September 21 Highlights
John Cassavetes: Five Films. Surely one of the most exciting releases this fall. It's not that these classics from the director who did so much to shape American independent film were previously unavailable; it's that they're getting the Criterion treatment: Stunning new transfers, alternate versions, a feature-length doc and extras galore that include new video interviews with Cassavetes collaborators Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, Seymour Cassel, Lelia Goldoni, Lynn Carlin, and Al Ruban.
- Shadows (1959). The legendary first feature. While being interviewed on the radio, Cassavetes mentioned he'd be interested in turning one of the improvisations at his acting workshop into a film. To his surprise, listeners sent in around $20,000 in contributions; he matched the figure and started shooting without a script on 16mm black-and-white stock. The rest, as they say, is history. With Lelia Goldoni. [Rent]
- Faces (1968). Widely considered the rawest of Cassavetes's films, Faces departed from the script by actually having one - it's based on his own unproduced play, "The Marriage," about one that's most definitely not working. Very tough stuff. [Rent] Bonus Disc. [Rent]
- A Woman Under the Influence (1974). Not only a personal best for Gena Rowlands, her performance as Mabel surely ranks as one of the greats ever captured on film. Even so, she doesn't overshadow Peter Falk by any means. At times touching, at times infuriating, ultimately exhausting in the most rewarding way. [Rent]
- The Killing of a Chinese Bookie: The 1976 Cut [Rent] and the 1978 Cut [Rent]. Noir a la Cassavetes, and widely regarded as his most underrated film.
- Opening Night (1977). Again, Cassavetes gives his wife, Gena Rowlands, a role she takes and runs with to places most of us would be too terrified to visit in private, never mind in front of a running camera. [Rent]
- Plus: A Constant Forge (1959). Charles Kiselyak's documentary on Cassavetes is, according to Jonathan Rosenbaum, "possibly the most complete look at the man we've had yet and much easier to follow than most of the books published about him." [Rent]
La Dolce Vita (1960). Many think of Anita Ekberg looking like the very incarnation of sexual desire as she wades and splashes through the Trevi Fountain in Rome, or they translate the title with a smile and a wink or recall the way Americans flocked to art house theaters in the early 60s for a peek at southern European decadence. But many forget the sour note in Fellini's critique of "the sweet life." As Antonia Shanahan writes in Senses of Cinema, the film "takes up Italy of the economic boom... and the rise of its consumer society and celebrity culture.... The story of 'boom' life is told as tabloid events, flatlining intellectual debates, religion for exploitation value, and sterile love affairs.... The failure of Marcello to hear the words of the young innocent whose image concludes the film points to his unchecked descent and Fellini's increasing pessimism." But what sumptuous pessimism! La Dolce Vita is, after all, "a spectacular omnibus through Rome at the height of one of its most gloriously decadent periods, an existentialist feast rife with bitter truths about love, life, the loss of one's dreams and the decay of modern society," writes Eoliano. "Mastroianni gives a beautifully understated performance, with great support by Cuny, Aimée, an over the top Ekberg, Valeria Ciangottini as the girl at the beach and countless others, and a memorable score by Nino Rota." Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
Coffee and Cigarettes (2004). Jim Jarmusch's delightful collection of black-and-white vignettes has, you could say, been years in the making. 17 years, actually. He's been making these shorts - two or three people meet and chat over, yes, coffee and cigarettes - between features with, basically, whoever's around, and of course, some very interesting people hang around Jim Jarmusch. A few of the meet-ups that have sparked the most praise: Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan; Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright; Bill Murray and The RZA and GZA; Iggy Pop and Tom Waits; and Cate Blanchett and a cousin she plays herself. [Rent]
Epidemic (1987). Lars von Trier's second feature is a movie-within-a-movie about a director (von Trier) and a screenwriter (Niels Vorsel) who whip up a story in record time about a plague ravaging Germany. Robert K Elder in the Chicago Tribune: "The beauty of Epidemic is the fanciful way von Trier teases the viewer, never making it clear if the plague subplot is playing out simultaneously or is just part of the movie plot.... Shot in grainy black and white, Epidemic owes its visual surprises as much to David Cronenberg and David Lynch as the story does to Bertolt Brecht and Luigi Pirandello." With Udo Kier. [Rent]
The Star Wars Trilogy. Really, an introduction is pretty superfluous, isn't it. Still, Sean Axmaker has a pretty darn good one-sentence go at it in our Science Fiction primer: "It took Star Wars (1977), an updated cliffhanger serial with state-of-the-art effects and a delirious sense of adventure, to really kick the contemporary space opera back into gear." That it did. And George Lucas also made box office history, helped shape the minds of a generation of geeks and, much to Lucas's chagrin, gave the Reagan era a new moniker for its newfangled weapons system. Fans have been clamoring for legit DVD releases for years, and finally, here they are: Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977) [Rent], Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) [Rent], Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) [Rent] and the Star Wars Trilogy Bonus Disc [Rent].
