"I HAVEN'T REALLY seen this film," confesses director Stephen Frears on the commentary track—one of only two extras—to this March 23 release. In fact, given the long gaps and silences, it may be that he's never even watched a DVD before. It seems he has no idea what purpose his narration is to serve—namely, to provide insight into material, method, and process; to back up his assertion that "I think it's really good." Agreed: The film is good, and it didn't really get the appreciation it deserved last year, but tell us how and why you achieved that result, Stephen; don't just doze off between random utterances.
When awake, the 63-year-old Frears observes, "It's like films were when I was growing up—good story, good characters. There's a lot of Hitchcock in this film." Exactly. Things got somewhat overlooked last year—with just one Oscar nomination for its script—because it's so traditional in its well-wrought plotting and characterization. What's new about it are the skin tones. "It's about London in the last 10 years," says Frears—i.e., immigrant London. So we have a Nigerian cabbie (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a Turkish hotel maid (Audrey Tautou, in her first all-English-speaking role) in place of Bogart and Bergman. The organ-thieving villain (Sergi López) is a Spaniard, and there's hardly a native-born Brit in sight—one reason Frears was drawn to the script. "They weren't statistics," he notes of his characters; they are, rather, downtrodden people who refuse to be trodden any further.
So, you can pretty much skip the commentary track and concentrate on the story as the cabbie and maid gradually fall in love (but refuse to say it), battle the bad guy, and try to obtain forged passports to better places (shades of Casablanca). In jest, the cabbie tells one of his fares, "I am here to rescue those who have been let down by the system." Then, in earnest, he does exactly that.
ANGELINA JOLIE does nothing but embarrass herself in the atrocious Beyond Borders, which arrives March 23 alongside the fact-based suffer-fest The Magdalene Sisters and the needless remake of The Singing Detective (with Robert Downey Jr.). Now that he's got his Oscar, Ron Howard is getting some career respect; he adds commentaries to new releases of Splash and Ransom. File under "D" for dreck: the Rock in The Rundown and Halle Berry in Gothika. Better bets: Shattered Glass, Songs From the Second Floor, and George Romero's original 1978 Dawn of the Dead.