By Calvin Souther and Tiffany Harker
The 2006 DVD release schedule was spattered with some of the most f---ed up story premises we've had the pleasure to observe. Here are a few of our favorites, and a few more worth mentioning.
Hard Candy: A menacing revenge fantasy with a spectacular performance by actress Ellen Page who, in this brutal and cleverly paced story of vigilante justice, deals an Internet pedophile a crushing blow of reality after she allows him to take her to his home. The two main actors fill the screen for most of the film. We follow along, enduring every painful moment of torture our young heroine can dish out. Hard Candy is not for the casual viewer. Strap yourself in for a ride through some tough subject matter that will have most of you squirming, while evoking some interesting questions about your reactions to the film.
The Hidden Blade: Set in Japan's Edo period; the characters struggle with modern warfare and display the seldom exposed vulnerabilities of the Japanese empire. In sharp contrast to their tradition of etiquette and graceful swordplay, they transition to western guns and canons. Wide angled shots display a sort of clumsy ballet of soldiers; fumbling with canon fire. All the while, the vestiges of ancient tradition enable a story of love fostered by the very social practices being ousted by the influence of westernization. This new era of Japan is ushered in violently as our protagonist is forced to meet his best friend in a duel that will ultimately claim one of their lives.
Lady Vengeance: The third and final film in director Park Chan-Wook's revenge trilogy once again takes the dark and razor sharp humor we've come to expect and combines it with a brilliant cast and graceful cinematography. Our "heroine," having been jailed for the murder of a young boy, spends her imprisonment ensuring indebtedness of her peers. After her release, she forgoes the costume for a red eye shadow that signals her transformation. In Lady Vengeance - as in all other films in the trilogy - the futility surrounding the pursuit of vengeance is made undeniably clear.
Clean, Shaven: Director Lodge Kerrigan artfully tells the story of a recently released convict with severe schizophrenia. The main character is brilliantly and intensely played Peter Greene. First released in 1994, and shot on a budget of only $60,000, he creates a visceral experience for the viewer that is unrelenting, keeping us engaged and confused by identifying with the main character's perspective. Clever and creepy, you have to be willing to participate in the full journey. Throughout the film, the director utilizes white noise, humming and buzzing, to enact some of the illness's more brutal symptoms; the sound design alone can be considered one of the story's main characters.
Delicatessen: Although released in theaters back in 1991, this year marked this cult classic's domestic release on DVD in the United States. With underground dwellers, a murderous scheming butcher, and a building full of crazy cannibals, Delicatessen is by far Jean-Pierre Juenet and Marc Caro's most delightfully twisted films. One of the scenes features the common household noise of various apartment tenants; masterfully edited, it builds to a cacophonous musical crescendo that'll have you grinning from ear to ear. Gorgeously shot, Delicatessen has a wonderful weirdness that almost makes you forget you're watching a cannibalistic love story.
Battle in Heaven: An astounding and challenging film, Carlos Reygadas' second feature, like its predecessor Japon, is directed with cunning precision. The cast, made primarily of non-actors is essential on the part of Reygadas as he does not want the viewer to (even subconsciously) make connections to previous roles of the actors. The stage is set for a pure viewing. In the story, Marcos and his wife botch a kidnapping and spend the rest of the picture indolently deciding what they should do. Unlike his wife, Marcos has a significant amount of trouble coming to terms with his crime and mutters a confession to the amorous daughter of his boss, dragging both characters deeper into a world in which he seems able to only make dangerous choices.
The Proposition: The Outback, with its stark yet gorgeous landscape, adds grit and an unwavering sense of desperation to this standout film from director John Hillcoat and first time screenwriter, musician Nick Cave. With camera work that is carefully executed, exposing the unbending desires of the story's characters. Both the men of law and the criminals spend time committing horribly violent acts, each trying to protect some idea of truth while testing the boundaries of what people will do in the name of love. The score for the film - also written and performed by Cave - haunts many of the films scenes like some kind of dusty, wayward ghost. It will be very difficult for this writing/directing team to top themselves, but we look forward to that attempt.
Honorable Mentions: Werckmeister Harmonies; The Quiet Earth; Brick; A Scanner Darkly; When the Levees Broke (the Government's response to Katrina was totally f---ed up.)