If you missed the David Simon-hosted screening of Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory," in September, now you can really see what he was talking about on DVD and Blu-ray. The Criterion Collection has issued a sharp, illuminating new transfer of Kubrick's 1957 debunking of the First World War. Kubrick uses a suicide mission to expose civilized European savagery. He gives us military stupidity in microcosm with this tale of two detached, personally ambitious French commanders ordering an infantry unit to advance on a fortified German position ("the Ant Hill") at impossible odds. A humane lawyer-colonel (Kirk Douglas) leads the soldiers into battle, then defends three who have been scapegoated for the mission's failure and charged with cowardice, on penalty of death. Kubrick's own generalship is already masterly here (he made the film when he was in his late twenties), whether in the swirling tracking shots that underline the artifice of military decorum and the forced order of the trenches, or the chaotic kinetics of the handheld battle footage. He sticks to his debunking vision, right up to the "Brotherhood of Man" climax, in which a fraulein warbling a love song reduces French soldiers to tears. We know that they have only a moment to give in to emotions before they must move out.
Douglas is superb as the morally-handcuffed hero of that movie. He was always a master of acting in the middle of life-or-death action, not letting explosions or stunt-people carry (or drop) the dramatic weight.
So is young Noomi Rapace, who plays Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish films of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium Trilogy." Music Box has cleverly released the second film in the trilogy, "The Girl Who Played With Fire," on DVD and Blu-ray, just a few days before the American premiere of the third film, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest." When Larsson wrote his trilogy, he created, in Lisbeth Salander, a woman warrior who forges her strength in a horror-story crucible of emotional and physical abuse. This movie uncovers the roots of her agony while pushing her prowess as a hacker and a kickboxing sleuth to the limit. Rapace continues to embody Salander to extremist perfection. And I think "Fire" is swifter and earthier than the first film, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"; it applies a glancing touch to violence and torture. It conveys its characters' pain and hurtles on. Michael Nyqvist again brings a warm, weathered charisma to the role of her loving ally, middle-aged investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist. There's also a particularly scary thug: a huge, square-cut, bleached-blond brute who, because of congenital analgesia, can't feel pain. (He's like a serious version of Richard Kiel's "Jaws" character in the Bond movies.)