At last, one of the near-forgotten classics of the 1990s makes its way to DVD. A supple and unnerving masterpiece of evangelical and millennial fear and trembling, The Rapture marks the last time studio dollars went into making a serious film about religion and the issues it represents. Mimi Rogers, who has never been better, is Sharon, an information operator and occasional swinger bored by life. After finding religion (and talking bemulletted trick David Duchovny into joining her both in Christ and in marriage), she builds a new life for herself in joy. But things happen to Sharon's world that can easily break the wills of most, and this woman dares to throw down with religion and get all up in God's business.
This is as fearless as '90s indies got, a film that, if anything, is even more provocative now than at the time of its release. This film plays by the rules of apocalyptic Christianity, and the questions it asks are questions that most people would be way too scared of asking. Why does God need the love of humanity? What does suffering and sin on earth mean? Does the concept of divine forgiveness negate all personal responsibility?
The end result is what I refer to as a religious horror film, though others would disagree. When I use that phraseology, I'm thinking of a film like Breaking The Waves, or certain aspects of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Don't get me wrong: I like watching Nazis buy it as much as everyone elseMichael Mann's The Keep is a personal fave. But there's something ghoulish and offensive about how Raiders' flesh-melting excesses are depicted as a divine act.) The Rapture is a film that offers no easy answers, and I defy anyone to remain unmoved by its stark and viscerally effective ending.
There really is no studio that rivals New Line when it comes to treating their DVD properties right. The Rapture gets an anamorphic remaster and a pair of 5.1 tracks (one Dolby Digital, the other DTS), plus an informative and surprisingly festive commentary track (ported over from the film's 1997 laserdisc edition) with writer/director Michael Tolkin, Rogers, Duchovny, and supporting actor Patrick Bauchau. Factor in the film's elliptical and distinctively weird trailer, and you've got a textbook example of a catalog title done up right. If you've never seen this, then buckle up for a film with metric tons more passion than Mel Gibson's.
♦ And now, another example of the weird ways in which Hollywood/Indiewood works. Adapting a patchy and episodic novel by Michael Cunningham (The Hours), director Michael Mayer makes an equally patchy and episodic film, A Home at the End of the World. Said film features the exposed genitals of its big-star lead, Colin Farrell. Despite the fact that penises are plentiful on billions of people in the world, a penis this famous receives a great deal of media attention. Then, of course, came the word that this famous penis was large enough that it became distracting to audiences. Then the famous penis was removed from the film because it was already too big of a deal for all involved parties. Some cried censorship. Some breathed a sigh of relief that they would be spared the sight of giant famous penis on a 40-foot screen. And some felt that a boycott was in order, since the film had been hyped to the world as featuring something now curiously absent from the final product.
Sex, and its facilitating parts, turns Americans into junior-high students en masse, it seems. No film has ever found itself teetering between make-or-break territory because of the presence or absence of any particular organs. The tragedy of this whole brouhaha is that what remained in the film was a depiction of a family built on love, care, and evolving boundaries that routed that mysterious phrase so often bandied about, "the traditional family." It's the kind of concept that horrifies enough people that elections can be decided on them. Love abounds in this strange epic, a confused and near-chaotic film with what seems like a birth, a death (rivers of gore), a drug experience (truly, to the film's credit, a remarkable amount of drug content), or a biological trauma of some sort in every reel. So much happens at such a frenetic pace that the characters often seem schizophrenic, which is certainly never boring.
Oddly, the character of Jonathan, played by newcomer Dallas Roberts, has to represent the entire gay world on his own. His sexuality (except when it relates to Farrell's character) is seen as isolating, furtive and skeezy, and since the movie is a period piece set in the early-to-mid-'80s, you know what that means. It's particularly pathetic/telling that the film's key art (an artful arrangement of the three leads in contemplative poses), when transposed to the surface of the actual DVD, finds the Jonathan character completely obliterated by the central hole in the disc.
All the film's negatives become irrelevant when it comes to Colin Farrell as Bobby. If he couldn't deliver the central loneliness of that character, the whole thing would fall apart, and it is a testament to Farrell's skill that at no point does he get any showy moments or potential Oscar clips, he merely essays what Bette Midler called "an endless aching need" and breaks your heart continually. It's a lot like Jennifer Jason Leigh's work in Georgia, in that the character has to be defined by what they don't have and what they can't get, and like a black hole at the center of a universe, if all the orbiting elements remain the same, everything remains stable. There's something truly cosmic about the way Bobby is constructed, and it's such a remarkable and strange turn that I can't imagine most people digging it. To put it in the parlance of R.E.M. albums, Farrell's Bobby is New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Just as essential is Sissy Spacek doing that unquantifiable thing that Sissy Spacek does.
