Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Who killed Laura Palmer? Why is the FBI here? Where can a man find a good cup of coffee? Infamous questions from David Lynch's cult classic Twin Peaks. This week the complete series became available in a gold box that should have Lynch buffs salivating, for this marks the first time the pilot (arguably the best episode) has been released on DVD.
When Twin Peaks first aired on Easter Sunday 1990 it sparked a sensation throughout TV land. The shows quirky kitsch, combined with the murder-mystery melodrama, provided plenty of fodder for water cooler conversation. Ratings soared throughout the first season, climaxing at finale. Twin Peaks was innovative in bringing a certain cinematic quality to television in an era when three networks ruled prime-time, thus, paving the way for shows such as Northern Exposure, X-Files, Picket Fences and most recently Lost. But the primal sense of wonder and intrigue that Twin Peaks introduced has yet to be replicated to effect. Unfortunately, the second season didn't enjoy the same success, as many felt the show deviated once the central mystery was - for all intents and purposes - solved.
This is all talked about very candidly on the documentaries available in this edition. Everything from the casting process to the music is covered in supplemental materials which include interviews from the entire cast and key crew. Also on this disc is A Slice of Lynch, an intriguing dialogue between David Lynch, Kyle MacLachlan and Madchen Amick, looking back at their experiences filming the show.
All the episodes have undergone remastering supervised by Lynch, which provides a far superior picture than the original season one DVDs released by Republic Pictures several years ago. Also housed in the gold-plated DVDs are deleted scenes, promotional spots, postcards, an interactive Twin Peaks map and the Saturday Night Live sketch from when Kyle MacLachlan hosted.
If you've bought the two previous sets before, they're worth holding on to as there are some extras not brought over, such as the commentaries. But all-in-all it's so comprehensive, the only thing I wished they added was my first introduction to Twin Peaks, the Sesame Street parody Twin Beaks. But I'll provide that for you below. Although the retail price is $99.99, many stores have it on sale this week for much less, so get it now, grab a slice of cherry pie, and wander into the dark, beautiful world that is Twin Peaks.
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Monday, October 29, 2007
Since showing his debut feature We Are The Strange at Sundance last January, M dot Strange has become the poster boy for DIY filmmaking as he's warded off all main stream avenues for theatrical distribution, concentrating instead on festival screenings, grassroots programs like MobMov (mobile movie drive-ins) and now a comprehensive 2-disc DVD package that is a must have for low-budget animators and filmmakers alike.
It's hard to describe the film other than to say it's really experimental. (surprised?) All I know is the two main characters really want ice cream. But what makes this film great is that it is so out there. I like how Variety reviewer John Anderson puts it:
"We Are The Strange... is a Freudian/spiritual/psycho-dramatic and high-tech catalog of visual imagery through the ages, as well as a plummet into the bramble patch of Strange's soul."
Only half way through do you really grasp the plot, but from start to finish the stunning images (a mixture of stop-motion animation and 8-bit graphics), video game qualities and score, created by 8bitpeoples, is what keeps you sucked in.
Accompanying the film is a plethora of features that helps us better understand the Str8nime world (Strange+8 bit+Anime). Along with a commentary by M dot and producer/illustrator Sean Boyles, there's deleted scenes, alternative soundtracks to the film and a director's cut all on disc one. Then the second disc is where the fun starts. There's a making of section that gives away all the "secrets" to how the film was made: how M dot created the characters (some of the stories he tells are hilarious), a tour of the stop motion studio (aka, his bedroom), and what I found most interesting, a tour of his desktop, where he shows how he rendered the animation, storyboards, editing and a lot more. Disc two also includes a recap of his festival tour and some of M dot's animated works pre-WATS.
This is obviously a way for M dot to expand his talents to a wider audience (and make a buck), but he also takes the time to create a useful tool for other artists to learn from.
Released through Ryko and filmbaby.com today, the SRP is $19.99.
