FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
Big Fish (2003). Clint Morris puts it this way in Film Threat: "If you're a fan of Tim Burton, you'll enjoy Big Fish; it's got all the weird and wonderful elements you've come to expect and enjoy about the eccentric director's films and more. If you're not a fan of Burton, you're going to like it even more. It takes those oddities and twists that many don't usually go for if they're not a big fan of the director and interweaves them into a tale that's so enriching, so heartwarming, so funny, so touching and so breathtaking, you'll wonder why the king of wackiness didn't branch out sooner." Heading up a stellar cast are Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange and Helena Bonham Carter. And Burton is interviewed on a commentary track. [Rent]
Osama (2003). Siddiq Barmak went to great lengths to make the first feature film in Afghanistan since the fall of Taliban, and if it weren't for the Makhmalbaf family, Osama would never have been completed. "Mr. Barmak is unsparing in his anatomy of the Taliban's cruelty, especially as it was directed against women," writes AO Scott in the New York Times, "but there is very little feeling of vengefulness or hatred in the film, which makes it all the more devastating in the end." [Rent]
Stuck on You (2003). Peter and Bobby Farrelly carry on pushing at the boundaries of taste, but especially with this one, to the delight of audiences and... well, some critics. Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon play twins joined at the hip ("We're not Siamese, we're Americans!"), so things could have gotten out of hand, but as Stephanie Zacharek writes in Salon, this film proves that the Farrelly brothers are "essentially sweet-natured humanist filmmakers who happen to enjoy toilet humor." The discs extras include featurettes in which Jim Carrey, Jason Alexander, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow and Rene Zellweger, among others talk about their work in past Farrelly films. [Rent]
The Cooler (2003). This little movie about a guy whose bad luck seethes from the pores of his skin will probably be remembered most for two things: The casually convincing sex scene with William H Macy and Maria Bello and Alec Baldwin's Oscar-nominated performance. [Rent]
Taking Sides (2003). Just where did Wilhelm Furtwängler's (Stellan Skarsgaard) sympathies lie when he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic during Hitler's rise to power and the subsequent world war? That's what Major Steve Arnold (Harvey Keitel) aims to find out. Directed by István Szabó. [Rent]
The Statement (2003). "Brian Moore's novel about a French Vichy war criminal on the run from a mysterious revenge group is here turned into robust and workmanlike drama by director Norman Jewison and screenwriter Ronald Harwood," writes Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. Quite a cast, headed up Michael Caine and including Tilda Swinton, Alan Bates, Charlotte Rampling and a handful more admirable names. [Rent]
Love Actually (2003). Director Richard Curtis cranks up the holiday sweetness factor here, but for some, he's so unabashed about it, it's easy to buy into it and enjoy the sugar high while it lasts. Also, telling nine stories at once invites an avalanche of fine actors out for a fling: Hugh Grant, of course, but also Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy... and so on. [Rent]
Zappa (1983) [Rent] and Twist and Shout (1984) [Rent]. Before Dogme, Bille August was the biggest name in Danish film. While he'd later become known for turning international bestsellers into films that bordered on the too tasteful, this early pair of coming-of-age stories, set in the Copenhagen of the 50s and 60s respectively, reveal his far more raw and energetic roots.
All Things Fair (1995). Swedish director Bo Widerberg's touchy and touching tale of an affair between 15-year-old Stig and his teacher was nominated for an Oscar. "The sex scenes are disarmingly frank but discreet; Widerberg avoids both prurience and hysteria," notes Movieline. "The director's son, Johan Widerberg, is a believable mixture of child and man, and Marika Lagercrantz is every adolescent boy's fantasy of ripe womanhood. Their romance is treated with appropriate gravity; it has a searing impact on both of them." [Rent]
Manji (1964). A welcome re-issue of the film tboot calls "a torrid Polanski-esque psycho-drama about a demure housewife who starts wearing the pants in her household when she falls head-over-heels in love with another woman. It sports one of the most hair-raising scenes I've ever seen, which involves a blood pact between the housewife and her girlfriend's fiance"; tboot also recommends catching other works by Yasuzo Masumura, Giants and Toys and Afraid to Die: "These and a lot more of his films are lost classics of the Japanese New Wave." [Rent]
Alias (2002). A thriller from Belgian director Jan Verheyen, a big fan of B-movies with horrific overtones. [Rent]
Me Cai De La Nube (1974). A story of unrequited love from Mexico. [Rent]
Las 4 Milpas (1960). And a musical from Mexico with tunes by Cuco Sanchez. [Rent]
The Householder (1963) [Rent] and Shakespeare Wallah (1965) [Rent]. Immediately after graduating from USC, James Ivory headed off to Delhi and hooked up with producer Ismail Merchant and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Time magazine was impressed early on, writing that their first collaboration, The Householder, "calls up laughter as gentle as temple bells." Shakespeare Wallah, about a troupe of British Shakespearean actors in India, was something of an international breakthrough. The Chicago Reader: "Ivory is particularly acute in catching the peculiar matrix of moods and emotions that hold the troupe together and which keep the British and the Indians from ever really understanding each other."
