Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Tristram Shandy" and "Yi yi" on DVD

There are few subgenres I hate more than movies about making movies. "State and Main"? Simply painful to watch. "Living in Oblivion"? Even worse.

Until recently, the only one I enjoyed was Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night". Last year, Michael Winterbottom added one more gem to the list, the surprisingly entertaining "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story", which comes out on DVD today.

Two things make Winterbottom's movie stand out. First, we're told that the novel they're trying to adapt, "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Esq.", is a rambling mess and therefore unfilmable. Watching the participants live out this truism is extremely entertaining.

The second thing is star Steve Coogan, who is all misplaced ego and very funny. He's played this character plenty of times before, but this time he adds more humanity for a much more well-rounded performance.

I reviewed this one when it was presented by the Macon Film Guild in March. To read the full review, click here.

DVD extras include an extended interview with Coogan conducted by Tony Wilson, who Coogan played in Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People," plus deleted scenes, scene extensions and behind-the-scenes footage. There is also a commentary by Coogan and co-star Rob Brydon.

Rent it today.

"Yi yi"

Criterion has been on a real roll lately. After last month's simply stellar treatment of Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused", now Taiwanese director Edward Yang gets the honor for his 2000 movie "Yi yi".

Although on paper it sounds like it would be painful to watch, Yang's 3-hour movie about how one Taiwanese family deals with the intrusions of modern life plays out like a liesurely paced soap opera missing much of the melodrama.

Nien-Jen Wu, as the family patriarch N.J., has the face and demeanor of the Everyman (think Bruno Ganz in "Wings of Desire"), and his performance is subdued but sublime. There's a long sequence in which he goes to Japan to meet with a video game designer that plays out like a dream and is more effective than anything Sofia Coppola produced in "Lost in Translation".

Much more happens to the members of N.J.'s family, and as it plays out it never gets boring. The cover for the Criterion edition is simply fantastic, playing cleverly off the fact that the youngest member of the clan has a habit of taking pictures of the backs of people's heads.

Unfortunately, if, like me, you already own this on DVD, Criterion doesn't exactly pile on the extras this time to tempt you again. There is a commentary by writer-director Yang and noted Asian-cinema critic Tony Rayns, a new video interview with Rayns about the "New Taiwanese Cinema" movement and a booklet with a new essay by Kent Jones and notes by writer-director Yang.

If you don't own it already, however, I'd recommend adding this gem to your library.

As I was writing this, I began to wonder what happened to Edward Yang. According to the IMDB, he hasn't released a movie since "Yi yi," but that will soon change. He's teamed up with Jackie Chan for an animated movie titled "The Wind", due out in 2007. The lead character is a young man with amazing kung fu skills, modeled and based on Chan himself. All the characters will be drawn and created by Edward Yang and his team of animators, while the action and martial arts in the film will be supervised by Jackie Chan and his crew.

Sounds a little troubling, but still all I can say is welcome back, Mr. Yang. Don't stay away so long next time.


carrie_lofty said...

Tristram is a rambling mess, and I can't wait to see this film. I don't think Coogan "plays" the very funny, "misplaced ego" part - I'm convinced that's just him. And it will be nice to see Gillian Anderson in a role again.

Reel Fanatic said...

Gillian Anderson is indeed a welcome sight, even though she doesn't come until the end ... pay attention for when one of his agents mistakes her for another, even more well-known American actress .. it's the best joke of many in this great flick

themarina said...

I've been hearing a lot of good buzz around Tristram so I may just have to pick it up this weekend.

Vasta said...

Coogan was genius in the film, he definitely made it worth watching. And Criterion just re-released Seven Samurai on DVD as well; they definitely have great taste in their DVD releases.

Reel Fanatic said...

They do, Vasta ... I often don't have the money to buy them, but if I did, I would want to have almost every title they've given their superb treatment to