May 25, 2004:
ON THEIR WAY FROM THE THEATERS
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). What fun it'll be to get another look at this one again. Legolas swooping down the trunk of that three-story elephant, the incredible devolution of Smeagol, Sam telling Frodo, "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you." All those remarkable, well-earned moments. And the great thing about seeing it on DVD, of course, is that you can choose which of the half a dozen or so goodbye scenes to actually watch. See also: Our interviews with Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen and Andy Serkis. [Rent] Bonus Disc. [Rent]
The Son (2002). "Harrowing," says Shroomy. But not right away for most, including Slate's David Edelstein: "It is difficult to discuss The Son, the unnerving Belgian drama by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, without alluding to the moment when the movie snaps into focus and those of us who'd been semidrowsing for half an hour suddenly sat upright, gasped, and thereafter found our eyes locked to the screen.... By the climax, we can hardly breathe."
The Weather Underground (2002, though most didn't catch it until 2003, the year for which it was nominated for an Oscar, a DGA award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and won awards at festivals as prestigious as Locarno and Seattle). In the Village Voice, J Hoberman opened his review by quoting one of the "now middle-aged radical muses" who took the political upheaval of the 1960s to its most violent extreme in the US: "I think the Vietnam War made us all a little crazy." To which Hoberman adds: "Sam Green and Bill Siegel's "often gripping documentary manages to evoke the particular quality and extent of the madness that possessed many Americans during the course of the longest foreign war in the nation's history." Relevance is a doc best served bold. [Rent]
Bubba Ho-Tep (2003). You're already rating this one well over 8 out of 10. Bravo. Writes Pete Vonder Haar in Film Threat: "This is the first Elvis movie I've ever liked.... Of course, it doesn't hurt that Elvis is played by the incomparable Bruce Campbell, or that Ossie Davis plays former President JFK, or that the whole thing is based on a short story by the great Joe R. Lansdale. In retrospect, there was little chance I wouldn't like this movie." [Rent]
Son Frere (2003). Late winter, early spring. Luc (Eric Caravaca) is a gay school teacher in Paris. He gets a call from his older brother, Thomas (Bruno Todeschini). Can he come over? Yes, sure. It's the first time they've seen each other in a while. Thomas does not look well, and sure enough, pacing and sweating, he tells his little brother he's got some strange blood disease, very rare. The platelets are freaking and the doctors aren't quite sure what to do about it. From here on in, we jump back and forth between this season and late summer, early fall, when Thomas's disease has progressed beyond the point that the doctors can do much of anything anymore. In the New York Times, AO Scott calls Patrice Chereau's film "stringent, clinical and almost unbearably moving." [Rent]
Welcome To Mooseport (2004). Fluff. But sometimes, fluff is just fine. With Gene Hackman and Ray Romano. [Rent]
Many eyes will be on the hobbits, but the truly big news around here is the release of two films by Robert Bresson: A Man Escaped (1956) [Rent] and Lancelot of the Lake (1975) [Rent]. "A plot-summary of most of Bresson's films would render them extremely off-putting for a lover of 'feelgood movies'," admits Alan Pavelin in his essay on the director in Senses of Cinema. "Indeed the film with the only unashamedly 'happy ending', Un Condamné [Man Escaped], was his biggest commercial success... Many of Bresson's films are not, however, meant to be in the realist mode. For example, Balthazar is basically a fable, while Lancelot du Lac is a highly stylised portrayal of a mediaeval legend." Yet even TV Guide praises Bresson as a "cinema giant" and calls Escaped "one of his finest works." Then there's that already famous piece from Richard Hell (yes, that Richard Hell) in the Village Voice last summer: "I came to Bresson late; I'm his new most devoted convert.... His work makes it possible for there to be movies about which I have no reservations. He is incomparable."
Lamerica (1994). It's 1991, the Iron Curtain is rusting away fast and Albania is in turmoil. Two Italian entrepreneurs aim to make the best of it by setting up a fake company and scoring a goverment grant. But they need an Albanian figurehead; they choose an old naif who unwittingly sucks them into the impoverished chaos of the country. "The film makes a clear connection between Albania in the 1990's and postwar Italy: both nations were economically devastated and reeling from the effects of dictatorship," notes Janet Maslin in the New York Times. Director Gianni "Amelio reinvents neo-realism with an especially acute sense of history.... Nonprofessional actors play most roles, and real events that the film maker observed in Albania - like the sight of a hip-hopping Albanian waif, energized by the sudden onslaught of pop culture via previously unavailable Italian television - have been incorporated into the film.... The ease with which Mr. Amelio creates an impromptu father-son bond between [the two leads] is a sign of this film maker's bracingly unsentimental compassion." [Rent]
Smiles of Summer Night (1955). "One of the director's few comedies and perhaps his best," writes Spiros Gangas in program notes for the Edinburgh University Film Society. Ingmar Bergman "extracts terrific performances from his cast but one has to applaud especially Eva Dahlbeck in her portrayal of the wise, manipulative mistress, Harriet Andersson as the flirtatious maid and Gunnar Bjornstrand as the helpless and pathetic man thrown in disturbingly funny and desperate situations. A brilliant film which gives Bergman a face few are accustomed to." And here's another: This Criterion edition includes an introduction by the director himself. [Rent]
