April 19, 2011

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

Also this week: Mortal Kombat, Captain Planet, Le Cercle Rouge

A hotel-dwelling actor isn’t exactly uncharted territory for Sofia Coppola, whose latest introspective art flick doesn’t stray far from her trademark sensibility. But by doing away with Marie Antoinette and Lost in Translation cinematographer Lance Acord in favour of Harris Savides (whose track record includes Gus Van Sant’s death trilogy), Somewhere paints a familiar portrait with different strokes. The upshot is more static and less viewer-friendly than anything Coppola’s helmed in the past, yet at times it’s her most discreetly beautiful work. Though the results vary, Somewhere (Alliance)  often feels like a deadpan tribute to Antonioni, with a touch of Vincent Gallo.

Just as intriguing is the film’s lead, Stephen Dorff, who’s always seemed like a credible dude struggling for a decent gig. Though he’s been great in stuff like I Shot Andy Warhol, his acting resumĂ© is dominated by dreck like Feardotcom. It’s fitting that Dorff’s most memorable performance comes from playing his somewhat more famous doppelgänger, Johnny Marco.

We get a pretty good impression of what Johnny’s slacker lifestyle entails: loafing around LA’s Chateau Marmont in a hung-over daze, dozing off to twin strippers or even mid-cunnilingus, mumbling at press conferences and — in one of the film’s most memorable sequences — sitting in silence while a claustrophobic latex mask dries over his face. However, signs of life begin to show after his ex drops off their kid (Elle Fanning), and the two form a father-daughter bond that gives the actor something his money and celebrity can’t: an identity. 

Perhaps most integral to the film is the famed locale itself. On the DVD and Blu-ray’s intimate and legitimately artful making-of, the hotel’s manager claims that this is the first film ever to be shot almost entirely on location at the Chateau. Another nifty moment has Dorff describing the things he was required to do in order to get into character, like watching Paper Moon and learning to play Bach on keys. After 2007’s extravagant and ill-received Marie Antoinette, Coppola also confirms her determination to make a film that more closely resembles a poem or a little portrait. For better and worse: mission accomplished. 

Also Available
Anything but a flawless victory, Paul Anderson’s (ranking lowest of all the filmmakers with this surname) 1995 live-action rendition of a seminal button masher has grown more idiotically entertaining with age. Newly upgraded to Blu-ray, Mortal Kombat (Warner) is perhaps the schlock-meister’s greatest feat. Unlike Anderson’s Resident Evil saga, MK’s barely coherent narrative cannot even begin to take itself seriously, much to our enjoyment. From its completely goofy techno soundtrack (brilliantly exploited in an episode of Judd Apatow’s short-lived series Undeclared) to its kitschy styrofoam sets to its ham-tastic cast whose most notable player is Christopher Lambert, this is pretty much as good as bad gets. Extras:brutally dated, barely watchable animated film, trailer for the latest, grisliest game sequel. 

Looking for something eco-chic to get the party started on Earth Day? You’re in luck, as Captain Planet: Season One (Shout! Factory) arrives (in 100 per cent recyclable packaging, no doubt) just in time for the festivities. Airing between 1990 and ’91, the first 26 episodes boast a massive roster of talent to flesh out out the cast. Whoopi Goldberg voices Gaia, spirit of the Earth, who equips five culturally diverse teens with the powers of earth, fire, wind, water and heart (lame-o – why not lightning?). Shit gets real when they combine their powers to awaken Captain Planet, a super-being who resembles X-Men’s Colossus, but with a green mullet. Tastier are the earth-polluting villains, voiced by such big leaguers as Jeff Goldblum, Martin Sheen, Meg Ryan and Sting, to name a few. Viewers may have grown out of the show’s preachy-corny vibe, but that closing credits theme stills owns. Extras: comprehensive making-of featurette, promo for the Captain Planet Foundation, concept art.

Featuring one of the most stunning heist sequences ever commented to celluloid, Jean-Pierre Melville’s penultimate crime caper Le Cercle Rouge (Criterion) is arguably the French auteur’s crowning achievement. Clocking at nearly two-and-a-half-hours, the film is slow and all but silent, and yet Melville-vet Alain Delon is spellbinding as a smooth criminal who teams up with an escaped convict and boozy ex-cop to pinch $20 million in jewels. If all this sounds like the plot of a Hollywood action-thriller, it should come as no surprise that John Woo loves the pants off this film — insomuch that he even contributed to the DVD and Blu-ray liner notes. Excellent extras remain the same, but Melville’s damp, dark underworld has never looked so wonderfully sinister.