A decade before The Godfather, Albert Lattuada deglamorized the gangster chic of the Italian mafia with the bitter comedy Mafioso. Alberto Sordi stars as Antonio, an energetic parody of the middle class success story, running around the factory with a clipboard and a stopwatch and playing ringmaster back in his modern apartment home with his chic blond wife and two blond little girls. What has him so excited is a vacation trip to his home village in Sicily, a place of simple beauty and generous folks, to hear him tell it.
He’s still bubbling with his idealized memories of the town when they finally arrive, which makes him oblivious to the reality that we see: an impoverished, bleak place village that time seems to have abandoned to its superstitions and cloistered fear of outsiders – his modern wife included. Half of Antonio’s friends have died or gone to prison, victims of the unforgiving culture of crime and vengeance, and a mafia is the town elder, as much feared as revered. He’s the man who makes a modest request from Antonio in the form of a veiled threat: an offer he can’t refuse.
Lattuada’s direction is pitch perfect as he slips the film from the comic satire of culture clash and oblivious idealization to the grave reality of the world nobody dares admit exists, let alone defy. The film never loses its sly humor, but it turns darker with a force that packs a gut-punch, and the willful blindness to the malignant mafia simply perpetuates the cycle.
The Criterion edition features a small collection of interesting but hardly compelling interviews, both archival and original for this disc.
Read the full review here.
Also this week from Criterion are two-disc editions of The Ice Storm, with new commentary by director Ang Lee and producer/screenwriter Schamus and a retrospective documentary with new interviews with stars Joan Allen, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, and Elijah Wood, and Hiroshi Teshigahara’s documentary Antonio Gaudi.
In New Releases, Joe Wright’s screen adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement (scripted by Christopher Hampton) arrives. Where too many literary adaptations deliver slavishly reverent but lifeless screen versions, this film:
… bristles with life, lust, jealousy, betrayal, and tragedy with a small t, the kind reserved for us mere mortals. Wright drinks in the period and while reaching beyond the surface and into the unsettled emotional lives of the characters, notably the young lover played by Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. The clack of typewriter strokes becomes the driving beat of both the story (for reasons that come clear in the final act) and distinctive score that earned the film’s sole Oscar (of seven nominations).
The supplements on this single-disc special edition are quite fine, notably the intelligent 27-minute documentary “Bringing the Past to Life: The Making of Atonement.”
Read the complete review here.
Will Smith is the last man on Earth, or so it seems to him, in the third official adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel (and the first to keep the novel’s name) I Am Legend. The adaptation, directed by Francis Lawrence (who also made the underrated Constantine):
… strips the story down to essentials and focuses on the visceral experience of roaming an empty New York City, a metropolitan ghost town slowly being reclaimed by foliage and wildlife (ostensibly escaped from the zoo and running wild through the abandoned streets). And, of course, feral packs of former humans mutated into zombie-like creatures by a virus that has swept through humanity like a Biblical cleansing…. (Smith is) in everyman mode here – albeit the pumped up, survivalist only-man everyman – and it’s his humanity, his need for contact (making small talk with the mannequins he’s propped up around his neighborhood), and his fearsome rage that makes the film work.
The bonus extras on the two-disc edition are not what you usually expect. Instead of documentaries and interviews and the like, the second disc offers an alternate cut of the film, which only runs a few minutes longer but features a different ending that changes the entire point of the film… for the better, in my opinion.
Read the complete review here.
The third season of Battlestar Galactica starts with most humanity in the custody of their mortal enemies, the Cylons, while a skeleton fleet evades patrols and tries to hatch a rescue plan. The show is only grounded for the first two episodes, but the experiences in the prison camp, where people become divided between the resistance and the collaborators, reverberate through the rest of the season.
The drama thrives in the atmosphere of moral ambiguity, spiritual mystery and survivalist reality, which is only enhanced by the down and dirty production design. This is, simply put, the best science fiction series around and one of the smartest and most compelling shows currently on TV. It finds drama in philosophical difference and emotional damage transformed into human conflict, and ends with revelations that will redefines the stakes of the show’s upcoming fourth and (sadly) final season.
It collects all 20 episodes in a single box set (as opposed to the second season, which was split into two sets) and fills the six-disc set with the kinds of supplements that the show’s fans should enjoy.
Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column.
TV: 2007 reboot of Bionic Woman – Volume One (don’t hold your breath for a Volume Two),
an ABC Family Channel series Greek: Chapter One, and The Wild Wild West: The Fourth Season, the
final season of the sagebrush secret service adventure starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin.
Special Releases: It’s baseball season on DVD, with new editions of Bull Durham: Collector’s Edition, Pride Of The Yankees: Collector’s Edition, and Eight Men Out: Collector’s Edition all released this week. But off the diamond, you can find the silent classic The Dragon Painter with Sessue Hayakawa:
The great Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa was not only a star of American silent cinema, he was a producer who developed his own romantic and heroic starring roles. In the 1919 “The Dragon Painter,” a short feature directed by his longtime collaborator William Worthington, he stars as a madman painter-savant in rural Japan who believes his lost love was transformed into a dragon by the gods. It’s a simple story with some lovely images and a terrific performance by Hayakawa as the simple artistic primitive, but it also reverberates with the cultural arrogance of a civilized society that holds the value of art over individual happiness.
The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.
[Note: click on DVD cover to find it on Amazon]