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The legendary Days of Heaven has finally gotten the Criterion Collection treatment. The second masterpiece by writer-director Terrence Malick after his debut Badlands, Heaven has long been a hallowed title of personal poetic cinema, even with its Paramount studio backing (ah yes, the 70s).
Set in wide-skyed Texas in the romantically naive turn of the (last) century, lovers on the run Richard Gere and Brooke Adams pretend to be brother and sister while working on a farm, only to get entangled in bad news when Adams falls for rich land owner Sam Shepard.
The gem of the film is Gere’s younger sister-in-tow, played by the mesmerizing Linda Manz. Sort of an ageless teenager, she seems like she isn’t acting, while providing narration more mystical than Hamlet. Ask any film dork about lost icons of the 70s and she’ll be there, making just a few consummate classics (Days of Heaven, The Wanderers and Out of the Blue) before disappearing from cinema altogether, suddenly turning up as an adult in Gummo. What a career.
Malick’s trademark style holds up today, with luscious imagery and flowing story, shooting tons of dialogue and then taking most of it out to concentrate on the moments that really matter. Sometimes it’s the middle of a conversation rather than the beginning or end, other times it is looks on faces and the surrounding landscapes.
The film’s look is also historic for being shot at ‘magic hour’, brief minutes when the sun has set but there is still light in the sky. Its less than an hour and obviously brutal for a whole shooting day to center around, but the resulting light on film is amazing. Movies aren’t made this way anymore.
Ironically enough, there is an epidemic of “light pollution” on Earth today, as cities get bigger and brighter at night over time (reported everywhere from NASA to the International Dark-Sky Association). At the turn of the century, citizens could see not only more stars but they could see from the starlight. Now, light from cities can reach hundreds of miles into the desert. Our eyes are adjusting for the worse. It is plausible that the Milky Way will be overpowered and disappear from human sight over time. Innocence lost, huh?
Criterion's disc has the solid extras. An audio commentary (with editor Billy Weber, art director Jack Fisk, costume designer Patricia Norris, and casting director Dianne Crittenden) is real good, especially if you have fetishized the making of this film for 30 years. A group of interviews are great and insightful, with an exclusive audio interview with Richard Gere from this year, and video interviews with Sam Shepard (from 2002), camera operator John Bailey and cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who shot “additional” photography on the film.
The DVD booklet has a nice article on Malick written by Adrian Martin, and an excerpt of official cinematographer Nestor Alemendros’ wonderful biography: “The decision to shoot these scenes at ‘magic hour’ was not gratuitous or aestheticist; it was completely justifiable. Everyone knows that country people get up very early to do their chores…”
And since the booklet has stills from the film, it’s a great photo book that I already tore pages out of.
Malick? Nowhere to be found here, but he did supervise the new transfer. And the film is what its all about anyway, right?
Single disc available 10/23 for $39.95, cheaper from the Criterion website.
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Monday, October 22, 2007
2006, written, directed and edited by Jennifer Shainin and Randy Walker.
Sometimes if you want your film to come out on DVD, you’ve got to do it yourself. And if you are DIY, then why not make it such a great package that it’s better than what any mainstream company would do.
In various overlapping stories and dialogue, Apart from That teaches you about people. Ella is a beautician who rents a room from the older, slightly crazy but lovable Peggy. Leo is a Native American who spends his days marking up nature for the government, trying to deal with an ailing best friend. Sam is Vietnamese and his son isn’t. All are trying to make sense of life, not in a pretentious way, but with real-life poetics.
An Altmanesque world, but not just because it invokes him and Raymond Carver and realistic acting and talking. This stands on it’s own. The film has some beautiful everyday moments, noticing subtleties in life. That includes Peggy getting naked and then calling 911 so firemen will break into her house.
With their debut feature, Shainin and Walker have made fans from Vegas to Harvard, Variety to Ray Carney. Ironically enough, its style has prevented it from being included in articles on super-indie films, despite its low budget. But you wont mind the luscious cinematography and layered sound. The film premiered at SXSW last year and went on a vibrant festival life, including gigs at Bradford, CineVegas, Edinburgh, Flanders, Rooftop Films, Seattle and was an Indiewire Undiscovered Gem.
