Are movies more important than life? Are women magic? These two questions, repeatedly posed in François Truffaut's Day for Night (1973), often seem to be at the heart of French cinema, especially in a big batch of recent DVD releases.
"She ... the meaning of my life is she," crooned Charles Aznavour in his tribute to les femmes back in the early 1970s, when male French filmmakers were still inspired by that unfathomable sphinx: woman. French cinema doesn't have the same power today, and equality has normalized relations between the sexes (somewhat).
In Match Point (DreamWorks; Movie •••½, Picture/Sound •••½, Extras: None), Woody Allen creates a Shakespearean tale of ambition, passion, and madness that can only end in tears, and he does so in a uniquely cinematic way. By usual DVD standards, the quality of the picture and sound might seem lacking.
It's amazing how many ways a story can be told. Byron Haskin's 1953 version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (Warner; Movie ••••, Picture/Sound ••••, Extras ••••) has a completely different focus and tone than Steven Spielberg's gloomy take on the H. G. Wells fantasy.
A godlike eye in the sky that can send down hellfire; fake-fly-on-the-wall drones capable of entering anyone’s home to observe their most intimate moments; militia and religious police who, in the name of God, watch, search, and regulate every aspect of a person’s existence or end it with guns and explosive. In a place with no privacy, your life is not your own.
Two dice roll into close-up. Thus, down-and-out dockside gambler Johnny Farrell is introduced, along with the theme of characters that make their own luck by cheating with chance, love, and big business. Whereas Johnny just plays his way into a job at an exotic Buenos Aires casino through his cardsharp skills, snappy spiel, and fast fisticuffs, his boss, Ballin, has greater ambitions in creating an international monopoly and is willing to use intimidation, illegal business practices, and murder to attain his goal. Johnny becomes as faithful and obedient to his mentor as Ballin’s phallic walking stick, until Ballin breaks their agreement of no women around, returning from a business trip with a wife—Gilda. Especially as she’s the woman who’d ripped Johnny’s heart out.