Video Event of the Week: Could it be Criterion's Blu-ray edition of Steven Soderbergh's ambitious bio-pic Che, with Benicio Del Toro as the iconic Cuban revolutionary? Might Warner Home Video's DVD of The Invention of Lying, the sort of sci-fi satire featuring Office creator Ricky Gervais possibly make the cut? Or against every decent impulse known to man since he first walked upright, would Lionsgate's discs of Gamer, the extremely loud Deathrace 2000 variant featuring the increasingly annoying Gerard Butler, conceivably be The One?
All worthy, except for that last of course, and I'll have some thoughts on Gervais on Tuesday, but for money it's got to be Touchstone's 10th anniversary edition DVD of 10 Things I Hate About You, the teen Bard pastiche co-starring the why-isn't-she-a-household-word? Julia Stiles and, in his screen debut, the late Heath Ledger.
As I've been known to observe at times like this, I don't want to oversell this; we're not talking an imperishable classic here. 10 Things is, however, a better than average example of its genre (The Horny High School Hijinx Flick) although it does suffer a bit from what might be called Juno Syndrome -- a screenplay condition in which teenage characters deliver brittle apercus far wiser than is believable for their age, as if adolescence were some kind of eternal tryout for the Algonquin Round Table. On the other hand, given that it's loosely based on a Shakespeare comedy -- specifically The Taming of the Shrew -- that may have been unavoidable; in any case, the film is rife with genuinely funny stuff. My favorite line (delivered with just the right note of bewilderment by the lovely Gabrielle Union): "I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?" To which girlfriend Larisa Oleynik replies: "I think you can in Europe." Heh.
As you may have guessed, however, the two above-the-title stars are the real attraction here, although there are a bunch of now familiar actors -- Joseph Gordon-Levitt (frighteningly young) and David Krumholtz (from TV's Numb3rs) -- who do good work around the edges. Stiles is wonderful as the shrew of the piece, an icy but oddly loveable riot grrrl wannabe who delivers withering one liners with Hepburnian panache. And Ledger is a revelation in the unlikely role of (what appears to be) an Australian exchange student (I like to think he's a much younger cousin of Olivia Newton-John's Sandy in Grease). If truth be told, he doesn't have much to do except be wryly sardonic in a post-grunge James Dean sort of way, but he has killer comic timing, and whenever he's onscreen you can't take your eyes off him.
Here's the trailer to give you a little taste of what all these crazy kids (and a few amusing adults, including Allison Janney and Larry Miller) are up to.
Touchstone's anniversary DVD package features an almost psychedelically vivid transfer and a digital copy disc. Extras include a fitfully interesting Looking Back documentary featuring director Gil Junger, plus the de rigeur deleted scenes and an audio commentary by screenwriters Karen Lutz and Kirsten Smith. The phrase "no great shakes" springs to mind to describe the bonus stuff, but if you've got a couple of hours to kill you could do worse.
Bottom line: You can -- and on balance probably should -- order 10 Things I Hate About You here.
Okay, that taken care of, and because things as usual will be a little quiet around here for a couple of days, here's an obviously relevant and hopefully amusing project for us all to bat around --
Most Memorable Big Screen Debut By an Actor or Actress!!!
And my totally top of my head Top 5 is...
5. Peter Lorre in M (Fritz Lang, 1931)
Okay, if truth be told, Lorre had a small part in a 20s silent, and he was in another film the same year as this, but M is where everybody took notice. I'm cheating, obviously -- so sue me.
4. Helen Hunt in Trancers (Charles Band, 1985)
Okay, if truth be told Hunt had actually done small parts in a couple of films at this point (and tons of TV) but the first time I saw her in this actually rather funny sci-fi nonsense I made a mental note that she was gonna be a star. Have I mentioned that you can sue me for cheating?
3. Pia Zadora in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Nicholas Webster, 1964)
Whew, finally, a real debut; Pia was all of ten when she did this one. Interestingly, the Golden Globes people seemed to have forgotten it when they gave her the Best New Star award for her work in Butterfly in 1981. Heh heh.
2. Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death (Henry Hathaway, 1947)
Psycho hit man Tommy Udo (an unforgettable Widmark) pushes a wheelchair-bound old lady down a flight of stairs to her death without ever stopping his maniacal chuckling. And a star is born.
And the numero uno it's-love-at-first-appearance by a thespian of either gender unquestionably is --
1. Poupée Gamin in Journey to the Center of Time (David L. Hewitt, 1967)
The most splendidly monikered starlet of the 60s, hands down, and her performance in this sci-fi gem inspires us all to this day. Unfortunately, little or nothing has been heard of her since. Seriously -- if anybody knows where this woman is, please drop me a line; I have a million questions for her.
Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?