Remember books? Those heavy, flammable things where ideas come from? The respect you give them has a lot to do with the quality of the movies they inspire. The brilliant Isaac Asimov...
Remember books? Those heavy, flammable things where ideas come from? The respect you give them has a lot to do with the quality of the movies they inspire.
The brilliant Isaac Asimov couldn’t decompose fast enough to distance himself from “I, Robot” (Fox, PG-13). You’ve got Will Smith’s anti-gravitas. You’ve got Asimov’s icy, middle-age scientist, Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), immortalized on cinema as a hot young chick sidekick to Smith’s robotophobic detective Spooner in the investigation of murder in which a robot is the prime suspect. You’ve got Smith hollering amid huge special-effects action scenes such bon mots as “You have so got to die!” They don’t get much worse.
Our Behemoth of the Week, “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Special Extended DVD Edition” (New Line, PG-13) shows filmmakers who love J.R.R. Tolkien’s books maybe even a little too much. This lavish edition of the trilogy’s final chapter sports an extra 50 minutes of footage, bringing your time in Middle-earth up to about four hours and 10 minutes before you even get into any of the making-of supplements on the four discs.
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The thing that interested me most in the new footage was the fate of Christopher Lee’s evil Saruman character. Lee had been fuming after he was completely cut from the theatrical version. You can hear about what else has been added and rearranged, and which seamless bits were filmed years apart, in the commentary with director Peter Jackson, and producer/screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. There are also commentaries with the cast (minus Viggo Mortensen), the production team and the design team.
“Mary Poppins” 40th Anniversary Edition (Disney, 1964, G). It took Uncle Walt decades to get the rights from author P.L. Travers, who didn’t care if anyone made a movie out of her work or not. Perhaps afraid that her super-nanny would wind up as the hootie-queen sidekick of a wisecracking detective, she held out for creative input. And, as the documentary/commentary extras reveal, she didn’t at all care for the music in what would become one of Disney’s archetypal great films. But she did think Julie Andrews, who won an Oscar in her first film, had the nose for the part.
There have been a couple of previous editions on DVD, but this one is loaded like Mary’s carpet bag: a new animated short (what primitive people would call a “cartoon”); a deleted song which songwriter Richard Sherman does with storyboard art; Dick Van Dyke’s makeup test; a 17-minute reunion with Van Dyke, Andrews and Sherman, and more. Andrews notes she did the very English film on the same L.A. soundstage (which now bears her name) as “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” (Disney, G).
“Collateral” (Universal, R): Director Michael Mann is finally back to making Michael Mann films! In one of the year’s best, a white-haired Tom Cruise plays a nerves-of-steel hitman who conscripts cabbie Jamie Foxx to drive him to his appointments. There’s the sophisticated style and action you associate with Mann films like “Heat,” but also the nerve to slow down and let people talk without ADD distractions. And while everyone is lauding Foxx for “Ray,” his performance here was the real revelation especially if you’ve seen his painful sitcom.
This Week in Infidelity: “The Door in the Floor” (Universal, R), from novelist John Irving’s “A Widow for One Year.” Jeff Bridges is terrific as a debauched children’s book author estranged from wife Kim Basinger after two of their children are killed. Her fling with his young summer assistant winds up dislodging their emotional constipation in a whimsically funny, sad tale that avoids the pitfalls of Healing Movies.
“We Don’t Live Here Anymore” (Warner, R): Mark Ruffalo and Laura Dern play one unlikable couple, “Six Feet Under’s” Peter Krause and Naomi Watts play another. They bicker, cheat, keep changing their minds, and practice the kind of emotional ruthlessness done far better in “Closer.”
“Time of the Wolf” (Palm Pictures, R): Disappointing reteaming of “The Piano Teacher” director Michael Haneke and star Isabelle Huppert. She roams with her two kids and a hovering feral boy after some vague apocalyptic event.
“Westender”(Warner, PG-13): A respectable low-budget effort which uses striking Oregon scenery for the (really long) wanderings of a burned-out medieval knight.
TV: “Star Trek: The Original Series The Complete Third Season” (Paramount, 1966, unrated): Sure, it’s the season with space hippies (“The Way to Eden”), but it’s also the one in which Spock goes undercover with the Romulans (“The Enterprise Incident”). Can’t go wrong. “Quantum Leap The Complete Second Season” (Universal, 1990, unrated).
Also: “Rocky Anthology” (MGM, PG-13): All five entries, but I’d stop at the third one with Mr. T. In time for “Meet the Fockers,” a “Meet the Parents” Bonus Edition (Universal, PG-13). And “Breaker Morant” (Wellspring, 1980, PG), in which Edward Woodward delivers one of the all-time great exit lines.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259