TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL: J.D. (Christian Slater) and Veronica (Winona Ryder) are smokin' in Heathers.
THE BANK JOB (2008). The Bank Job bills itself as being based on a true story, but given cinema's propensity for fudging details every which way, that's not a declaration that I'd be willing to take to the bank myself. But veracity be damned: Even if every detail of this heist flick was drenched in fiction, it doesn't change the fact that it's one compelling package. Set in 1971 London, here's a film that feels veddy British to its core; it starts with the casting of Jason Statham, who, thanks to a series of action films, has become the current poster boy for British roughhousing. The Bank Job allows his character, Terry Leather, to use his brains more than his brawn, and this allows Statham to allow a bit more vulnerability than usual – his character even has a wife and two daughters, a break from the image of the emotionless lone warrior. Not that there's much room for the sentimental stuff in this admirably knotty crime flick. Terry Leather is approached by a former acquaintance (Saffron Burrows) to pull off a robbery at a Lloyds Bank that will benefit them both; she has her own reasons beyond monetary gain for making this proposal, and Terry senses that rather quickly. But he and his crew go for it anyway, a decision that draws them into a labyrinthine scandal that involves a black militant, a porn peddler, high-ranking government officials and even a member of the British royal family. Brimming with satisfying twists and populated with colorful characters, this represents a Job well done.
DVD extras include audio commentary by director Roger Donaldson, Burrows, and music composer J. Peter Robinson, six minutes of deleted scenes, a 16-minute making-of featurette, and a piece looking at the real-life heist that inspired the film. The set also includes a portable digital copy of the movie.
HEATHERS (1989). "Dear diary: My teen angst bullshit now has a body count." "This is Ohio. I mean, if you don't have a brewski in your hand, you might as well be wearing a dress." "Football season's over, Veronica. Kurt and Ram had nothing left to offer the school except for date rapes and AIDS jokes." "When teenagers complain that they want to be treated like human beings, it's usually because they are being treated like human beings." With classic quips like these, is it any wonder Heathers has long been regarded as one of the best high school movies ever made? Even in this age of school shootings, Heathers' reputation has largely remained unscathed, undoubtedly because its marination in the juices of pitch-black comedy have given it an air of surrealism far removed from any real-life tragedies. Winona Ryder stars as Veronica, a popular girl who's growing tired of the shallow, cruel antics of the three other members of her clique, all named Heather (Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk and the late Kim Walker, who died of a brain tumor seven years ago at the age of 32). Veronica ends up dating J.D. (Christian Slater), the new kid in town, only to slowly learn that he's making sure the "harmless" gags they pull on their insufferable classmates are in fact sadistic pranks resulting in death. Director Michael Lehmann and scripter Daniel Waters maintain the proper degree of dark humor throughout the picture, and while the superb Ryder would go on to deliver even better performances in such films as Little Women and The Age of Innocence, this remains the high point of Slater's career.
DVD extras (most carried over from an earlier edition) in the two-disc set include audio commentary by Lehmann, Waters and producer Denise Di Novi, two making-of featurettes, and the theatrical trailer.
THE MUMMY (1932) / THE MUMMY (1999) / THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001). In anticipation of the August 1 release of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has seen fit to re-release the movie's predecessors as well as the original classic from the 1930s. The 1932 take is far and away the best of the bunch, thanks to Boris Karloff's masterful performance as the reincarnated Im-Ho-Tep, atmospheric direction by Oscar-winning cinematographer-turned-director Karl Freund (who had earlier shot the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula), and the incredible make-up designs by the legendary Jack Pierce. The 1999 version owes more to Raiders of the Lost Ark than Karloff; it's a moderately entertaining action-adventure yarn distinguished by some exciting visual effects but hampered by endless shtick. As for The Mummy Returns, it's obnoxious in its aggressiveness, one loud video game that (unlike the '99 model) doesn't even boast of quality effects (in fact, they're often downright terrible).
All three titles have been reissued in two-disc editions. Extras on The Mummy (1932) include two audio commentaries featuring film historians and moviemakers, a making-of documentary, a piece on Jack Pierce, and the 1998 documentary Universal Horror (narrated by Kenneth Branagh). Extras on The Mummy (1999) include audio commentary by director Stephen Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay, a separate commentary with Brendan Fraser, a third commentary with three supporting cast members (including Arnold Vosloo, who plays the title character), and making-of pieces. Extras on The Mummy Returns include audio commentary by Sommers and Ducsay, and making-of pieces. The editions of the two newer films also contain digital copies of the pictures as well as a sneak peek at the upcoming sequel.
