May 4, 2004
FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
The Triplets of Belleville (2003). Nominated for an Academy Award last year and, many would argue, it deserved to win. A few comments from our discussion of the film: Gradalis: "To put it simply, these Triplets are fantastic." Chyekk was "enchanted": "It has great style and I fully recommend it." DLeonard: "Wonderful. It is not a Pixar style movie for sure, but very playful and full of fun characters." dpowers: "Fun music, good visuals." [Rent]
Elephant (2003). Winner of the Golden Palm at Cannes, where Gus Van Sant was also named best director, a highly unusual one-two punch. "Uneven though he may be," notes J Hoberman in the Village Voice, "Van Sant rivals Steven Soderbergh as the mad scientist of commercial filmmakers - and the wildly polarizing Elephant is his most successful experiment to date." The Columbine-inspired film about a high school shooting is "naturally divisive and disturbing, but it's also deeply tactful." [Rent]
Peter Pan (2003). "The Peter Pan books are intended to disturb as well as comfort," notes New York Times critic AO Scott. "They are magical and exciting, but also frightening and sad; their beautifully balanced themes are the delights of childhood and the pathos of leaving it behind. [Director PJ] Hogan understands both themes, and his filmmaking style is a perfect mixture of wide-eyed wonder and slightly melancholy sophistication." [Rent]
The Last Samurai (2003). Tom Cruise may well have been shooting for an Oscar with this one, but it was Ken Watanabe who scored the nomination. While seasoned samurai fans snickered a bit, this epic tale of a US Civil War hero who becomes a samurai warrior is nonetheless awfully fine to look at and more than a little engaging. [Rent] Bonus disc [Rent].
Calendar Girls (2003). Along with Something's Gotta Give, this delightful British comedy based on a true story was one of a neat little collection of films celebrated last year for gently reminding audiences that sex doesn't stop at 40. Or for that matter, 50 and beyond. With Helen Mirren and Julie Waters. [Rent]
Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003). What a stroke of brilliance, casting Scarlett Johansson as the girl in Vermeer's landmark painting. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "A stunningly designed piece of work, with hauntingly beautiful cinematography from Eduardo Serra of the sort that often gets called 'painterly' and here really deserves it." [Rent]
Chasing Liberty (2003). Want to read a really entertaining review? Without further ado, The Flick Filosopher. [Rent]
The Missing Gun (2003). This "comic book noir," as Elvis Mitchell called it in the New York Times, was shot quickly in China on a low budget. Though reviews have been mixed, plaudits have been offered for the premise - a village policeman loses his gun and, in his search for it, rummages through his own life - and for the glimpses, however fleeting of life in contemporary China. [Rent]
The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love (1995). Winner of the GLAAD Media Award, Maria Maggenti's film also won praise from the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle: "Not just sneaky but pretty brilliant. By assuming the form of an innocuous teen romance film and presenting its teenage lesbians in a happy, wholesome glow, The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love cozies up to its audience and asks, 'Is there really such a big difference, anyway?'" [Rent]
Tomorrow (1971). Features one of Robert Duvall's own favorite performances. Horton Foote wrote the screenplay based on a story by William Faulkner. [Rent]
Plain Dirty (2001). A rugged indie set in the south about a love triangle gone awry. Also known as Briar Patch. [Rent]
Merchant of Venice (2001). Director Trevor Nunn throws a twist on this Royal National Theatre production of Shakespeare's most controversial play originally shown on PBS: He's set it in the decadent cafes of 1930s Venice and partly in the city's Jewish quarter, Europe's original ghetto. In an interview, Nunn explains: "The production is intended to be evocative of those absolutely extraordinary years between the wars, when we all know what happened in Germany and we also know what happened in Italy, with that shift toward a fascistic outlook, the punishment of minorities of every kind, and the dangerous attraction to nationalism." [Rent]
Love! Valour! Compassion! (1997). Joe Montello brings Terrence McNally's Broadway hit about eight gay friends coming together three on three separate occasions to the screen. Writes Ron Wells in Film Threat, "[T]he actors convey a sense of history and comfort with each other. I didn't feel cheaply manipulated. No one came off as overtly theatrical or acting solely to move the story along. Everything didn't have to be neatly tied up by the end. Many scenes played out with painful honesty, such as the relationship between the twins, which wasn't remotely a gay thing, just a brother thing. Best of all, I was entertained." [Rent]
Noises Off (1992). Who knew Peter Bogdanovich could be this much fun. It helps that he's working with a play by the ever-clever Michael Frayn, who's begun with the idea that the only thing more farcical than good old-fashioned no-holds-barred farce is the production of a good old-fashioned no-holds-barred farce. Bogdanovich then coaxes the very best and bravest out of his already esteemed and talented cast to make something pretty great even better. As the play's director Michael Caine bears the weight of catastrophe with an incompetence that's somehow enormously sympathetic. Carol Burnett does what she did best all those years on her own TV show, only this time within a fresher context; to an extent, the same could be said of John Ritter, only here, he has much more to work with than he did on Three's Company, goes-without-saying. When Christopher Reeve asks for his motivation for holding a bag of groceries and keeps on asking until he gets the answer he doesn't just want but needs... priceless. Denholm Elliot finds the perfect balance between hamming it up and disappearing into the woodwork (it's harder to find that you might think); and Julie Hagerty gives her best performance since she worked with Albert Brooks in Lost in America. All in all? Recommended. [Rent]
The Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle. Who are these people, you may be wondering. Here's the deal. In 1947, Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray - who are not in these movies, so don't go looking for them - were cast in a film called The Egg and I. They're newlyweds who decide to skip the Rat Race and go off and live the simple life in the country. Hilarity ensues, naturally. But what Universal, the studio behind this gem, discovered was that the characters the lovebirds run across out there, played by Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride - that's right, Ma and Pa Kettle - were getting bigger laughs than the leads. Hence, the series. Vol. 2: Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952), Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation (1953), Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954) and Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki (1955). [Rent]
Remember how, at the end of Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen catches an old Marx Brothers movie and decides that life is worth living after all? That's the sort of effect these anarchic vaudevillians can have. And now, a terrifically exciting new Marx Brothers Collection including seven of their thirteen films is on its way on five discs: A Night at the Opera (1935) [Rent], A Day at the Races (1937) [Rent], Room Service (1938) and At The Circus (1939) [Rent], Go West (1940) and The Big Store (1941) [Rent] and A Night in Casablanca (1946) [Rent].
