“Spike Lee’s Inside Man, a crime drama, is nothing short of brilliant,” critic Emanuel Levy has written. “It’s also one of the two or three best films he has made in his 20-year career, along with Do the Right Thing and He Got Game. At once celebrating, deconstructing and surpassing the heist films and police corruption movies of the 1970s, Lee joins forced with producer Brian Grazer to craft a pressure-cooker thriller. After making many social commentary films, such as Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Jungle Fever and The 25th Hour, Lee seems reenergized by the opportunity to helm an interlocking puzzle, in which no piece is what it seems to be. It’s a pleasant surprise to realize that the multi-layered and both character and plot-driven screenplay, in which no detail is unimportant and no clue is a throwaway, was written by a newcomer, Russell Gewirtz.” I’m seeing it this evening but I’ve been asked not to write about it until early next week, or three or four days before the 3.24 opening.
Like the N.Y. Times DVD guy Dave Kehr, Newsweek‘s Malcolm Jones is a huge fan of director John Ford, and particularly the Criterion Collection’s recently released double-disc DVD of Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). I love his earlier stuff (The Informer , especially, and I still love Drums Along the Mohawk as much as I did when I was 12) and I’ll never cool down on The Horse Soldiers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but let’s face it — Ford’s Irish Catholic sentimentality seems to get thicker every year. Those films that are heavily covered in the stuff haven’t aged well…sentimentality never does. Ford’s movies “are a little antique, a little prim,” Jones admits. “Still…he made movies for everyone, although not in the dumbed-down sense in which we understand that today. The best Ford movies…are things a child can appreciate, and there are deeply contradictory elements that engage the wisest observer. His genius — and it took a genius to do this — was to put all these things in the same picture. Somehow he makes it all hang together.” So what the hell, I went out and actually bought the Young Mr. Lincoln DVD for $33 bucks and change because Kehr and Jones, no slouches in the persuasive-prose department, made it sound good enough to eat. Kehr actually called it “one of the highest accomplishments of American film.” It’s not quite that, I’m afraid. It’s just a solid, sturdy, well-crafted piece of homespun Americana, not without intrigue and complexity here and there but deep down just another Irish spitoon-and-bar-stool movie. The best thing about it is Henry Fonda‘s modest, just-right performance as Abraham Lincoln when he was a cagey and crafty attorney practicing in Springfield, Illinois. Of course, watching Fonda made me think again of Liam Neeson‘s commitment to play Lincoln in that Steven Spielberg film about his presidency …except that Spielberg is reportedly in a lazy-ass mode, taking a year off and “working” on the Lincoln film in between naps and slurps of soup. Anyway, I found this amazing colorized photo of Lincoln this morning. Amazing because it seems exactly like a 142 year-old color photo might look if photographers worked with color plates in 1864 and some archivist had come along and found it and touched it up.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is supposed to be among the new and slightly delayed crop of HD-DVD titles from Warner Home Video, and I’ve recently heard a conspiracy theory about the recently-issued regular-format DVD of this title from some staffers at a popular Los Angeles DVD store. The resolution on this DVD isn’t especially great…a little soft and unsatisfying, as if the people who mastered it didn’t really give it their best shot. (DVD Talk‘s Holly Ordway has written that it “looks good, but not as good as I expected, given that it’s a high-profile release…the main issue that I noticed is that the contrast feels a bit ‘off’…in a number of scenes, the contrast feels too heavy, so that we lose detail in dark areas of the scene, and in others it seems like there’s not enough contrast.”) And the theory going around is that Warner Home Video has sorta kinda allowed this second-rate DVD to go out in this fashion so that the HD-DVD version will look all the better. I don’t buy this — I don’t think Warner Home Video executives have it in them to be this baldly conniving about it…there’s no room in a big corporation for Snidely Whiplash-type scheming of this nature…but it’s indicative of the anti-corporate paranoid culture we live in that rational, level-headed DVD-loving clerks are telling each other this story and half-believing it.
The new HD-DVD players are purchasable but the first generation of HD-DVDs from Warner Home Video, which were supposed to be out 3.28, are on hold for two or three weeks. Due to some technical bureacratic bug manifestation…what else? (With every new product there are always has cockups and delays…has it ever not been so?) “To be honest, the outlook is tenuous,” said WHV division president Ron Sanders. “We’re still coming out with an initial slate, but we may be a week or two later…we just don’t know.” The cheapest Toshiba HD-DVD player so far is the HD-A1, whcih is selling for $499.99 at Amazon.com. Toshiba is also offering a souped-up model, the HD-XA1, for $799.99.
“The Sopranos [has] sustained itself through sex, violence and some very effective, at times Luis Bunuel-ish black humor,” says N.Y. Press and Newark Star-Ledger critic Matt Zoller Seitz on his “A House Next Door” blog. “More a curdled social satire than a straightforward gangster story, it is arguably the most cynical long-running series of all time, a show in which nearly every scene depicts characters being confronted with the choice between selfish expediency and a higher good, and invariably choosing Option A. From Tony and Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola) to Carmela and the kids to the FBI agents investigating the family and the various politicians and business people swirling around them, Chase’s characters rarely make choices out of altruism, a sense of cosmic rightness or simple kindness.”
“I am a liberal. And I make no apologies for it. Hell, I’m proud of it. Now fire away.” So says George Clooney in a Huffington Post piece that went up Monday, 3.13…which reads, of course, like an elaboration of his Oscar night comments after winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Syriana. My favorite passage: “In 2003 a lot of us were saying, where is the link between Saddam and bin Laden? What does Iraq have to do with 9/11? We knew it was bullshit. Which is why it drives me crazy to hear all these Democrats saying, ‘We were misled.’ It makes me want to shout, ‘Fuck you, you weren’t misled. You were afraid of being called unpatriotic.'”
All this hot copy generated by Sharon Stone about Basic Instinct 2 (Columbia, 3.31)…daring nude scene this, totally full frontal that, etc. Example: “By the time the film is released, I will be 48 and I wanted to do the nudity in a way that’s quite brazen. I wanted [Catherine Trammell] to be very masculine, like a man in a steam room, and I wanted the audience to have a moment where they realize she’s naked and then realize she’s a fortysomething woman and naked.” Whatever…barring a major God miracle, this movie is certain to be a Michael Caton Jones ickfest from start fo finish. What’s interesting is to compare these two trailers for it — an ample-nudity gymnastic-sweat trailer out of England that makes it look like pure tedium, and a much more sophisticated and classier preview now sitting on the Sony/Columbia website, one that suggests it might be half-tolerable due to the supporting player contributions of Charlotte Rampling and David Thewlis, both of whom are ignored by the cheeseball British trailer. That said, I have no particular interest in David Morrisey as Stone’s costar in this piece of shite. He’s a good British actor…knows his way around an odd line or a tough scene…but he’s not Stone’s sexy equal. His eyes are too small and his pale freckly face is a bit soft and puffy. Sorry, mate, but nope.