|FRESH FROM THE THEATERS|
A Dirty Shame (2004).
The incomparable Tracey Ullman is the driving, thrusting, sweaty life force propelling John Waters's almost nostalgic return to his trashy roots.
ABC Africa (2001).
"The richness and emotional impact of ABC Africa comes partly from the balance it achieves between the director's personality... and his vast, terrible subject," wrote A.O. Scott of Abbas Kiarostami's documentary in the New York Times. "He never pretends to have mastered the subject - the film's title suggests the elementary state of his knowledge - or to be able to solve Uganda's problems by observing them. But you come away from his film overwhelmed, hopeful and... illuminated." See also: Our Iranian New Wave primer.
Au Hasard, Balthazar (1966).
Criterion releases one helluva lot of great films, it goes without saying, but this one is surely one of the most highly anticipated. "To cut to the chase," wrote J. Hoberman in the Village Voice, Robert Bresson's heart-breaking and magnificent Au Hasard Balthazar - the story of a donkey's life and death in rural France - is the supreme masterpiece by one of the greatest of 20th-century filmmakers. Bringing together all Bresson's highly developed ideas about acting, sound, and editing, as well as grace, redemption, and human nature, Balthazar is understated and majestic, sensuous and ascetic, ridiculous and sublime."
Among the disc's special features: a video interview with Donald Richie and "Un metteur en ordre: Robert Bresson," a 1966 French TV program about the film featuring Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle and members of the cast and crew.
Edward II (1992).
In his re-imagining of Christopher Marlowe's 16th century play, Derek Jarman "has taken all the latent homosexual subtext in Marlowe's original and brought it front and center - and then some," wrote Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle. "Settings go back and forth between sparsely decorated medieval castles and present-day Outrage demonstrations.... Then there are these transfixing moments and compelling images, like when Edward and Gaveston dance a last dance while songstress Annie Lennox sings Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye" video-style in the background, a moment rich with resonance and acute awareness."
Rory O'Shea Was Here (2004).
The story of two friends confined to wheelchairs is "funny, touching, affirmative," wrote Philip French in the Observer. "There are odd, slightly sticky moments, but O'Donnell, his screenwriters Jeffrey Caine and Christian O'Reilly and his cast avoid the sentimentality and the triumphalism so often found in movies about the disabled."
The First Amendment Project (2004).
This fast-paced doc follows the case with comedy built into it right from the start, the one Fox brought against Al Franken for using their slogan in the title of his book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.
Heaven Can Wait (1943).
We should first make clear that this is not the movie Warren Beatty remade in 1978; his Heaven Can Wait is actually a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941). No, this comic gem from Ernst Lubitsch, his first in color, is "his spiritual autobiography," as the British Film Institute puts it. "In order to determine his posthumous destination, Henry Van Cleve tells the story of his life to the Devil in alternately comic and poignant episodes." This Criterion release features a conversation with critics Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris, a 30-minute portrait of screenwriter Samson Raphaelson and more extras.
The Star (1952).
Bette Davis used to refer to the 1950s as her "ten black years," and in this 1952 low-budget Hollywood drama about an aging actress desperately trying to stage a comeback, she seems to be screaming out all her frustrations. Not only at her own fate but at her arch-nemisis as well, Joan Crawford (the screenwriters knew Crawford well). The salt in the wound: Davis would be nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal here, but would lose to Shirley Booth for Come Back, Little Sheba, a role originally offered to Davis.
"Whether she's playing herself or thinly veiled version of Crawford is beside the point," writes Cool Cinema Trash. "The end result is one hundred percent Bette Davis. The Star proves that no one does a better Bette Davis impersonation than Davis herself. She manages to employ every tic and mannerism in her personal bag of acting tricks. The result is a deliriously over-the-top performance that not even a seasoned drag queen could out-do."
With Sterling Hayden and a young Natalie Wood.
Stellvia. Volume 5: Foundation V. (2005).
For the Anime News Network, this is one of those few series that actually improves as it moves along. It was there that Carlo Santos wrote most recently, "Few people would think of turning to a high-spirited sci-fi series for romance, but Volume 4 of Stellvia proves that it can hold its own against any other girl-meets-boy anime out there.... Our little meatball-headed space cadet is truly coming of age, and yes, this series is getting better." Let's hope the trend holds up for Volume 5.