Saturday, Aug 27, 2016
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`Gangs' set gives insight into the epic

Have you seen the MasterCard commercial with Martin Scorsese, the one promoting the Tribecca Film Festival? Scorsese walks into a drugstore to pick up photos of a nephew's birthday party and, as a startled clerk looks on, he explains why one is too sentimental, one is too busy, why the composition is off on this one. “Marty, what were you thinking?” he asks himself.

If only his commentary track on the new two-disc DVD of Gangs of New York (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $29.99, available Tuesday) were so tough. Not that he lacks anything to say or that he's dull; for the film's three hours (broken into 90-minute segments across the two discs), the legendary filmmaker is his usual nonstop chatterbox self. He's an engaging armchair historian of lower Manhattan and always ready to discuss his influences - for a very lengthy reflection, he never grows tedious - but when it comes to the painful Italian shoot and protracted post-production with Miramax head Harvey Weinstein, the word is mum.

He can recall exactly when and where he found the Herbert Asbury book on which he loosely based the film - 1971, a beach house, etc. - but nothing about a turbulent working relationship both men seemed to almost play up for critics and film historians.

My guess is Scorsese has such a long view of movie history, he knows better than to talk and remove the mystery; he'll leave the last word on his epic to critics. Is Gangs a misunderstood masterpiece, sloppy and exciting? Or an epic misfire, unwieldy and lacking a good story? The disc argues both sides. As great as it looks and sounds on DVD, you're always looking at the background, not the tepid revenge tale at its core. The extras are entirely about the details, not the actors or story: We get a poignant history lesson with writer Luc Sante, and a Discovery Channel special; but best are the short features on the costume production and a walking tour of the film's immense sets. His gut jutting out, Scorsese strolls building to building, and he looks a little sad: Someday no one will build sets like this; it'll be all-digital backgrounds. If he's right, this DVD is a document to cherish.

Speaking of misunderstood masterpieces that alienate audiences: In the brief time I have reviewed movies at this newspaper, no film has drawn stronger reaction from readers than Paul Thomas Anderson and Adam Sandler's Punch-Drunk Love, just out in a Superbit Special Edition from Columbia Home Entertainment ($28.95). Those of you who e-mailed or called to ask if I was paid off by Columbia or abusing heroin when I wrote the review: Don't even think about picking up this two-disc set. The chief extra is 12-minute short that weaves the film's dreamy kaleidoscopic interludes through unused footage to create an expressionistic take on the plot - it plays a little like a music video, a little like installation art, but mostly like the closing trip-out in 2001: A Space Odyssey laid over a Technicolor love story.

The remaining bonus material is fairly paltry for a two-disc set. There are more examples of those musical interludes, foreign trailers, and two deleted scenes (including one terrific one that better explained the tension between our hero and his seven nagging sisters). Anderson gives no commentary and offers no explanation for his story or his film or even this special edition, but maybe it's just as well.

Punch-Drunk Love is a movie out of time. It's made by a filmmaker with a sentimental vision in his head of an era when moviegoers still argued about a film all the way to their car. It's that rare movie about trying something new, and love it or hate it, odds are you won't see many studio films these days that are this daring.

What the heck is a Cowboy Bebop and why do grown men and women go weak in the knees whenever it's mentioned?

Answer: It's Japanese anime for the post-Quentin Tarantino generation, the genial hipster ramblings of a bounty hunter, scored by the occasional blues number or wavering solo sax, spiked with a slew of pop references. Think anime filtered through the lens of a 1970s antihero movie.

Released last winter, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Columbia, $26.95), is a feature-length episode of the Bebop TV series (seen late nights on Cartoon Network), which is something of a cult phenomenon on both sides of the Pacific. For newcomers, the film serves as a decent but cold entry to the series; for dedicated Bebopers, the series' pithiness will prove a stronger virtue.

NEW ON VIDEO: The Hours (Nicole Kidman rightfully landed a best actress Oscar for this sad and heartfelt, if hammering, adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel about how three women's lives intersect with the Virginia Woolf novel Mrs. Dalloway); Dark Blue (Provocative and underrated cop drama about corruption in the Los Angeles police force on the eve of the 1991 riots, starring Kurt Russell who, for my money, trounces even Denzel Washington as the best crooked movie cop in recent history); Kangaroo Jack (Breaking news: Talking kangaroo attacks second-banana thespians and I am all for it).

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