September 7, 2004
FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring (2004). Kim Ki-Duk, the Christian who turned many a stomach with his beautiful but wrenching The Isle, has made a Buddhist film. And the result? "[D]ecadently gorgeous, and its cyclical construction is fearsomely neat," writes Michael Atkinson in the Village Voice. "But Kim's tone has an ancient simplicity, something like the fundamental eloquence of a silent film or an enduring children's book. And his images have a surrealist integrity: the swimming frog dragging a stone, the monk painting sutras with a mewling cat's tail, the prodigal monk chopping through a frozen waterfall, the Magritte-like woman masked by a scarf arriving to abandon a baby, that same infant crawling across the ice searching for his mother. Far from a maxim-expounding sermon, the film is a fresh spring of irrational visual pleasure." [Rent]
The United States of Leland (2004). "Director Matthew Ryan Hoge has created a tight little drama here, made up of several of intersecting stories and characters," writes Film Threat's Eric Campos. "He's also assembled an incredible cast with Ryan Gosling (The Slaughter Rule) as Leland and Don Cheadle (Boogie Nights) as Pearl.... The United States of Leland is thoroughly entertaining and will possibly get you thinking about certain choices you've made in your life." [Rent]
Punisher (2004). Ever since Schwarzenegger got himself a real job and Sly Stone got... old, Hollywood's been looking for another irony-free hunka hero. Vin Diesel and The Rock have been floated as possibilities, but the reception's been lukewarm at best. So is it going to be Thomas Jane? Here, he's Frank Castle, revenge surrogate, in a fairly dark adaptation of the original comic. At the very least, John Travolta is nearly always more fun to watch when he's the bad guy.
Soul Plane (2004). In the New York Times, Stephen Holden remarks that this "hectic farce, which pushes every envelope, is so broad and relentlessly raunchy that it makes a spoof like Airplane seem as demure as a vintage drawing-room comedy." Now, see, for a lot of people that's going to be a good thing. And to think that this is the Unrated version... Add Snoop Dogg and a soundtrack from The RZA, serve with the appropriate refreshments, and you've got yourself an evening. [Rent]
The Ladykillers (2004). "Not a great Coen Bros movie and rather lightweight, but I enjoyed it quite a bit," says ColonelKong. "Roger Deakins's cinemtography and Dennis Gassner's production design were great as always, I liked all the performances, but my favorite character was probably Tzi Ma's Viet Cong General." Adds underdog: "I giggled quite often and thought it had a nice sense of Gothic Southern dark humor and atmosphere. It doesn't hold a candle to the original, no, but for what it is, quite likeably zany." [Rent]
Jersey Girl (2004). In a recent interview for DVD Talk, Kevin Smith said he didn't exactly blame "the Bennifer effect" for this film's flopping at the box office, though that had to have been a factor. Plus, few were expecting a sentimental love story from Kevin Smith. But he still "love[s] that film to death, man," and adds, "I feel that once it hits video, it'll find its audience and people will dig it in a way that nobody dug it theatrically." [Rent]
In the last Sight and Sound poll, the wildly famous one conducted every ten years, Hitchcock tied with Orson Welles in the top spot on the critics' "Top Ten Directors" list. Interestingly, he came in at Number 5 in the directors list, but that's not too shabby, either. And yet, whether on TV or even at repertory theaters, it's oddly hard to catch many of Hitchcock's films other than Psycho, The Birds or a handful of other "standards." Here's our chance to see seven works from one of his stronger periods, the 40s and early 50s.
Foreign Correspondent (1940). Hitchcock's second American film after Rebecca is a more slimmed down affair, a wartime spy thriller that issues a direct plea to the US not to let the lights go out in Europe. [Rent]
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941). A romantic comedy - that's right, the master of suspense could do romantic comedy - with Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard. [Rent]
Suspicion (1941). A love story shot brilliantly through with overtly Freudian angst. With a chillingly charming Cary Grant and Rebecca's Joan Fontaine. [Rent]
Stage Fright (1950). A small-scale thriller Hitchcock made after returning to England briefly. It's a bit odd seeing the then-35 year old Jane Wyman play an undergrad, but it's absolutely marvelous seeing Marlene Dietrich cast as precisely who she was: a glamorous actress. [Rent]
Strangers on a Train (1951). I say, Stranger, suppose we swap murders? What a brilliant premise. Little surprise it comes from one if filmmakers' favorite novelists, Patricia Highsmith. This new disc for Hitch's classic comes loaded with a making-of doc, three featurettes and vintage newsreel material. [Rent]
I Confess (1953). Here's a premise so promising you wouldn't want it to fall into any hands other than Hitchcock's: A priest (Montgomery Clift) hears a murderer's confession and is then framed for the crime himself. [Rent]
Dial M for Murder (1954). Never mind that this was originally Hitch's foray into the gimmickry of 3D; it's actually a tight little adapation of a play, all taking place in one apartment where a husband (Ray Milland) plots to murder his wife (Grace Kelly). [Rent]
The Wrong Man (1956). Often regarded as one of Hitchcock's bleakest, most sombre films, The Wrong Man is has a near-documentary feel and is based on a true case of an ordinary guy - family, job, the works - falsely accused of a crime. Features a fine, understated performance from Henry Fonda. [Rent]
Two of the most notable films in a series of explorations of the Japanese underworld Kinji Fukasaku filmed in the mid-70s: Street Mobster (1972) [Rent] and Graveyard of Honor (1975) [Rent]. "These films shared a suitably chaotic storyline in which the lines between good and evil are blurred to the point of non-existence," writes Tom Mes in Midnight Eye. "In order to realistically portray lives ruled by violence, Fukasaku filled his films to the brim with corruption, murder, drug addiction, rape and police brutality. Together with the erratic visuals he had by this time perfected, they formed an explosive and hard-hitting mix - a cinema that was brutal and totally alive."
Woman Sesame Oil Maker (1992). At the Beijing Film Academy, director Xie Fei mentored the likes of Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. Not only did Woman win the Golden Bear in Berlin in 1993, it garnered lavish praise from critics as well, including Hal Hinson at the Washington Post: "Xie has filled the movie with moments of intoxicating beauty, such as the one in which Xiang rows by moonlight across the lake to rendezvous with her longtime lover.... Overall, the film is a flawless accomplishment - one that ultimately carries its characters to the limits of despair.... Xie's film may be one of intense pessimism, but it has the virtue of providing its own antidote." [Rent]
Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going (1995). "One of the most important movies in my life," Eliseo Subiela told Jonathan Marlow in our interview last year. "My life was a different life up to that movie, and from that movie on, it was another life because doing this film, Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going, I almost died making it. Truly. So it is a film that I remember with a lot of emotion." [Rent]
On the Banks of the Niemen (1987). This romantic epic set against the 1863 uprising against the Russian occupation of Poland has been called "the Gone With the Wind of Polish cinema." [Rent]
Gebürtig (2002). Vienna. The past catches up with a Jewish immigrant from New York and a German journalist. The tense drama is based on Robert Schindel's novel. [Rent]
Click on to see more of the New Releases that arrived on September 7: Docs, early film treasures, horror, TV, anime and more.
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