December 2, 2003
FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
The Navigators (2003) [Rent] is another unapologetically political and wryly humorous film from Ken Loach. This one examines the effect of the ongoing privitization of the British rail system, which may not sound particularly exciting - except that this example of Tony Blair's extension of Thatcherism has cost dozens of lives over the past few years. In The Navigators, a team whose job it is to maintain the safety of the system tries to cope.
The Village Voice has called photographer James Nachtwey, who trots the globe snapping shots of its most brutal conflicts and ravaged victims, "a one-man human rights watch." So you'd think a documentary about him would be an uplifting heart-warmer, wouldn't you. But Christian Frei's Oscar-nominated War Photographer (2002) [Rent] depicts a man persistently plagued by one question: "Do I make a living from other people's suffering?"
Autumn Spring (2003) [Rent] is a Czech comedy that goes down easy, but as the New York Times notes, "[f]or all its sweetness and light, [the film] is not obsequiously upbeat. Its sugarcoating consists of a single thick glaze on an otherwise bittersweet cookie." The subject at hand: Growing old and how to enjoy it anyway. Fanda, played by Czech acting legend Vlastimil Brodsky (Closely Watched Trains  and Jakob the Liar ) spends his last days playing practical jokes while his contempories all but lie down in their graves and wait for death to claim them. Brodsky did kill himself not long after this film was completed, but only because he was very ill and faced nothing but days of suffering ahead.
Stop us if you've heard this one: a Lapp, a Finn and a Russian walk out to a farm... No, the unusual set-up for The Cuckoo (2003) [Rent] serves to explore how two men and one woman with conflicting backgrounds and interests get through a chaotic and uncertain post-war period together in spectacularly beautiful Finnland.
And finally, the surprise hit of the summer, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), hardly needs introduction. And now, it's in. [Rent]
You saw him in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and now... No, wait. You didn't actually see David Carradine in that one. But you will in February when Vol. 2 comes out. In the meantime, you can catch a glimpse of him and his brother Keith in the admirable made-for-TV western The Outsider [Rent]. But wait, there's more: Naomi Watts.
Rowan Atkinson has said that one of the reasons he was interested in making Johnny English is that, when it comes to entertainment, the British are particularly good at two things: humor and spies. He's not in Cambridge Spies (2003) [Rent; rent Disc 2], of course, nor is this fascinating BBC series a comedy. But it does reveal the world of real spies at a crucial point in history like few other films dare to even try. If you're at all intrigued, do check these out and supplement your viewing with background provided by the BBC.
The Great Gatsby (1974) [Rent]. None other than William Goldman is an admirer of Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel. We can look forward to more of Coppola's early screenwriting, and for that matter, more pre-gauze-lens Robert Redford in This Property is Condemned (1966) [Rent].
If tboot rates a film 10 out of 10, sit up and pay attention. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985, Special Edition coming soon - [Rent it now!]) is, he says, "an unforgettable echo of the go-for-broke, dirty-money '80s, and the ultimate William Friedkin film."
Last week's newly released Neil Simon comedy was The Out-of-Towners (1970) [Rent]. This week it's Star Spangled Girl (1971) [Rent]. Five years ahead of the Bicentennial, too. Good heavens. Where is Sandy Duncan these days anyway?
Beyond Therapy (1987) [Rent]. Robert Altman directs Julie Hagerty, Jeff Goldblum, Glenda Jackson and Tom Conti in an adaptation of Christopher Durang's play.
Ben Stiller Show (1992). Every member of this talented cast went on to some great things, but they may very well have never topped the hilarious magic of this sadly short-lived program. (Two of our favorites: "Cape Munster" and Tom Cruise's one man show.) Get both disc one [Rent] and disc two [Rent] for maximum laughter.
Paul Robeson had only made one film before he became a star on Broadway, making a name for himself particularly in Eugene O'Neill's play, The Emperor Jones. When Dudley Murphy cast the film version, Robeson was the obvious choice for the lead and The Emperor Jones [Rent] would become an astonishing picture for 1933. Thanks to United Artists, it was the first widely distributed independent film with a predominantly African-American theme - and then, there was that theme: Brutus Jones escapes from a chain gang to take over an island where even the white traders end up lighting his cigarettes. It doesn't last, but blacks across the country nonetheless cheered the film and their new symbol of black power.
For the noir thriller Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) [Rent], Robert Wise, one of cinema's most intriguingly diverse directors, teams up with a mighty cast: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan and Shelley Winters. Suggested double feature, if for no other reason than to highlight Wise's range: The Sand Pebbles (1966) [Rent], featuring what many believe is Steve McQueen's best performance.
Darling (1965) [Rent] features Julie Christie's Oscar-winning performance.
It doesn't get any easier on the eyes than Paul Newman in Hud (1963) [Rent].
ACTION, SCIENCE-FICTION and HORROR
From a supporting player in 1994's Cyber Ninja (hard to believe it's not on DVD, isn't it!) and the director of Extreme Heist, comes a film Makoto Yokoyama made the very same year, 2001: Shadow Fury, starring that King of Action Cinema, Sam Bottoms. Hee.
"I'm in awe and disgusted at the same time, something I haven't felt since I began watching really sleazy horror films like Last House on Dead End Street and I Spit on Your Grave in my early teens," wrote Eric Campos in Film Threat last year when he'd caught up with Eric Stanze's Scrapbook (1999) [Rent]. "This is the kind of filmmaking that underground horror has been dying for over the recent years, but no one has seemed to be able to do it right... until now." Not. For. The. Queasy.
How's this for odd: John Frankenheimer directing Omar Sharif and Jack Palance in rural Afghanistan. In the 70s. The Horsemen (1971) [Rent].
Fans of Helena Bonham Carter, and more importantly, people not quite sure about her need to check out Portraits Chinois (1997) [Rent], a Parisian ensemble piece that allows her to show off her French. The Voice notes "she seems freer to explore the vulnerability beneath her sometimes brittle screen persona," and Salon adds, "she has never been as purely likeable as this."
Fellini I'm a Born Liar (2003) [Rent!]. A doc on the director so unique he's earned his own "-esque," an adjective applied to particularly disturbing dreams or really great parties.
Naked Lunch whet your appetite for more William S. Burroughs? Commissioner of Sewers (1986) [Rent!] is a doc you'll want to watch with The Final Academy Documents (2002) [Rent!].
One of the most talked about recent pairings has been that of Daft Punk and Leiji Matsumoto. First, it seemed it'd result in a video or two, but then out came Interstella 5555 (2003) [Rent], a full-blown musical feature that debuted this year at Cannes.
Back to the New Releases Archive.
Victorian England by way of E.T.? That was the reaction of many back in 1985 when this Steven Spielberg-produced, Barry Levinson-directed what-iffer appeared, riding on a screenplay by Christopher Columbus (director of the first two Harry Potter films). But give Young Sherlock Holmes [Rent] a break, take it for what it is, and it'll make for a fine evening with the kids.