December 23, 2003
FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
"The critics are full of it!" John Waters recently exclaimed in Artforum, placing Woody Allen's latest, Anything Else (2003) on his top ten of 2003 list. "Woody is still smart and funny, and nobody does a medium master shot better. Christina Ricci is the perfect Woody Allen leading lady." [Rent]
Equal parts Truffaut and Jeunet, Cédric Klapisch's L'Auberge Espagnole (2003) features Audrey Tautou as the girlfriend Xavier leaves behind for a year of study in Barcelona, where he winds up in an apartment shared with a European smorgasbord of characters. [Rent]
The BBC's period piece I Capture The Castle (2003), based on the novel by Dodie Smith, is both a coming-of-age and clash-of-cultures story. A 17-year-old English girl isn't wild about living in a big empty castle; then one day, two American brothers arrive... Quietly told, this film won quite respectable reviews if not a broad audience. Number 4 on Cinecultist's top ten of year. [Rent]
The Sammo Hung-staged action sequences in The Medallion (2003) are all they should be but most agree Jackie Chan still hasn't quite hit upon the perfect merger of Hong Kong Action and international Hollywood appeal. [Rent]
With such a charming cast (Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson, David Paymer, Sophie Marceau) and accomplished director (Rob Reiner), why didn't Alex & Emma (2003) click? [Rent anyway.]
Crime Spree (2003) [Rent]. Harvey Keitel and Gerard Depardieu, together at last. In a comedy, no less.
A high-tech fantasy, starring the always superb Tilda Swinton, Teknolust (2002) is an alluring and surprisingly playful sci-fi shot on digital video. Click here and scroll down for our first impressions. [Rent]
Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar (2002) may bear a strange name but it certainly is a wonderful, daring and memorable work. A winner of numerous awards, including British Independent Film Award (for Samantha Morton and cinematographer Alwin Kuchler) and the LA Film Critics "New Generation" award, Morvern Callar is one to behold. [Rent]
Freaky Friday (2003) [Rent]. Molly Haskell calls the film a "glorious surprise... pure enchantment, thanks to a fine script, brilliant physical acting and sight gags topped by an amazingly audacious performance by Jamie Lee Curtis."
Seabiscuit (2003) [Rent]. A fine adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's award winning book, starring a Tobey Maguire happy not to be swinging through the comic cityscape this time around. Pleasantville director Gary Ross has an unerring eye for detail and the superb cast lift it above the formulaic.
Rachida Brakni, who won a César for her performance in Coline Serreau's Chaos (2002) as an abused woman who has, as the New York Times puts it, "retained her fighting spirit, and sex is her weapon. When she aims her fiery gaze into a man's eyes, he's a goner." [Rent]
Melvin Goes To Dinner (2003) reimagines My Dinner With Andre among a group of 30ish friends rather than a pair of middle-aged men. This crowd-pleaser won the Audience Award at SXSW in Austin earlier this year. [Rent]
Other Voices, Other Rooms [Rent]. Truman Capote's first novel, written when he was only 24, is so widely admired that the standard "book was better" critique has hung about the neck of this adaptation since it was released in 1997. That's not entirely fair. While David Rocksavage's directorial debut is hardly a masterpiece, the film does offer fine performances and splendid 30s-era atmo.
An English backpacker heads for Thailand in Butterfly Man (2002) and finds romance. Comparisons to The Beach are inevitable, but the focus here is on the love story. [Rent]
Nil By Mouth (1997) [Rent]. Gary Oldman's debut as a writer and director draws "intensely focused, naturalistic performances from an outstanding cast of British TV veterans" (Salon) and landed on the BFI list of top 100 British films of all time. At number 97. But still.
Passion's Way (aka The Reef), based on the novel by Edith Wharton. [Rent]
At long last, Emir Kusterica is making his way to DVD. Things start off quite logically with his most widely seen film (and Cannes award-winner), Underground (1995) [Rent]. "Not by a long shot is this similar to anything else you've seen lately," wrote Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle, "unless you've been to a few Buñuel, Peckinpah, and Raimi films simultaneously."
What's Brigands, Chapter VII (1997)? According to Jonathan Rosenbaum, it's "a witty, despairing French-Russian-Italian-Swiss art movie set in 16th-century Georgia, Stalinist Georgia, contemporary Georgia, and contemporary Paris, whose writer-director is so much in command of his materials that he can plant the same actors in all four settings yet provide a seamless continuity." [Rent]
DOCUMENTARIES and SHORTS
The Pawnbroker (1965) [Rent]. Sidney Lumet's classic drama features Rod Steiger, who gives only one of the best performances ever.
Two collections of shorts, Celebrating AFI (2000 - 2003) [Rent] and Official Selections (2000 - 2003) [Rent].
The War At
Home (1979) [Rent]. Academy Award-nominated doc that centered on the University of Wisconsin as a microcosm of the anti-Vietnam War movement. A striking reminder of those turbulent times.
Which would make an interesting double-feature with They Drew
Fire: Combat Artists of WWII, a 1999 film that tells the tale of seven artists who recorded that war in all its phases. [Rent]
an Artist - Chuck Close: A Portrait in Progress (1997) [Rent]. The superrealist at work.
Two from Mexico this week. The first, Cuando Los Hijos Se Van (1969), is a drama pitting the new values of free love and free thought of the 1960s against the staunchest Catholicism. [Rent].
The second is comic relief, the light-hearted 70s romp Chismes De Lavaderos (1971) [Rent].
ACTION, SCIENCE-FICTION and HORROR
Ilona Arrives With The Rain (1996) [Rent]. A pleasantly diverting story of steamy love and clever crime.
The South African road movie and buddy picture, Malunde (2001), gets off to a clumsy start, but reviewers all agree it snaps to early enough and makes for a beautiful ride through to the end. [Rent]
Claude Miller's Class Trip (1998) [Rent]. A humane childhood drama "sensitively and elegantly made...with superb performances," according to TimeOut Film Guide.
Teachers (1993) is a stunning sleeper from China. [Rent]
Hellbound: Book of the Dead (2003) [Rent].
Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003) [Rent], which is almost as jeepers creepy as the original.
Latin American superhero Kaliman (1974) makes his debut on DVD. [Rent]
Sakura Wars TV Vol. 6: Curtain Call. "Barreling through the final four episodes," writes AnimeOnDVD, "the team faces its toughest moments yet and has to do it on their own." [Rent].
Back to the New Releases Archive.
Among the series firing up or continuing: Sugar - A Little Snow Fairy: Vol. 5: Home Sweet Home [Rent].
Mirage of Blaze: Vol. 4 [Rent].
Mao-Chan: Vol. 2 [Rent].
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi: Vol. 1 [Rent].
Sadamitsu the Destroyer: Vol. 1 [Rent].
Samurai Deeper Kyo: Vol. 4 [Rent].
Haibane Renmei: Vol. 3: Free Bird [Rent].