BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005). While the current Oscar season rages on, Universal's home entertainment arm has elected to re-release the acclaimed film whose shortchanging at last year's ceremony caused such an uproar. The secret behind this adaptation of Annie Proulx's short story is that, behind its convenient (and infuriating) designation as "the gay cowboy movie," this is as universal as any cinematic love story of recent times. Scripters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana and director Ang Lee have managed to make a movie that vibrates on two separate settings: It's a story about the love between two men, yes, but it's also a meditation on the strict societal rules that keep any two people -- regardless of gender, race, class, religion, etc. -- out of each other's arms. In detailing the relationship between Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), Brokeback Mountain is about longing and loneliness as much as it's about love -- indeed, loss and regret become tangible presences in the film. Gyllenhaal delivers a nicely modulated performance, but this is clearly Ledger's show: He's phenomenal as Ennis, and his character's anguish causes our own hearts to break on his behalf. Although homophobia within the Academy ranks prevented it from winning Best Picture (Crash? Please ... ), it still earned three Oscars for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score (Gustavo Santaolalla's theme music is simply gorgeous). This two-disc Collector's Edition, which improves slightly on the earlier DVD release, includes features on the direction, script and music, a look at the film's phenomenal success, and eight collectible postcards.
HOLLYWOODLAND (2006). Before Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh, there was George Reeves. Kirk Alyn may have originated the role of Superman on screen in a pair of 1940s serials, but it was Reeves who was most identified with the part, thanks to the hit TV series that ran throughout much of the 1950s. But in 1959, Reeves apparently committed suicide, though speculation has always run rampant that the hulking actor was actually the victim of foul play. Hollywoodland is a fictionalized take on this theory, centering on a smalltime detective (Adrien Brody) as he sets off to uncover the truth. Was Reeves (Ben Affleck) murdered by his opportunistic girlfriend (Robin Tunney), a gold digger who ran out of patience once she realized his career would never amount to more? By his older lover (Diane Lane), who feared she might be losing him for good? By the woman's husband (Bob Hoskins), a powerful studio executive known for tying up loose ends? Or, in the final analysis, did Reeves really pull the trigger himself? Hell if anyone knows for sure, and that includes the makers of this film, who trot out every conceivable scenario without ever committing to one. Still, that's hardly a flaw, as the open-endedness allows this handsome picture to tantalizingly jump back and forth between its colorful characters. The performances are uniformly fine -- Affleck has been a punching bag for so long now that his solid work here will surprise many -- and the movie richly offers nostalgia-twinged visions of vintage LA. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Allen Coulter, five minutes deleted scenes, and three making-of featurettes.
MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006). Until The Fountain came along, Marie Antoinette was the fall season's premiere love-it-or-leave-it title. In the end, writer-director Sofia Coppola's first film since her magnificent Lost In Translation is recommended, but with reservations. In much the manner of A Knight's Tale, Coppola has added a sprinkling of contemporary trappings to her luxuriant period piece. Thus, a shopping spree with the girls is backed by Bow Wow Wow's 80s hit "I Want Candy," and anachronisms can frequently be found within the dialogue. Coppola's intention was to create a teenager for our times, a girl who just wants to have fun even though her position in the French royal court demands so much more. It's an interesting idea that's only partially successful, largely because Coppola doesn't go far enough with her outré approach. Coppola should have rolled the dice without hesitancy; instead, she too often hedges her bets. Where Marie Antoinette fares best is its examination of the royal life as a treadmill of constantly winding boredom; the scenes in which Marie, winningly played by Kirsten Dunst, is forced to succumb to the nonsensical rules and rituals of etiquette are poignant because they deny a child, that most impulsive of all creatures, the chance to experience life for herself. Marie does slowly manage to reclaim some semblance of her own existence, but by then, the peasants are starting to grumble, and things quickly come to a head. DVD extras include two deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and the MTV short piece Cribs with Louis XVI (hosted by Jason Schwartzman, who plays Louis in the film) .
ROBERT MITCHUM: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION (1952-1975). The world isn't lacking for classic quotes from Robert Mitchum, and my favorite only serves to further illustrate that his don't-give-a-damn screen persona nicely dovetailed with the off-screen image he often projected: "People think I have an interesting walk. Hell, I'm just trying to hold my gut in." The cool-as-dry-ice Mitchum can be seen in all his sauntering glory in this worthwhile box set. Don't believe for a minute that this is a definitive Mitchum collection: A set would have to include The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear and Out of the Past to make that claim. But otherwise, this is a fairly comprehensive career overview, studded with many fan favorites. Angel Face (1952), costarring Jean Simmons, and Macao (1952), with Jane Russell, place Mitchum in his film noir element; The Sundowners (1960) and Home From the Hill (1960) cast him in sprawling epics that prove his underrated range (the National Board of Review handed him their Best Actor award for his work in both films); The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969) pays affectionate tribute to the Western, a genre in which Mitchum found plenty of work; and Sydney Pollack's The Yakuza (1975) demonstrates, along with several other 1970s vehicles (The Friends of Eddie Coyle, for starters), that an aging Mitchum was still a force to be reckoned with. This is good stuff, though I'd like to put in a special plug for Angel Face, with a startling ending that knocked me out of my seat the first time I saw it. Extras on select discs include audio commentaries, vintage featurettes and theatrical trailers.
YOJIMBO (1961) / SANJURO (1962). Reflect upon the great director-actor tandems in film history, and the same teams always come up. John Ford-John Wayne. Ingmar Bergman-Max von Sydow. Martin Scorsese-Robert De Niro. Dennis Dugan-Adam Sandler (well, maybe not). And then there's Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, who collaborated on no less than 16 pictures, many of them acknowledged classics. The wildly entertaining Yojimbo isn't generally ranked on the same plateau as the team's Rashomon, The Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood, but it's still considered a staple of any serious cinephile's education, as well as a worthy entry point for foreign-film novices wanting to get their feet wet before plunging into the deep waters of Bergman or Federico Fellini. In short, it's so accessible that it's no wonder it was eventually remade by Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood as the classic "spaghetti Western" A Fistful of Dollars (and far less successfully by Walter Hill and Bruce Willis as Last Man Standing). Mifune, apparently having the time of his life, is the strutting epitome of cool as the Yojimbo ("bodyguard") who offers his services to a pair of warring clans and then manipulates the situation so that the two corrupt factions basically wipe each other out. A colossal box office hit, Yojimbo was immediately followed by Sanjuro, in which Mifune's wandering swordsman attempts to settle a local skirmish with the help (hindrance?) of nine inexperienced samurai. Reissued by Criterion, the films are available individually or in a boxed set; extras on each disc include audio commentary by author Stephen Prince (The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa), a making-of documentary, the theatrical trailer and a stills gallery.