June 8, 2004
FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
Mystic River (2003). Clint Eastwood's somber yet engaging drama is, according to New York Times chief film critic, A.O. Scott, "the rare American movie that aspires to - and achieves - the full weight and darkness of tragedy." Besides outstanding performances from Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne, the film also features Tim Robbins and Sean Penn's Academy Award-winning portrayals of Dave Boyle and Jimmy Markum. [Rent]
City of God (2003). At long last, this universally acclaimed tale of frightfully young killers living and dying at the edge of Rio de Janeiro is finally seeing its release on DVD. Nominated for four Academy Awards. "Sensationally well-made," writes David Edelstein in Slate: "Skittery and kinetic, packed with mayhem, yet framed (and
narrated) with witty detachment, so that the carnage never seems garish." [Rent]
Along Came Polly (2004). In the mood for a bit of romantic fluff? You could do worse than to rest your eyes on Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller. But, adds the Boston Phoenix, "What's best about this sit-commish romance from writer/director John Hamburg (who co-wrote Ben Stiller's Meet the Parents and Zoolander) is its hilarious cast of skilled character actors, including Alec Baldwin as a crass boss, Hank Azaria as a philosophical French scuba-diving instructor, Bryan Brown as an accident-prone daredevil, and especially Philip Seymour Hoffman as a Brat Pack-type former teen star gone to seed." [Rent]
The Leopard (1963). "This visually stunning historical epic is arguably Visconti's masterpiece and one of the finest Italian films ever made," Eoliano. And the Guardian's Philip French writes, "From the authoritative opening sequence when the camera moves around the gardens of a palace in Palermo of the 1860s and then enters the house to discover Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina, and his family at prayer, we know we are in the hands of a master. When the prayers end and word comes that Garibaldi's army has landed in Sicily and that there is a dead soldier in the orchard, we understand we are to be told a story about the relationship between public events and private lives." Criterion's three-disc set includes a fresh transfer, naturally, but also audio commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie, a doc on the film, A Dying Breed, and more of the sort of invaluable extras we've come to expect from the incredible folks at Criterion. Discs 1 [Rent], 2 [Rent] and 3 [Rent].
Swann In Love (1984). It seems like every week is bringing a new release of a film by Volker Schlöndorff these days. Attempting to bring Marcel Proust's high modernist classic to the screen was a pretty daring move, and frankly, not too many critics were pleased with the result. Still, watching the able cast at work - Jeremy Irons, Ornella Muti, Alain Delon - is engaging in and of itself, not to mention the lavishly realized period atmo. [Rent]
In July (2000). Director Fatih Akin is at the forefront of a new and dynamic culture being created by Germans of Turkish descent. His Head On won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival this year; in this road movie with a twist (or two or more), he explores the changing face of Europe via the journey of a lovestruck German - played by Moritz Bleibtreu, whom who'll recognize from Run Lola Run - heading to Istanbul. A.O. Scott noted in the New York Times that this "whimsical romantic comedy... is ruled by the happy sense that nothing too terrible can happen." [Rent]
Fictitious Marriage (1988). From Israel comes a film the Washington Post calls "grainy and laughable but with its heart in the right place." [Rent]
Hill Halfon Doesn't Answer (2003). A comedy about the Israeli military? In the case of Yossi & Jagger, it works. This one's in a bit of a goofier vein. [Rent]
Return From India (2003). Interesting to see producer Menachem Golan is not only still in the game, he's still directing, even. Fairly extreme melodrama here - and then it gets weird. [Rent]
The Bondage Master (1996). A steamy Japanese thriller. The title pretty much sets the mood. [Rent]
