Stiller Crazy After All These Years
The best thing to come out of the ill-fated The Ben Stiller Show was Mr. Stiller’s star turn in the 1996 David O. Russell–directed comedy Flirting with Disaster , which would become the prototype for his onscreen persona as a poor man’s Woody Allen. A tightly wound matzo ball of Jewish neurosis with a dash of spastic clumsiness, Mr. Stiller would go on to boing through There’s Something About Mary , Meet the Parents and Along Came Polly in quick succession (and just you wait till that matzo ball sails through Dodgeball – whompf !).
In Flirting with Disaster , Mel Coplin (Mr. Stiller) goes in search of his birth parents with his wife (Patricia Arquette), baby boy and a sexy, spiky doctorate student (Téa Leoni) in tow. Hilarity ensues. In the DVD re-release from the Miramax Collector’s Series, Mr. Russell explains how he was charmed by his star’s eponymous TV show where he displayed a penchant for Amish jokes.
At this time, Mr. Stiller’s shtick still seemed fresh and inventive. It didn’t hurt that he was surrounded by a superb cast of comedic actors-Mary Tyler Moore, Alan Alda, George Segal, Lily Tomlin, Ms. Leoni and the relative newcomer Glenn Fitzgerald, whose few lines as Mr. Stiller’s embittered younger brother are some of the funniest in the movie. (“Jerry Garcia. Blah! Blah! Blah!”-need we say more?)
Also included are several humorous outtakes and deleted scenes, which only prove that the bar for laughs in the main narrative must’ve been high indeed. If you stuck around for the closing credits in the theater, you might remember the one where Ms. Tomlin sits on Mr. Alda’s lap with two bells in her hand, performing some permutation of Tantric sex and commanding him to alternate between shallow and deep thrusts. The actors approach this task with the seriousness and dedication of performing Shakespeare, never giving away the joke.
These days, the omnipresent Mr. Stiller could use a bit of that integrity.
[ Flirting With Disaster (1996), R, 92 min., $19.99.]
Old Cary Grant Fine
Not one of the five films included in Warner Brothers’ Cary Grant “Signature Collection” would be a likely choice for a Top 10 list of the actor’s career, which spanned over 76 films distributed by various studios (Grant, who was born 100 years ago and died in 1986, was the star-making system’s first “free agent”).
This is not to say that the movies, in their DVD debut, are without merit. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House , wherein Grant plays a New York City ad man who finds out that a picket fence in suburbia may just be the great white hype, was named to A.F.I.’s list of the 100 funniest movies (not so its tepid 1985 apparent remake, The Money Pit ). The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer won Sidney Sheldon an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1947. The dissembling Cole Porter musical biopic Night and Day is particularly noteworthy given the upcoming release of De-Lovely , the Cannes closer about the closeted songwriter’s tumultuous relationship with his wife, Linda, starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd.
The five-DVD boxed set also includes the war film Destination Tokyo and My Favorite Wife , the Leo McCarey/Garson Kanin comedy which will always be remembered as the one that was not as good as The Awful Truth . But it’s a testament to Cary Grant’s illustrious career that Warner Home Video could even attempt to profit off his more forgettable ventures.
[ Cary Grant: The Signature Collection : Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), NR, 94 min.; The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), NR, 95 min.; My Favorite Wife (1940), NR, 88 min.; Destination Tokyo (1944), NR, 135 min.; Night and Day (1946), NR, 128 min.; $49.92.]
Miramax Does Smack
It’s kind of hilarious that Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adaptation: For most of the film, you can’t understand a word those bloody Scots are saying (even though the first 20 minutes were redubbed for the American release to make the accents more intelligible).
Based on the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, Danny Boyle’s 1996 film about a cadre of outré Scotsmen addicted to smack is a visual and auditory feat that launched Ewan McGregor’s career. The editing matches the cast’s staccato diction beat for beat, and the soundtrack is worthy of some mythic 1980’s dance club. Rich colors ooze from all corners, and images are filched as handily from the iconography of the Beatles as from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange .
The film is a clear condemnation of drug use, but without the heavy-handed sermonizing of, say, Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 Requiem for a Dream . Part of the Miramax Collector’s Series, the DVD re-release is a two-disc affair with three and a half hours of exclusive, rare bonus material complete with old footage and recent interviews with cast and crew. Thankfully, they’re 100 percent intelligible.
[ Trainspotting (1996), R, 94 min., $29.99.]
Monster in a Box
The Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer feels like an apologia for Patty Jenkins’ Monster -the film that won Charlize Theron an Academy Award for her portrayal of supposedly the first female serial killer. (Both DVD’s were released by Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment on June 1.)
There’s a precarious relationship between a nonfiction account of a controversial character and its Hollywood adaptation. Though the documentary proves just how impressive Ms. Theron’s performance was (not to mention the work of her makeup artist, Toni G.), it’s still slightly discomfiting, with the star’s glamorous and glittery Oscar appearance still fresh in one’s mind, to watch a mentally unstable person essentially asking her attorneys to drop all appeals and let the lethal injection proceed.
Life and Death follows Mr. Broomfield and Ms. Churchill’s 1992 Aileen Wuornos: Selling of a Serial Killer , which was shot soon after the “professional call girl” was arrested and convicted, against a backdrop of allegations that police officers-and Ms. Wuornos’ ex-lover Tyria Moore-were in talks with Hollywood producers to buy the rights to her story.
Twelve years later, one finds Ms. Wuornos claiming that crooked cops let her murder seven victims in order to inflate the price of their book and movie deals. Paranoid and delusional, yes. Does that mean she wasn’t exploited? No. Even the documentary is just another example of a life abused.
[ Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003), R, 89 min., $19.95; Monster (2003), R, 109 min., $26.96.]