Printer Friendly

DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES.

Byline: Rob Lowman Entertainment Editor

"Brokeback": Don't try to quit it

Ang Lee is a great director, and "Brokeback Mountain" is a good - verging on very good - film. It is a better more satisfying piece of cinema than "Crash," the film it lost out to for the best picture Oscar and which is coming out with its own special edition director's cut.

"Brokeback," based on Annie Proulx's novella, did win Oscars for Lee's direction as well as for screenplay and score. The story, which begins in 1963 in Wyoming, is of two cowboys attracted to each other. The pair - played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal - at first try to suppress their desires and impulses that go against what they are taught: to hate homosexuals, which leads to a certain amount of self-loathing. Being gay anywhere - even today - can be difficult. And all one has to do is consider the Matthew Shepard killing in Wyoming in 1998 to know that.

The pair even try marriage - Ledger's Ennis to Alma (Michelle Williams) and Gyllenhaal's Jack to Lureen (Anne Hathaway), but as Jack says in a poignant scene, "You are too much for me. Ennis ... I wish I knew how to quit you."

"Brokeback" is like two of Lee's other films - "Sense and Sensibility" and the underappreciated "Ice Storm" - domestic dramas set in the past.

It can be argued (though I'll spare you) that both those excellent films are superior to "Brokeback" because they involve more complex stories with a wider range of character and emotion. (Both, too are from far richer literary sources - Jane Austen's classic and Rick Moody's novel.) While it's easy to see "Brokeback's'' story as akin to a tragedy, it doesn't rise to that - neither in the traditional sense nor in the telling.

There have been a number of gay and gender-bending films this year. ("Transamerica" and "Breakfast on Pluto" are two.) Those types of life-style choices are in themselves dramatic and sometimes painful.

"Brokeback" is set in an era before the Stonewall Riots and in an inhospitable locale, which heightens the tension and conflict.

It's a clever story-telling device that makes the yearning and loss achingly palatable and universally felt. Yet it's hard to see "Brokeback" in terms any different than thousands of other sad love stories.

The gay element gave the film an added edge, which may or may not have worked for it in the Oscar race. Lee's delicate and observant direction raises the story. The Oscar-nominated performances of Ledger, Gyllenhaal and Williams are first-rate and believable; the writing by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana gives the story heart; the cinematography is gorgeous; and the score is lovely.

It's nearly a flawless film, but despite Proulx's post-Oscar carping, "Brokeback" is more a nice ruby rather than a diamond, even one in the rough.

Brokeback Mountain (Focus; $29.98)

"Crash," "Little Manhattan," "Bee Season," "Ushpizin"

While there's much to admire about "Crash," as film-making goes, it's not in the same league as "Brokeback." But Paul Haggis' film is indeed provocative - digging into the issue of race and religious relations in the Los Angles area.

Told in a series of interlocking stories, "Crash" presents an uneasy picture of the area, with tolerance too often more of a cultural habit than a matter of true acceptance and anger seething just below the surface.

The problem with the film is that while it contains truths, it is also told with the heightened implausibility of "24." While I can enjoy that series for its over-the-top style (and it, too, has elements of truth), in "Crash" that ploy smacks of contrivance.

The new director's cut adds a bit more to the story but doesn't enhance it. It's fundamentally the same but if you go along for the ride you will probably enjoy it. There are also a number of notable performances - Don Cheadle, Terrance Howard, Thandie Newton, and Matt Dillon.

Whatever reservations I have about the film shouldn't discourage you from seeing it, and this new two-disc set is a good way. Even if you're not enamored with "Crash," you'll find yourself thinking about it.

There are three smaller films worth noting.

"Little Manhattan" is a small family story of a fifth-grader (Josh Hutcherson) who experiences his first taste of puppy love while his parents (Bradley Whitford and Cynthia Nixon) are heading for divorce.

The film is sweet but a little like its protagonist - precocious.

"The Bee Season" involves a 12-year-old girl, Eliza (Flora Cross), who suddenly finds her gift in spelling words, competing in a national event. Richard Gere plays her father, Saul, a theology professor. His wife, Miriam (Juliette Binoche) is a scientist with a petty thievery problem, and his son, Aaron (Max Minghella) has rejected his father's Jewish religion to join the Hare Krishnas.

When Eliza starts winning, Saul, who hasn't shown much interest in her before, begins helping her. But his pride is more about himself than in his child.

"Bee Season" deals with smart people who are caught in their own small traps. Only Eliza with her "visions" of the right letters seems to find a way out. There is somewhat of a disconnect to the characters that makes them hard to relate to. But the film offers a thoughtful picture of contemporary life among the academic-intelligentsia, and the performances - particularly Cross' - are finely crafted.

"Ushpizin" is an unexpected light comedy set among the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. Shuli Rand and his wife, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand, play a poor couple who come into a bit of good fortune during a religious festival. To celebrate, the husband invites two friends from his secular days. Unbeknownst to his wife and the rest of the community, the ushpizin (translated as holy guests) are petty criminals.

Their presence upsets everybody and tries the poor couple's patience.

The humor is mild, but its test-of-faith presence is used to put a face on a fairly closed community.

