May 18, 2004:
FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (2003). Guy Maddin is "a delirious genius," proclaims jaimetout. And he's been having a pretty good year. Or two. Even as The Saddest Music in the World garners raves, here comes this one from last year, propelled by praise along the lines of J Hoberman's in the Village Voice: "Feasting on stage makeup and extravagant gestures, the movie not only reanimates a dead form and cannibalizes its own footage - it also steals Mahler's soul, ravishes the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and embalms the pale beauty of prima ballerinas Tara Birtwhistle and CindyMarie Small. Not surprisingly, Zhang Wei-Qiang's Dracula is the hero.... It's also overtly erotic, willfully archaic, often inspired, uncannily affecting, and beautifully convulsive." And don't miss our fresh interview with Maddin. [Rent]
Miracle (2004). You can see the appeal to the suits at Disney who greenlighted this one. It's 1980, Americans are being held hostage in Iran, the outgoing president had declared that the country was suffering some sort of "malaise" and, as someone utters on screen, "America needs a win." And the US Olympic hockey team actually delivered one in the form of a victory over the Soviet team no one in their right mind would have predicted. This is that story. With Kurt Russell and Patricia Clarkson. [Rent] And there's a Bonus Disc sporting featurettes and interviews. [Rent]
Paycheck (2003). The elements are all there: Story by Phillip K. Dick. John Woo directing. Uma Thurman. Paul Giamatti in a supporting role. But 2003 was the year everyone suddenly decided they'd had just about enough of Ben Affleck. Was that the only reason audiences snubbed Paycheck? Probably not, but if you, like many, chose the hobbits over the mindgames this past holiday season, here's your chance to catch up. [Rent]
Torque (2004). It ain't art, it's action, and it's helmed by music video director Joseph Kahn (U2, Moby, Britney Spears, Eminem, etc.) Stephanie Zacharek puts it this way in Salon: "There's lots of fast cutting, and close-ups of gears and stuff that flare out into action shots of motorcycles revving up and taking off. In visual terms, you can rarely tell what's actually happening, but you're left with the bewildering sense that, whatever it is, it's really cool." [Rent]
You Got Served (2004). B2K broke up just as their big break into the movies hit theaters, an event that itself "works as a strangely mesmerizing gloss on the nasty intricacies of the music business," comments Cynthia Fuchs in PopMatters. "While the plot is surely rote, the dance scenes (which comprise much of the film's 93-minute running time) are tremendous." [Rent]
The Tin Drum (1979). Along with the international commercial success of Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot, the Academy Award for Volker Schlöndorff's adaptation of Günter Grass's reputation-making novel The Tin Drum alerted audiences outside the circles of dedicated cinephiles that something was going on in Germany, a country most hadn't thought much about in terms of cinema since WWII. In later histories of New German Cinema, Schlöndorff would be cast as the plodding literalist, at least in comparison with Fassbinder, Herzog and Wenders. But this is one exhilarating, absurdist nightmare daring enough to get itself banned from Oklahoma public libraries just a few years ago. "Unforgettable, often harrowing," says underdog. And Criterion has jam-packed this two-disc set with extras. Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
Brief Crossing (2001). Matt Cale of Ruthless Reviews: "The iconoclastic and daring Catherine Breillat is at it again, subverting our expectations and twisting gender roles into knots of anger.... As with all Breillat films, there is a 'twist' ending, but this time, rather than resorting to shock or violence, she ends on a note of quiet irony, forcing us to reassess all that has come before." [Rent]
A Loving Father (2002). Life and art imitate each other all over the place as Gerard Depardieu portrays a famous writer on his way to Stockholm to pick up his Nobel Prize but gets kidnapped along the way by his son, played by, that's right, Guillaume Depardieu. Turns out the father's been the distant kind all these years and that's taken its toll on the son. And the film is directed by Jacob Berger, son of John Berger. The famous writer. But does it work? Boxoffice: "Berger eschews the standard histrionics for a raw, bleak portrait of parental alienation. Although he refuses to opt for an uplifting solution, the catharsis is somehow satisfying." [Rent]