The Mummy (1932): ***1/2
The Mummy (1999): **1/2
The Mummy Returns: *1/2
ONLY THE VALIANT (1951). Out of the 53 theatrical features Gregory Peck made over a 47-year span, the late actor always considered the worst to be Only the Valiant. Many critics might debate that assertion – 1959's Beloved Infidel, in which he was cast as F. Scott Fitzgerald, is reportedly a bona fide turkey (alas, it's one of the six Peck titles I've never seen) – and they might have a point: This middling Western isn't awful so much as it's awfully indifferent. Part of the trouble is that it comes across as a routine B-level oater rather than the sort of prestige project in which this A-list actor always headlined, with the most interesting aspect of this cavalry-vs.-Indians yarn being its diverse roster of supporting actors. Peck stars as Captain Lance, a martinet who's competing with his best friend, the dashing Lieutenant Holloway (Gig Young), for the hand of another officer's daughter (Barbara Payton, a Hollywood cautionary tale who would die 16 years later at the age of 39, after descending into alcoholism and prostitution). Lance volunteers to deliver an Indian prisoner (Michael Ansara) to another fort, but Holloway is sent instead, only to be subsequently tortured and killed. Erroneously believing Lance to be behind the decision to send his romantic rival to his doom, the men hate their commanding officer even more than before, a treacherous position for Lance once he handpicks the worst of the worst to escort him on what's sure to be a suicide mission to protect the fort from outside. Nothing really makes sense plotwise, but Western veteran Ward Bond (an integral part of John Ford's acting troupe) and horror mainstay Lon Chaney Jr. both have fun whooping it up as, respectively, a drunken Irish Corporal and a brutish Arabian trooper.
There are no extras on the DVD beyond some theatrical trailers.
STOP-LOSS (2008). Sign of the Times, Part I: While accepting his Oscar in 2003, Michael Moore is loudly booed for criticizing Bush's "fictitious" war in Iraq. Sign of the Times, Part II: During an advance screening of Stop-Loss, audience members clap and cheer when a character spits out, "Fuck the president!" Certainly, it's further proof that this country has finally made progress when it comes to expressing the proper attitude toward our War-Criminal-In-Chief, although, as far as cinema is concerned, we're probably still several years away from the definitive Iraq War flick. This at least comes closer than most of the others: Rather than getting buried in ham-fisted armchair liberalism (like Lions for Lambs and Rendition), it looks at both sides of the war divide. Yet while this approach is a thoughtful one, it can also be a dangerous one, as evidenced by late-inning occurrences that spit in the face of anyone who has ever taken a stand on moral grounds. Often playing like a softer version of The Deer Hunter, this centers on three Texas boys – Brandon (Ryan Phillippe), Steve (Channing Tatum) and Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – who all fought together in Iraq and have returned to their hometown. Having served plenty of time overseas, Brandon expects to settle down stateside, so he's understandably upset when Bush's "stop-loss" policy – basically, a backdoor draft – requires him to head back to Iraq yet again. Refusing direct orders, he instead goes AWOL. Whatever its original intentions, the movie's about-face message ultimately isn't "Fuck the president" as much as it's "Fuck yourself" – a dispiriting sentiment no matter how it's sliced.
DVD extras include audio commentary by writer-director Kimberly Peirce and co-writer Mark Richard, 11 deleted scenes, and a 21-minute making-of piece.
VANTAGE POINT (2008). Imagine the TV hit 24 crossed with Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, and you'll get some idea of what to expect from Vantage Point, a dizzying thriller that relates the same catastrophic event from eight different POVs. In Salamanca, Spain, U.S. President Ashton (William Hurt), on the verge of making a speech concerning the War on Terror, becomes the target of an assassination attempt, and various events that take place immediately before and after the shooting are filtered through the actions of several participants and witnesses. Chief among these characters are Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), who stopped an assassin's bullet during a prior attempt on the president's life; Barnes' fellow bodyguard, Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox); Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), an American tourist who catches some startling footage with his camcorder; and Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver), a TV producer whose own newsreel fodder might help Barnes crack the case. By splintering the material in such a fashion, writer Barry Levy has added some snap, crackle and pop to what would otherwise be a routine action film had it been presented in chronological order. Even so, director Pete Travis can't keep the momentum going for the entire 90 minutes, with the final act marred by a ludicrous plot twist as well as an endless car chase that drains away much of the narrative tension.
Extras in the two-disc DVD edition include audio commentary by Travis, a half-hour making-of piece, and a featurette on the stunt work.