! Wonders never cease!
But what's with all these people? Are they suffering from on-again, off-again amnesia? Don't any of them gossip? Didn't any of them ever hear of Facebook? More complications: Marni starts to turn into a face-blemished nerd again, just like high school. Gail and Ramona start squabbling again, just like high school. Old flames show up and go psycho, just like high school. The movie and the wedding dissolve into chaos and silliness, just like high school. If all these people would just sign on for a transfer to a remake of Back to the Future, all their problems would be solved.
Written without fear by Moe Jelline, and directed without hesitation by Andy Fickman, You Again is the sort of movie you'd like to be shown at your high school reunion -- to all the classmates and teachers who annoyed or bedeviled you. But...Hey! Betty White is also in this, her career resurgent, playing Grandma Bunny, a real card.