April 20, 2004:
FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003). We've rarely had a discussion about a single film just before, during and after its theatrical release as engaging, informative and enjoyable as this one. A couple of comments: "A really well crafted and involving swashbuckler," says hamano. "Some of the sea battle scenes were like Turner paintings," says Cinenaut. The film also topped New York Times critic AO Scott's "Best of 2003" list and nabbed the #3 spot on underdog's. [Rent] Bonus Disc [Rent].
In My Skin (2003). Marina De Van, who's appeared in a handful of films by François Ozon and co-wrote Under the Sand and 8 Women, tells the story of Esther (whom she plays herself), a woman who accidentally discovers the joy of slicing into her own flesh, ever so gingerly at first, a bit more rapturously further on. "While Esther's self-mutilation is surely disturbing, the film treats it less as self-violation than an intense, especially messy form of masturbation, a private pleasure we end up feeling no right to question," writes Rob Horning in PopMatters. [Rent]
The Flower of Evil (2003). Claude Chabrol's 50th film and one of his most assured. Involvement in the narrative and engagement with the characters don't come all at once; the film creeps up on you with its own steady, confident pace, and it isn't long before you wouldn't tear your eyes from the screen for anything. [Rent]
Tube (2003). "Yet another reason to prove that Asia is now producing action cinema that surpasses the American model," writes Highangle.co.uk: "Tube is a relentless thriller played out on the underground in Seoul. This South Korean adrenaline rush comes with the tagline 'Giving up is not an option' and is the film that Speed dreamt it was." [Rent]
Step Into Liquid (2003). Great tagline: "No special effects. No stuntmen. No stereotypes. No other feeling comes close." If the idea of surfing as "a life" rather than "a lifestyle" rings your bell, not only is this one aimed right at your DVD player, you'll also want to click forward to check out the other surfing discs that are arriving April 20. [Rent]
The Haunted Mansion (2003). It ain't Pirates of the Caribbean, but then again, Pirates doesn't have Eddie Murphy. Make of that what you will. [Rent]
Win a Date With Tad Hamilton (2004). It's rather ridiculous to quote a critic at length when he's running a film down you may very well be interested in reserving for a fleeting evening of escapist entertainment, but David Edelstein can be irresistibly quotable at times: "It must be admitted that the final 10 minutes of Win A Date With Tad Hamilton! are likable: one cliché following another, but with charming restraint. Or it might just have been that the movie's simple-mindedness wore me down. As I sat there smiling, I imagined Doris Day sitting next to me, rolling her eyes." [Rent anyway]
A Story of Floating Weeds (1934) [Rent] and Floating Weeds (1959). Slowly, carefully, Criterion is bringing the works of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu to DVD. This is a unique release in that we have both Ozu's 1934 silent black-and-white classic and his own 1959 remake, in color and with sound. Donald Richie, author of a definitive work on Ozu, called the 1934 version "the first of those eight-reel universes in which everything takes on a consistency greater than life: in short, a work of art." Of the second, he simply said that it is "the most physically beautiful of all of Ozu's pictures." [Rent]
El Lado Oscuro del Corazón 2 (2003). Eliseo Subiela's sequel to his 1992 film, The Dark Side of the Heart. Last year, Jonathan Marlow introduced his interview with Argentine director by noting that he is "a creator of fantastic worlds that exist solely within the borders of the cinematic screen. His films suggest their own logic, their own rules and, as a result, are woefully little-seen in this country." Fortunately, that's beginning to change. [Rent]
Hour of the Wolf (1967) [Rent] and and Shame (1968)
[Rent]. You may remember the brouhaha when word got out that two of the films in MGM's big Ingmar Bergman collection - namely, these - were to have been released with the wrong aspect ratios. To MGM's credit, as word spread and letters were written and so forth, the company recalled the discs and is now releasing both films as they were meant to be seen. So. What of the films themselves? Hour, with Bergman regulars Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, is as harrowing as its title suggests; there are even those among Bergman aficianados who've felt he went a bit overboard here, but for others, angst has never been more enthralling. Shame is a different story altogether; in Movieline, Michael Atkinson calls it "one of the best antiwar films ever made... Focusing exclusively on the way war unsettles and corrupts the lives of civilians, Bergman's film scans on a primal level like a Twilight Zone episode gone unstoppably, sickeningly real."
