Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the linchpin of the American western genre. Released in the U.S. in 1967 after its initial run in Italy, the film serves as a bridge between the idealized West of John Ford and Howard Hawks and the desolate, violent purgatories of Sam Peckinpah in The Wild Bunch and Robert Altman in McCabe & Mrs. Miller . Leone achieved this by artfully toying with the conventions of the genre (this is evident even in the title) while maintaining a genuine sense of paranoia, suspense, drama and a mythological air. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is an epic ballad of a western that follows three desperadoes-the “Good” Blondie (Clint Eastwood), the “Bad” Sentenza (Lee Van Cleef) and the “Ugly” Tuco (Eli Wallach)-as they search for $200,000 in buried treasure during the Civil War.
Since it was the third installment of the popular “spaghetti western” trilogy that included A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More , the film commanded a rather robust budget for its time. And Leone didn’t waste a penny: Oscillating between panoramic vistas and tight close-ups, the director created a vibrant landscape out of the arid wasteland of the desert, as well as every nook and cranny of Mr. Eastwood’s chiseled face. It’s an unforgettable film that elevated the genre to art-house status.
The “Collector’s Edition” DVD could be considered the fourth character of the movie: “The Beautiful.” It is a classy affair, available in a glossy, embossed box and generously larded with commentary from the principals. The DVD comes almost a year after the film’s re-release for a limited theatrical run. It was restored to the three-hour running time of the Italian original, with Messrs. Eastwood and Wallach recruited to redub scenes that were left out of the U.S. version. The boxed set comes with one of those special bonus DVD’s with mini-documentaries on Leone’s work, Ennio Morricone’s seminal score and the history behind the Civil War scenes in the film. Also included are deleted scenes that were found when the project was being restored, and a set of mounted mini-posters just itching to be framed.
[ The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1967), R, 180 minutes, $29.90.]
An “urban” tale of battling street-dance crews, You Got Served plays out like an extended hip-hop video with breaks in the action for a little dialogue and, oh yeah, narrative. Think the gang warfare of Michael Jackson’s music video for “Beat It” meets the Times Square subway-platform break dancers.
Set in the “jungle” of L.A., best pals Elgin (Marques Houston) and David (Omari Grandberry) head up the dopest dance troupe in their neighborhood-that is, until they get all hissy with each other and stop talking. When they’re “chumped”-made to look like fools-by a couple of rich suburban kids (one of whom looks like Billy Idol after a round of electroshock therapy), the friends must reunite to defeat the Orange County brats, win $50,000 and a chance to be in a Lil’ Kim video-and, of course, utter the film’s title, “You [suckers] got served,” meaning “We beat you. Ha!”
The plot plays out much like Bring It On , the cheerleading movie where suburban white girls are caught stealing the moves of their inner-city competition, but it’s told from the opposite point of view and with none of the wit. Written and directed by Christopher Stokes, an MTV alum, the film finds its groove only in Mr. Stokes’ comfort zone: the flashy dance sequences. Set mostly in an oversized boxing ring, in the center of a two-story warehouse that brings to mind the hokey underground fighting arenas of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport , the competitions feature talented dancers that wriggle and writhe in unison. Some of them go solo, either to break dance or to do their own variation of “the robot.”
Mr. Stokes tends to over-edit, cutting the dance-competition scenes as if he had a severe form of A.D.D. Which is unfortunate, because if nothing else positive can be said about this film, the choreography is always sharp and innovative. Since Mr. Stokes’ penchant for frenetic editing only diminishes the dancing’s temerity, however, the only people getting “served” in the end are those in the audience.
[ You Got Served (2004), PG-13, 90 minutes, $20.95.]
Released in theaters last October, Gus Van Sant’s Elephant fell with a resounding thud. Never mind that Palme D’Or from swishy Cannes-it seems American audiences felt a bit queasy about the prospect of seeing two disturbed adolescent killers bearing down on their peers with automatic weapons.
But Elephant is only tangentially about a high-school massacre. Most of the film simply follows the daily rituals of a group of Oregon students, with unnerving patience. The anticipated shooting is the elephant in the room, so to speak, and Mr. Van Sant uses that tension to elicit an ethereal, if not overtly spiritual quality from the banality of everyday high-school life. From what would appear to be nothing at all, he is teasing out a fragile understanding of the human subconscious, where our primordial fear of death looms over every action.
In the opening shot, the camera is turned upward at an azure sky cluttered with clouds. The lit sky quickly dissolves into dusk, and the night is punctuated by a lonely streetlight that sits like a period at the end of a sentence. Mr. Van Sant is saying, “Do not look for answers here,” as many people do when atrocities happen, turning their eyes to the sky and asking: “Why?” This is deep! And it’s a far cry from Michael Moore’s vastly more popular Bowling for Columbine , which only a year before explored the culture of violence in the U.S.
Elephant is a film that requires patience, as all real answers do.
[ Elephant (2003), R, 81 minutes, $27.95.]