October 19, 2004
FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
Van Helsing (2004). Critics wanted to put a stake through this one's heart, and yet it was a success at the box office earlier this year. A monster mash perfect for video at this time of year - and with Hugh Jackman as the title character, plus Kate Beckinsale and direction by Mummy-man Stephen Sommers, perhaps best watched with the sound turned off. Fun, or dud? You decide. [Rent]
Love Me If You Dare (2003). A hit comedy in France (wait, don't go yet!), this film will appeal to Amelie fans but, as PopMatters's Cynthia Fuchs cautions, "Yann Samuell's vision is dark and violent in a way that Jean-Pierre Jeunet's is not (at least not on its surface).... Still, the violence of their romance is striking, sometimes moving, and always disturbing, even as metaphor." [Rent]
Garfield: The Movie (2004): Some funny gags and Bill Murray make this comic strip adaptation slightly better family viewing than you may have dreaded, er, expected. The lasagna lovin' large cat's CGI incarnation is perhaps not the best use of that technology but at least this isn't Family Circus: The Movie. [Rent]
Eyes Without a Face (1962). The screenplay has a fine pedigree: Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, the writing team who would later collaborate on Vertigo and Diabolique; assistant director Claude Sautet; and Jean Redon, who wrote the original novel. But the deeply disturbing vision here is George Franju's. As Terrence Rafferty wrote in the New York Times last year, this is no run-of-the-mill horror-exploitation flick; "it's closer to the domain of the great German Romantic fabulist E.T.A. Hoffman (one of whose stories Franju long hoped to film). And Surrealism is in the neighborhood, too.... The unearthly beauty of Franju's imagery... is never merely decorative, never the icing on a dubious gâteau, but is the real substance of his terrible, gentle, poetic art. What distinguishes the great horror films, after all, is not the ability to repel the audience, but the rarer ability to attract it - to make us look at what we would not otherwise be able to look at, to see the beauty in the worst, the direst possibilities." Among the other nifty extras we've come to expect from Criterion, this release also features Franju's short doc on Parisian slaughterhouses, Blood of the Beasts. [Rent]
Two from Wong Kar-Wai: As Tears Go By (1988) [Rent]. Any time a Wong Kar-Wai film finds its way to DVD it's cause for rejoicing and, as this one's his debut, it's a special treat. "A visually striking triad thriller/romance that pales somewhat in comparison to his later work but is more stylish and involving than much of the competition from this time," writes Hong Kong Digital. And with it comes the re-release of Days of Being Wild (1991) [Rent]. Wong's second feature is "a brilliant dream of Hong Kong life in 1960," wrote TimeOut, "the terrific all-star cast enacts a series of emotionally unresolved encounters; the swooningly beautiful camera and design work takes its hallucinatory tone from the protagonist's own uncertainties... Some kind of masterpiece."
The Return (2003). Former actor Andrei Zvyagintsev's tale of a father and his two sons won the Golden Lion at Venice and countless raves. From J. Hoberman's: "While the natural world is photographed with an elementalism strongly reminiscent of Andrei Tarkovsky, what's most concrete in the movie are the performances. The kids are terrific.... The Return begins as a mysterious quest, shades into a discomfiting thriller, then a survival story, and finally a tragic parable. Primordial and laconic, this remarkably assured debut feature has the elegant simplicity of its title." [Rent]
Fat Girl (2001). "A female coming-of-age film that radically redefines its sentimental genre," wrote J. Hoberman in the Village Voice. "Having disposed of romance in her absurdist melodrama of the same name, France's foremost provocatrice returns to her favorite subject, and that of her strongest films, A Very Young Girl and 36 Fillette, namely the construction of female adolescent sexuality." Catherine Breillat scored several nice awards at various festivals with this one, but perhaps the longest-lasting accolade will be this Criterion release. [Rent]
Bulgarian Lovers (2003). Director Eloy de la Iglesia "digs into the juicy themes of immigrant survival and the economies of sex relationships, and plays in stylish Almodovar mode," wrote Joe Brown in the San Francisco Chronicle, "with fluid sexuality, multiple layers of deceit and plentiful (and spectacular) male nudity." [Rent]
The Butterfly (2003). Beautiful, family-friendly fare starring Michel Serrault (Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud). "To describe The Butterfly, a delicate, visually translucent film, as the heartwarming story of a friendship between a grumpy old man and an 8-year-old girl might suggest that this tender wisp of a movie is the latest icky tearjerker in which a sweet little angel melts the frozen heart of a bitter curmudgeon," wrote Stephen Holden in The New York Times. "But if the French movie... partakes of that formula, its combination of psychological insight and emotional restraint helps it transcend sentimentality." [Rent]