Ichi the Killer: Episode 0 (2004). An animated prequel to Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer. In our interview, Miike tells Jonathan Marlow that the project "had a simple beginning and I offered to dub Tadanobu's voice.... It wasn't that tough and I had a good time doing it." [Rent]
The Battle of Algiers (1966). "It's funny how older movies can suddenly become more timely," Cinenaut remarked in our discussion of this film not all that long ago. "Somebody makes a movie, puts it out there, it's forgotten for a while and then it seems vitally important 40 years later." Why this one? Well, what we have here, as Jason notes, are "Muslim insurgents unhappy with their Western occupiers," for starters. The Pentagon, too, evidently couldn't help hearing the echoes and screened it last summer in its own auditorium, an event notable for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that Gillo Pontecorvo's ultra-realistic portrayal of the Algerian resistence to the French occupation (you'd swear many scenes must be newsreel footage, but every shot was staged) has been embraced by both libertarians and the traditional left. A landmark work. [Rent]
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). "Best new film of the year... no competition," says scotch. Adds loucyphre in our discussion of the film: "Best film I've seen so far this year. And contains the most shockingly honest take on relationships I've seen in some time." Why the raves? Lots of reasons, but first, Charlie Kaufman's screenplay is as complex and intellectually engaging as his two most well-known screenplays (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) but there does seem to a lot more emotional honesty in this story. Second, director Michel Gondry has made a zillion very smart decisions. For example, there are some tremendously impressive technical feats pulled off here, but they never call attention to themselves in any way; all serve the story, period, nothing else. At the same time, the technology of the story, the machines that actually fiddle with people's brains, is extremely low key and matter-of-fact. And third, of course, we have a slew of fine performances, starting with Jim Carrey, utterly believable as an introverted loner, and Kate Winslet, utterly believable as an extroverted loner; other standouts include Kirstin Dunst, Tom Wilkinson and Mark Ruffalo. [Rent].
Super Size Me (2004). Who would have thought that watching a guy sabotage his liver and libido by stuffing Big Macs and fries in his face could possibly be entertaining? But then, that guy is Morgan Spurlock is a charming and funny fellow who knows how to make an alarming message about obesity in America go down as slick and smooth as a chocolate shake. Not only has his doc been a surprise hit in the US, international audiences have eaten it up as well. After all, McDonalds's reach is wide and far. [Rent]
The Big One (1997). We suppose Michael Moore needs no introduction. But before George W. Bush inspired him to make the film that would break all records for a documentary, he has, of course, been forging and fine-tuning his own unique, highly opinionated style ever since Roger & Me flew in the face of objectivity in the doc all those years ago. In The Big One, the subject is one many politicians prefer to bring up only once every four years, though most of us worry about it pretty much all the time: Jobs. [Rent]
Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time (2001). Who is Andy Goldsworthy and why would you want to watch a doc about him? First, he's an artist who creates sculptures he calls earthworks, structures made of purely natural materials - leaves, ice, water, stones - and often in such a way that they're likely to decompose, melt, evaporate or collapse in short order. But, as the New York Times has written, the "evanescence" of his work "is an essential aspect of its beauty." In turn, it's part of the beauty of this film as well, wonderfully shot by its director and editor, Thomas Riedelsheimer. Many of the works captured here are now long gone, but that's just it: the memory of them, the profoundly suggestive notions of what they once were is still with us, in Rivers and Tides. If you're still hesitant about sitting yourself down in front of a doc about an artist you may know little or nothing about, we recommend Davin Lagerroos's review for the Dual Lens. [Rent]
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Volume 2. Volume 1 has proven mighty popular around here and is scoring some very high ratings. [Rent]
Gungrave. Volume 2: The Sweeper (2003). Kohnfused1 thought this series would be pretty much like the PS2 game it's based on; lots of shooting and that's that. "Surprise, surprise," he says, "the gun violence is there, but only for the first episode. What threw me off was the rich story and the character development for all of the cast. It's like watching a drama series, but for guys. That, and it has incredible animation, nothing was skimped on when making this thing.... I highly recommend this series to anime fans who like substance in their anime." [Rent]
And on through the fall...
Click back to see more titles arriving on: September 14.
And don't forget to check out the New Releases that are already here.
You also might want to browse the New Releases Archive for more recent arrivals.