Tarsem Singh’s The Fall may not be the best film of 2008, but it is was one of my greatest joys of the year, a lovely reminder that stories don’t belong to the teller. They have a life of their own. They live in the hearts and minds of those who hear them, read them, see them, whose experiences ricochet and reverberate off the characters and narrative turns and story details, expanding and enriching them with their own personal meanings. Tarsem Singh’s second feature is a glorious embrace of narrative innocence directed as a deliciously, vividly visual phantasmagoria of an adventure fantasy. As an injured silent movie Hollywood stuntman (Lee Pace) with a broken heart spins his make-believe epic to little immigrant girl Alexandria, a child migrant worker in the orange orchards who broke her arm in a fall, their respective personal experiences and cultural references mix for a story that shifts with each new addition and adjustment. It’s like a Terry Gilliam film directed by Zhang Yimou, with a script concocted by a child. Shot all over the world, it’s stunning to look at and a charge to see the travelers make their through a world where you can leap a continent just by crossing over the next rise. The story imagery and character identities are equal parts imagination and appropriation from the real world, and those connections, far from being deeply symbolic, are almost naively direct reflections of their respective emotional lives. It’s a sophisticated film about the naive pleasures of stories and storytelling.
Director Tarsem solos on one of the two commentary tracks in a near monotone of a voice, but packs his talk with illuminating observations and interesting production details. Actor Lee Pace and co-writers Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis are only slightly more animated and far less informative in their track. Also features two deleted scenes (running barely 90 seconds) and two behind-the-scenes featurettes (that together run almost an hour).
It’s also available in beautiful Blu-ray edition. I review the film in my MSN DVD column here.
Also new to DVD this week are a couple of new editions of beloved classics. The Coen Brothers’ most eccentric cult hit is back in a new edition: The Big Lebowski: 10th Anniversary Edition:
Jeff Bridges is the Dude, bowler and free spirit mistaken for a millionaire (David Huddleston) by a band of German punk nihilists, and John Goodman is his Vietnam Vet bowling buddy, who sinks him deeper into trouble with one scheme after another. Think of it as a slacker “The Big Sleep,” a shaggy dog parody of classic L.A. detective stories where the passive hero is forced to solve a mystery so everyone will just leave him alone to enjoy his dope and his Dylan. The Coens concoct an absurdist Chandler-esque mystery, drop in a couple hilarious dream fantasies (including a bowling dream sequence by way of Busby Berkley, complete with credits), and even bring in a drawling Sam Elliot to narrate this tall tale like a western myth.
Read the complete DVD review here.
Cool Hand Luke may not be the greatest prison film ever made, but to my mind, it is the coolest.
Paul Newman is the decorated veteran turned small-time hood one inebriated evening, and he’s sentenced to a southern chain gang where he evolves from easy-going eccentric to non-conformist hero, a man who refuses to bend in the face of authority. There’s more than a bit of Christ allegory in the imagery but it’s the character of the scruffy prisoners in the impoverished prison, where the guards try to sap the will of their charges in the grind of the chain gang, and the resilience of Newman’s grinning non-conformist, who can’t win but will never stop fighting, that gives the film its juice.
Read the complete DVD review here.
Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:
Can you believe it’s taken this long to get Jackie Chan and Jet Li in the same movie? They are no longer young men in their physical prime, but when they finally throw down in this American take on the classic Chinese “Monkey King” tale, the result is exhilarating…. The film plays like a tribute to classic Hong Kong martial arts movies and adventure odysseys by an appreciative American fan and Disney veteran Rob Minkoff has the right attitude, if not the chops for action spectacle.
TV: Ugly Betty: The Complete Second Season, Medium: The Fourth Season and Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre:
Between 1982 and 1987, Shelley Duvall produced 26 adaptations of classic fairy tales for her playful HBO series. She overcame lean production values and cheap video effects with creative adaptations, tongue-in-cheek humor and dynamic casts (Robin Williams goofs with princess Teri Garr in the debut episode, “The Tale of the Frog Prince” and Billy Crystal squares off against big, bad Jeff Goldblum in “The Three Little Pigs”), not to mention major directing talents. Francis Ford Coppola directs Harry Dean Stanton in “Rip Van Winkle,” Tim Burton helms “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp” (with James Earl Jones as the genie) and Roger Vadim directs Klaus Kinski and Susan Sarandon in “Beauty and the Beast.” The seven-disc set features all 26 50-minute episodes of the Peabody Award-winning series…
So big it took three directors to wrestle it to the sprawl of the three-panel Cinerama screen, How the West Was Won is one of only two narrative features made in the Cinerama process. Shot with three synchronized camera and projected by three synchronized projectors, it was the original high definition widescreen process. It was also awfully unwieldy, which is why this epic is such an ungainly dinosaur of a movie, more like five separate films with related characters, stitched together like the seams between the panels…. The original three-panel version has been digitally joined for a nearly seamless presentation in this special edition DVD
The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.