The Day of the Locust (1975). Last fall, Elizabeth Hardwick wrote an appreciation of Nathaniel West's "stunning" novels, "American tales, rooted in our transmogrifying soil." Of The Day of the Locust, she wrote, "There are no screen stars in this Hollywood novel, but the city and the movies inhabit these settlers." Chronologically, John Schlesinger's film falls somewhere middle-ish between West's raging vision and our own times and Jonathan Rosenbaum's assessment seems fair enough: "It misses crucial aspects of the book's surrealism and satire, though it has a fair number of compensations if you don't care about what's being ground underfoot - among them, Conrad Hall's cinematography and, if memory serves, one of Donald Sutherland's better performances. With William Atherton, Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, Geraldine Page, Bo Hopkins, and one of the rare appearances of the lead actress from Cassavetes's Shadows, Lelia Goldoni." [Rent]
Scandal (1989). Very weirdly for so late in the 20th century, the MPAA slapped this British import with an X rating when it first crossed the Atlantic; and yet the film is neither all that explicit nor explicitly about sex. Or at least not as explicit and explicitly as the real-life Christine Keeler's memoir, published not too long ago. Instead, the film, as Roger Ebert wrote in his four-out-of-four-star review, is "about human nature, which understands why people sometimes sleep in the wrong beds and takes note that this is understood privately, but not publicly. When the light of day shines on these affairs, lives are destroyed." What's more, it "stars John Hurt in one of the best performances of his career." Which is saying quite a lot. [Rent]
The Unbelievable Truth (1990). Hal Hartley's debut feature was shot in eleven days for $200K and it won him a small but dedicated fan base. Rolling Stone calls this one an "unwieldy but wildly hilarious black comedy." [Rent]
Goodbye, Columbus (1969). This one made New York Times critic Vincent Canby a happy man all those years ago: "Philip Roth's prize-winning novella about a decent, edgy Jewish boy from Newark who falls in love with a rich, tennis-playing Jewish princess from Short Hills, has been made into a very funny, immensely appealing movie of suburban romance." With Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw. [Rent]
The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974). Vintage sexploitation. The disc features commentary and an interview with director Jack Hill (Coffy) and Johnny Legend (Mondo Mod). [Rent]
Tarzan Collection (1932 - 1942). The first six films with Johnny Weismuller, who would have been 100 on June 2: Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Tarzan and his Mate (1934; many consider this one the best), Tarzan Escapes! (1936; origin of "Oongawa"), Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939; the domestication of the savage proceeds apace), Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941; "one of the most fun, action-packed Tarzan movies" - At-a-Glance) and Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942; "Stone jungle."). All topped off with a documentary on Weismuller and The Lord of the Apes. Of the first, Stomp Tokyo writes: "Despite the lengthy 'this is Africa' sequences, Tarzan the Ape Man has immense amounts of charm, even to a couple of critics raised on Star Wars and the Muppets." Discs 1 [Rent], 2 [Rent], 3 [Rent] and 4 [Rent].
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1983). Here's an idea: Tell Edgar Rice Burroughs's classic tale straight. Not as kitsch or action-propelled adventure (though, to be fair, there's a dash of both here as well), but as a reflection on human nature as serious and moving as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. When Hugh Hudson, fresh off his Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, released this one over 20 years ago, Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times that it was "the season's most unexpected, most invigorating surprise... a huge, lavishly produced period film that is part adventure, part comedy of manners and part somber melodrama." [Rent]
Can't Stop the Music (1980). Look! It's the very first title featured on evilcupcakes's "Worst Rock / Dance Musicals EVER" list! Somewhere around 1995, evidently, Movieline's reviewer had a grand time with this one as well: "How bad is this infamous 1980 musical mega-dud? So bad that it stars not, one, not two, but three people who can't sing, dance or act [Steve Guttenberg, Valerie Perrine and Bruce Jenner].... This movie was the last word in the chichi 'bisexuality' (read: gay) trend so flaunted a decade and a half ago - everyone in it behaves like a just-out-of-the-closet case.... Perrine gets the most telling line: 'This is the 80s, darling! You're going to see a lot of things you've never seen before.' Well, yes, but little did she realize that she, Jenner, the Village People and Allan Carr were pretty much never going to be seen again." Until now, that is. [Rent]
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