The DVD release is fat. An 80-page, hardcover book of artistic photos taken by the directors during filming and also ephemera from the production, like actor’s handwritten diary pages. Really striking pics. Extras include four deleted scenes, “40 Moments” of behind the scenes actions (which is more poetic and funny than typical we-are-making-a-film-here fare), interviews with the actors that play Ella and Leo, and auditions of the actors improving without ever having seen the script. Another disc is the soundtrack for the film.
The most incredible extra might be their inclusion of trailers for films currently on the festival circuit that the directors are in love with. Not because they are part of a studio release. Just because they saw some other peoples’ films and like them.
The stylin’ book was printed in South Korea. “Course, as soon as we wired the $$,” Walker says, “homeland security got on the horn with our bank, asking them what we were doing sending money to Korea. I guess Bush gets North Korea and South Korea mixed up. I guess that's what happens when you have two countries using the word ‘Korea.’”
Available at selective, smart bookstores, and from their website www.foreignamericanpictures.com for $40. Total bargain.
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Lasse Hallstrom's The Hoax is solid fare, albeit nothing special. Before there was James Frey and JT Leroy, there was Clifford Irving. Having received lukewarm reception for his previous literary efforts, Irving decided to stage a con by which he convinced publishers, journalists and friends that recluse billionaire Howard Hughes had commissioned him to pen his autobiography.
Richard Gere is palpable as the slightly-eccentric, fast-talking Irving and Alfred Molina turns in the best performance as his partner in crime, Dick Suskind. Marcia "I'm in everything" Gay Harden plays another troubled wife, but Julie Delpy as Baroness Nina Van Pallandt (The Long Goodbye and ironically, American Gigolo) is a bit of a stretch.
The film moves at a good clip as the camera quickly pans in and out of scenes, stopping briefly for a few mandatory close-ups. Gere and Molina have a great chemistry that carries the film through it's weak points which include no real examination of Irving's psychology and lack of character development.
The Hoax also manages to get a number of facts wrong, including a scene where Irving is shown being bullied by Hugh's agents (this never happened). A scene depicts Irving, Pallandt and his publisher all in attendance at Capote's Black and White Ball (they were not). Plus, Irving did not live in New York, but in Spain. Perhaps the filmmakers were playing with the idea of toying with truth themselves, but I have a suspicion these are the pitfalls of a shotty script.
What bothers me about the film is the cinematic redundancy of it all. Orson Welles' far superior film-essay F for Fake covered the same figures and topics all more intelligently than this slick Hollywood byproduct. I guess I shouldn't be surprised at an industry that thinks remaking Dune for a third time is a sound investment. If you haven't seen F for Fake it comes highly recommended as a post-modern examination on the nature of authenticity. Yes, The Hoax also touches on this issue, but the philosophy barely gleams through the over-the-top performances and slick camera work.
The DVD comes out on the 16th at the retail price of $29.99. Extras include two commentary tracks, a featurette and deleted/extended scenes. These are all actually quite interesting and full of tibits and research. I can't say I recommend buying this DVD, but it's worthy of a spot near the top of your netflix queue.
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Monday, October 15, 2007
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded in 2002. The heart-rending video of his execution played for the world to see. Five years later, the tragedy comes to a harrowing life in Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart. Pearl was a journalist with a promising career, a wife, a baby on the way, with family and friends who loved him until one day in the cluttered streets and back alleys of
Angelina Jolie melts into the role of Mariane Pearl, his journalist wife, who plays the part with equal amounts of courage and fragility. It is largely through her eyes, that the story is told and in consequence, the audience is thrust into the agonizing position of feeling what she feels, seeing what she sees with fleeting moments of hope and hours of dread. One feels like the mother of a kidnapped child, helplessly waiting by the phone as the police busy themselves combing through leads, reassuring the family that all will be well as the bad guys busy themselves moving the crime forward. The movers of the plot are offscreen. The Al-Quaeda terrorists who lurk in the Byzantine streets and politics of
The Making of A Mighty Heart Featurette interviews Archie, who plays her Indian Muslim journalist friend, say as much that the film is a triumph for strong female leads. As the plot moves to its inevitable end, it is the woman- Mariane Pearl, who cries but does not break down, who remains committed to the ideals of liberal cross-national understanding that she shared with her husband. “I am not terrorized. You can’t be terrorized,” Mariane tells a group of WS Journal reporters and Pakistani Intelligence agents at her final dinner in
A Mighty Heart presents a dramatically realistic depiction of that one fatal week in the life of Mariane Pearl. It is the terrorists who scapegoat
A Mighty Heart is a Paramount Vantage release and the DVD hits the street on October 16.
