New on DVD

(Cross-posted from GreenCine Daily.)

SunflowerA "subgenre has emerged" in recent Chinese cinema, notes Michael Atkinson (IFC): "the traditional family saga/ bildungsfilm-as-haunted-by-the-Cultural-Revolution film, à la Zhang Yimou's To Live, Gu Changwei's Peacock, Xiao Jiang's Electric Shadows, etc. Zhang Yang's Sunflower (2005) is a paradigmatic example, with its 30-year span, its timeless father-son battle of wills, and its intersections between family life and the dragon-writhe of Chinese history as it tried to poison the peoples' lives for decades and did not quite succeed.... Sunflower isn't particularly daring or inventive, but it takes a slice from a universal pie, and I'm glad I saw it." Also reviewed is Ettore Giannini's Carosello Napoletano, "a kind of Neapolitan answer to An American in Paris and The Red Shoes" and "an expressionist, ambitious scramble of commedia dell'arte, opera and interpretive ballet."

Blog entry 07/09/2008 - 11:49am

We come back from the sizzling holiday weekend with heatwave of new releases, including one from Criterion, a music doc, a horror classic, several fine indie films and much more. Step on inside to cool off and check out the rest.

Blog entry 07/08/2008 - 10:27am

Mishima Paul Schrader's "triumph in Mishima, his most completely satisfying film, lies in creating a seeker who is aware of his own absurdity, and who is willing to embrace the ridiculous on his way to the sublime," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times, where he also reviews Framed, "among the last of the old-school films noirs" and "a poison-pen letter filled with bitterness, paranoia and despair." (More on Mishima from Erin Donovan on GreenCine Guru.)

Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights "will seem both familiar and disappointing to many of his fans," so, in the Los Angeles Times, Dennis Lim is recommending "Kino's five-film box set, which covers the first decade of his career (minus 1994's martial arts reverie Ashes of Time), from the brooding gangster love story As Tears Go By (1988) to the tempestuous breakup saga Happy Together (1997)." More on Blueberry from Michael Atkinson (IFC).

Blog entry 07/01/2008 - 2:22pm

Solo Sunny "Konrad Wolf's Solo Sunny was widely regarded at the time of its 1980 release as perhaps the best film to come out of the unhappy nation then known as East Germany, and with the passing of time the 'perhaps' might safely be removed," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "On its surface the film is a Socialist reinterpretation of the highly romanticized youth films that flooded America in the early 70s - its heroine, Sunny (Renate Krössner), is a wide-eyed waif from the industrial provinces who dreams of becoming a pop star in the big city. But it is at heart a devastating study in social determinism, in direct line with the realist Kammerspiele films of the late Weimar period."

"The rediscovery of Classe Tous Risques is, in a way, doubly special, as it leads us to reexamine the work of someone who is not an acknowledged master," writes Andrew Chan at the House Next Door. "[Claude] Sautet's career is notable for its lack of ostentation.... What anchored his films was not the nouvelle vague's cinephilia or ideology, but rather the ordinary human concerns he found at the center of big genre constructions like the criminal underworld or the comic ménage a trois. For him, even the fantasies of genre were subject to the cruel disappointments of real life." (See Walt Opie's review on Guru, too.)

Blog entry 06/25/2008 - 10:57am

(Also appeared on GreenCine Daily.)

The Furies "Criterion's surprising, all-stops-out release of [Anthony] Mann's early western The Furies (1950) offers a valuable view of this director nearing the height of his powers, before his gifts had calcified; in many ways, it's his most exciting movie because it's also his most unresolved, opening up a Pandora's box of psychological issues that cannot be contained in any conventional conclusion," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door.

"In truth, The Furies, frontier setting notwithstanding, barely counts as a western," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "There are elements of film noir in both the plot and the look; many key scenes unfold under cover of darkness (Victor Milner earned an Oscar nomination for his moody cinematography). Above all, though, it plays like a Freudian melodrama, dissecting the hysterical and ultra-competitive love-hate relationship between widowed patriarch TC Jeffords (Walter Huston) and his headstrong daughter, Vance (Barbara Stanwyck)."

Blog entry 06/24/2008 - 11:09am

(Cross-posted from GreenCine Daily.)

Carmen Miranda"Did Carmen Miranda invent performance art?" asks Dave Kehrin the New York Times. "From Cindy Sherman to Madonna, artists across the cultural spectrum have continued to build on her flamboyantly absurd representations of the feminine, now anthologized in a new box set from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.... No less than Jerry Lewis did a decade later, she brought an unpredictable anarchy to the staid business of studio filmmaking."

"Let's consider Danny Boyle's Sunshine as both a characteristically exaggerated response to environmental crisis and an extended visual pun on the term 'Enlightenment.'" And traxus4420 is off and running at culturemonkey.

Blog entry 06/18/2008 - 2:19pm

A ton of great releases out this week, from French noir courtesy Criterion to oodles of anime to cult TV, Carmen Miranda, Emile de Antonio, a pot doc, horror, indie comedies and... oh my, we're breathless just talking about it. See for yourself.

Blog entry 06/17/2008 - 11:03am

Many fine titles see their way to disc this week, including a critically acclaimed historical series from HBO and a slightly less acclaimed but still very worthy historical drama, sleepers, docs, mock-docs, 'toons and much more. Check it out.

Blog entry 06/10/2008 - 11:06am

(Originally appeared on GreenCine Daily.)

By David D'Arcy; a few notes follow.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad Why a heavy metal band in Baghdad? "Just look outside," says Faisal, the rhythm guitarist in Acrassicauda (the latin term for "black scorpion") as he points to bombed out streets where nobody's saying "mission accomplished" these days. Heavy Metal in Baghdad [Official Site] tells us that there is only one metal band in Baghdad - or, at least, there was, before the band moved to Damascus. The band members are now in Turkey.

In Baghdad, where the members of the band approach the streets with all the comfort of entering a free-fire zone, this black scorpion - "the most dangerous spider in the desert," says the bassist, Faris - is just another endangered species.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad is out on DVD June 10.

Blog entry 06/05/2008 - 5:08pm

Cross-posted on GreenCine Daily.

Variety "One of the pioneering wagon-train movies of the inaugural, New York-based independent film movement, predating Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise, Bette Gordon's Variety (1983) comes off in retrospect as a veritable time capsule of post-punk downtown coolness," writes Michael Atkinson for the IFC. "Just read the credits: screenwriter Kathy Acker (experimental novelist), star/photog Nan Goldin (famed shutterbug and model for the Ally Sheedy role in High Art 15 years later), soundtrack composer John Lurie (of Jarmusch movies and the Lounge Lizards), cinematographer Tom DiCillo (director of Living in Oblivion, etc), producer Renee Shafransky (Spalding Gray's longtime girlfriend), co-star Luiz Guzman, bit players Spalding Gray and Cookie Mueller (veteran of John Waters's universe), production assistant Christine Vachon, and so on. Where is Cindy Sherman? The grungy vibe of Variety is itself a window on the past - only at the nascent launch of a DIY indie wave in the post-60s period could you, or would you, set an interrogatory neofeminist psychodrama like this in a Times Square grindhouse devoted exclusively to cheap Euro-porn."

Dave Kehr in the New York Times on What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?: "Directed by Blake Edwards from a screenplay by William Peter Blatty, this 1966 antiwar farce, made as things were heating up in Vietnam, is one of the most ingeniously constructed American comedies, a brilliantly sustained series of plot reversals, inverted identities and reconfigured values."

Blog entry 06/04/2008 - 12:00am

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