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Judge Clark Douglas's Blog

• Location: Griffin, GA
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The Criterion Collection is coming to Blu-ray!
May 8th, 2008 5:38AM

Hey folks,

As if you needed another reason to go ahead and invest in a Blu-ray player, the latest Criterion newsletter announced that they will be unleashing their first batch of Blu-ray titles in October. Supplemental content will be the same as content on the standard DVD releases.

The titles being released on Blu-ray are:

The Third Man
Bottle Rocket
Chungking Express
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Last Emperor
El Norte
The 400 Blows
Gimme Shelter
The Complete Monterey Pop
Contempt
Walkabout
For All Mankind
The Wages of Fear

Criterion adds: "Alongside our DVD and Blu-ray box sets of The Last Emperor, we'll also be putting out the theatrical version as a stand-alone release in both formats, priced at $39.95. Our Blu-ray release of Walkabout will be an all-new edition, featuring new supplements as well as a new transfer; we will also release an updated anamorphic DVD of Nicolas Roeg's outback masterpiece at the same time."

I know I'm excited about seeing some of these titles in hi-def. How about you?

Sleuth 2007: A Study in Complicated Simplicity
March 12th, 2008 11:17AM

I've been a fan of Kenneth Branagh's films for quite some time, and I'm also a big fan of the 1972 film Sleuth. When I heard that Branagh was remaking Sleuth, I was intrigued. When I heard that Michael Caine (who co-starred in the original film) would be in the film playing the role originally played by Laurence Olivier, I was even more intrigued. When I heard that the acclaimed playwright Harold Pinter was writing the screenplay, I was fascinated. Then, when the movie never got around to coming to a theatre near me, I was annoyed. I read a lot of bad reviews, and the good reviews all had serious reservations. Nonetheless, I was still keen to see the film. So, I finally got a chance to watch the DVD this week. I'm glad I did, because the new Sleuth is nothing short of fascinating.

Both films share the same plot. Two men meet to resolve their dispute over a woman. The woman's husband is Andrew Wyke (played by Laurence Olivier in 1972, played by Michael Caine in 2007), a successful writer of crime novels. The woman's lover is Milo Tindle (played by Michael Caine in 1972, played by Jude Law in 2007). The two agree to meet at Wyke's house to figure out how to deal with the situation, and neither knows what they are in for. What follows is a series of mind games and manipulations that will push both characters to extremes.

This Branagh/Pinter Sleuth is not so much a remake of the original as a reverse image of it. Watching the new Sleuth is like looking at the negative of a very familiar photo. Consider the following observations:

1972: The film runs nearly two and a half hours, and features a very clever Anthony Schaffer screenplay full of elegant prose and memorable speeches.
2007: The film runs under ninety minutes, and features a very clever Harold Pinter screenplay featuring harsh, clipped, dialogue that cuts right to the chase.

1972: Andrew Wyke's house looks it might turn into a wild carnival at any moment. Every room is packed with gadgets, statues, trinkets, and gizmos, all of which seem either strange or sinister. It's an artful funhouse, inhabited by an eccentric clown.
2007: Andrew Wyke's house is the very definition of cold new-age taste, featuring almost-empty rooms, a minimal amount of modern art, and a very advanced security system.

1972: The film features a score by British composer John Addison, who creates a busy monothematic effort that suggests a very playful and somewhat dangerous atmosphere.
2007: The film features a score by British composer Patrick Doyle, who creates a minimalist monothematic effort that suggests a very cold and deadly atmosphere.

I could go on and on making similar comparisons, but you get the idea. This Sleuth is intended as a direct reflection of the original, something that compliments the first film rather than replacing it. The film seems stripped-down, lean, simple, but don't mistake that for a lack of complexity. Between Pinter's dialogue, the actors delivering it, and Branagh's direction, the simple and mundane is rarely as simple and mundane as it seems. Small statements seem to carry double or triple meanings, and we wonder whether the motivations are remarkably simple or terribly complex. Like the artwork in Wyke's house, everything can be viewed very quickly, but you may spend an hour pondering it afterwards.

I will grant critics of the film that the characters are very unsavory. These two people deserve each other, they are unpleasant individuals. Nonetheless, we are not being asked to sympathize with these characters. That would be a large demand. We are asked to observe them, to try and figure them out, something suggested by Kenneth Branagh's direction. Many shots are shown through a security a camera, or a window from another room, or a strange angle, and we feel like voyeurs; we are looking at something that we probably should not see.

The performances in the film are excellent, particularly Michael Caine's turn as Andrew Wyke. Caine is immensely compelling in this role, adding another strong performance to a string of very solid acting turns over the past decade. Jude Law is not exactly a great actor, but he definitely gives everything he has got here, and really does manage to create a credible and interesting character. If you've seen the original, you may be wondering about the character that shows up during the second act. That character shows up again in this film, and it's no harder to figure out this time than it was the first time. However, I don't think that anybody was ever trying to fool us. We are meant to observe how the characters behave in such a situation, our knowledge of what one character doesn't know enhances our experience.

The real shame is that the original film isn't readily available on DVD. I think that a knowledge of the original film will greatly enhance a viewer's appreciation for this film (though admittedly, many of the bad reviews were offering the "not nearly as good as the original" complaint). It would be terrific to watch both films back to back, it would make for a really fascinating character study as well as a very revealing look at how to approach a story from two different angles. Let's hope that the 1972 Sleuth gets some sort of special edition re-release in the not-too-distant future. There's plenty of room for both versions of this tantalizing tale in my DVD collection.

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