Matador, The New World, and Project Runway

Killers, colonials, and the actual work involved in looking fabulous.

The Matador

Weinstein Co., $27.98

Richard Shepard's comedy-thriller is such a profoundly dishonest piece of work that I am almost ashamed to admit how much I enjoyed it. But I have an excuse, and his name is Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan plays Julian Noble, a hit man suffering a midlife crisis, and his performance is not only his best ever, it's the kind of performance (like James Cagney's in One . . . Two  . . . Three!) that makes a bad movie not just good enough but essential.

The plot of Matador is sort of The American Friend played for laughs: Ordinary guy gets entangled with a lethal psychotic who won't leave him be. The ordinary guy in this case is Greg Kinnear, who can play jittery foil in his sleep, but Brosnan drives the film forward with his ferocious energy, his willingness to take it to the edge in every scene. He's so mesmerizing that glorious moments keep popping into your consciousness for hours after watching.

That's bad luck for the film, because as soon as you think about the plot, the whole thing dissolves like tissue paper decorations in a rainstorm. In retrospect, you see how slapdash is its structure, how choppily it's edited, how unfairly it plays on our expectations. Somehow it doesn't matter; Shepard's film (he wrote it as well) is dishonest, but Brosnan shoots straight and true. And in the few quiet moments where we might begin to suspect we're being messed with, we have Hope Davis (as Kinnear's decorously lusty wife) to keep us from noticing the man behind the curtain. ROGER DOWNEY

The New World

New Line, $27.95

To worship Terrence Malick means getting what you want—i.e., more movies . . . any movies—only on the terms of his own damn schedule. He's made four features in 30 years, and this romantic reimagining of the Pocahontas–John Smith affair did not sound, initially, like a great historical advance from his overly hazy 1997 World War II picture, The Thin Red Line, which you remembered more for the windblown grass than the soldiers actually shooting at each other. The great surprise of this 17th-century Jamestown romance was that its characters really mattered, or at least two of them (played by 14-year-old revelation Q'Orianka Kilcher and that irresistible Irish reprobate Colin Farrell). On the one hand, the film is a new foundation myth—a fanciful, peaceful confluence of two alien cultures. On the other, it's a simple doomed love story about Smith and Pocahontas frolicking in the grass— always that totemic Malick grass, waving, swaying, and flowing like water.

I've thought about the movie a lot since seeing the long(er) 150-minute cut last December, as opposed to this 135-minute theatrical release. (The epic version presumably awaits a future box set.) And I'm prepared to say this: It's the best movie Malick has ever made—better than Badlands (with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, not a fun couple, and since devalued by dozens of serial-killer flicks), superior to Days of Heaven (fine love story, equally gorgeous, but less historical reach).

Which returns us to the obvious: This isn't much of a DVD—just one disc, just one real bonus feature, and no sign of the reclusive director. The hour-long "Making The New World" is all about his fetish for authenticity—shooting mostly without lights, training North American Indians to form a new tribe of warriors, coaching ingenue Kilcher to speak in a centuries-old dialect. We see Kilcher's radiant screen test (which practically saved the movie after hundreds of girls had been unsuccessfully auditioned), and we hear Christopher Plummer fret about Malick's spontaneously roving camera following him to the toilet. To learn more than that, we'll have to wait for another World. BRIAN MILLER

Project Runway: The Complete Second Season

Weinstein Co., $39.92

The only thing wrong with Project Runway is its pregnant wall of a host, Heidi Klum. (Why is the star of a cutthroat fashion show possibly the worst-dressed person on TV?) And the only right thing about this 14- episode collection is that each original show has been extended with never-before-seen footage. It's a nonstop, commercial-less, 777-minute couture trance! Ironically, Runway is actually less shallow than most reality television, because it documents actual work—hard, exhausting work that will even make your couch-potato butt feel tired. American Idol never really explores what goes into each performance before it reaches the stage. The drama of Runway runs from cultivating inspiration from gutter water to working with a broken Overlock sewing machine.

Of course, the designers happen to be rather striking, and the "Where the hell is my chiffon?!" element makes the show ditzy enough to actually be on television. The DVD offers a few extra bitch moments from the now infamous Santino, and a bland catch-up featurette called "WEAR Are They Now?" which leaves yards and yards to be desired. And for those of you still pissed over who won: Honey, let's just thank God the general public—unlike on American Idol—wasn't responsible for the voting on this show. Can you imagine? KATIE BECKER

Other Releases

Vin Diesel got some decent notices for his change-of-pace role in Find Me Guilty, while James Franco again relies on his abs in Annapolis. A bride has second thoughts in the Notting Hill–ish Imagine Me & You. We Jam Econo chronicles the pioneering punk band the Minutemen. A comedian visits the troops in Iraq in Patriot Act: A Jeffrey Ross Home Movie. Michael Haneke's very disturbing Caché also bows, as does the Matthew McConaughey vehicle Failure to Launch, a surprise spring hit. More interesting is the Docurama Film Festival collection of 10 worthy titles for $240, in which subjects include forest fires, ex-cons trying to go straight, foster care, and the history of the Industrial Workers of the World, which once figured prominently in our state's history.

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