November 9, 2004
FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
Before Sunset (2004). The extraordinary sequel to Before Sunrise. Nine years ago, Jesse, the footloose American played by Ethan Hawke, and Celine, the coyly intelligent French woman played by Julie Delpy, met, flirted, strolled through Vienna and probably fell in love. They promised to meet again. Did they? Well, here they are now, in Paris, and feeling far many more than nine years older. Once again, director Richard Linklater, Delpy and Hawke collaborated on the screenplay, working the lessons they've learned in their own lives, barrelling on towards their mid-30s, into the afternoon conversation between Jesse and Celine. "Even more than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the year's other first-rate American feature, Before Sunset dramatizes the effect of love - and no less than that other paradigm of the new romanticism, Lost in Translation, Before Sunset acknowledges love's evanescence," writes J. Hoberman in the Village Voice. "[I]t enriches, glosses and completes the original." [Rent]
The Clearing (2004). A straightforward kidnapping thriller with a sharp cast: Robert Redford, Willem Dafoe and, as Anthony Lane pointed out in the New Yorker, best of all, Helen Mirren: "This is Mirren's film, all the way, not simply because she remains cool and commanding, although it is perfectly true that you could store a case of Chablis in her heart, but because she has the wit to push that coolness to suspicious extremes." [Rent]
The Stepford Wives (2004). What a cast! Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken.... And the reviews? Well, mostly negative, to be perfectly honest, but then again, there were some critics who actually liked it. The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris, for example: "It's hilarious - and on purpose, too. This is the first satisfying adult summer comedy set in New England to come out of Hollywood since The Witches of Eastwick in 1987." There you have it. [Rent]
Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi (2003) [Rent], and finally, once again, Sonatine [Rent]. "Despite extraordinary technological advances, movies continue to rely on the same formulas and devices," wrote Jonathan Rosenbaum in 1998. "[I]t's difficult to watch an action picture, say, without the feeling that you've seen it before. That's why Japanese director Takeshi Kitano is so remarkable. His films seem novel and invigorating because his often hackneyed plots are renewed by a simple disregard of the past." Kitano certainly plays fast and loose with the legend of Zatoichi, and for scotch, the result is "Kitano at his best. Mixing genres, delayed punchlines, and at times ignoring narrative completely," it's one of his favorite films in the past half-year. Be sure to read Sean Axmaker's interview with the director in which he explains what he's after here. As for Sonatine, Rosenbaum notes that it "marks the point where Kitano broke free of narrative limitations and exploited his background and training as a comedian for serious ends, especially in his deadpan arrangements and cutting, where the violent juxtaposition of images and sound is both surprising and emotionally devastating."
Jesus of Montreal (1989). Denys Arcand's tale of what happens when a priest attempts to update the Passion Play that's been staged in this Canadian city unchanged for 35 years scored a nomination for a Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar and won the Jury Prize at Cannes. The film is a "rare thing," proclaims Kamera, "a film that manages to be witty, engaging and thought provoking. What starts as a simple 'let's start a show' tale that, albeit with a religious twist, would not be out of place in a 1930's musical becomes a journey of personal spiritual awakening and a critique of the church and media." [Rent]
The Official Story (1985). This intelligently told story of the "disappeared" in Argentina was also nominated for a Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar - and won. "Taut political and emotional drama," notes underdog. [Rent]
Bollywood Queen (2002). Ah, once again, east meets west. In London this time. "The story is pretty daft," admitted Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, "but unlike similar British films, the implausibilities are offset by entertaining and ambitious dance numbers, exuberantly combining English and Hindi." [Rent]
Alila (2003). Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "The Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai is an acerbic social critic who likes to point fingers and pick at warts, and ''Alila,'' his acidly comic study of life in a flimsy Tel Aviv apartment complex, is a sour urban mosaic whose seedy characters, try as they might, can't get out of one another's faces....If Alila shows a city teeming with life, it also suggests a place where no peace is to be had." [Rent]
Kino releases two early Fritz Lang classics: With Spies (1928 [Rent]), as he would for other genres, Lang laid down the bare bones of the espionage thriller here, and they became so par-for-the-course we tend to forget where they came from. The plot is too complex to wade into in detail, but the gist will be familiar enough: Things go awry when two spies on opposite sides of the fence fall in love. More important than the story, though, as Patrick McGilligan writes in his biography of Lang, is the cinematic bag of tricks: "The film is like a cross between Die Spinnen [The Spiders] and Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler [Dr. Mabuse the Gambler], joining the juvenile spy nonsense of the former (invisible ink, buttonhole cameras, periscopes and peepholes), with the solemn treason and telling real-life details of the latter (including the spectacle of socialites hooked on opium). Though the film's intellectual quotient drops as its plot complications mount, the suspense and furioso strokes never flag." For the grand premiere, the Ufa-Palast in Berlin was crowned with a giant eye with floodlights piercing down on the crowd from its pupil. Woman in the Moon (1929 [Rent]) can stake a claim as the first film to truly take space travel seriously by exploring the mechanics of what it would entail. Nothing less than a science fiction milestone.