Stray Dog (1949). A policeman sets out on a desperate search for his gun before whoever stole it uses all six bullets. "The portrayal of decadence in the nighttime search scenes through the city is at once socially critical and intoxicating," writes Mark Netter for CineScene. With Toshirô Mifune in top form, and of course, directed by Akira Kurosawa. This Criterion edition features audio commentary by Stephen Prince, author of The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa, and a 32-minute doc on the making of the film. [Rent]
Full Metal Yakuza (1997). Midnight Eye: "Packed to the brim with delightful, funny, cruel, explicit and inventive details, Full Metal Yakuza is a grandiose retelling of Paul Verhoeven's Robocop, courtesy of one of the most exciting directors to come out of Japan in the last fifteen years." That would be, of course, Takashi Miike (don't miss our interview, either). [Rent]
Junk Food (1997). There are nearly eight million stories to be told of Tokyo and director Masashi Yamamoto has selected some of the bleakest. "One thing that distinguishes Junk Food from other contemplations of urban sleaze is the absolute out-of-the-blue savagery exhibited by its characters and the way sex often triggers the violence," notes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. Yamamoto "contrives some pungently seedy settings for its characters to writhe around in. The rooms in which Miyuki arranges her date's unexpected rendezvous with death suggests a dripping subterranean plumbing facility with a bed plunked in the middle. The movie tries so aggressively to evoke urban seediness that it ends up feeling surreal." And that's a bad thing? [Rent]
In a Glass Cage (1985). A re-release of this dark thriller from Spain. Shock Cinema cuts straight to the chase: "Director Agustin Villaronga's sick-assed drama will best stick in your memory as an oppressive masterwork of dread in the guise of an art film.... Though lacking in hardcore explicitness, this grim, pedophilia-fueled flick focuses on the true horror at the core of human nature. A shower afterward is optional, but recommended." [Rent]
Si Te Dicen Que Cai (1992). Spanish director Vincente Aranda conjures "a complex and haunting portrait of his country's psyche during the harsh early years of the Franco regime," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. With Antonio Banderas [Rent]
Junior Bonner (1972). Sam Peckinpah's tale of weekend cowboys. Way back when, Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times: "The movie is made to order for both [Steve] McQueen and [Robert] Preston, but the loveliest performance is that of Miss [Ida] Lupino, whose first screen appearance this is in something like seventeen years. Junior Bonner, which looks like a rodeo film and sounds like a rodeo film, is a superior family comedy in disguise." [Rent]
Hickey & Boggs (1972). Robert Culp directs himself and Bill Cosby - yes, that's the I Spy team reunited - in a story of down-on-their-luck private detectives based on a screenplay by Walter Hill. The film will be playing in June as part of the "Los Angeles Plays Itself" series at the Pacific Film Archives, and Jason Sanders writes in the program notes: "Buddy-movie pyrotechnics aside, Hickey & Boggs is a surprisingly atmospheric effort by director Culp, who seems more concerned with impressionistic glimpses of Los Angeles than with the plot. A wordless beginning in Union Station leads to chases down abandoned streets, showdowns on unoccupied beaches, and fights at unfilled sports stadiums, creating a sense of Los Angeles as an urban ghost-world whose community structures have been forsaken by humanity and reclaimed by scavengers." [Rent]
The Last Valley (1971). "One of the really great obscure movies," writes Doug Pratt. The stars: Michael Caine and Omar Sharif. The setting: High in the Alps during the Thirty Years War. An IMDb user takes us back: "The white-hot insanity of religious fanatics and the cynical scheming of kings, princes, and bishops ensured that there were no civilians, only victims.... This is one of those very good movies that should be the norm in the motion picture industry instead of the exception. It isn't a masterpiece, but it's fascinating, has an excellent cast, and is free from the usual cliches." [Rent]
Searching for Wooden Watermelons (2003). A small indie laced with comic passages about knowing when it's time to fly the coop. [Rent]
Born Innocent (1974). A TV movie with Linda Blair which quickly garnered a notorious reputation for a rape scene; too bad, because most agree it's real value lies in its gritty, naturalist drama. [Rent]
Guncrazy (1992). When it was released, Hal Hinson wrote in the Washington Post: "Patterned after Joseph H. Lewis's 1949 noir classic of the same name, Guncrazy is the last and funkiest in a long line of classics like They Made Me a Criminal and Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once, in which a pair of doomed lovers shoot their way into legend. It's a well-established genre form with well-established conventions - a sort of pop Romeo and Juliet with guns, and [director Tamra] Davis shows that she knows them well. Well enough, in fact, to deepen and draw out of them a raw, desolate brand of poetry." With Drew Barrymore. [Rent]
Bone (1972). A dark comedy in which "the bizarre, psychoanalytically elegant plot... refuses to take refuge in platitudes." (Chicago Reader.) It's also Larry Cohen's first film and stars the great Yaphet Kotto. This fresh release features commentary by Cohen as well. [Rent]
Club Dread (2004). Bill Paxton joins the Broken Lizard Comedy Troupe for a parody of slasher flicks. But: "Is it a comedy?" wonder Kevin Carr in Film Threat. "Or are they really trying to make a go at a horror film? Funny enough, it actually works as both." [Rent]
Student Confidential (1987). From the wicked house of Troma. Joe Bob Briggs calls it a "weird exploitation film made with such seriousness it plays like an art film." Is that good or bad? Or bad in a good way? Let us know. [Rent]
Click on to see more May 25 releases: Action, Horror, Anime, TV and Classics, Westerns and War movies.
Browse the New Releases Archive for more recent arrivals.