Sleeping Dogs (1977) [Rent] and Smash Palace (1982) [Rent], both directed by Roger Donaldson. While there's no question now that New Zealand, with its population of just around 3.5 million, boasts a film scene the whole world has learned to reckon with, it wasn't always so. Sleeping Dogs was the breakthrough, as Richard Scheib points out in the SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review: "It was the first film that was a major home-made success. It was one that saw a local director relentlessly incorporating international styles of filmmaking - but most importantly it was local accents and locales being seen up on screen. The success of the film directly led to the setting up of the New Zealand Film Commission the same year." It also introduced the world to Sam Neill. Scheib calls Smash Palace "a disturbing and emotionally raw film about a marriage breakup, which is one of finest films to emerge out of NZ in the 1980s and remains Donaldson's single best film."
Men and Women (1999). "I wanted to show how we live day by day and to suggest that everyone can have a homosexual side," screenwriter Cui Zi'en has said. In return, the Chinese government showed its appreciation by banning the film. [Rent]
Carretera Secundarias (1997). With Maribel Verdú (Y Tu Mamà Tambièn) [Rent]
La Mujer Del Puerto (1991) Announced earlier, this release was actually delayed. Regardless, here legendary Mexican director Arturo Ripstein bases this Cannes entry on a story by Guy de Maupassant. [Rent]
Common Ground (2002). In this festival favorite, Fernando (Federico Luppi) is a professor of literature forced into early retirement by the rotten state of the current Argentinian economy. CineScene calls the film "an acid social comment on the current state of life in Argentina, where thousands of people have had to face a similar end to their secure middle class existence.... [A]n honest film that celebrates the strength of a loving family." [Rent]
The Debt (1999). Two young entrepreneurs from Warsaw decide to borrow money to jump-start their business. But they choose the wrong guy. What makes this festival winner all the more riveting is the fact that it's based on a true story. [Rent]
Floating Landscape (2003).
In September, Sean Axmaker wrote for us from Venice: "[Carol Lai Mui Suet's] competition entry Floating Landscape follows a young woman, Maan (Ekin Cheng), looking for closure while she searches for the final landscape sketched by her artist lover before he succumbed to a degenerative disease. She lives in the shadow of his spirit, which hovers over the film in his diary entries which she dutifully copies out, one a day, a form of mourning that prevents her from moving on and connecting with the sweet-natured postman who has become her constant companion, as eager and loyal as a puppy. The entire film, set in a slow-moving Hong Kong backwater, floats between past and present. Maan is so busy looking back that she, like the jealous, hot-tempered ex-husband of her landlady, can't move on. Suet's gentle imagery, soft, soothing color and lolling rhythm give her isolation an attraction that beautifully hides the way it is suffocating her." [Rent]
He's a Woman, She's a Man (1994). Gender confusion at its best. Bright Lights Film Journal editor Gary Morris calls this one and its follow-up, Who's the Woman, Who's the Man?, two of the best "modern sex comedies with farcical overtones" to have come out of Hong Kong in the last several years. Do click. [Rent]
Just One Look (2002). "Another one of the myriad of recent movies starring the TWINS, this film is actually much better than the presence of the manufactured Cantopop duo would lead you to suspect," writes one user at the Hong Kong Movie Database: "In fact, Just One Look is a rather nostalgic, sweet story of young people growing up on one of the less populated HK islands in the 60s and 70s, presented through the prism of the movies of the time, complete with hilarous parodies of some of these classic titles." [Rent]
3 Women (1977). Robert Altman "at his peak was the Balzac of American culture-scapes," writes the Village Voice, and what's more, he was recognized for it as well. After a string of breathlessly acclaimed, ouevre-defining films (McCabe & Mrs Miller, Nashville and so on), 3 Women "suggests a restlessness with the comic realism he had mastered. A gauzy, perfectly executed vacation in Doppelgänger-burg, 3 Women is as profound as you'd like it to be." Featuring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek at their 70s-era spaciest, the film now receives the full Criterion treatment, complete, of course, with Altman's commentary. [Rent]
Fool for Love (1985). Another Altman to toss onto your queue right alongside 3 Women. Sam Shepard stars in the adaptation of his own play, set deep in the heart of Shepard country, that is, the contemporary American West. With Kim Basinger and Randy Quaid. [Rent]
