When I was a pup, my dad told me one summer night that he was taking me to see a Pink Panther movie. I immediately thought, "Cool, I dig the cartoon, and Happy Days isn't on tonight." Much to my surprise, my Saturday-morning cartoon hero disappeared after the opening credits, and the film, The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), was dominated by some goofy guy with a bushy mustache, an indecipherable accent and a pervert's trench coat (Strikes Again was playing in a double feature with Logan's Run, which gave me my first big screen sighting of naked boobies). The brilliant Peter Sellers, as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, became one of my screen heroes. He struck me as a vital physical comedian, yet he would only live about four more years after my formal introduction to his brilliance. I was surprised to find out that, at the time, there were three other Pink Panther films dating back to The Pink Panther (1963) starring Sellers, and another, Inspector Clouseau (1968), starring Alan Arkin as the title character. After Strikes Again, there would be two more Panther films starring Sellers: The Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) and The Trail of the Pink Panther (1982). Trail, a terrible film, had the dubious distinction of being released two years after Sellers died. It's a shameful patchwork of outtakes and unseen footage from past Panther films.
The Panther series, when Sellers was involved and alive, remains a delight. Watching Clouseau's bumbling boss, Chief Inspector Dreyfus, go progressively insane throughout the series remains a pleasure, especially when he goes completely overboard in Strikes Again. Sadly, The Film Collection doesn't include The Return of the Pink Panther, allegedly due to MGM's inability to secure the rights. A new film is due in 2005, with Steve Martin slated to put on the trench coat as Clouseau. Sacrilege!
Movie grades: The Pink Panther (A-), A Shot in the Dark (A), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (A-), Revenge of the Pink Panther (B-), Trail of the Pink Panther (F).
Special Features: The films available in this collection, with the exception of Trail, are must-haves, but the special features are not worthy of the series. Two dull documentaries cover the making of the series and the success of the Pink Panther cartoon character. Both feature a rather bored Blake Edwards revealing no new secrets about Sellers or the history behind the films. They feel slapped together. A collection of some vintage Pink Panther cartoon shorts is worth a look.
Casting John Malkovich as an aged Tom Ripley--the chilling murderer played competently by Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley--seemed like a good idea. This movie was supposed to have gotten its theatrical release somewhere in the neighborhood of two years ago, yet it never made it to the multiplex. A viewing of this misfire offers plenty of reasons as to why this one went straight to video after a brief showing on cable's Independent Film Channel. It's a shoddy production, with Malkovich basically transferring his character from In the Line of Fire into Tom Ripley, who has become an art dealer living in Italy. After a wisenheimer at a party (Dougray Scott) insults him, Ripley hatches a plan to get the man, who has terminal cancer, into the happy world of contract killing. It sounds stupid; it starts off stupid; and apart from a rather nifty killing sequence on a train, it remains stupid. Scott is god-awful as Ripley's protégé, a horrid example of overacting. Malkovich is just doing the cool-as-ice, cold-hearted-killer routine again, and plodding direction from Liliana Cavani helps to make his déjà vu work all the more dull.
Special Features: Just a trailer and some online stuff. Don't waste your time.
Versatile director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Grifters) delivers an interesting film about a dirty London underground where illegal immigrants working in a hotel discover an organ-harvesting scheme. Audrey Tautou, the wonderful French star of Amelie, stars as a hotel worker who might get blackmailed out of some rather important components of her body. While Tautou is good, Chiwetel Ejiofor practically steals the movie as Okwe, a former African doctor forced into the seedy world. The movie is a compelling thriller, even if the ending is a bit too conventional.
Special Features: A behind-the-scenes documentary is worthless, but Frears does provide an excellent commentary. While many commentaries tend to distract from the films, Frears speaks in a way that augments the viewing experience. A commentary highpoint would have to be when Frears observes Tautou walking down a city street and declares, "Look at her; look at her thin little legs!"