The Boys of St. Vincent (1994). A re-release of what Craig Phillips calls a "powerful but sensitively handled drama about sexual abuse in a Newfoundland orphanage... [W]hat could have been a sensationalized, over-the-top depiction of a horrific story is instead handled with admirable restraint and intelligence. The Boys of St. Vincent is a film to stimulate discussion, rather than one to titillate." [Rent]
First, Last and Deposit (2000). "I really wasn't sure if I was watching a documentary or a scripted film, and I've seen enough movies and enough 'mockumentaries' to tell the difference," writes one IMDb user: "A movie like this certainly has its flaws, but with its shoe-string budget, absence of a crew, and non-professional actors, it can be easily forgiven. The film also introduces Jessica White, who gives possibly the best performance by a child actor I've ever seen." [Rent]
Let the Devil Wear Black (1999). Hamlet retooled as a neo-noir. "[Director Stacy] Title makes the fatal architecture of Shakespeare work beautifully and unpretentiously in a modern context, creating a modest but satisfying gritty little thriller," writes Sean Axmaker. Jack's mother is played by none other than Jacqueline Bisset. [Rent]
Handcart: The Story of One Man's Journey With the Martin Handcart Company (2002). Nope, not a documentary. One of the many stories from the ever-growing Morman filmmaking scene. Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
My Side of the Mountain (1969). A tale aimed at young adults about going off to live at one with Nature with a capital "N." [Rent]
The Molly Maguires (1970). Pennsylvania, the 1870s. A strong cast - Richard Harris, Sean Connery, Samantha Eggar - a steady-handed director in Martin Ritt and an accomplished cinematographer, James Wong Howe. Harris goes undercover for a mining company to see who's been stirring up the miners but slowly comes to sympathize with the cause. [Rent]
The Apocalypse (2002). Richard Harris again, this time as the Apostle John in his third-to-last film. "A secure rendition of the biblical persona is his aim, and it never fails," writes one admiring IMDb user: "His deathbed address is a call to faith." [Rent]
Fat Man and Little Boy (1989). Roland Joffé's tale of the Manhattan Project stars Paul Newman and is based on a screenplay by Bruce Robinson (The Killing Fields; he's the same Bruce Robinson, interestingly enough, who wrote and directed Withnail and I and How to Get Ahead in Advertising). "A singular, powerful experience," writes the Washington Post. "It assumes that history is the most fragile of realities - the direct result of real actions made by real people under very specific circumstances - and that if any of these circumstances had been different, then history would have been different." [Rent]
Post Concussion (2000). Daniel Yoon wrote, produced, directed, shot and edited this comedy based on his own experience of suffering headaches, memory loss and the like associated with a head injury, the result of a no-win run-in with a moving automobile. He also stars. "A charming and disarming winner," writes Merle Bertrand in Film Threat. "Why a pleasant, otherwise intelligent fellow like Yoon, still suffering from debilitating headaches on occasion some five years after his real life accident/career change, would take on the horrid hassles of making a movie is anyone's guess. Lucky for us, he did just that." [Rent]
Say it Isn't So (2001). Co-produced by Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Slate's David Edelstein writes that the "gags [are] rooted equally in the Three Stooges and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I must admit that I find those motifs - and the Farrellys' universe in general - more sweet than offensive, and I liked Say It Isn't So just so. So there." [Rent]
The Kids in the Hall: Complete Season 1 (1989 - 1990). The best in sketch comedy from the Great White North. Discs 1 [Rent], 2 [Rent], 3 [Rent] and 4 [Rent].
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) [Rent] and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) [Rent], two of the very best in the series, with Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, and in the former, Ida Lupino, have been remastered and loads of extras have been piled on the discs.
Man in the Attic (1953). Jack Palance in a 50s version of The Lodger, Marie Belloc Lowndes's 1912 novel. [Rent]
SOS Coast Guard (1937). 12 chapters unfold over nearly four hours. "There's a great cast," says Sisyphus, "led by Ralph Byrd and Bela Lugosi - although Richard Alexander steals every scene as Thorg, Lugosi's henchman - and plenty of action in this cliffhanger co-directed by William Witney, Tarantino's favorite B-Movie director." [Rent]
The Green Archer (1939). Sisyphus again: "Solid, fun serial based on an Edgar Wallace novel. Victor Jory makes a very engaging lead, and there are trapdoors and secret passages galore." [Rent]
A few distributors know you may be getting in the mood for that summer blockbuster heading our way:
Helen of Troy (1956). Wildly versatile director Robert Wise tackles the sword-n-sandals genre in this Italian co-production. They actually built the damn horse, which was the biggest movie prop in history at the time. Brigitte Bardot's here, but believe it or not, not as Helen; that honor falls to Rossana Podesta. [Rent]
In Search of the Trojan War (2003). With historian Michael Wood. [Rent]
National Geographic: Beyond the Movie: Troy (2004). See it before the movie, then dominate the conversation afterwards by pelting your friends with factoids. They'll love you for it. [Rent]
A Bookshelf on Top of the Sky: 12 Stories about John Zorn (2002). Halfway through the making of her film, Claudia Heuermann suddenly found that John Zorn, who had been so open about her filming his rehearsals and general working process before, suddenly seemed to have had enough. He disappeared. Calls were not returned.
Nonetheless, as Kurt Gottschalk writes in The Squid's Ear, the doc "offers unique glimpses into the workings of one of the most prolific and influential musicians to come out of New York's downtown scene.... Scenes showing preparation for a performance of his complex game-piece Cobra especially offer a rare chance to see the enigmatic and often cloistered artist at work. She also managed to dig up some old Naked City live footage to include. But it's as much a film about a young German woman's arrival in New York, discovery of the overlapping Jewish and downtown improv scenes, and her move from listening to pure punk to punk-infused improvisational music." [Rent]
Click on to see more titles that arrived on April 27: Docs, horror, anime and more....
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