The Deluge (1973). Ok, you might want to take notes here, but it's worth it: In the late 19th century, the Polish novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz, whose Quo Vadis would put him on the literary map and who would win the Nobel in 1905, wrote what many consider his masterpiece, an epic trilogy chronicling war-torn Poland in the mid-17th century. Director Jerzy Hoffman adapted the first of the books, With Fire and Sword in 1999, and we did indeed get those DVDs in just a few weeks ago. But it was back in the 70s that Hoffman filmed the second book, The Deluge. Regardless of which order you choose to watch them in, they're both regarded as two of the finest war movies around, thanks to the care taken in developing the characters, the attention to period detail and the passion of the storytelling. Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent]
The Embalmer (2002). At last, a film on DVD from the talented Italian director Matteo Garrone. In this comic thriller, a taxidermist falls head over heels for his male assistant. "An aching meditation on the power of beauty, this hits home," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. [Rent]
Solo Mia (2001). Javier Balaguer tells the story of a well-to-do married couple, Joaquín (Sergi López) and Angela (Paz Vega), whose lives would be ideal if he didn't beat her. "Harrowing," writes Leslie Camhi in the Village Voice: "López's courageous performance effectively captures a man whose habitual charm suddenly collapses in unexamined fits of rage." [Rent]
In This Whore's Life (2001). Kevin Thomas in the LA Times: "The movie is, above all, a splendid showcase for stunning [Mariana] Santangelo, who gives a powerhouse portrayal of a vivid, sexy woman more hotheaded than truly stupid." [Rent]
Insomnio (1998). Three Spanish couples can't sleep. A comedy for an evening when you're in the mood for laughs that slip up on you sideways rather than hit you head on. [Rent]
Oriana (1985). Marie, French, in her 30s, inherits a family estate in Venezuela. Off she goes with the intention of selling it, but once she arrives, the house stirs memories. The Washington Post wrote of this winner of the Camera d'Or at Cannes: "The atmosphere created by Torres and her cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu, as the aunt's story is pieced together first by the young Marie, then by her older self, is a sort of South American gothic; you can almost feel the sun beating down on the characters, stirring their blood and heightening their emotions. And this climate is sensual, enveloping." [Rent]
Mr. Klein (1975). As it happens, throughout the month of May, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is showing a retrospective of Josef Losey's films. But you won't have to be in New York to catch this "brilliant and disturbingly ambiguous" work, "the most powerfully oblique film ever made on the Holocaust." The Center continues: Alain Delon "gives one of his finest performances" as an art dealer who believes a Jewish man with the same name, Robert Klein, is trying to trade identities with him in German-occupied Paris. As he sets out to discover the truth, "Klein's search becomes a descent into a Kafkaesque nightmare, brilliantly and coolly calibrated by Losey as all fixed points of reference gradually fade away. With a wonderful cameo by Jeanne Moreau." [Rent]
Moon Child (2003). Ok, the elements at play here are: Director Takehisa Zeze, who got his start making "pink films" and here works with the biggest budget of his career; the two leads, HYDE and Gackt are pop stars the Japan Times likens to "Japanese younger brothers of early David Bowie"; the year is 2014 and the city is Mallepa, nestled in the "Asian Special Economic Zone," where the Japanese are looked down on by everyone else; there are bullet-dodging vampires; the yakuza lurks; the action sequences remind more than a few reviewers of John Woo. Enough to go on? [Rent]
Roaring Across the Horizon (1998). A scientist teaching at MIT leaves his life in the US behind to return home to China where he gives his all to a top-secret project: China's first nuclear bomb. [Rent]
Rhapsody of Spring (1998). Teng Wenji, who won the Best Director Award at the Montreal Film Festival in 1990, tells the story of a young composer struggling to realize his vision against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution. [Rent]
Macarthur Park (2001). You gotta love Variety-speak: "A large-ensemble piece revolving around the crack-addicted denizens of the titular LA locale, MacArthur Park, thesp Billy Wirth's feature directing debut, belies its arduous five-year production history with a rare balance of concision, sympathy and brute realism. Incident-packed, potent drama is nonetheless much more a serious multicharacter study than a formula crime thriller, one that's suspenseful without being exploitative, sobering yet far from a one-note downer. Strong reaction at Sundance and other fests could help coax audiences past the 'depressing subject matter' hurdle in specialized release. Presence of rap stars in cast will probably pay off most in home-viewing markets, where wider auds are more likely to take a chance on a film that's not quite an actioner or an arthouser, but rather an intelligent, deeply satisfying mix." If GCers aren't being spoken to directly here... [Rent]
