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Exploding Girl

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***

It's not yet clear if "mumblecore" is an exclusive club, or if it's a subgenre that just any movie can jump into. If it's the latter, then indie screenwriter-producer turned director Bradley Rust Gray's new feature The Exploding Girl -- which had a brief theatrical opening in March -- is at least partly there. It's about a handful of twentysomethings, back home in New York on summer break from college. Sometimes they come right out and say something that's on their mind, but most of the time, they do that particular "mumblecore" thing in which they talk and talk and never quite manage to say anything. And yet they say everything.

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Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi

Reviewer: Erin Donovan
Rating (out of 5): ****

 

On its face, Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi is a story about the death of 24 year old Afghani Ajmal Naqshbandi. A "fixer" by trade, Naqshbandi made his living translating, driving and navigating cultural considerations for foreign journalists as they tried to obtain interviews with Taliban officials, mullahs and local residents. In early 2007, Naqshbandi and a team of Italian journalists were double-crossed by Mullah Dadullah, who kidnapped and held them for weeks while demanding the release of Dadullah's brother and several other imprisoned Taliban officers. Unfortunately, the Afghanistan government's priorities were so focused on avoiding an international incident that when the Italians were released no one noticed Naqshbandi wasn't among the liberated. His family went on television, pleading to the better nature of their fellow Muslims to let their son go, but negotiations broke down and Naqshbandi was beheaded. Video footage of his execution was immediately released on the internet.

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A Call Girl

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***

Can you learn much about a particular society from watching a narrative film featuring a few characters from that society? My companion and I argued this point after watching A Call Girl, a Slovenian film from Damjan Kozole making its DVD debut this week and deals with the life of a college student/call girl, her family, friends, boyfriend, teacher and -- most frighteningly – two pimps who want her in their service. (Slovenia by the way, is the tiny country bordered by Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Austria and the Adriatic Sea, whose history, as is true of many eastern European countries, particularly in the area of the Balkans, is full of competing cultures, wars, border disputes and uneasy truces.)

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New and Coming Releases: August 31, 2010.

 

Say farewell to August with this eclectic and groovy batch of titles new to DVD today, as well as titles coming in September and beyond.

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OSS 117: Lost in Rio

Reviewer:  Jonathan Poritsky
Rating (out of 5): ***½

Predating Ian Fleming’s James Bond, OSS 117 is the call number for Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, a secret agent extraordinaire. Creator Jean Bruce wrote over ninety books for the character in his lifetime, and de La Bath made his way into eight films from 1956 to 1971. He never reached the international popularity of his doppelgänger in her majesty’s secret service, but his legacy is now cemented, if lampooned, in the latest film from Michel Hazanavicius, OSS 117: Lost in Rio, the second in a series of parodies.

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The Good the Bad the Weird

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

The Wild West: An ancient locomotive speeds along a railroad track, as the passengers in the cars behind it chat, snooze, play cards, or nibble on food. Down the aisle comes the snack-seller hawk-ing treats, and we hear the dulcet call, "Candy! Rice cakes! Independence for Korea!" Yup: We're long past Kansas; in fact, so much farther west of California that we're east.

To be honest, we already know this, as The Good The Bad The Weird (yes, it is definitely meant to remind you of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) begins with a scene in which a sleek, handsome but slightly scary young Asian man has been given an assignment from an older, powerful and probably lethal fellow that involves the delivery of a valuable map. Then we see a scene of hawks and vultures nibbling carnage and suddenly all hell breaks loose, as bandits and bad guys of every sort seem intent on stealing that map, which you might immediately suspect to be a McGuffin.

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Harry Brown DVD Giveaway!

prophet Two time Academy Award winner Michael Caine stars as Harry Brown, an ordinary, law-abiding citizen, who just wanted to quietly live out his retirement. But in this desolate urban wasteland, the residents live in fear of the drug dealers who rule the streets--and the police offers little protection. When Inspector Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer) can't convict the thugs who killed Harry's best friend, he decides to take the law into his own hands. Using skills honed as a Royal Marine, Harry begins to serve his own brand of justice. David Edelstein says "Caine makes a grave, soulful vigilante avenger, and first-time director Daniel Barber gives the film a dank, streaky, genuinely unnerving palette." Harry Brown is out on DVD August 31st. And now you have a chance to win that DVD thanks to a giveaway sponsored by GreenCine and Sony Pictures Classics.

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New and Coming Releases: August 24, 2010.

 

As is typical in the waning summer weeks, a fairly quiet DVD releasing day but still some good stuff here, including a glorious set from Criterion, a sleeper thriller from Europe, some horror, and more. Throw these dog days a bone and check out this week's DVDs and those coming soon.

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Reviewed: Louie Bluie and Crumb (Criterion)

Reviewer: Steve Dollar
Louie Bluie; Crumb Rating (out of 5): ****½ (both)

Consumed and driven by the bawdy vigor of good old American vernacular culture, the artists who lend their names to this pair of documentaries are such dynamos of idiosyncrasy that no one could have made them up. Newly reissued in a simultaneous one-two punch by the Criterion Collection, Louie Bluie (1985) and Crumb (1995), concern but can barely contain the outsized, wildly original personalities of charismatic African-American string band legend Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, and the cranky underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. These were the first two films made by Terry Zwigoff, a San Francisco government office-worker and obsessive enthusiast for 78 rpm recordings of pre-war American music, who also happened to play saw, mandolin and fiddle in Crumb's own string combo, R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders.

Zwigoff is now more widely known for his later features, Bad Santa and Ghost World, which further articulated the director's kinship with irascible iconoclasts and socially awkward connoisseurs of cultural arcana. Fans of those entertainments checking out Zwigoff's back-catalog classics for the first time will find the square root of his aesthetic, with all its irreverence, political incorrectness, and rude zest charging up every frame. They'll also discover a passion for storytelling and a gift for directorial self-effacement, one that allows these natural-born originals to narrate their own lives so compellingly that its easy to forget there's a camera and crew involved - even as Zwigoff thoughtfully embroiders the narratives.

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La Mission

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

When a movie, especially a small independent film, appears conventional in its approach to the material at hand, our critical establishment has a tendency to dismiss it. This is too bad, particularly where a movie like La Mission is concerned. Written and directed by Peter Bratt and starring his brother, the better-known Benjamin Bratt, the film is indeed conventional in some ways. It tells the tale of a Latino widower who labors as a San Francisco bus driver (the film is set in the city's Mission district, which has a long and storied Hispanic past) and who is raising a good-looking and popular teenage son.

Rather than dwell on plot development (and spoil one of the movie's initial surprises), let's talk instead about why the conventional is sometimes a smart way to let a film unfurl. This will bring in a wider audience, of course, but also, if the movie is handled well enough, it can allow that audience the opportunity to grow a bit. If you are able, as has been filmmaker Bratt, to write dialog quite well -- sounding off-the-cuff but also specific and often amusing -- and to effectively link one theme (Hispanic machismo) to another (violence against women) to another (homophobia) until everything is not just connected but very nearly inextricable, then you are doing your job very well.

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