CHERI (2009). Michelle Pfeiffer has been excellent in all manner of movies, but in such period pieces as The Age of Innocence and Dangerous Liaisons, she has proven to be especially memorable, ably portraying passionate yet stifled women who find themselves as constricted by the mores of society as by the corsets they don under their extravagant dresses. In Cheri, the movie itself is the corset, strangling the actress and everything surrounding her until all the breath has been driven out of the material. Adapted from two works by Gigi author Colette, Cheri and The Last of Cheri, this new collaboration by the Dangerous Liaisons team of Pfeiffer, director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton is a deadly dull affair about a deadly dull affair between a retired courtesan named Lea de Lonval (Pfeiffer) and Cheri (Rupert Friend), the young son of another former courtesan (Kathy Bates). Friend is excruciatingly boring as the supposedly magnetic Cheri, meaning that it's a mystery why Lea would want to spend one minute with him, let alone many years. The lack of chemistry between the pair serves to weaken an already rickety enterprise, with the miscast Bates' incongruous turn (she's about as French as Captain America) providing some unexpected relief in this cinematic flatline.
DVD extras include a 9-minute making-of featurette and two deleted scenes.
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (2009). One of the many delights tied to the 1974 drama The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is that it's a New York picture down to its Big Apple core, benefiting as much from its pungency as from its nifty plot in which four men hijack a subway car and holds its passengers for ransom. Placing this new version next to its predecessor (both were adapted from John Godey's novel) makes the current model seem about as interesting as a tarnished doorknob, but rather than belabor the point, just rent the original and thank me later. Here, the four criminals are led by the tattooed, mustachioed Ryder (John Travolta, looking ridiculous), who promises to start blowing away hostages unless $10 million is delivered into his hands in exactly one hour. Trapped in his sinister scenario is Walter Garber (Denzel Washington, typically dependable but not half as much fun as the original's Walter Matthau), the dispatcher who reluctantly serves as the intermediary between Ryder and the city. Few directors are as impersonal as Tony Scott, and he exhibits this detachment once again with a picture that's more interested in style than substance – even the city of New York, the true principal player in this tale, fails to come to life, meaning this film might as well have been set in Chicago or London or any other metropolis with a sprawling subway system.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Scott; a 30-minute making-of featurette; and a 16-minute piece about the New York subway system.
WINGS OF DESIRE (1987). One of the seminal foreign imports of the 1980s, Germany's Wings of Desire is one of those rare motion pictures that manages to bring a true poetic sensibility to the medium of film. Inspired by the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, writer-director Wim Wenders (sharing script credit with Peter Handke) creates a haunting mood piece whose rich atmosphere is channeled through every aspect of the production, from its direct and understated tagline ("There are angels on the streets of Berlin") to the stunning camerawork (mostly in black-and-white) by Henri Alekan. The great veteran actor Bruno Ganz, seen more recently portraying Adolph Hitler in 2004's Downfall, stars as Damiel, an angel who hovers over the city of Berlin, observing the world below him. He and fellow angel Cassiel (Otto Sander) are able to listen to the thoughts of anyone and everyone, and their presence is sensed only by small children ... and by Peter Falk. How brilliant is Wings of Desire? Understand that Falk is playing himself – that is to say, he's playing actor Peter Falk, who happened to be an angel himself until he elected to become human decades earlier. (Not until Being John Malkovich came along 12 years later would a film so playfully mix an actor's real-life persona with a reel-life role.) Damiel eventually gets the urge to likewise shed his celestial standing and become a mere mortal once he falls for a lovely trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin). Wenders copped the Best Director prize at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival for this deeply philosophical – and deeply humanist – picture, and once this was released stateside in 1988, it became an art-house hit and earned Alekan Best Cinematography honors from three top critics' groups, with the Los Angeles board further naming it Best Foreign Film. For its part, Hollywood took this unique, one-of-a-kind gem and remade it as 1998's City of Angels, from the director of Casper and starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan – surely some studio executive's idea of a sick joke. Wenders himself followed Wings of Desire in 1993 with the far less successful Faraway, So Close! which reunited all four principals and featured special appearances by Willem Dafoe, Lou Reed and – no kidding – Mikhail Gorbachev.
Extras include audio commentary by Wenders and Falk; the 42-minute documentary The Angels Among Us (2003); 32 minutes of deleted scenes; and a 10-minute interview with Alekan.