Warner's DVD of the film presents the film fairly well, giving a true 2.4:1 aspect ratio and a good 5.1 track (the film's music, an eclectic mix that includes Laura Nyro, Yaz, Dusty Springfield, and Patti Smith, is a plus, giving the surrounds a nice workout). As far as extras go, there's a behind-the-scenes/mini-documentary on the making of the film, which is nice but could have gone more in-depth, and a bunch of good trailers. For Farrell's performance alone, though, the film is certainly worth experiencing.
♦ "It's Royal Tenenbaums shot like Cops." That's Jason Bateman's assessment of Arrested Development in one of the featurettes on the Arrested Development: Season One DVD, and that's about a good a description as any for the cult series' weird charmat once raw and whimsical. Despite the early critical praise, a lot could've gone wrong with this sitcom, starting with the concept of a cast of mostly venal characters who deal with the incarceration of their patriarch by becoming even more selfish.
But creator Mitchell Hurwitz and his creative team (supported by producer Ron Howard, who also provides uncredited narration) built a lot of elasticity into that premise, and one of the pleasures of the first season's 22 episodes is seeing how the characters adapt to the threat of poverty and social embarrassment in unpredictable ways, without losing their essential egotism. Even the hero of the show, the fiscally competent "good son" played by Bateman, has a lot of self-absorption behind his actions, from the way he tries to mold his son to the way he casually dismisses his sibling's dreams.
One of the other major pleasures of Arrested Development is the performances, particularly Bateman's drawn-out line readings and slow burns, and the smarmy regional-theater star moves of the family's magician brother Gob, played by the previously unknown but plainly brilliant Will Arnett. Hurwitz and the directors also coordinate the precisely played single notes of David Cross, Tony Hale, Jessica Walter and Michael Cera (as well as the more subtle performances of Portia De Rossi and Jeffrey Tambor), and work in why-don't-these-actors-ever-get-roles-like-this-anywhere-else? cameos by the likes of Henry Winkler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Liza Minnelli.
The beauty of Arrested Development is in its patient but powerhouse comic style, which involves throwing out about a dozen gags a minute, many of which spring from throwaway lines earlier in the episode, or from previous episodes. No show since NewsRadio has used the comedy of people rapidly walking on and off the screen so well (though it's a more impressive trick on Arrested Development, since the camera moves almost constantly). And outside of animated sitcoms like The Simpsons, no show ever has been so gleefully digressive, following up a single line of dialogue with a set of flashbacks to scenes set anywhere from minutes to decades in the past. It's almost too much to take in one broadcast airing. Arrested Development could be the first sitcom made with the DVD audience expressly in mind.
♦ The three major cartoon factories of the '40s and '50sDisney, Warner Bros. and MGMtraded off Best Animated Short Oscars throughout those two decades, but although Silly Symphonies and Looney Tunes retain a broad popular appeal today, the Tom & Jerry cartoons that were MGM's pride are now prized mainly by cultists and historians, who don't mind the repetitive plots. The new two-disc Tom & Jerry: Spotlight Collection (out on Warner Home Video, since Time Warner owns the MGM catalog at the moment) probably won't win any converts, even though there's a lot to like about its 40 shorts.
Tom & Jerry's supervisors, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, had a good grasp of dialogue-free slapstick timing, and the series kept up with the times technically and stylistically, starting with the rounded design and bluish-pink hues of '40s children's books and evolving into a looser, UPA-inspired look (albeit in breathtaking Cinemascope and stereophonic sound). There's also some cultural archaeology to be done by those who prefer to look beyond the warring cat and mouse and take in the succession of well-appointed suburban homes where they stage their battles.
But this DVD set isn't very helpful on the historical front. Animation devotee Jerry Beck provides a commentary on three shorts and helps out with the 20-minute overview-oriented featurette, but the skimpy packaging is devoid of basic information about the year of release, director, format or importance of each cartoon...though there is a little asterisk next to the ones that were nominated or won Academy Awards. Without more context, though, you may find yourself wondering why these funny but minor little chase films were ever considered award-worthy.