Before there were creepy girls living in wells and scaring the piss out of Naomi Watts, Asian cinema was owned by master director Akira Kurosawa. In his later years, Kurosawa struggled with depression and exile, holed up in a home somewhere drawing pictures for a film that studios refused to finance. Enter George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, who helped bring Kurosawa out of exile for a return to greatness with Kagemusha.
When a Japanese warlord (Tatsuya Nakadai) is mortally wounded, he and his counsel pick a double (also Nakadai) to assume his identity and hide his death from enemies. The initially reluctant double goes on to relish the role, befriending the man's grandson and basically forgetting his own identity. The results of his obsession with the leader are heartbreaking, perhaps the saddest story Kurosawa ever put to screen.
While the film is overlong (at 180 minutes, it has many slow moments), it contains the type of majestic beauty that only Kurosawa could capture. When a samurai army lies in defeat at film's end, wounded horses struggling to rise, it is among the most memorable images Kurosawa ever filmed.
Special Features: Another incredible package from the Criterion Collection. Lucas and Coppola provide an in-depth interview on the help they provided in getting Kurosawa's vision to screen. Most notable is Image: Kurosawa's Continuity, where his drawings for Kagemusha are shown in sequence, accompanied by dialogue from the film. A making-of documentary features a cigarette-smoking Kurosawa discussing his vision. There's also a 48 page book containing those pictures featuring, among other things, a 1981 interview with the director.
One of last year's best, and funniest, films will surely get the exposure and viewing intensity it deserves on home video. Paul Giamatti was robbed of an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Miles, a depressed writer with an intense hatred for merlot. Thomas Haden Church was actually rewarded with a nomination for his portrayal of a soon-to-be-married actor looking for one last weekend of debauchery, as was Virginia Madsen for her comeback performance as the woman who turns Miles' world upside down. Wine drinkers finally have a movie that sounds like them, and those who are clueless about vino might learn a little.
Special Features: A killer, hilarious commentary by Giamatti and Church makes this a must-have (they wax poetic on their bodies, including Giamatti's "man cans"). They treat the institution of DVD audio commentary with a refreshing sarcasm. Deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette are just fine, but the commentary, where the actors are in perfect, self- deprecating form, is one of the best I've ever heard.
It is important when addressing the recent glut of Asian horror remakes that one looks back at the originals that inspired them. It is even more important for one to watch a great Asian horror film before America has the chance to screw it up. This one is on Dreamworks' slate for an American remake, and I fear that no American can do it justice. Based on an old Korean folk tale, this tells the story of two sisters returning to their home after the death of their mother, and it has enough big twists to make M. Night Shyamalan vomit violently. By the time this movie ends, everything manages to makes sense. Watch out for the ghost scene, which will scare the hell out of the most bulletproof of film mavens. I'm starting to cry as I write about it.
Special Features: A two-disc set that features plenty of amazingly honest interviews and behind-the-scenes looks. Director Kim Jee-Woon sits down with the actresses who play the sisters for a great commentary that reveals many of the secrets that are impossible to catch with one viewing. Listening to the commentary is mandatory for this one, but do not listen before watching the movie. You'll ruin it.
This film is proof that God doesn't love us. Satan won a battle with God over DVD rights, and Lucifer was allowed to release the "Special Edition" treatment of this monstrosity. I once had a movie theater job where I was forced to watch this something in the neighborhood of 2,053 times. The lasting effects were tragic, as massive Beaches exposure has had a negative effect on my sperm count and permanently given me a nasty disposition. My nightmares will forever be infiltrated by Barbara Hershey's cosmetically enhanced lips. When Satan farts, it sounds like "Wind Beneath My Wings."
Special Features: Who gives a shit? Stay away unless all things Satanic make you glad.