THE LEOPARD (1963). Luchino Visconti's 185-minute epic, just about the final word in period piece opulence, earned the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, yet that didn't stop 20th Century Fox from prepping this Italian production's stateside release by carving a half-hour out of its running time and saddling it with English-language dialogue so badly dubbed that it may as well be a Hong Kong chop-socky cheapie from the 70s. That this butchered edition flopped was no surprise (even with Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale heading the cast), yet considering that even many Italian audiences were confused by the movie's thick bed of politics (set in 1860, it deals with the country's unification at the expense of its aristocracy), it's arguable whether it would have succeeded here in any version. The original Italian cut finally opened in the US in the early 80s, yet the film has incredibly never been available on video; trust Criterion, then, to bless its home theater debut with a three-disc set. One platter contains the original Italian version, another offers the American take, and the final one holds various extras, including an hour-long documentary featuring interviews with many of the principal players (including Sydney Pollack, who to his embarrassment worked on the American retooling), an explanation of the country's politics at the time of the film's setting, and theatrical trailers.
THE STATION AGENT (2003). It couldn't have been a coincidence that the two best films of 2003 both centered around lonely, troubled people tentatively reaching out to other isolated souls. Like Lost In Translation, The Station Agent is another splendid human drama about likable folks cutting through a surrounding haze of complacency long enough to make the sorts of connections that don't require a dial-up tone. The focal character is Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf who, after moving into a decrepit train depot, only wishes that people would leave him alone. Instead, a few neighbors, most notably a tortured artist (Patricia Clarkson) and a hot dog vendor (Bobby Cannavale), manage to locate his dormant vein of compassion and bring it bubbling to the surface. Debuting writer-director Tom McCarthy got off to a blazing start with this exemplary seriocomic gem that, although completely ignored by the Academy and the Golden Globes, did receive attention from the Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild. Poor marketing by Miramax Films (which instead threw all of its weight behind Cold Mountain) stifled its breakout appeal, but with any luck, it will find a receptive audience on DVD and video. DVD extras include audio commentary by McCarthy and his three leads, and deleted scenes.
THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK (1984). This important, informative documentary tells the story of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay person elected to public office. Working under San Francisco mayor George Moscone on a city supervisory board headed by Dianne Feinstein, Milk spoke out not only for gay rights but for the rights of all people; he was a natural leader whose progressive views touched many citizens, but within a year of his election, he and Mayor Moscone were assassinated by supervisor Dan White, the board's most conservative member. This is a richly detailed film that takes the story beyond White to create a vivid impression of a specific time and place, as well as analyzing the sorrow that followed Milk's death (the footage of the candlelight vigil held in his honor is especially powerful) and the rage that erupted because of the imbecilic jury verdict -- the 12 dolts decided that the murders weren't premeditated even though White snuck into the federal building through a window and carrying a loaded weapon and extra ammo! There are numerous extras in this impressive, two-disc DVD, including audio commentary by director Rob Epstein, a short piece on Dan White (who eventually committed suicide), footage from the 1985 Academy Awards ceremony where the film picked up the Best Documentary Oscar, and a 25th anniversary panel discussion with White's attorneys, the sort of smug, soulless SOBs who will remind many people why they hate lawyers in the first place.
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