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View from the Couch

Bonnie and CLyde, I Am Legend, more

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BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967). Nineteen-sixty-seven was the year that changed the face of American cinema forever, and Bonnie and Clyde was one of the two reasons why (the other was The Graduate). This saga centering on the bank-robbing exploits of the Depression-era Barrow gang – leader Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), his partner Bonnie (Faye Dunaway), his brother Buck (Gene Hackman), Buck's wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons) and driver C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard) – became a cultural phenomenon on several levels, starting with the controversy over its explicit violence, the likes of which hadn't been seen in American film before (Sam Peckinpah's even more bloody The Wild Bunch followed in 1969, and the movies would never be the same). Among other achievements, the picture also instigated a wardrobe craze – Dunaway's outlaw outfits became huge sellers (especially the berets) – and largely led to the dismissal of Bosley Crowther as the New York Times film critic (Crowther's trashing of the film convinced the paper's honchos that he was out of step with the changing times). Most importantly, under the expert direction of Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde expanded the parameters of cinema through its precise melding of bold and exciting techniques, particularly signified by its world-class innovations in camerawork, editing, lighting and sound. The script by Robert Benton and David Newman deftly careens between drama and comedy (Gene Wilder makes his film debut in the funniest scene), and the performances by Beatty and Dunaway perfectly capture the crazy mix of bravado, romanticism and fatalism that made Bonnie and Clyde America's most dangerous lovebirds. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards (including Best Picture and actors Beatty, Dunaway, Pollard and Hackman), this earned two statues, for Best Supporting Actress (Parsons) and Best Cinematography (Burnett Guffey). Astonishingly, Dede Allen's superb film editing, as influential as any other aspect of this production (particularly in the shocking finale), wasn't even nominated.

Extras in the two-disc special edition include an hour-long making-of documentary, the History Channel profile Love and Death: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde, two deleted scenes, and Beatty's wardrobe tests.

Movie: ****

Extras: ***

I AM LEGEND (2007). Will Smith may be the only player receiving star treatment for this apocalyptic sci-fi yarn, but he's hardly the one who runs away with the film: Abbey delivers a terrific performance that probably deserved an Oscar. Granted, there's the small technicality that Abbey's a dog – a German shepherd, to be exact – but still ... Abbey is a wonderfully expressive animal, and once the canine's screen time decreases in the picture's second half, the rapport between man and his best friend – a reassuring motif in a movie about a world that otherwise has gone to hell – dissipates to make room for the usual testy relations between frightened humans as well as their attempts to ward off the evil entities that reside in the darkness. I Am Legend is based on Richard Matheson's novel of the same name, and while it's not the first version of the time-honored tale (other takes starred Vincent Price and Charlton Heston), it's certainly the best. As Robert Neville, the scientist who appears to be the sole survivor in New York after a virus has wiped out most of humankind, Smith brings the right mix of vigor and vulnerability to the part, and director Francis Lawrence maintains tension as long as Neville (and DVD watchers) can't size up the shadowy menace. But once the bloodthirsty creatures show themselves, they're disappointingly conventional (at least by CGI zombie standards), and the film has trouble continuing its momentum through a lackluster final half-hour. Still, Abbey makes this worth seeing. Not to mix animal kingdom catchphrases, but this dog is the cat's meow.

Extras in the two-disc special edition include an alternate version with a different ending and four short comic book-style films.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **

NANCY DREW (2007). Nancy Drew is a glorious achievement of the so-bad-it's-brilliantly-bad variety – I won't go so far as to state it's Battlefield: Earth for the Clearasil crowd, but it's clearly a turkey no matter how it's sliced up. Author Carolyn Keene's teen heroine has endured in print as an old-school sleuth, but the makers of this featherbrained film, assuming that setting this any earlier than, oh, 2004 would spell disaster at the box office (it ended up only grossing $25 million anyway), have updated it to function as a here-and-now preppy piece, as clueless about its deficiencies as Clueless (its obvious role model) was savvy about its milieu. Emma Roberts, portraying Nancy as something of a pill, quickly grates as her precocious character moves (along with dad Tate Donovan) from her comfy little hometown of River Heights to a spooky Los Angeles mansion, whereupon she immediately begins investigating the death of a famous actress who passed away decades earlier. Between its portrayal of a faded Hollywood as awash in corruption and decay and its casting of Laura Harring as the murdered starlet, this often feels like a demented attempt to make a kid-friendly version of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive – if only this one had also included a freaky white-haired cowboy to bump off the multitude of insufferable characters. And speaking of insufferable, the top honor in that category goes to Josh Flitter, a wannabe Lou Costello (also seen in License to Wed) who contributes more ham than the deli section in any given supermarket.

DVD extras include a brief making-of piece, 10 minutes of mostly inane featurettes (such as what's on Roberts' and Flitter's iPods), and a gag reel.

Movie: *

Extras: **

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