Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special Closely Watched Trains Edition)

on March 20, 2009 by Steve Simels
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Video Event of the Week: Is it Sony's The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 5, a new box set featuring 25 shorts chronicling the angst-ridden transition from Curly to Shemp? Might Disney's DVD or Blu-ray versions of the animated superdog comedy Bolt get the nod? Or, against all reason, could Summit's two-disc edition of Twilight, the bizarre abstinence-only teen vampire flick, possibly make the cut?

All worthy, to be sure, but for my money it's the Criterion Collection's gorgeous new two-disc version of Francois Truffaut's 1980 meditation on art versus tyranny (with a little sex) The Last Metro.

A backstage theater story with a superficial, but perhaps deliberate, resemblance to Ernst Lubitsch's To Be Or Not to Be, Metro stars Catherine Deneuve (light years beyond ravishing) and an astoundingly young Gérard Depardieu as members of a Parisien rep company (with Jews in the basement) trying to work (and have an affair) under Nazi occupation during WWII. It deftly mixes romance, tragedy, and comedy with painstaking period detail (the latter reflecting Truffaut's own experiences as an adolescent at the time) and in a lot of ways it's the auteur's most personal film. It's also his most overtly movie movie, which is to say a great show, so it's hardly hardly a surprise to learn that it was his biggest international success.

Criterion's Metro package features the de rigeur gorgeous widescreen transfer, in this case doing full justice to the soft, almost sepia-toned glow cinematographer Nestor Almendros invests the film with (it's an interestingly nostalgic look, actually, at once documentary style and highly romantic). And the second disc is almost over-stuffed with extras, most of them fascinating, including vintage interviews with Truffaut, Almendros and Deneuve, new chats with some of the supporting actors, the original trailer, and finally Un Histoire D'Eau, a rarely seen 1958 short co-directed by Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. My only beef with the package is the newly-translated subtitles; I appreciate the fact that they're in believable colloquial English, but I would have preferred them placed below the widescreen frame.

That nitpick aside, this is an exemplary presentation of a film that behooves beholding; you can -- and very definitely should -- order it here.

 

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Okay, that said, and because things will be relatively quiet around here till Monday, here's an obviously relevant little project for us all:

Most Memorable "Nazis -- I Hate Those Guys!" Film (Comedy or Drama)

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. Night Train to Munich (Carol Reed, 1940)

 

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A sort of sequel to Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, and almost as entertaining. Star Rex Harrison (not shown above, alas) looks quite dashing in his SS uniform (he's a Brit spy, you understand).

4. Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, 1997)
Totalitarian insects versus explicitly fascist humans in a titanic struggle with nobody to root for. Verhoeven taking the piss out of Heinlein's bizarre rightwing fantasia, obviously, and the Earth people aren't literally Nazis, but the uniforms and Aryan slab of beef Casper Van Dien are close enough so cut me some slack.

3. They Saved Hitler's Brain (David Bradley, 1966)

 

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A fairly stylish, if humongously absurd, 50s thriller padded out with ridiculously mismatched footage shot years later by UCLA film school students. Utterly amazing in toto; I actually hallucinated that there was a Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of this, but it turns out I was thinking of The Brain That Wouldn't Die, which is nowhere near as much fun. Oh well.

2. Black Book (Paul Verhoeven, 2006)
A smashing period WWII thriller of the kind Hollywood doesn't know how to make any more, which may be why Verhoeven had to go back to his native Holland to make it. In any case, a slightly revisionist genre knockout -- think one of those great 60s flicks like The Counterfeit Traitor with full frontal and better staged violence.

And the all-time coolest master race movie, it's not even a contest and in fact its glories will last for a thousand years mein fuehrer, is obviously...

1. The Boys From Brazil (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1978)

 

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70s big budget shlock at its most wondrous, with Laurence Olivier (as an old Jewish Nazi hunter) and Gregory Peck (as old Nazi Dr. Josef Megele) in a Battle of the Bad Accents Contest that's one for the ages.

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

 

Tags: Eau,Night Train to Munich,The Lady Vanishes,Starship Troopers, They Saved Hitler, The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 5, Francois Truffaut, The Last Metro, To Be Or Not to Be, Un Histoire Ds Brain, Black Book, The Boys From Brazil
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