FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
December 21, 2004
Napoleon Dynamite (2004). Rolling out slowly from the festival circuit to metroplexes coast-to-coast, Jared Hess's geekier-than-thou comedy certainly became one of the surprise hits of the year. Film Threat's Eric Campos pretty much sums up the appeal: "The cast playing these eccentric characters is magnificent. Each actor perfectly compliments the Hess's original brand of humor that keep steady giggles bubbling from the audience, inspiring frequent bursts of uproarious laughter. This is definitely one of the most unique comedies you'll see all year. No doubt about it." [Rent]
The Manchurian Candidate (2004). One of the most controversial remakes ever. Wouldn't any attempt pale in comparison with the 1962 original which, after all, is so very much a product of its time, an "uncanny vision of the Kennedy era," as J. Hoberman has called it? And yet Jonathan Demme forged ahead, shifting elements of the story here and there and updating several, the most prominent being the bad guys: Communists won't do, of course, but the multinational corporation Manchurian Global is indeed a scary (and all too real) proposition. What's more, adds Hoberman, the result is "an intelligent genre flick [that] plays to [Demme's] strengths. His direction of actors has never been better. Candidate represents Demme's best dramatic filmmaking since The Silence of the Lambs." With Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep. [Rent]
Shaun of the Dead. "One of the endearing aspects of Shaun of the Dead is that, like Young Frankenstein, it pokes fun at its inspirations but plays by their rules." A sharp observation from Kim Newman in Sight and Sound and probably the key to the success of the "rom-zom-com" among stalwart zombie flick fans and pure comedy fans alike. For more theorizing on why Shaun's a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, read our interview with the filmmakers, writer/director Edgar Wright and writer/star Simon Pegg. [Rent]
King Arthur (2004). Though a lot of critics went all grumpy over Antoine Fuqua's medieval actioner, many actually got quite a kick out of it. Besides, you just know that cast had a blast dressing up and storming each other on horseback: Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgård, Ray Winstone.... [Rent]
Two Brothers (2004). One of those family movies along the lines of what Disney used to do with live action and animals as protagonists decades ago. The big difference is that this one's directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud who happens to direct animals very well indeed, as he proved with The Bear back in 1988. [Rent]
Danny Deckchair (2004). What is it with Rhys Ifans and balloons? Before he ran off chasing a hot air balloon that'd gotten away at the beginning of Enduring Love, he was tying a dozen or so big yellow helium-filled balloons to a deckchair and sailing off to a small town in Australia. Where, as luck would have it, he finds Miranda Otto. Yes, the movie's all kinds of uplifting. [Rent]
De-Lovely (2004). There are two highlights to this Cole Porter biopic: Kevin Kline's take-it-easy approach to the role and the performances of all those classic numbers by the likes of Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall and many others. [Rent]
Thunderbirds (2004). All in all, most agree that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the team behind Team America, had the right idea: If you're going to update one of Gerry Anderson's signature creations, use puppets. Even so, some claim this live action version with quick turns from Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley and Anthony Edwards has its moments. Here and there. [Rent]
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004). Not a sequel to Adaptation, unfortunately. [Rent]
Mikey & Nicky (1976). Elaine May directs Peter Falk and John Cassavetes. It's a little loopy, as May's comedy often is, but this dramedy's got something compulsively watchable about it. At his MovieMartyr site, Jeremy Heilman writes: "Invigorating the mob genre, somewhat, through the use of Cassavetes-style acting improvisations and a focus on the low end of the genre's food chain, Elaine May's Mikey & Nicky finds two of the most inventive American actors of their generation riffing off of each other to provide a relatively thorough series of observations about the difficulties of male friendship." In the New York Times, Dave Kerr adds that this "neglected wonder" is "among the finest American movies of the 1970s, and perhaps of all time." [Rent]
Headcases: People with Problems (2003). A collection of shorts that've won awards at Sundance, Aspen and Toronto. The descriptions are intriguing: "'The Delicious': A man develops an unhealthy obsession with his wife's delicious red jumpsuit. 'Tom Hits His Head': Tom has panic attacks. He hits his head, shops on eBay and talks to the Devil. 'Ed': Ed has a date. If you knew Ed, you would think it's the end of the world. 'Not a Fish Story': A housewife confronts her desires when her husband declares he wants to be a fish. 'Trappedinfreedom': A man looking for the ultimate freedom becomes trapped in a final act of rebellion. 'My Chorus': Another Ed story, a lonely man looking for love, and the chorus that terrorizes him. 'I am Ali': A man suffering from schizophrenia slowly unravels as his girlfriend helplessly watches." [Rent]
ACTION and ADVENTURE
Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975). Anniversary Edition. "Oh come on, how can you miss a movie where a boxer with one arm and a blind monk are the two deadliest fighters in existence?" asks dpowers. And if that doesn't grab you, Mark Pollard puts it this way: Master "remains a cult film classic that lives up to its eccentric name by offering one of the most unusual and fascinating kung fu movie experiences ever put to celluloid." In two flavors: Original Version [Rent] and English Version [Rent].
The Simpsons. Fifth Season (1993). "Homer's Barbershop Quartet," "Cape Feare," "Deep Space Homer" and many, many more. All episodes feature commentary by Matt Groening and a rotating batch of co-conspirators. Discs 1 [Rent], 2 [Rent], 3 [Rent] and 4 [Rent].
The 4400 (2004). Who are the 4400? They all disappeared at some point in the past, and now, all of a sudden, they've reappeared. No one knows why and the disappeared remember nothing at all about where they've been. From the producers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
Texhnolyze. Volume 5: Lies & Despair. Back in May, hneline1 introduced the series: "Yoshitoshi Abe does weird and intense real well. His signature style has been to create introspective anime with a rich artsiness and a storyline that keeps the viewer guessing. His most well known work, Serial Experiments Lain, left some of us overwhelmed and excited to discuss cyber-theology and interpretations of reality, while it left others simply overwhelmed and confused. Texhnolyze follows his style but with a surprisingly gritty violence." [Rent]
R.O.D.. The TV Series. Volume 4: The Turning Point (2004). "A very dynamic series with some interesting characters," says JHeneghan. [Rent]
Browse the New Releases Archive for more recent arrivals.