The good news first: Visually and in its sound transfer, the DVD of Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain is everything it should be. Shrinking these Wyoming peaks and high meadows in no way dwarfs their breathtaking effect (yes, we know it's Alberta, never mind), while the shivering highs and the very real dangers of this tumultuous love story are more of a gut-wrench up close, if that's imaginable.
In the published version of his and Diana Ossana's screenplay, Larry McMurtry calls Annie Proulx's story "a tragedy of emotional deprivation." Watching Heath Ledger capture every nuance of Ennis Del Mar's clenched, impoverished soul seems even more of a miracle here. As the busted-down rodeo-er Jack Twist, Jake Gyllenhaal seems like the lightweight of the piece until you realize that without Jack, Ennis would never have found his true other half.
The DVD's other soul-stirring performance is Michelle Williams as Ennis' loving, baffled wife, no more able to understand what has rocked her husband's life than Ennis himself—at first.
The bad news is the DVD's threadbare, self-congratulatory quartet of "extras." Only one runs longer than 10 minutes; none is particularly valuable. While it's charming to hear Ang Lee say that he loves the taste of the words "Brokeback Mountain" in his mouth, it would be even nicer to hear his (missing) commentary. The only meat here is the tidbit that McMurtry believed Ossana had better insights into the male characters, and she thought he did better with the women—so that's how they split the work. Thanks.
The whole anemic package reeks of opportunism, a post-Oscar rush job. Expect a proper repackaging just in time for Christmas stockings. Or cowboy boots.
As for putting your boot in your mouth, there's Randy Quaid's interview here in which he talks about finding the Proulx story in a magazine at his gym and having been so struck by it that he swiped that copy of The New Yorker to finish at home. Yet despite this longstanding passion for the story, he later sued Focus Features for $10 million in damages, alleging that he was duped into working at a reduced rate in a mere "art-house film," when the producers knew it would be a major release. Then, after much bad press, he dropped the suit earlier this month. Guess who won't be invited back for the deluxe DVD set this holiday season. SHEILA BENSON
The Complete Mr. Arkadin
As the film that followed Orson Welles' Othello and virtually presages the sado-noir of Touch of Evil, the 1954 Mr. Arkadin was perhaps fated to be viewed as a transitional work, albeit one committed to a nihilism that suggests there can be no future here. The film's paternity is hazy: There was a book—which for a time no one wanted to take credit for—three radio plays, ever-reformulated scripts, and different released (and long-lost) cuts. Welles himself, in keeping with the film's deluding, overcompensatory paranoia, informed Peter Bogdanovich that Arkadin represented the "best popular story" he had ever come up with for a movie. F, indeed, is for Fake.
Criterion now gives us what's essentially a new Arkadin, which was always more than a film, a concept with filmic implications. This three-disc set— containing three versions of the movie—is packaged with the text of the novel, so you can plunk down and try to work out Arkadin's riddles yourself. As with Citizen Kane, the past is central to the story's present. Welles plays a distant and eccentric billionaire who, in an odd turn of rampant, personal dystopia—a nihilism that would do Kafka proud—hires an American smuggler (Robert Arden) to investigate his own past. From there, it's on to Cold War fallout, implications and innuendoes detonating like bombs, but bombs confined to an internal schema—a mind coming undone, a soul sick and sickening. Basically, there were two "proper" cuts made without Welles' control: what's become known as the Corinth version; and the European release, Confidential Report. This new, third "comprehensive" edition squashes together and expands upon the other two; it's an estimation and, in essence, a reimagining of Welles' own vision.
Get lost in the piling of overlapping sounds, the décollage style of cutting, and, of course, Welles' depth of field. Your TV set will look as though you could step right into it and wander down one of Arkadin's corridors, a vision from the edge of a void. COLIN FLEMING
South Park: The Complete Seventh Season
While diehard South Park fans might consider Trey Parker and Matt Stone's three-minute lead-in "mini-commentaries" for these 15 episodes to be a bonus-bin gyp, they will prove more than instructive for the casual fan seeking an eye into the creative process of America's favorite equal-opportunity offenders. At the onset of "Krazy Kripples," Parker and Stone reveal that they'd been looking for a way to tee off on Christopher Reeve (then still alive) since he became the poster-child for functional paralysis. Even their supporters felt it was a little twisted even for the show (which is saying something). So to hedge their bets—although not much, as Reeve evolves from wheelchair-bound gimp into legion-of-doom superhero who sucks stem cells from aborted fetuses—Parker and Stone have most of South Park's school-age regulars offer repeated disclaimers when Jimmy and Timmy propose starting an anti-Reeve organization comprised exclusively of those who are crippled from birth. As for the episodes themselves, the highlight is "Raisins," which manages to take equally vitriolic potshots at tip-whoring waitresses and hypocritical Goths in the course of one half-hour without feeling the slightest bit disjointed. MIKE SEELY
The documentary Winter Soldier takes us back to the Vietnam War protest era. The locally made 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle is a superior street-level view of our homegrown protests in late 1999. Fox is reissuing several Marilyn Monroe titles (best bet: The Seven Year Itch), while Warner Bros. does the same with five Bette Davis flicks (our pick: Jezebel). Date Movie's good for a dormitory party DVD night. Carroll Ballard's Duma is an excellent youth-oriented adventure movie. On two discs, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey offers a sympathetic look into that misunderstood musical genre. Though it never got a Seattle release, the Hollywood documentary Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party, about a veteran character actor you'll immediately recognize (remember the guy Bill Murray punches out in Groundhog Day?), is supposed to be very funny.