April 6, 2004
A trio of Wim Wenders's films returns to DVD. The American Friend (1977) [Rent] was Wenders's breakthrough in the US. Based on Patricia Highsmith's Ripley's Game, a novel filmmakers seem to find irresistible (see Rene Clement's Purple Noon , Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley  and most recently Ripley's Game  with John Malkovich), Wenders's take is darkly meditative, a tone that fits like a glove on Bruno Ganz, who plays a German frame-maker, but brought out a side of Dennis Hopper as an American art dealer not many had seen before. Lightning Over Water (1980) [Rent], a hypnotic blend of fiction and documentary, is Wenders's testament to a hero of his, Nicholas Ray. Ostensibly a doc on fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1990) [Rent] is actually a lot closer to delivering what its title promises, a collection of ideas and poetic sequences borne of the conversation between the director and his subject.
Kristin Lavransdatter (1995). Liv Ullman, in the director's chair this time, may or may not object to nearly always being mentioned in the same breath with Ingmar Bergman, we don't know, but it's hard to avoid when she collaborates with another Bergman regular, cinematographer Sven Nykvist, as she has on this epic tale set in 14th century Norway. [Rent]
A Room With A View (1986). Not only a re-issue but, for the first time, a Special Edition. Even many who tend to look down on Merchant Ivory productions will admit there's something winning about this one. The Academy certainly thought so, nominating it for eight Oscars (including Best Picture and Director) and awarding it three (Screenplay, Costume Design and Set Decoration). Then there's the cast. Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliott were nominated and Daniel Day-Lewis, Julian Sands and Helena Bonham Carter are all at their Brit period film best. [Rent] Bonus Disc. [Rent]
Jefferson in Paris (1995). And another directed by James Ivory, a lavish costume drama with Nick Nolte as one of the Founding Fathers pondering Parisian virtues above and beyond the Enlightenment. Which is why the film is a tad controversial among historians. Also with Greta Scacci. [Rent] (Nota bene: On April 27, two early James Ivory films will be arriving: The Householder [Rent] and Shakespeare Wallah [Rent].)
My Family (1995, aka: Mi Familia). Gregory Nava and his wife and producer Anna Thomas made movie history in 1983 with El Norte when it became the most commercially successful American-made foreign language film and helped put the Latino audience on the map, at least in the eyes of the industry. Here, Nava directs Jimmy Smits and Edward James Olmos in a saga of a Mexican-American family in Los Angeles. [Rent]
The Maldonado Miracle (2003). Nava and Thomas were also two of the four writers who worked on Frida, the biopic Salma Hayek not only starred in, of course, but also famously fought tooth and nail to see through to completion. With The Maldonado Miracle, Hayek makes her debut as a director. She's smartly kept the scale managable, shooting on DV for the cable market and focusing on the story and her actors, including Peter Fonda and Ruben Blades. [Rent]
The Dresser (1983). Two acting greats, Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, pull out all the stops in this ode to England's grand theatrical tradition. [Rent]
The Lost Prince (2003). British and European royalty, circa 1910, couldn't have wished for a better cast to portray them had they known there'd be a film about them some day: Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Bill Nighy, Bibi Andersson... and then there are the boys who play the brothers, the princes, one loved, the other no one talks about. Says one IMDb user, "This story is roughly told through his eyes, and describes in beautiful detail the transition of Europe from a continent ruled by related monarchs (many of them von Saxe-Coburg and Gotha), until the end of this system during and after WWI. As important historical events manage to find their way into palace life (the suffragette movement, the rise of ordinary people as politicians, the telephone and the motor car), they more often seem like foreign intrusions into the world of the palace." [Rent]
Lorenzo's Oil (1993). Susan Sarandon in a recent Film Comment interview on one of her most critically admired performances: "My choice was to not temper it and fight as hard as possible. If your child were in that situation, you'd lose your social graces pretty quickly. I just see her as becoming primal in her clarity in protecting and watching over Lorenzo. One of the things that so worried me about George Miller was that he always talked about these people as Joseph Campbell myth figures and I kept saying, 'George, you cannot play a Joseph Campbell hero. Heroism is in hindsight.'" On working with Nick Nolte: "I do tend to just talk off the top of my head and get passionately involved in things and I'm very uncompromising; Nick is equally passionate, but he definitely is able to be more manipulative - he can withhold things. On the set people were much more frightened of him than of me, I think [laughs], because they never knew quite what was going on with him, and with me you always know exactly what's happening. It was a good match." [Rent]
Before and After (1996). From Barbet Schroeder, a very fine director at times, and with Meryl Streep, Liam Neeson and Edward Furlong. Even so, reviews were mixed. [Rent]
Crime 101 (1999, aka: Scarfies) A dark little comedy from New Zealand. "Succeeds in large part due its surprisingly adept cast and a screenplay that skirts cliché," writes Scott Weinberg in Daily Reviews. [Rent]
Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (1986). A very personal biopic about a troubled comedian, directed by and starring troubled comedian Richard Pryor. Naturally, he'd deny that it's actually autobiographical or anything. [Rent]
