FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
Tokyo Godfathers (2003). Seems like we had to wait forever after Perfect Blue to find out what Satoshi Kon would do next, and then, all of a sudden last year, the double whammy: Millennium Actress and, just months later, thanks to the mysteries of the international distribution system, this one. New York Times reviewer AO Scott is impressed: "For all its echoes of Frank Capra and Charlie Chaplin (as well as Ford), the movie is also a love letter to modern Tokyo, whose alleyways and skyscrapers are drafted with flawless precision and tinted with tenderness and warmth." [Rent]
Casa de los Babys (2003). It's a classic John Sayles set up: Get a group of people who share a common concern together and let them find out just how different they are from each other. And what a group: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marcia Gay Harden, Daryl Hannah, Lili Taylor, Susan Lynch and Mary Steenburgen as American women in a small Latin American town, all hoping to adopt a child. In his thumbs-up review for the Boston Globe, Wesley Morris writes, "The ladies are relentlessly touristic, responding to their host country as though they had landed on Pluto. Which is not unintended: Sayles has fashioned the picture as a sort of Twilight Zone melodrama headed toward existential tragedy, like Jean-Paul Sartre writing a nasty Lifetime movie." Add nice turns as the motel maid and owner from, respectively, Vanessa Martinez and - heavens! - Rita Moreno, and you have a smorgasbord of finely acted human drama. [Rent]
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003). One of last year's most controversial movies and prominently appearing on many a critic's best-of-03 lists, Quentin Tarantino's ode to the Shaw Brothers and samurai movies he grew up with, with nods to anime and the western, hardly needs an introduction. We'll simply add this for now: If you stayed away from Kill Bill when it was in theaters because you were afraid you might not be able to handle the violence, keep in mind that this is a very stylized fantasia. For all the blood, there's very little that approaches actual pain; there is no scene here as difficult to watch as, say, that ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. Ok? Ok. [Rent]
Timeline (2003). Based on the novel by Michael Crichton."The pyrotechnics, in which battling 14th-century soldiers catapult fireballs into each other's fortresses, may be diverting," grumbles Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But from the beginning, this fantasy of time travel, in which a group of contemporary archaeologists plunges through a wormhole in the time-space continuum to land in France in 1357, pounds you over the head with its noisy, ridiculous notions of medieval life." Most reviews have run in a similar vein, but you know, some nights are just made for noisy, ridiculous notions. [Rent]
Dopamine (2003). If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, sometimes even more is worse. Rand (John Livingston) knows too much about the chemical make-up for love to actually kick back and fall in love. "Extraordinarily well written and acted, this is one of the smartest and most uniquely creative romantic comedies to emerge in quite some time," raves Merle Bertrand in Film Threat. "Would that we could extract the essence of this utterly enjoyable film and distill its creativity, intelligence and originality into a serum which we could then inject into all the tapped-out Hollywood screenwriters and directors out there. Because once the viewer has been exposed to a refreshing and addictive drug like Dopamine nothing else will satisfy." [Rent]
The Event (2003). "Thom Fitzgerald adds a novel touch to his case for assisted suicide by structuring his film into a quasi-mystery that unfolds through flashbacks," writes the Boston Phoenix. A helluva cast - Parker Posey, Sarah Polley, Olympia Dukakis and Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould co-writer Don McKellar in the lead - and "flashes of feeling [and] unforced pathos... redeem what might have been a dreary, overearnest drama." [Rent]
Our America (2002). NPR producer David Isay (Josh Charles) guides two teens towards a report on the Ida B Wells housing project on the South Side of Chicago. "Vivid, tense and (best of all, perhaps) inspiring without being hagiographic or sanctimonious," writes the San Francisco Chronicle. Directed by the accomplished cinematographer Ernest Dickerson. [Rent]
Eating Raoul (1982). At long last, a goreless movie about cannibalism. But of course, what makes this cult comedy a classic is that it's about much more: Life in the suburbs, sex, naturally, and the desperate need for cash at the dawn of the Reagan era. Even better, director Paul Bartel and Warhol Factory vet Mary Woronov play their characters straight, seemingly just as shocked as we are at the lengths they'll go to to get what they want. [Rent]
Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob (1973). If you've never seen French comedian Louis De Funes in action, this is the one to start with, "a catchall comedy that pokes fun at virtually every human and social foible, and does it with total abandon." (Chicago Reader) [Rent]
Moon Over Harlem / Juke Joint / Song of Freedom / Big Fella (1936 - 1947). A two-disc set celebrating the best of the Harlem Rennaissance. Moon (1939) is directed by Edgar G Ulmer, Juke Joint (1947) by Spencer Williams. Both Song (1936) and Big Fella (1937) star Paul Robeson. Keith Phipps, writing about Robeson's career in the Onion AV Club: "It's fascinating to watch the depiction of warm friendships between working-joe Robeson and his white co-workers, something that would be difficult to find in many American studio films of the same era. This is even more explicit in Big Fella, which finds Robeson and friends caring for an unhappy, upper-class, runaway kid. It's slight but pleasant, and, like each film, it's carefully structured to give its star a chance to sing a handful of songs." Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
Dog Days (2002). A feature from Austrian documentary filmmaker Ulrich Seidl. "It looks like a horrific fly-on-the-wall documentary about a personal hell Seidl has discovered in the Austrian suburbs," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "I found Dog Days rather browbeatingly hardcore, but it is simply so distinctive, and in its very horrible way, such remarkable film-making, that it compels admiration." [Rent]
Simon the Magician: The Magical Power of Love (1999). Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi has had a well-earned cult following ever since My Twentieth Century won raves at Cannes in 1989. Though we're still waiting for some savvy US distributor to pick up that one, we now have this tale, based on the legend of the first Gnostic's challenge to St. Peter, set in Paris in 1998. The year is important because, for all the other things this rich film is about, it's also about bookending two millennia. [Rent]
Saga of Mulan (1994). A Beijing opera production based on the story most of us know - come on, admit it - from the Disney version. It goes without saying that this is a very different viewing experience indeed, though, of course, no less colorful. Click here to view stills. [Rent]
With Fire and Sword (1999). A love story set against the background of war between the Polish nobility and Ukrainian Cossacks. "A war epic on a grand scale," writes Doc Ezra in Need Coffee, praising the sweeping cinematography and the attention to historical detail in the costumes, the weapons, the works. "The end result is a picture that looks like it was beamed ahead from the 17th century, and the level of realism really adds to the immersive nature of the story." Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
Spoils of War (2000). Following a military coup in Argentina on March 24, 1976, thousands of people vanished without a trace. They became known as the desaparecidos, the "Disappeared." David Blaustein's documentary honors the women who protested silently yet with consistent determination throughout the nation's "dirty war" which finally came to an end with the return of a civilian government on December 10, 1983. [Rent]
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