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Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Koch Lober releases Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart today on DVD ($26.98). A festival darling this past year, Bahrani’s look at Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi), a Pakistani rock star who moves to America with his family only to work a push cart in Manhattan, is a stirring insight into the sacrifices many immigrants go through to make a living in this country.
A simple story, Bahrani uses natural lighting, sparse dialogue and a haunting score to follow Ahmad’s depressing life as he wakes at three in the morning to push a tin box to his reserved midtown corner to serve donuts and coffee to commuters. But when he’s done for the day, work isn’t over, as he walks the streets peddling porno’s in one hand while holding the propane tank to his cart in the other -- his own ball and chain. When a fellow Pakistani recognizes Ahmad as the rock star from his pervious life he offers to help him get his career started in America, leaving Ahmad hopeful that he can still provide the life he promised his family (though his wife died and his son lives with relatives that don’t want Ahmad in his life).
A gritty indie film done with care and respect, the film made many top ten lists last year and was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards (though that may be overlooked instead by the film’s unfortunate inclusion in Sarah Silverman’s monologue at last year’s Spirits: “Man Push Cart. Who Gives Shit?”). And for those who only know Bahrani’s latest feature, Chop Shop (which played at Cannes and most recently Toronto), this is a great way to look back at a film which highlights an emerging director and a gripping performance from Razvi.
DVD includes commentary from Bahrani, Razvi, d.p. Michael Simmonds and AD Nicholas Elliott along with a few shorts by Bahrani.
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Tuesday, October 2, 2007
One of the more exciting releases out recently hits shelves this week - Emmanuelle: Special Edition, available from Lionsgate Home Video (SRP: $19.98). The 1974 cult classic was a huge artistic and commercial success, bringing a touch of that famed French freeness, romance, and yes, nudity, to curious Americans. While it may seem a bit naive, dated and even tame by today's standards, this was a big deal in 1974; people were actually lining up around the block to get in.
The plot revolves around a young French woman (the stunning Sylvia Kristel) joining her diplomat husband in Bangkok, where he is currently posted. She immediately falls into a warm, languid lifestyle where bored wives have nothing better to do than play squash, go boating, or even better, take on new lovers. At first shy and repressed, Emmanuelle is eventually guided by a number of eager tutors to join in on the erotic freedom, and after a brief lesbian affair, she decides to join them. This is, then, the story of one woman's sexual journey to self-awareness and enlightenment.
Lionsgate presents the film in a beautifully remastered print, with two new featurettes about the film's making of, and eventual worldwide success. Studio Canal recently acquired worldwide distribution rights for the 7 remastered Emmanuelle feature films, including Walerian Borowczyk's infamous Emmanuelle 5. Here's hoping Lionsgate has more of them scheduled for US release after this one.
Is the film any good? Sure... beautiful to look at, Emmanuelle is smart enough to poke gentle fun at it's libertine sex gurus, and at what was considered the forward thinking philosophy of the time. It's definitely sexy enough, although those expecting to be shocked might better look elsewhere. Rated X? More like an R, except perhaps that notorious scene involving a Thai stripper and her inventive use of a cigarette.
Interestingly enough, as sexual themes in commercial cinema becomes a rarity, there's a sadness knowing that we in the United States have become perhaps even more conservative since the days of Emmanuelle's shower of kisses.
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