Wish You Were Here (1987). At last the film that put Emily Lloyd on the map is coming out on DVD. "The key to this movie is the performance by 16-year-old Lloyd as Lynda," wrote Roger Ebert all those years ago. "The screenplay could have gone a dozen different ways, depending on who was cast in the role. Lloyd is so fresh, so filled with fun and rebellion, that she carries us past the tricky parts on the strength of personality alone. It's one of the great debut roles for a young actress." [Rent]
King of New York (1990). A re-release of some of the best work to come from both Christopher Walken and director Abel Ferrara. [Rent]
Prisoner of Honor (1991). Ken Russell, the wild man of British cinema, tackles the Dreyfuss Affair. Doug Pratt: "It is likely that another filmmaker could produce a more stately and thorough dramatization of the event, but Russell accomplishes a remarkable feat in the 88-minute program, presenting a work that is both a serious drama and an outrageous satire without compromising the entertainment." [Rent]
The Playboys (1992). "A movie of surprising charm and resonance," writes the Washington Post. With Robin Wright, Aidan Quinn and Albert Finney. [Rent]
The Rose (1979). Bette Midler made her feature film debut in this one, the story of a singer loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin, and Midler's performance scored her a Golden Globe and a nomination for an Oscar right off the bat. With Alan Bates. [Rent]
Wild Things (1998 [Rent]) and Wild Things 2 (2004 [Rent]). The sequel's coming out for the first time on DVD, of course, but what makes the re-release of the original interesting is that it'll be seen in its unrated version for the first time. In all fairness, we should add that rumor has it that there's not a whole lot of fresh flesh, but still, whatdyaknow and all that.
Bug (2002). A much-needed reissue. Years ago, someone in Hollywood (John Ford? Howard Hawks?) defined "plot" as "one damn thing after another." That goes many times over for this critical and popular favorite. As Film Threat writes, "There are some movies that when you watch them, you can go off and do different things and come back, and you've really missed nothing. If you do that with Bug, you've missed a heck of a lot as each minute is filled to the brim with stories." [Rent]
CrissCross (1992). Coming of age in Key West must be the dream of many, but here's a story that'll yank those dreamers right back down to earth. With Goldie Hawn as a mother who resorts to stripping when her shell-shocked husband, a Vietnam vet played by Keith Carradine, heads off for a monastery. When her son (David Arnott) finds out, he's got a better idea: Dealing drugs. Keep an eye out for Steve Buscemi. [Rent]
For the Moment (1992). World War II. British pilots train in Canada where the women working their farms have never seen anything like them. "The film is a poignant high-toned soap opera about the intense, fleeting relationships between these women and the fliers, who, once they entered combat, would be lucky if they survived for six weeks... [S]atisfies a sweet tooth with such calm and intelligent deliberation that you won't leave feeling as though you have just indulged in a guilty pleasure," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. With Russell Crowe, by the way. [Rent]
The Last of Sheila (1973). An old-fashioned murder mystery written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins. No, really. And as the NYT's Vincent Canby wrote at the time, it's "also a good deal of fun, like one of those tricky, after-dinner party games that always seem dreary in advance but then somehow turn out to be more amusing than one had any right to expect." [Rent]
P.D. James - A Mind to Murder (1996). Adam Dalgliesh solves another one. [Rent]
A Difficult Woman (1998). A murder mystery from Australia. [Rent]
ABCD (2001). Stands for "American Born Confused Desi." [Rent]
Helter Skelter (1976). "Ultra-freaky Steve Railsback steals the show as Charles Manson," writes Christopher Null at filmcritic.com [Rent]
The Big Empty (2003). All John Person (Jon Favreau) wants to do is act. But so do a zillion other Southern Californians. And so, he takes a job delivering a suitcase to the middle of the desert where Cowboy (Sean Bean) is supposed to retrieve it. One thing leads to another. "Steve Anderson has crafted an impressive, well-photographed debut," writes Todd Gilchrist in Film Stew. [Rent]
All For the Winner (1990). Stephen Chow's parody of God of Gamblers [the original, II and III] is just as great as the original," says Sisyphus. [Rent]
9 Dead Gay Guys (2003). "Seems to have been intended to be an audacious, fast-paced comedy about the gay underworld in London," ascertains Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. He doesn't think it quite made it there; perhaps you will. [Rent]
Grind (2003). Didn't do it for ruzich (see his review), but maybe you've made it one of your lifetime ambitions to see everything with Bobcat Goldthwait in it, no matter what it is, no matter how small his role. For whatever reason. [Rent]
Click on to see more titles that arrived on April 20: Classics, horror, docs, TV, anime and more....
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