"Crash" (Lionsgate; $19.98)

"Little Manhattan" (20th Century Fox; $27.98)

"Bee Season" (20th Century Fox; $27.98)

"Ushpizin" (New Line; $27.98)

'9 to 5,' 'Mel Brooks Box Set,' 'Silver Streak'

The 1980 women's empowerment comedy "9 to 5" brought lots of laughs amid its social stripes. It was written and directed by the late Colin Higgins, who had his hand in some of the most delightful comedies of the time. He wrote "Harold and Maude" and "Silver Streak," and also wrote and directed "Foul Play."

In "9 to 5," Dolly Parton (in her first film), Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda play women who suffer under their male chauvinist boss (Dabney Coleman) at a high-powered corporate office. Parton's Doralee is the secretary everyone thinks is sleeping with the boss. Tomlin's Violet is an underpaid and underappreciated Girl Friday, and Fonda's Judy is learning how to be her own woman after being dumped by her husband after years of marriage. Coleman's Franklin eventually gets his comeuppance, and some socially progressive ideas are cheerfully implemented at the corporation. (Oh, how naive we were about big business changing.) The new special edition includes commentary from the three stars, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Between the original "The Producers" (1968) and "Blazing Saddles" (1974), Mel Brooks made the lovely but somewhat forgotten "The Twelve Chairs" (1970). It's one of the delights in the "Mel Brooks Collection," which also includes "Saddles," "Young Frankenstein," "Silent Movie," "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," the remake of "To Be or Not to Be" with his late wife Anne Bancroft, "History of the World Part I" and "High Anxiety."

"Chairs" is set in the Soviet Union of 1927, when the mother-in-law of a petty bureaucrat (Ron Moody) reveals to him and Father Fyodor (Dom DeLuise) that, during the Russian Revolution, she had hidden a fortune in jewels in one of a set of 12 chairs, setting off a race for the gems. The humor is less brash than you'd expect from Brooks, and there is definitely an absurdist touch. But you can still see the comic's style throughout, beginning with the theme song, "Hope for the Best (and Expect the Worst)." And, as in "The Producers," friendship springs from unexpected places.

The other films are better-known, so you probably have your own opinions. But laughs are always included.

Also being released today are three films featuring a frequent Brooks star, Gene Wilder. The best is "Silver Streak" (1976), which was the first pairing of Wilder and Richard Pryor. A comedy-thriller, it also has moments of romance with the luminous Jill Clayburgh. The other two are uneven affairs, both written and directed by Wilder - "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother" (1975) and "The World's Greatest Lover" (1977) - however, both have Wilder - and he can be a funny man.

Three stars from Hollywood's golden era - Marlene Dietrich, Mae West and Carole Lombard - get their close-ups with separate editions of "The Glamour Collection." The best is Dietrich's, with some terrific films - "Morocco," "Blonde Venus" and "The Devil Is a Woman" - along with "Flame of New Orleans" and "Golden Earrings." West's set has "My Little Chickadee," "I'm No Angel" with a young Cary Grant, "Go West Young Man," "Goin' to Town" - one of her lesser-known but funny comedies - and "Night After Night." While Lombard made some great films - "My Man Godfrey," "Nothing Sacred," "To Be or Not to Be" among them - they are not part of this collection. Only "True Confession" shows the actress, whose life was cut short by a plane crash, at her screwball best.

The others - "The Princess Comes Across," "Hands Across the Table," "Love Before Breakfast," "Man of the World" and "We're Not Dressing" - show a glimmer of her talent amid so-so vehicles. All the collections are bare bones - no extras - so you'll have to want the movies.

For those in the spirit, there's the "Films of Faith Collection" with "The Nun's Story," "The Shoes of the Fisherman" and "The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima" - solid but not particularly great films.

I was never a fan of Liza Minnelli, but I admired her talents. And nowhere are they better displayed than in the 1972 TV special, "Liza With a 'Z.' " It was directed by the great Bob Fosse, who won an Emmy for the special as well as an Oscar that year for directing Minnelli in "Cabaret." (The actress-singer also picked up both trophies that year.) "Liza" was recently restored and shown on Showtime. The new DVD includes commentary from Minnelli and interviews with her and producer Michael Arick, who was involved in the restoration. A CD of the show's soundtrack is also part of the package.

"9 to 5" (20th Century Fox; $19.98)

"Mel Brooks Collection" (20th Century Fox; $99.98)

"Silver Streak" (20th Century Fox; $9.98)

"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother" (20th Century Fox; $19.98)

"The World's Greatest Lover" (20th Century Fox; $14.98)

"The Glamour Collection" (Marlene Dietrich, Mae West and Carole Lombard sets from MCA are $26.98 each)

"Films of Faith Collection" (Warner; $29.98)

"Liza With a 'Z' " (Showtime; $29.99)

Rob Lowman, (818) 713-3687

robert.lowman(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1) HEATH LEDGER and JAKE GYLLENHAAL in ``BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN''

(2 -- 3) no caption (DVD covers)
COPYRIGHT 2006 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 4, 2006
Words:1870
Previous Article:L.A. WINELINE MAKERS OF MERLOT DEFEND THEIR GRAPE.
Next Article:HEAR TODAY.
Topics:


Related Articles
DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES.
DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES.
DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES.
DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES.
DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES.
DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES.
DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES.
DVD REVIEW OF NEW RELEASES OLD L.A. LIVES IN `ASK THE DUST'.
DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES.
DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters