Want a DVD worth arguing about this week? It’s got to be I Am Legend. Until the woman and the kid show up in the final third and interrupt Will Smith and his dog Sam in the act of warding off the Darkseekers, I was hooked. And the image and sound on this disc are demonstration quality. This is one of Big Willie’s career best performances, as he spends his days alone roaming a deserted Manhattan (gangbusters CGI) and looking for survivors of a virus thathas wiped out the population. Or did it? I’m not bothered that the movie doesn’t grovel before Richard Matheson’s classic 1954 novel. Neither did the two previous screen versions, 1964’s The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price, and 1971’s The Omega Man, with Charlton Heston. (Anyone who’s seen those two is invited to weigh in.) I like how Smith holds the screen and how director Francis Lawrence (Constantine) keeps you squirming. Smith’s last scene with the dog is time capsule-worthy. What I don’t like is that formulaic, zombie attack climax. And what I don’t like about this two-disc special edition — you can get the traditional “making of” features on the single disc — is that the second disc containing an alternate theatrical version of the movie isn’t alternate at all, except for a different ending that lasts another four minutes. Is it a better capper? Without resorting to spoilers, I think so. The tone is purer, less Hollywood. Objections can now be heard.
For Lit Heads: Atonement
Though Joe Wright’s film version of Ian McEwan’s novel of love and war was nominated for Best Picture and six other Oscars (it won for Best Score), I know pitbulls who still avoid it for its perceived taint of Masterpiece Theatre. Snap out of it. This erotic spellbinder is not your father’s period piece. It speaks, minus the stiff upper lip, of what’s timeless about passion, art and redemption. And the sight of Keira Knightley emerging wet from a fountain is no hardship either. Wright’s savvy commentary alone is worth the price of rental. And the analysis of the woefully misunderstood tracking shot on the beach at Dunkirk is most welcome.
For Shitheads: Revolver
The very worst of Guy Ritchie. Mr. Madonna misuses Jason Statham (so good in The Bank Job) as a gambler mixed up with gangsters. Stir in Ray Liotta, André 3000 Benjamin and Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore. Wallow in the gaseous swamp of Ritchie’s metaphysics and the stench wipes out any good thoughts you may retain about Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.
For Head Trippers: Southland Tales
Any movie with reviews as bad as Richard Kelly’s all-star apocalyptic fantasy noir managed to elicit has got to have something going for it. And Kelly’s followup to his 2002 cult smash Donnie Darko keeps coming to life in spurts just as you’ve written it off. Justin Timberlake’s dance number is one such moment. It helps, of course, to be in the right mood. Roger Ebert wondered if Kelly’s editor ever suggested “that he might emerge with a more coherent product if he fed the footage through a revolving fan and spliced it together at random?” Note to DVD fans: The “making of” feature will not help your understanding one iota.
For Retro Heads: The Ice Storm
Travel back to 1997 when the box office indifferently welcomed Ang Lee’s startling film version of Rick Moody’s novel of sex and suburbia. It’s a family film. Just don’t think Disney, since the parents indulge in adultery and wife swapping, and the kids, ages 14 to 16, dry hump, mix drug cocktails and contemplate suicide. The setting is the plush suburb of New Canaan, Conn. The time is Thanksgiving weekend of 1973. Nixon drones denials from every TV, and in every room, children can hear their parents ripping into each other out of petty resentments that cover up more substantial betrayals. Dated? Hardly. Criterion has put together an elegant two-disc package that gives an underappreciated film its dazzling due. Lee is a master of visual poetry. Pay careful attention to the scene in which Kevin Kline, catching his teen daughter Christina Ricci having sex, walks her home in the snow, then carries her tenderly like he did when she was a child. In this single, transitory moment, Lee — without using dialogue — distills the timeless tension between the necessity and the heartbreak of growing up. Beautiful work.