Gable and Lombard (1976). James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh play Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Respectively, of course. And respectfully, too. [Rent]
Blaze (1989). Paul Newman rounds out the string of biopics, taking on the role of Louisiana governor Earl Long. [Rent]
You'll remember Blake Edwards's honorary Oscar this year; he was the guy in a wheelchair Jim Carrey sent crashing through a wall, the only bit of action that whole long evening. When Edwards first sat in the director's chair and pointed a camera at Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, a great franchise was born - long before anyone thought of them as franchises. We begin with The Pink Panther (1964, with David Niven at his David Nivenest) [Rent]. There's the glorious first sequel, A Shot in the Dark (1964) [Rent], the goofier Revenge of the Pink Panther (1972) [Rent], a hectic The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) [Rent] and, appearing for the first time on DVD, Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) [Rent]. This one, a compilation of unused footage from the previous films, was something of an homage to Sellers, who died in 1980, and it's wonderful watching the man have freewheeling fun with one of his most famous roles. The Pink Panther Story is the bonus disc, with a doc on the films and a collection of cartoons starring you know who. [Rent]
Same Time, Next Year (1978). Once a year, a single weekend of adulterous passion. For a quarter of a century. With Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda. [Rent]
Nice Dreams (1981). Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong followed a string of classic comedy albums with a string of not-so-classic movies. But of the bunch, many would argue that this is the best and, adds Sisyphus, "certainly one of their strangest." [Rent]
Son of Flubber (1963). Silly fun with Fred MacMurray as inventor Ned Brainard. [Rent]
Cheaper By the Dozen (2003). Kid-friendly Steve Martin vehicle with as many subplots as kids. [Rent]
Hope Springs (2003). A fine cast flits by - Colin Firth, Heather Graham and Minnie Driver - sparkling, then forgotten. [Rent]
Burn Hollywood Burn (1997). The first inside joke is that the director really is credited as Alan Smithee. "Eric Idle is a delightfully discombobulated mess as Smithee," compliments the Boston Phoenix, but most agree that's about all this Joe Eszterhas-scripted comedy has going for it. Odd cameos, though. Ryan O'Neal and Coolio, for starters. [Rent]
Police Academy 1 (1984) [Rent] gets the Special Edition treatment, so the whole batch tags along: Police Academy 2 - Their First Assignment (1985) [Rent], Police Academy 3 - Back in Training (1986) [Rent], Police Academy 4 - Citizens on Patrol (1987) [Rent], Police Academy 5 - Assignment Miami Beach (1988) [Rent], Police Academy 6 - City Under Siege (1989) [Rent] and Police Academy 7 - Mission to Moscow (1994) [Rent].
The Grapes of Wrath (1940). We could legitimately whip out a whole slew of superlatives for this one, but let's just settle for "great": One of John Ford's greatest films, featuring Henry Fonda giving one of his greatest performances, and based on John Steinbeck's great American novel of the Great Depression. [Rent]
Lover Come Back (1962) [Rent] and Send Me No Flowers (1964) [Rent]. Anyone who's seen last year's Down With Love might get the urge to check a few more sources above and beyond Pillow Talk. Two more with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. The third wheel, of course, is Tony Randall, telegraphing "gay friend," even though Randall was actually... whereas Hudson... oh, never mind. It was an odd time.
Charade (1963). Criterion re-releases this Stanley Donen classic with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in a new anamorphic transfer. [Rent]
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). A genuine Cecil B DeMille extravaganza. "Today, this would be a two-hour PBS thing hosted by Alan Alda, with lots of focus on the careful treatment of the elephants and bears," smirks MaryAnn Johanson, the Flick Filosopher: "Instead, and much more diverting, we get Charlton Heston snarling that 'women are poison' and fending off girls trying to seduce him by cleaning up his trailer and making him coffee. It's so deliciously retro." Also with Dorothy Lamour, Jimmy Stewart and countless other stars and starlets. [Rent]
Jack the Giant Killer (1962). An odd hybrid of a sci-fi-slash-fantasy story laced with musical numbers and scary monsters. [Rent]
Half a Sixpence (1967). Anyone remember Tommy Steele? The energetic get-happy Brit shows his stuff in a colorful musical that probably would have been a hit... had it appeared several years before the Summer of Love. [Rent]
Unpublished Story (1942). A spy story set in London during the Blitz. [Rent]
Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938). Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, you know the drill. But what's interesting is that this was Garland's first appearance in the series. When the movie became one of MGM's highest grossers that year, fates were sealed. For a while, anyway. [Rent]
For Me and My Gal (1942). Gene Kelly could hardly have wished for a more advantageous screen debut in a major role: Busby Berkeley directing, Arthur Freed producing and Judy Garland as his love interest. [Rent]
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). Vincente Minnelli directs this candy-colored classic musical: "Clang, clang, clang went the trolley / Ding, ding, ding went the bell. / Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings, / From the moment I saw him I fell." Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
In the Good Old Summertime (1949). This remake of The Shop Around the Corner is notable for its peppy tunes, for Judy Garland, of course, but also for Buster Keaton's turn in a supporting role. [Rent]
Click on to see more that arrived on April 6.
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