The River (2001). With multi-characters overlapping and time jumping around, The River (Loki) has been called a sort of Finnish Magnolia and is one of the finer films to come from that cinematically underrepresented country (at least here in the States). [Rent]
Ed Wood (1994). The release on DVD of Tim Burton's touching, almost gentle biopic of the (in)famous B-movie director has been promised and then delayed repeatedly. Finally, it's here, and we're thrilled if for no other reason than the performances: Johnny Depp's winning and self-confident mix of innocence and deviance, Martin Landau's career-reviving portrayal of a fading Bela Lugosi; Bill Murray's quietly moving turn as Bunny Breckinridge. [Rent]
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969). One of Sydney Pollack's best films, a career landmark, and heavens, it'll put you through the wringer. Based on the novel by Horace McCoy, whose books were often too bleak for Hollywood even that the height of its noir period, the story presents, as Gary Johnson puts it in Images, "a dark and violent world where people were readily exploited for the pennies that they might bring in from a viewing audience." In other words, we don't go entirely unimplicated, either. With Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Susannah York, Bruce Dern and Red Buttons. [Rent]
Secret Honor (1985). Over the years, it's almost as if two Robert Altmans have emerged. One orchestrates cacaphonic symphonies thronged with eccentric characters; the other quietly adapts small plays with tight ensembles or, as in this case, a single performer. Here, it's Philip Baker Hall as the disgraced former president Richard Nixon, milling around his home with a bottle of Scotch, a gun and, of course, a tape recorder. This Criterion release features two audio commentaries, one by Altman, the other by co-writer Donald Freed; a new interview with Hall; and the scary bits, archival footage of Nixon himself. [Rent]
Portrait of Jennie (1948). Long neglected, this is a lovely, mysterious (and slightly creepy) drama deserving of a new audience. "One of the more impressive romantic fantasies, and the perfect Jennifer Jones-Joseph Cotten combo," judges DVDSavant. "A prime date movie." [Rent]
The Hole (2001). An attractive young cast highlight this British thriller set in a boarding school. "An entertaining psychological thriller that belies the teenage slasher image its trailer tends to give. A fine performance by Thora Birch in the film's key role and solid direction by Nick Hamm raise this one above the general run of teenage/horror concoctions," is the final DVD Verdict. Oh yes, and did we mention Keira Knightley? [Rent]
Slaughter Rule (2002). Re-release of this sleeper film, an indie answer to Friday Night Lights-ish football movies. [Rent]
Shiner (2004). A disturbing low-budget, gay/lesbian variation on Fight Club, Shiner is an edgy, daring debut for Christian Calson. The San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival noted in its program: "Not only packs a ferocious wallop, it reinterprets gay experience with an iconoclastic flair that recalls and re-ups the danger of the New Queer Cinema of the early 1990s." [Rent]
Intermission (2003). The best Colin Farrell film from the past year wasn't one of his box-office bent Hollywood flicks but this Irish dark comedy - "no, make that a dark, dark, dark comedy [is a] plot-generating machine in overdrive," wrote Roger Ebert. "That it succeeds is some kind of miracle; there's enough material here for three bad films, and somehow it becomes one good one... The movie is astonishing in the way it shifts gears like Tarantino." [Rent]
To Be and to Have (2002). Few films and far fewer documentaries have been lavished with as much praise from European critics as Nicholas Philibert's quiet and intelligent study of the lives of a dozen or so children and their teacher at a school in rural France. What a surprise (and then again, perhaps not) that the film barely registered on the US radar. Fortunately, DVD gives such unique and remarkable work another shot at recognition. "In its humanity and its quietly passionate idealism, this film is a tonic," wrote Peter Bradshaw in his 5-out-of-5-star review for the Guardian. [Rent]
The Up Series. Michael Apted's documentary series may be the longest-running series in media history, tracking the lives of a group of people from age 7 and on up to the most recent incarnation, the age of 42, which equals 35 years and the entire length of Apted's multifarious career as well. "The most engrossing long-distance documentary project in the history of film," extolled Roger Ebert. "Many years in the future, viewers will be able to look at this unique record, and contemplate the beauty and mystery of life. I am glad most of the subjects of this project have sacrificed their privacy to us every seven years, because in a sense they speak for us, and help us take our own measure." Discs 1 [Rent], 2 [Rent], 3 [Rent], 4 [Rent] and 5 [Rent].
