January 18, 2011

Philip Seymour Hoffman gets into a New York groove

Also this week: Howl, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Army of Shadows

Jack Goes Boating (Alliance) In addition to directing and exec-producing the movie adaptation of Bob Glaudini’s NYC-set stage play, Philip Seymour Hoffman also reprises his role as its titular schlemiel—a fortysomething limo driver who listens to reggae, sports nasty dreadlocks and plays the perpetual third-wheel to his only friends, Clyde and Lucy (a stellar John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega, both also veterans from the play). Luckily, Jack is about to get set up with Connie (Amy Ryan), an equally fragile introvert. 

Although Jack and Connie’s blossoming affection provides the story’s heart and humour, Clyde and Lucy’s quirk-free trajectory is its soul. As the new couple proves an endearing match, Clyde neglects his own deteriorating relationship in favour of helping Jack learn to swim (so he can go boating, obviously). When they all reconvene in a climactic and calamitous double date, hookahs are smoked, dinner is charred and fall-outs ensue.   

Jack Goes Boating may be a less-than-trailblazing coup for Hoffman, but it’s a strong indicator of Ortiz’s severely undervalued acting chops. If this film had any vanilla appeal, he would receive much-deserved recognition come awards season. But it appears there’s only room on the nomination list for one topsy-turvy romance featuring music by Grizzly Bear (the other rhymes with "Hue Palentine"). 

Sadly, this DVD is virtually bare bones. We have two featurettes that barely amount to eight minutes, even though they touch upon thoughtful nuggets concerning the play’s transition to the screen and its aura-enhancing urban locations. Rounding out the package are two deleted scenes that provide minor character beats for Jack and Connie. (Want more? Check out our recent interview with Hoffman right here.)

Also Available
If you’re on the hunt for something less narrative-driven, Howl (Mongrel) should fill that void. Celebrated documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman go somewhat out of their element in this mock-verité Allan Ginsberg biopic that interweaves recreated footage from the obscenity trial against the titular poem's publisher, contemplative interviews and tacky animation sequences that attempt to visualize the Ginsberg's words. Together, these strands simply don’t gel, but James Franco’s portrayal of the late, great Ginsberg breathes much-needed life into Howl, making it an intriguing mixed bag. Extras: solid commentary with the filmmakers and Franco, a hearty making-of, “Howl” read by Ginsberg and Franco, research footage, Q&A.  

Always count on Criterion to class-up any couch potato’s evening. This week sees gorgeous high-def reissue of two very diverse '60s gems: a colourful space odyssey and a stark French Residence epic. Made at the tail-end of all those Martian-centric sci-fi flicks, 1964’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars (Criterion) boasts psychedelic effects and a campy plot that would soon be eclipsed by the likes of Kubrick. But do the monkeys in 2001 wear adorable space suits? Those on the lookout for a genuine lost treasure should not hesitate to spin Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows (Criterion) on DVD or newfangled Blu-ray. Made between two of the director’s most cherished films, Le Samurai and Le Cercle Rouge
, this might actually be his best. Shockingly, its North American premiere wasn’t until five years ago. For both releases, extras remain the same as before: we get commentaries, behind-the-scenes jazz, rare documentaries, interviews… all that good stuff.