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View From The Couch


DOGVILLE (2004). The latest snatch of controversy from writer-director Lars von Trier is this rabble-rousing piece that has fiercely divided critics and audiences ever since it premiered at Cannes over a year ago. Nicole Kidman (in a strong performance that goes with the flow) plays Grace, a Depression-era fugitive who shows up in a small Rocky Mountain town, whereupon the locals grudgingly come to accept her as part of their community. But as time passes and suspicions are aroused, the residents eventually turn on her, treating her as nothing more than a slave and a sex object -- in essence, a prisoner of their own fears and foibles. Like the characters portrayed by Emily Watson in the powerful Breaking the Waves and Bjork in the insufferable Dancer In the Dark, Kidman's Grace initially seems to be the latest von Trier heroine who must sacrifice herself for some greater, abstract good. Yet Grace possesses an inner fortitude that the other women lacked, and it's this strength that allows her to weather the brutalities committed against her and eventually unleash her own version of Armageddon against the town. Armed with the minimalist trappings of a filmed stage play (the town, and almost everything in it, is represented by chalklines on the floor), Dogville is a movie of our times, a cautionary tale railing against the uninformed conformity that too often soils the legacy of this great country. DVD extras include audio commentary by von Trier and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, and the theatrical trailer.
Movie: 1/2

THE SCORSESE COLLECTION (1968-1990). Sold individually or as a boxed set, these five titles allow viewers to track the career of Martin Scorsese as he moves from being just one of many promising filmmakers to emerge in the late 60s to routinely being described as the greatest American director of modern times. Who's That Knocking At My Door (1968) was Scorsese's debut piece, a low-budget black-and-white endeavor that allowed the auteur to test-drive many of the themes and character types that would be developed more fully in subsequent pictures. Harvey Keitel also made his film debut here, playing an Italian-American kid (based on Scorsese himself) who wrestles with his Catholicism while dating a brainy beauty (Zina Bethune). Mean Streets (1973) proved to be Scorsese's true calling card, a humdinger about a group of street-smart guys involved in various shady shenanigans in New York's Little Italy. Keitel again played the Scorsese surrogate, though it was Robert De Niro, as the unruly Johnny Boy, who emerged a star. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) was a change of pace for the filmmaker, who added some unusual touches to what's essentially a melodrama about a widow (Ellen Burstyn) who tries to start anew with her spoiled son (Alfred Lutter) in tow. Burstyn's excellent performance, which earned her the Oscar, is the film's primary strength; far less successful is Robert Getchell's script, which in its attempt to fashion a new brand of feminist heroine ends up shortchanging most of the other characters. (Incidentally, the most interesting element of the movie, the scenes set at the diner where Alice works, became the basis for the hit TV sitcom Alice.) After Hours (1985) is the wrongly overlooked gem in the Scorsese oeuvre, a pitch-black comedy in which an office worker's (Griffin Dunne) late-night trek across NYC to hook up with a kooky woman (Rosanna Arquette) turns into an unending nightmare as he finds it impossible to get back home. Scorsese earned the Best Director prize at Cannes for this dazzling feature, an audaciously shot saga that's loopy enough to find room in its cast for such comic luminaries as Teri Garr, Catherine O'Hara and Cheech & Chong. Finally, GoodFellas (1990) needs little introduction. Considered by many to be Scorsese's finest achievement, it's certainly one of the premiere mob movies, and a motion picture so alive and full of energy that it seems to improve with each viewing. Ray Liotta ably handles the largest role while De Niro provides his usual clout, yet it's Joe Pesci, as an ill-tempered gangster who frequently displays the tendencies of a rabid wolverine, who deservedly copped a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. All the DVDs include audio commentaries and a making-of featurette; the GoodFellas package (a two-disc set) includes additional extras, including a piece on the movie's influence and storyboard-to-screen comparisons.
Who's That Knocking At My Door: 1/2
Mean Streets: 1/2
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore:
After Hours: 1/2
Extras on all four titles: 1/2


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