DVD of the Week – ‘Michael Clayton’ – February 19, 2008

“I’m not a miracle worker. I’m a janitor.” – George Clooney as “Michael Clayton”

It’s an Oscar preview on DVD this week, led by Michael Clayton, nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (George Clooney), Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (both Tony Gilory).

George Clooney simmers as Michael Clayton, a legal “fixer” who works behind the scenes of a powerful New York law firm, in Tony Gilroy’s smart, sharp legal drama. When he’s sent to clean up the moral meltdown of the firm’s leading litigator (Tom Wilkinson), he unwittingly stumbles into a corporate conspiracy with reverberations that could kill him. This description makes “Michael Clayton” sound the kind of adrenaline thriller that made screenwriter Gilroy’s name (namely the “Bourne” espionage thrillers, which Gilroy scripted with a certain realpolitic intelligence), but it’s much more of a chamber drama where characters wield dialogue like precision weapons. Gilroy directs with a cool hand and an underplayed sense of drama, letting the words and the performances carry the film.

Supporting actors Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson earned Oscar nominations as well. My complete DVD review leads my MSN DVD Column this week and is archived here.

 

Tommy Lee Jones is up against George Clooney in the Best Actor category for his turn in Paul Haggis’ In The Valley Of Elah.

Charlize Theron co-stars as the sole female detective on the civilian force and his only ally through the slapdash investigation and jurisdictional tug-of-war. Haggis drops exclamation points after his symbolic gestures and muddies his message more than once, but at its best the film tells a good story with moments of chilling eloquence.

I previously reviewed the film at the Seattle P-I here.

 

Noah Baumbach’s savagely funny Margot at the Wedding should have earned nominations for lead actress Nicole Kidman and supporting actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. It’s also a better film than Haggis’ heavyhanded Elah.

Kidman’s Margot is a riveting character: Self-involved, reflexively judgmental, dubiously maternal. She’s hard to like but endlessly fascinating as she hides her brittle vulnerability by bluntly blurting out every stray critical thought like a Tourettic reflex. Leigh plays the introspective, stable one for a change and Baumbach creates vivid and nuanced sense of family dynamics, at once relaxed and tense, familiar and painfully funny.

I previously reviewed the film at the Seattle P-I here.

 

And Ruby Dee earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Ridley Scott’s gangster epic American Gangster, one of only two nominations for the big, sweeping drama the studio hoped would make a big showing come Oscar time.

Ridley Scott’s sprawling crime drama tackles the rise and fall of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), the real-life Harlem crime boss who transformed the heroin trade in the seventies, and the work of New York Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) and his anti-drug task force to shut down his operation. … Scott’s epic treatment is well crafted but lacks the drama of the modern crime classics his film evokes.

The film is available on DVD in two a 2-Disc Special Edition and a 3-Disc Deluxe Edition, both featuring the theatrical version and a longer, unrated cut with 18 minutes of additional footage. The 3-Disc Deluxe Edition is also available in the 9-disc Gangsters: The Ultimate Film Collection box set. Scarface: Platinum Edition, Carlito’s Way: Ultimate Edition, and Casino: Anniversary Edition (all 2-disc editions) fill out the set.

 

Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and swept the Golden Horse Awards (Taiwan’s answer to the Oscars), but was disqualified as Taiwan’s entry in the Foreign Language Film category because, apparently, there was too much “international” participation in the multinational crew. It didn’t get a nomination and it was greeted with mixed reviews stateside, largely for its length and its slow pacing, but it’s a fascinating picture.

There’s more caution than lust in Ang Lee’s tastefully erotic espionage thriller, a beautifully staged and exquisitely photographed drama about a Chinese student (Tang Wei) turned amateur resistance agent in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in 1942. Hong Kong star Tony Leung Chiu Wai is magnetic as her target, a collaborator working for the Japanese, and the virginal student is cast as his mistress. All that passion and suspicion and fear reduced to glances and brushes of skin until the affair hits NC-17 territory with explicit coital scenes of flesh on hot, sweaty flesh, desire exploding into animal sex, it’s a genuine shock amidst the elegant direction of Lee, who even shoots squalor with grace and beauty.

I previously reviewed the film at the Seattle P-I here.

 

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 Pierrot Le Fou gets the Criterion treatment with a marvelous 2-disc edition this week.

Jean-Luc Godard’s freewheeling collision of road movie, crime fantasy, cultural satire, and femme fatale noir, shot in Technicolor and CinemaScope, stars Jean-Paul Belmondo (in his third and final feature for director) as an alienated intellectual who flees the banality of his bourgeois existence with the family babysitter (Anna Karina, Godard’s longtime muse), who happens to be caught up with gun runners and killers. Full of references to his previous films, it marks the midpoint of Godard in the sixties, straddling the genre play and lighthearted diversions of his earlier films and the consumer satire and cultural deconstructions of his subsequent, more overtly political cinema.

 

Four films by Alain Resnais debut on DVD this week, including Life is a Bed of Roses, his 1983 mix of drama, romance, fantasy and musical. Love Unto Death, Melo and I Want to Go Home also debut. And Kino’s German Expressionism Collection includes the DVD debuts of Robert Wiene’s 1924 Hands of Orlac, the first screen adaptation of the classic story of a concert pianist with the hands of a murderer grafted to his arms, and G.W. Pabst’s psychodrama Secrets of a Soul, in editions restored by Germany’s Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation.

 

New on DVD TV this week: Helen Mirren at the BBC, a collection of nine BBC TV productions from between 1974 and 1982 starring the acclaimed actress, the second season of the terrific Canadian comedy series Robson Arms, 1978 British miniseries Lillie, starring Francesca Annis plays the famed British actress and courtesan Lillie Langtry.

The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

[Note: click on DVD cover to find it on Amazon]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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