Uncovered: The War on Iraq (2004). This big news about this reissue of Robert Greenwald's still-too-relevant doc is that it now includes Soldiers Pay, a new 35-minute documentary from David O. Russell, currently making waves with I ♥ Huckabees. There's been considerable controversy surrounding this doc; we're just glad to see it's being made available when Russell wanted it out there. [Rent]
GhostWatcher (2002). Laura Kove suffers from an acute case of agoraphobia. You know, open spaces. Attacked on Halloween night, she locks herself in her apartment. For a year. You know that can't be a good idea. [Rent]
Baptism of Blood (1999). Tagline: "Sakura's about to uncover a horrifying family secret..." [Rent]
"He's the King Kong of the post-nuclear age, the James Bond of giant monsters (he takes his cities shaken, not stirred), Toho's most successful series star and the most prolific monster to step inside (or on top of) a studio."
Get in the mood for three new stompers by reading Sean Axmaker's "Godzilla: A Brief Guide to the Lizard King of Tokyo."
Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971). Also known as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster. Sean calls it the "trippiest picture of the cycle... a Mod-zilla mixing of (often bad) pop music, hip nightclub scenes and psychedelic imagery (including animated interludes and a bad acid trip) with an environmental message and the pollution spawned monster, Hedorah, who tokes on a belching smokestack like a giant putrid bong." [Rent]
Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972). The one in which Godzilla talks. No, really. [Rent]
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). "The Big G celebrated his 20th anniversary with a new mechanized menace (a robot monster replica of the scaly one)." [Rent]
ACTION and ADVENTURE
Universal Soldier (1992). Special Edition of this Jean Claude Van Damme cybernetic actionfest. [Rent]
Batman: Holy Batmania (2003). This collection of bits about the colorful 60s TV show and its 1966 spin-off feature covers everything a Batmaniac wanted to know, including features on Adam West, catwoman Julie Newmar and that joker, Cesar Romero. [Rent]
Pee-wee's Playhouse: Christmas Special (1988). If ever there was a kids' show that appealed to adults and kids in various levels of silliness, it was Pee-Wee's Playhouse. The little bit o' trouble that Paul Reubens got himself into will hopefully be long forgiven and forgotten by now, because his show was wonderful, inspired madness. The Christmas Special is full of fruitcakes and nuts, celebrity guests and some fine music. [Rent]
Parasite Dolls, a new spin-off from Bubblegum Crisis. Tenchi Muyo director Kazuto Nakazawa and Patlabor director Naoyuki Yoshinaga bring us this killer, Blade Runner-ish anime set in Tokyo, 2034. [Rent]
Texhnolyze Vol. 4: Suspicions (2004). "Yoshitoshi Abe does weird and intense real well," wrote hneline1 after seeing the first volume. "His signature style has been to create introspective anime with a rich artsiness and a storyline that keeps the viewer guessing.... Texhnolyze follows his style but with a surprisingly gritty violence." [Rent]
Mezzo: Shell One (2004). Mikura leads the Danger Service Agency into bone-cracking action. [Rent]
Get Backers. Volume 2: Find the Fine Arts (2004). Ginji and Ban's newest adventure has them chasing down stolen artworks. [Rent]
Shaman King. Released for the first time in the US, so why not two volumes at once? Volume 1: A Boy Who Dances with Ghosts [Rent] and Volume 2: Perfect Possession (2004) [Rent].
Kiddy Grade Vol. 7: Lurking Shadows (2004). Dexter643 called the series "A fantastic action/drama with plenty of girl power...rawr." [Rent]
eX-Driver The Movie. Racing action. [Rent]
Browse the New Releases Archive for more recent arrivals.