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May 10, 2005


  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). All those brilliant comedic performances, from Saturday Night Live on, now seem to have been mere preparation for Bill Murray's true gift to cinema - that ability to communicate the full weight of the mid-life crisis - that moment when you realize that the dreams of youth, even when realized, just aren't all that... and that moment can last ten or fifteen years, if you're not careful - with a gaze both as heavy as a Monday morning hangover and as light as a sigh. In Lost Translation, Murray underplayed the pain beautifully. For Wes Anderson, he plays it for laughs. Second to Murray - besides all the fine turns from the rest of the crew, particularly Owen Wilson and Anjelica Huston - it's the sets and Anderson's unique palette that are the stars here. [Rent] Criterion's bonus disc features, among other many fine things, all those Bowie tunes in Portuguese, a making-of helmed by Antonio Ferrera, Albert Maysles and Matthew Prinzing, an interview with composer Mark Mothersbough and Mondo Monda, an Italian talk show featuring an interview with Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach. [Rent]

  • Appleseed (2004). It's come to this. Anime features are being given full-fledged reviews in the New York Times. There, you'll find A.O. Scott contemplating "a conflict between people and 'bioroids,' a strange race of beings, half-human and half-robot, who represent either a radiant, utopian future or an impending apocalypse. Even as the final credits roll, you may not be sure which it is, but the movie itself, like those bioroids, is a curious hybrid, combining traditional two-dimensional Japanese anime with 3-D computer-generated imagery." Shinji Aramaki adapts the manga by Masamune Shirow. [Rent]

  • The Merchant of Venice (2004). "Better-than-average screen Shakespeare," A.O. Scott announced in the New York Times. "Intelligent without being showily clever, and motivated more by genuine fascination with the play's language and ideas than by a desire to cannibalize its author's cultural prestige." With a marvellous Al Pacino, having regained control over himself after his "hoo-ha!" phase, a terrific Jeremy Irons, back from the precipice overlooking a split between a serious theatrical career and a far sillier one on film, and Joseph Fiennes, who was probably born in period costume and sporting that little beard. [Rent]

  • In Good Company (2004). "A liberal-humanist sitcom set in a brutal global-capitalist universe," declared David Edelstein in Slate. "The movie doesn't cut too deep, and it's impossibly sweetened, so that most of the characters get their just desserts. But it manages to be funny and charming while capturing a lot of disturbing things about the way we live now: our deepest fears about our place in a system that could force us to clean out our desks (if we even have desks) at the drop of a stock point." With Dennis Quaid, Scarlett Johansson and Topher Grace. [Rent]

  • Two from the phenomenally successful Thai director Nonzee Nimibutr. First up, a reissue of Nang-Nak (1999). Winner of the Golden Elephant at the Bangkok Film Festival, the Netpac Award in Rotterdam and four top awards at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival, this was the film that also drew more Thais into theaters than Titanic. It's also the 21st adaptation of an enduring Thai legend, a moving melding of a classic love story and a disturbing ghost story. [Rent]

  • And Jan Dara (2001). Here, Nonzee Nimibutr doesn't reach so far back in Thai history for his source; instead, he's chosen the most famous erotic novel in Thai literature, Utasana Pleungtham's The Story of Jan Dara, written in 1966 and set in the Bangkok of the 30s. "There is way too much sex in the movie," complains Films Asia... that, of course, is a matter of taste. [Rent]

  • Gods, Gangsters and Gamblers is a disc featuring two films, Don't Follow Me, a role-reversal comedy with Andy Lau and Tony Leung, and the gangster drama Triad Affairs (also known as Century of the Dragon), which is said to have inspired the Infernal Affairs trilogy. [Rent]

  • Samaritan Girl (2004). "As a director who seems to revel in making unapologetic films with challenging and controversial subjects, Kim Ki-duk presents a sobering look into the world of teenage prostitution," writes markhl. The film is comprised of three chapters and markhl finds "Sonata" in particular "powerfully moving and unforgettable." [Rent]

  • Donya (2003). A comedy from Iran. That's right, a comedy from Iran. There have been a few to break through to international audiences lately, and this one begins with Donya (Hediyeh Tehrani) returning to the country from the US. She contacts a real estate agent to find a place, get set up and started over again, and whoops, he falls in love with her. Sends his wife and three kids to Karbala and marries Donya. But then his first wife comes back... [Rent]

  • Donkey Skin (1970). Despite the popularity of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, the films of Jacques Demy are arriving on these shores on DVD at a frustratingly slow pace. But that only gets us all the more excited when one does arrive, such as this fantasy which Michael Atkinson, writing in the Village Voice, recently called "an evocative globe-paperweight tableau of its place and time, and a concise demonstration of the disquietude inherent in classic fairy tales." With Catherine Deneuve. [Rent]

  • Hoop Dreams (1994). "An amazing documentary," exclaimed Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle when this nearly three-hour-long original about two high school basketball players in a Chicago neighborhood first appeared. "There's so much going on in [Steve] James's documentary that bears commenting on, but it's a film best discovered - frame by frame, joy by tragedy - on its own terms. More of an extended, rousing sociology lesson than anything else, it's also the single most remarkable documentary to come down the pike in a long while. And I'm not even a basektball fan." Recently, the New York Times reported that when James and producers Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert set out to work on the extras for this Criterion release, they realized they simply had to make a sequel - which they're working on now. As it is, the two players, Arthur Agee and William Gates, plus the filmmaking trio, contribute audio commentaries. See, too, our new Sports Films primer. [Rent]

  • Burden of Dreams (1982). Along with Eleanor Coppola's Hearts of Darkness (about the making of a gorgeous triumph, Apocalypse Now) and Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's Lost in La Mancha (about Terry Gilliam's sad and frustrating failure to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote), Les Blank's documentary captures a making-of story not only nearly as engaging the actual film being made but also echoing the very themes the director on camera is wrestling with in his own film. Watching Burden of Dreams, it's hard not to ask yourself, Who's the Quixotic madman here, Werner Herzog or Fitzcarraldo? This Criterion release feature audio commentary by Blank and Herzog as well as the famous short, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. [Rent]

  • Dreams of Sparrows (2004). With a team of contributing filmmakers, Baghdad resident Hayder Mousa Daffar talks to his fellow Iraqis about the current state of their country. Even as the film, the first feature documentary from the IRAQeye Group, a collaboration between American and Iraqi filmmakers, is touring the festival circuit, there's a sense of urgency to it that warrants a concurrent release on DVD. A few weeks ago, it screened at the SXSW Festival, and the Austin Chronicle wrote, "Daffar captures a portrait of a citizenry that simultaneously holds what appear to be two contradictory (at least to Americans) attitudes: gratitude to America for ridding Iraq of the iron fist of Saddam Hussein, and anger toward the American occupation for its crass self-interest. It's fascinating stuff." And just the sort of thing you won't see on the evening news. [Rent]
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