Desk Set (1957). Features not only the whiplash comic dialogue between Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn but also one of the first appearances on screen by a computer. In fact, IBM is thanked right there in the opening credits, even though the point of the story early on is that Hepburn and her co-workers fear for their jobs when Tracy swoops in from MIT with his thinking machine. [Rent]
The Best of Abbott and Costello. Volume 2: Eight movies and a doc on two discs: 1 [Rent]: Hit the Ice (1943; they go skiing), In Society (1944; they're plumbers), Here Comes the Coeds (1945; on campus), The Naughty Nineties (1945; it's here where the great existential question first arises: "Who's on first?"). 2 [Rent]: Little Giant (1946; selling vacuum cleaners), The Time of Their Lives (1946; a ghost story), Buck Privates Come Home (1947; racing cars), The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947; on the farm).
On the Road With Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Four Road movies and a doc, all on one disc: Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Road to Morocco (1942) and Road to Utopia (1946). [Rent]
Battleground (1949). William Wellman directs one of the better World War II pictures of the period. Seriously. Check the raves from IMDb users. [Rent]
John Wayne: American Legend (2003). No movie-loving American who places himself or herself even slightly to the left of, say, Ronald Reagan (who played a sort of television-ready version of the legend in the White House) can help but have severely conflicting feelings when it comes to the peculiar case of The Duke. On the one hand, he was a patriot beyond reason; on the other, he was a rugged presence on screen who seemed to bear the entire history of the country's westward expansion in that tired but determined swagger. This doc explores what directors as brilliant and diverse, politically and otherwise, as John Ford, Howard Hawks and Nick Ray saw in him as well as his private life. [Rent]
Flying Leathernecks (1951). Nicholas Ray directs Wayne and Robert Ryan in roles critic Jeremy Heilman calls "surprisingly nuanced and psychologically sound... What is most surprising is that Ray, who usually offers up a strong liberal sensibility, doesn't spend energy here decrying the war so much as he examines the value of the individual soldier's life in the grand scheme of things and the difficulty in issuing a command that might cost some of those lives." [Rent]
Back To Bataan (1944). classics Edward Dmytryk directs John Wayne and Anthony Quinn in this propagandistic WWII adventure. [Rent]
Dirty Mind of Young Sally / Teenage Bride (1973 / 1975). Sexploitation double feature from Something Weird. Tagline for Sally: "She's radio's answer to Fanny Hill - turn her on and she'll turn you on!"[Rent]
Ma Barker's Killer Brood / Gangbusters (1960 / 1954). More twisted fare from Something Weird. One IMDb user comments on Brood: "This is the kind of movie The Addams Family would watch with their kids." [Rent]
Vampires vs. Zombies (2004). So this young lady, Jenna, starts getting these bizarre hallucinations, right? Turns out they're the unwanted gift of the vampire Carmilla, so Jenna teams up with her dad to take on Carmilla and her hordes of vampires, cannibals and zombies along the way. [Rent]
Monarch of the Glen. A Sunday evening series on the BBC. Archie MacDonald's running a restaurant in London when he gets called back to the Scottish Highlands to run his 40,000 acre estate. The scenery! The romance! Complete Series One (2000) [Rent]. Complete Series Two (2001): Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
The Osbournes: 2 1/2 (2003). The family sitcom we call all relate to. Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
Law & Order. The Second Year (1990). Discs 1 [Rent], 2 [Rent] and 3 [Rent].
Boys Over Flowers. "I am ADDICTED to this series," declares MrBunBun. "I you love shoujo anime, especially the melodrama, then this is IT." Vol. 5: Be Still My Beating Heart (1996). [Rent]
Yu Yu Hakusho. Vol. 23: Ghost Files: Dangerous Games (2002). "Let the violent young do something constructive, like, say, save the world a few times," says IronS. [Rent]
Legend of the Mystical Ninja. Vol. 4: Love is a Powerful Weapon (1997). [Rent]
BASToFSyndrome. Vol. 1: Fear and Lemons (2004). The first Korean title from ADV. Check the trailer. [Rent]
Kiddy Grade. Vol. 3: Lies Beneath (2002). Earth-saving adventure with a healthy dose of politics and economics. [Rent]
FOR THE KIDS
Samurai Jack. "You might call Samurai Jack a soba western, or sashimi sci-fi," writes Time: "Either way, you'll slurp it up." Season 1 (2001). Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
Pinocchio in Outer Space (1964). Updating classic tales is always risky business, but when the updates age enough to take on a retro veneer, the whole exercise can turn pretty bizarre. DVD Verdict calls this one "a strange mix of sci-fi, scare tactics and space junk" that's "actually very entertaining." [Rent]
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