Union Station, $19.98
How do we dispose of the corpse? It's a classic movie scene, usually played for laughs to keep a thriller from turning too dark. Sometimes it comes early, as in The Trouble With Harry, or relatively late, as in Blood Simple. Apartment Zero, which earned top honors and rave reviews at SIFF '89, uses the inconvenient-corpse dilemma to finally, fatally shift the mood away from black-comic paranoia. Until then, Colin Firth's timid Buenos Aires cinephile is gradually falling in love with Hart Bochner's handsome, mysterious mercenary. Closet case and killer share an apartment in nervous Oscar-and-Felix intimacy, one repressing his identity, the other shifting it to seduce—and sometimes assassinate—anyone who gets in his way. Their relationship, like other male doublings in the Coen brothers and Hitchcock (see especially Strangers on a Train), is malevolent and funny at the same time.
So is the film, now on DVD for the first time after a decade of clouded ownership rights. Unlike the 1997 VHS version, this is the original 124-minute cut so popular at SIFF—hence John Hartl's Seattle Times blurb on the box: "Close to perfection!" (In fairness, I suspect they added the exclamation point.) Yet Zero is something of a one-hit wonder for Argentine-born writer-director Martin Donovan (not the indie actor of the same name); watching it again, you can plainly see the influences—Roman Polanski's The Tenant, Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane—that led The New York Times' Vincent Canby to scoff, "It pretends to be a psychological-political melodrama but plays like the work of a dilettante." For the record, I side with Seattle Weekly's assessment by Mary Brennan: "a creepy, masterful thriller." It's not as though those influences are hidden; Zero is a genre picture unabashedly in love with the movies. Firth's character owns a cinema, lives in a seedy-luxe apartment festooned with Hollywood glossies, and hooks Bochner on a kind of proto–Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. (Here are three names; what movie did they make together?)
On his commentary, the soft-spoken Donovan is plain about his love of actors, movies, and the Argentine mise-en-scène that—in 1989 at least—made the English-language film seem intriguingly foreign. He doesn't dwell on politics, but Zero's political subtext becomes the dominant story line as Firth is finally moved to action. Though it was made after the Falklands War collapsed the Argentine junta, Donovan treats the movie—and speaks of it now—in somewhat nostalgic terms. The bell-jar quality of Firth's tidy world can't possibly last, yet the expat Martin can't quite let go of its beautiful illusions.
Strangely, Donovan claims not to have prepped for his commentary by watching the movie during the past dozen years. This makes the second commentary a lot more vital, since co-writer David Koepp—now a Hollywood heavyweight who's penning the Spider-Man and Indiana Jones sequels—did his Zero homework in advance. As did guest commentator Steven Soderbergh, who identifies the movie's "pervasive attitude of predatory sexuality." Theirs is an entertaining film geeks' conversation, contributing to a package that makes one reconsider Firth's line about his empty art-house cinema. "Videos are killing me!" he complains; in this case, DVD will provide a second life for Apartment Zero.
The Heart of the Game
Another local favorite, Ward Serrill's crowd-thrilling sports doc about the Roosevelt High School girls' basketball team is still fresh in everyone's minds from SIFF '06. Serrill spent seven years following coach Bill Resler, a UW tax professor who took over the losing squad as a rookie leader and made it into a Metro League powerhouse. By now it's no spoiler to note how talented point guard Darnellia Russell became the movie's heroine when she got pregnant and had to drop out of school; this ground we covered thoroughly for SIFF, and Serrill brings further detail to his commentary.
Among the other extras, Serrill and Resler do a sit-down interview together that suggests Siskel and Ebert's affectionate banter. (It's no surprise that the shaggy, charismatic, aphorism-spouting coach got a book deal out of the project; his The Heart of the Team is new from Sasquatch this month.) They even do a folkie music number together on harmonica and guitar, but both concede that their old-school original score would've sent teen eyes rolling and reduced the film's potential audience. Short postscripts are provided for the principal players; then there's a second featurette following Resler, Russell, and Serrill on the festival circuit. On the train to New York, Resler spins yarns about hustling poker games to help pay his college tuition and winning a high-school dance contest to steal his best friend's girl. Meaning that if he's not busy enough teaching taxes, coaching hoops, and pushing his book, a one-man stage show might be the next stage of his unlikely midlife blossoming. Just make sure there's a net hanging over the hardwood.
This week's big release is Casino Royale, a first-rate movie even without the 007 stamp of tradition (which Daniel Craig nicely upholds and subverts by actually, you know, acting). For the stand-up comedy crowd, there's Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion. Partisans of the new Korean cinema will dig Woman Is the Future of Man. The documentary Romántico confirms that, yes, the life of an illegal Mexican immigrant street musician is just as tough as you'd imagine. Riffing on the old surf movie Big Wednesday, there's a Norwegian wave-riding doc—they surf in Norway?—called Monster Thursday. John Cameron Mitchell's sex fantasia Shortbus includes even more NC-17 footage. Favela Rising chronicles the music and social movement out of Rio de Janeiro's slums. From Spain, The Perfect Crime may require using the rewind a few times to sort out its plot. Rental fodder only: Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet in The Holiday and Christian Bale in Harsh Times. Lastly, Criterion has restored two old works by Kon Ichikawa: Fires on the Plain and Private Tamura.