Rick (2003). Bill Pullman stars in a story written by Daniel Handler, whom most know as the author Lemony Snicket, and directed by Curtiss Clayton, known primarily as Gus Van Sant's editor. The result, declares the Austin Chronicle, is "a stubbornly unusual film that does what it does with great assurance and efficiency." [Rent]
Spanish Fly (1998). A bit like Sex and the City transported to Madrid. [Rent]
Suspicious River (2000). A dark tale of infidelity, prostitution and violence. [Rent]
The Hillside Strangler (2004). Based on a true story. Dana Stevens cuts to the chase in the New York Times: "Like the killers it portrays, The Hillside Strangler is coarse, no-nonsense and straightforward, tucking into the dirty business of rape, torture and murder without excuses or preamble." [Rent]
The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. Hail Freedonia! Five outstanding - and as far as their appearance on DVD, they've been outstanding for far too long, we might add - Marx Brothers classics: The Cocoanuts (1929 [Rent]), their first feature, written by the man Woody Allen claims is one of the only people he'd ever seen Groucho in utter awe of, George S. Kaufman; Animal Crackers (1930 [Rent]), in which Groucho reminds us that Marxist anarchy was never purely physical ("Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west, and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh... Now you tell me what you know"); Monkey Business (1931 [Rent]), marking the completion of their transition from the stage to the screen; Horse Feathers (1932 [Rent] "I think you've got something there, but I'll wait outside until you clean it up"); and the phenomenal Duck Soup (1933 [Rent]) - "This means WAR!" To top it all off, there's a bonus disc [Rent].
The Big Dis (1989). A hip hop comedy set in suburban Long Island. "Modest, unpolished but very funny," wrote Caryn James in the New York Times. [Rent]
A Day Without a Mexican (2004). One day, California wakes up to discover that all the Mexicans have disappeared. Will the state be able to carry on functioning? Directed by Sergio Arau, son of Alfonso (Like Water for Chocolate). [Rent]
The Love Machine (1999). A mockumentary focusing on the real people behind the avatars who haunt online sex sites. [Rent]
Cinema of Vengeance (1994). Traces the story of a genre that created an industry, but also examines the philosophy behind it, particularly in the featured interview with Bruce Lee. [Rent]
Ju-On: The Grudge (2000). Here it is, the original. After scoring a hit in Japan with this one, Takashi Shimizu remade it himself with Sarah Michelle Gellar and dominated the box office throughout the Halloween season this year. And no wonder; both have given audiences precisely what they're after. As Mark Kermode wrote in the Guardian, "this deliciously efficient fright-fest hits all the familiar pressure points: creepy curses, scary video screens, alarmingly feral children and weird dead women with lank black hair who move in a mysterious way.... Hardly original, but reliably frightful from start to finish." [Rent]
ACTION and ADVENTURE
Raiders of the Buddhist Kung Fu (1983). A quick (40 minutes) dose of action featuring Gordon Liu. [Rent]
The Shaolin Idiot. Stars Stephen Chow. [Rent]
Jackie Chan: The Kung Fu Years. As the British say, "Like it says on the tin..." [Rent]
The Naked Jungle (1954). Adventure on a South American plantation with Charleton Heston and Eleanor Parker. [Rent]
The L Word. Season 1 (2004). Joy Press offers an honest look at the appeal of the show in the Village Voice: "The L Word straddles the zeitgeist.... Lesbians can revel in glamorous visibility, straight women will find nuanced portraits of female relationships, and for hetero men, there's the titillation factor." What's more, "actresses radiate the same kind of luminous ensemble chemistry that has animated Sex and the City all these years." Discs 1 [Rent], 2 [Rent], 3 [Rent], 4 [Rent] and 5 [Rent].
Initial D. Battle 8: Battles in the Rain (2004). Episodes 22, 23 and 24 of the series akeleven calls "Too, too cool!" [Rent]
Gungrave. Volume 3: Undead War (2004). "The characters have depth and the animation is top notch... This first volume went by so fast I was aching to see more!" wrote Kairo28. Added kohnfused1: "I highly recommend this series to anime fans who like substance in their anime." [Rent]
Submarine 707R (2004). Deep-sea adventure as Admiral Red leads a team to fight underwater terrorists. [Rent]
Galaxy Angel Z. Volume 1: Back for Seconds (2004). They're back: the five Galaxy Angels jross3 calls "just so darn cute!" [Rent]
Munto (2004). A schoolgirl has psychic powers but wishes she didn't. [Rent]
Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi. Volume 3: Destiny (2004). The romance continues. [Rent]
Harvie Krumpet (2003). Winner of the Academy Award for best animated short; features the voice of Geoffrey Rush. [Rent]
Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas (2004). Time to start queueing those holiday specials for the kids (and the inner kids, too), and it's hard to go wrong with Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy. [Rent]
Browse the New Releases Archive for more recent arrivals.