|FRESH FROM THE THEATERS|
My Summer of Love (2004).
"What is it about the mercurial emotional voltage of teenage girls that contains the potential for obsessive relationships?" asks Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. Polish-born British director Paul Pawlikowski - and we're thrilled at least one of his films is finally making it to DVD - has channelled that voltage onto the screen. Turan: "Pawlikowski is an assured, intuitive writer-director who uses a system of controlled improvisation to examine out-of-control people that's reminiscent of Mike Leigh's celebrated technique. Starting from a novel by Helen Cross and a 37-page 'shooting document' (as opposed to the standard 120-page script) and with two gifted, adventurous actresses [Natalie Press and Emily Blunt], he has achieved wonders."
The film also features Paddy Considine, whom the Guardian recently proclaimed as "British acting's secret weapon."
The Interpreter (2005).
The director, Sydney Pollack, and the cast, led by Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn and Catherine Keener, are all undeniably solid talents. And then, there's the setting: This was the first time the UN allowed a feature film to be shot on and within its premises. And yet, for some, The Interpreter isn't quite up to the standards set by earlier work from everyone involved.
Fair enough. But on an evening when you're in the mood for a political thriller, you'll find this one more than serves.
Cat People / The Curse of the Cat People (1942 / 1944).
This disc is surely the centerpiece of "The Val Lewton Horror Collection": Nine films plus a documentary on the RKO producer on five discs. In his 4-out-of-4-star review at his site, Combustible Celluloid, Jeffrey M. Anderson best explains why: "Cat People (1942) was a cheap B-movie made on assignment for very little money at RKO. I doubt that anyone really paid much attention to it back then, but today I consider it one of the ten greatest films ever made." He's not alone. Jacques Tourneur is now widely recognized as one of cinema's most brilliant directors. Adds TV Guide: "Superbly acted (with [Simone] Simon evoking both pity and chills), Cat People testifies to the power of suggestion and the priority of imagination over budget in the creation of great cinema."
Simon returns in The Curse of the Cat People (1944), a sequel in title and a landmark study of a troubled child in fact. The late Robert Wise makes his directing debut, co-helming a gothic-laced mix of fantasy and fright so astute it was used in college psychology classes.
I Walked with a Zombie / The Body Snatcher (1943 / 1945).
Gary Tooze, who runs DVDBeaver.com, writes of the 1943 Jacques Tourneur film, that "there is no denying this film's powerful blend of imagery, music and environment. The camerawork is a real treat as well. A hidden gem that many may dismiss for its repetitively abused title words. Don't let it deter you. A very worthwhile, if short and curious, film."
Robert Wise directs Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in The Body Snatcher (1945), based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. "With his last two films - this and Bedlam - [producer Val] Lewton began to turn away from the ambiguously superstitious to dark, ghoulish period pieces," write the SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review. "Wise demonstrates a considerable mastery of the trademark Lewtonian effect of suggested horror."
The Leopard Man / The Ghost Ship (1943 / 1943).
In an excerpt on The Leopard Man (1943) from his book, Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall, Chris Fujiwara writes that the film has never been a favorite among critics or even for Tourneur himself. But: "In retrospect, The Leopard Man appears ahead of its time, related only loosely to earlier horror films.... By shifting attention unpredictably from one character to another (as do, more systematically, such films as Max Ophuls' La ronde and Buñuel's Le fantôme de la liberté), The Leopard Man highlights the arbitrariness inherent in film narrative and makes it the structuring device that mediates the viewer's relationship to the characters, causing us to see them, perhaps, as 'pawns of a bizarre and terrible destiny' (in the words of Manny Farber, who singled out The Leopard Man as one of the most original of Lewton's films)."
At the now sadly defunct 24fps, Paul Fileri explains why Ghost Ship (1943) is the least-seen of Val Lewton-produced films (and yes, lawyers have been involved), and why, until now, that's a crying shame.
Isle of the Dead / Bedlam (1945 / 1946).
This disc is a Boris Karloff double feature; in Isle of the Dead (1945), he adds to the trademark Val Lewton sense of ominous threat. As Graeme Clark writes for the Spinning Image, "We even start to believe there could be something unnatural going on ourselves, even though a rational explanation for everything is provided. But the deep shadows, Gothic set design and eerie ambience tell you otherwise - even the daylight scenes look murky and sinister."
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review calls Bedlam (1946) "arguably one of the finest written and most overlooked of the Lewton films."
The Seventh Victim / Shadows in the Dark (1943 / 2005).
"One of the most effective thrillers I have ever seen," writes Nate Yapp at Classic Horror of The Seventh Victim (1943). "Director [Mark] Robson knows how to build suspense, create a sense of foreboding, and generally draw the audience in, moment by tense moment."
Shadows in the Dark is a new documentary on legendary RKO producer Val Lewton, and look who's talking: William Friedkin, Neil Gaiman, John Landis, Harlan Ellison, Joe Dante, George A. Romero, Guillermo del Toro and many more.
The Fly (1986).
In case you hadn't noticed, David Cronenberg is the man of the hour. Or certainly one of the top five or so. It doesn't matter that his A History of Violence came back from Cannes empty-handed. His fellow Canadians more than made up for it with their wildly enthusiastic reception of the film at the Toronto Film Festival, where Cronenberg was practically treated like royalty. And south of the border, he's been charming interviewers coast to coast while US critics lavish praise on the film as it rolls out wider and wider.
Now comes an overdue extras-laden re-release of Cronenberg's remake of the 1958 horror classic, The Fly. Gory and disturbing as hell, but anchored by an amazing performance from Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle, the scientist who makes that one tiny but fateful oversight.
The Fly II (1989).
In a special "Schlockcast" devoted to the re-release of the two Flies, G. Noel Gross notes that this one coming out again is "is sweet vindication for we CineSchlockers who've long salivated over Chris Walas's underappreciated and gloriously grue-slathered sequel."
Pixies: Sell Out (2005).
Easily one of the most talked about musical events of last year was the Pixies reunion tour over a decade since they'd disbanded. Why? Well, among a zillion other reasons, as Kurt Cobain once said, without the Pixies, there'd have been no Nirvana. And, of course, band member Frank Black and Kim Deal (who went on to form The Breeders) hadn't exactly been lying low in the interim. Filmed in seven different countries, this film captures nearly every song the Pixies played on that 2004 tour.
Inu Yasha. Volume 34: Children of the Snow (2005).
"Classic," announces CarpeNoctem, and of course, few would argue when it comes to one of the most internationally successful anime series ever. So what's it about? Fangs explains: "Inu Yasha is a half-dog demon and half-human boy, with a serious attitude. Kagome is a human girl from modern day Japan, who gets transported back in time. The series is about their love/hate relationship and their quest to keep the Jewel of Four Souls away from the bad guys."
Adds hneline1: "Inu Yasha is addictive. It's a funny, well-paced action adventure with engaging protagonists in a fantastical medieval Japan. What I like best about this series is the quirky humor, the love/hate chemistry between Inuyasha and Kagome, and the rich background in Japanese folklore - where else do we commonly see centipede witches or demons who manipulate string?"