The play's the thing wherein we'll catch ... a mouthful of rotted teeth and the plague.
What you should catch: "The Reckoning" (Paramount, R). The unusual medieval mystery barely opened in theaters, but that's understandable, because theaters need room for stuff like "Catwoman" and the pointless "Manchurian Candidate" remake. But fans of "The Name of the Rose" and "CSI" should exhume this oddity on DVD.
In 14th-century England, a fugitive fallen priest (Paul Bettany) hooks up with a traveling acting troupe led by Willem Dafoe. They stop for wagon repairs at a village where a woman is about to be executed for a boy's murder. To scrape together coin, they ditch the usual biblical stage material and take the novel approach of dramatizing the crime. It goes over like "Gigli," and the actors risk their lives as they follow the leads that come out of the filthy woodwork.
So it gets a little silly around the climactic play. Give director Paul McGuigan (who also used Bettany in the underappreciated "Gangster No. 1") points for stepping off the beaten path, with knockout photography and locations. "MI5" star Matthew MacFadyen also turns up as a grungy primordial secret agent. Zilch for DVD extras, though.
Theaterfolk (like "carnyfolk," but with fewer tattoos) are also the subject of a trio of foreign classics from The Criterion Collection: "Stage and Spectacle — Three Films by Jean Renoir" (unrated). Restored, and in vibrant color, the films from the tertiary stage of the legendary French director's career come with his introductions, a couple from Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich, critical essays and interview/documentary material.
"The Golden Coach" (1953) is an opulent indulgence that the 18th-century Spanish Viceroy of Peru bestows upon traveling Commedia dell'Arte diva Anna Magnani — even under threat of being deposed. But she's equally swayed in the presence of any of her three suitors.
"French Cancan" (1955): Jean Gabin is sublime as the broke, charming impresario who gets the Moulin Rouge off the ground amid numerous setbacks and mistresses. My favorite of the three. Best scene: Backstage during the raucous first show, a seated Gabin kicks one foot in time with his unseen dancers.
"Elena and Her Men" (1956): Ingrid Bergman as a Polish princess in fin de siècle France who is equally swayed in the presence of each of her three suitors — hey! Anyhow, this would be the "spectacle" part of the set, as the dudes, including a hero general, are key players in France's volatile political scene. The farce has strong echoes of Renoir's "The Rules of the Game" in a long segment at a big estate.
More oldies for kicking up your heels: "Zorba the Greek" (Fox, 1964, unrated): Bon vivant Zorba (Anthony Quinn) teaches an uptight Englishman (Alan Bates) to dance, damn you, dance! Very good adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' great novel, with commentary from director Michael Cacoyannis. Priceless extra: an alternate intro with Quinn as God, plugging his ears with cotton from a cloud to drown out the simpering of a female sinner.
A batch of new-to-DVD Elvis Presley flicks, starting with the most topical: In "Harum Scarum" (1965, unrated), The King plays a showbiz and martial-arts star who gets kidnapped in Baghdad! It's the '60s. "Sheik meets desert chic," as the box says; and Elvis isn't a hit man, "he's a hit, man." Hey, Rumsfeld, what's yer bag, dad? Also: The Space Needle co-stars in "It Happened at the World's Fair" (1963, unrated); "Spinout" (1966, unrated); "Double Trouble" (1967, unrated); "Speedway" (1968, G); and "The Trouble with Girls" (1969, G).
Sheik, rattle and doze: "Hidalgo" (Buena Vista, PG-13): Viggo ("Aragorn") Mortensen headlines as real-life Frank Hopkins, drunk and disillusioned after an Indian massacre, who accepts the challenge of a 3,000-mile horse race across the Arabian desert. Great looking, with an oasis of entertainment here and there, but a long 136 minutes that never quite catches fire.
"13 Going on 30" (Columbia Tristar, PG-13): You saw "Big," right? And all those other child-adult body-switch movies, right? I got empathy-embarrassment pangs for "Alias" star Jennifer Garner as a girl who gets her wish to be a woman — without plastic surgery — especially during a scene in which she livens up a big work party by doing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance. Extras include pics of the stars as young geeks. Also from Columbia, Garner in her 1998 TV series, "Significant Others" (unrated).
Other TV: From Universal, "Knight Rider Season One" and "Sliders — The First and Second Seasons." "Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends Complete Season 2" (Sony) and "Combat! Season 1" divided into "Campaign 1" and "2" (Image).
From the black plague to "The Black Hole" (PG): In the wake of "Star Wars," Disney's first PG-rated movie in 1979, with "hell," "damn" and superior special effects offset by a story that couldn't decide whether it was serious sci-fi or dopey kids' fare. At least there were no Ewoks.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org