Angel Heart (1987). A Special Edition of Alan Parker's tale of Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) and Epiphany Proudfoot's (Lisa Bonet) journey, mysteriously directed by Angel's client, Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro). Originally rated X, notes Misshaped. It's a "disturbing murder mystery," says RFrazier and "a dark, unsettling odyssey," adds CSullivan. "There are a couple of moments of weak dialogue, but that's the only flaw to this film," concurs AWalter. [Rent]
The Day After (1983). Ronald Reagan had been in office for just two years, so the very notion of making a two-hour film about the effects of a nuclear war on America, made as realistically as possible and broadcast on network TV during prime time... that wasn't exactly an uncourageous political decision. Sure, it was great for ratings as well. Ted Koppel came on afterwards to conduct a live, nationwide "Town Meeting," and in general, it was a big deal. But does it stack up as a film? As a TV movie, certainly. It's quite moving at times, and you know, still scary. With Jason Robards. [Rent]
Leo (2002). A British film set in Mississippi, best known for its Joyce allusions, sleek cinematography and its cast: Joseph Fiennes, Elisabeth Shue, Mary Stuart Masterson, Dennis Hopper, Sam Shepard and Deborah Unger. [Rent]
Amy's O (2002). "It's Sex and the City meets Woody Allen," writes Ben Greenman in the New Yorker. Guess what the O stands for. Actually, on the festival circuit, the title of film directed, edited, produced by and starring Julie Davis was all spelled out, but perhaps distributors were afraid folks might get the wrong idea. Nope, as the Seattle Weekly puts it, this is "a smart, funny romp through the perils of modern relationships." [Rent]
Stay Hungry (1976). Bob Rafelson's comedy was an odd one when it came out; now, it's positively bizarre. We begin with the cast. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sally Field and Jeff Bridges. And from here, we refer you to Gary Dretzka's fine column that appeared in Movie City News last year on what this film meant to the careers of all involved. [Rent]
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933). Criterion releases a two-disc edition of Fritz Lang's classic loaded with interviews, an alternative French version, audio commentary by by David Kalat, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse, the works. With this film, a sequel to Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922), Lang was forced to wrap up the first phase of his remarkable career when Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, banned it and sent Lang fleeing to Hollywood. Germany was in even greater sociopolitical turmoil than it had been during the making of the original and Lang had famously grabbed his plot points straight out of the newspapers. What's more, as Herman Weinberg writes in Saint Cinema, "Lang is the High Priest of the psychological film. From the megalomaniacal Dr. ("I am the State!") Mabuse in his early film... through the coldly psychotic master-criminal Haghi in Spies; the nymphomaniacal robot woman and her demented creator Rotwang in Metropolis; the lust-murderer in M... and now the paranoiac Professor Baum in [Testament], Fritz Lang has dissected several of the most important aberrations that sometimes afflict the human mind." For more on Lang and the period, see our primer on German Expressionism. Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
Joan of Arc (1948). Ingrid Bergman first portrayed the French martyr in Maxwell Anderson's play and believed so fervently that this film should be made, with Victor Fleming behind the camera, that she put up half the financing herself. It was a good bet. Her performance scored her an Oscar nomination. [Rent]
Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Just in time to catch up with it before Jackie Chan's remake comes out, this is "a huge, leisurely production, chock full of starry cameos and astounding scenery," writes the Flick Filosopher. "There's not really much of a plot, and the characters are little more than cardboard, but the whole point of this movie is to linger with [Phileas] Fogg [David Niven] and Passepartout [Cantinflas] as they drink in the beautiful countryside and exotic cities as they float languorously by." Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
The Great Escape (1963). A two-disc Special Edition of the film based on a true story that, as director John Sturges once remarked, no one would have had the audacity to make up. [Rent] Bonus Disc [Rent].
Suddenly (1954). Nine years before the assassination of JFK, Frank Sinatra portrays a psychopath who aims to shoot the president and takes a family hostage along the way. A rarely seen side of Ole Blue Eyes. [Rent]
Road Show (1941). May be of more historical than comical interest. [Rent]
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