December 11, 2007

DVDs, 12/11.

Two-Lane Blacktop "Released in 1971 by the newly created youth division of Universal Studios, Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop is both a generational artifact and a movie that seems to exist out of time," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "Richard Linklater has called it the last film of the 60s and the first film of the 70s.... Despite its period specificity, Two-Lane Blacktop, out this week in a director-approved edition from the Criterion Collection, is a strange, even abstract film."

"No cultural testimony tracks our national alpha waves as eloquently as road movies," adds Michael Atkinson at IFC News. "Blacktop might be a definitive American expression of roadness - uncompromised, Rorschach-inconclusive, mythic, yet as real as highway weeds, and so eloquent in its mumbling way about basic existential identity and destination dilemmas that every frame has the poignant and needy ache of a child fruitlessly asking about God. It has little competition as the great lost and found movie of the much-missed American New Wave."

Also: "Catalin Mitulescu's feature debut, The Way I Spent the End of the World (2006), is one of the [Romanian] movement's key films, and the closest thing young Romania has to a generational anthem movie." It "sings with the Slav-style mordant wit that so much of Eastern Europe does so well, and it also does the neo-naturalism jig with enormous skill (and without the longueurs and middle-aged grumpiness of many other Romanian hits)."

At ScreenGrab, Phil Nugent and Leonard Pierce face off over Children of Men. Good stuff.

Luis Buñuel's Susana "could both please matinee audiences with its rip-roaring melodrama and enchant more skeptical viewers with its bizarre imagery, acidic social observation and casual subversion of cherished values," writes the New York Times' Dave Kehr, who finds a neat bridge over to Twin Peaks in Dan O'Herlihy.

Le Samouraï "The opening shot of Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 noir masterpiece Le Samouraï establishes the tone of Melville's contemplative crime film, defines its amoral protagonist Jef Costello (Alain Delon), and introduces the connections between Costello, a hired assassin, and the concept of the Japanese samurai, particularly the ronin, or masterless samurai." Brandon Colvin writes the latest entry in Jim Emerson's Opening Shots Project. "The nearly three-minute shot maintains a simple but wonderfully expressive composition throughout, remaining within the drab gray-blue confines of Jef's apartment."

Back to the Blacktop: "'This is a movie that stars James Taylor, and you're telling me it's great?' My Lovely Wife asked when the package arrived, more genuinely perplexed than irritated." And actually, Glenn Kenny's recommending a double feature of sorts. Odd sorts, but good sorts.

J Hoberman reviews two big boxes in the Voice this week. First, Our Hitler, a Film From Germany: "[Hans-Jürgen] Syberberg was the only filmmaker of the German neue kino to successfully synthesize the spirit of Wagnerian romantic megalomania and that of Brecht's sardonic cabaret theatricality, infusing both with a sense of cosmic melancholy. Hitler often seems to be a circus staged by and for a single impoverished aristocrat pondering the mystery of Germany in the night." And: "Berlin Alexanderplatz was made for TV, and that's how its 15 hours should be savored." Hoberman also notes: "Although faithful to his source, [Rainer Werner Fassbinder] imbues it with considerable autobiographical resonance."

For Robert Humanick, writing at the House Next Door, Berlin Alexanderplatz "is a work representative of what is nowadays being made possible in the union between film and television (of the ever-growing terrain of cinema), fusing the relatively compact, carefully manicured narrative of the feature-length film with the more episodic approach of the television format. Together, the two multiply (rather than simply add upon) their myriad possibilities."

"Innocence, the astounding feature film debut from French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic, feels as though it should begin as stories do—with 'once upon a time,' like the click of a latch in the door to the imaginary," writes the Stranger's Annie Wagner. "This DVD release includes two stiff but essential interviews with the director and perceptive commentary by 9-year-old Zoé Auclair, the film's star."

Not Coming to a Theater Near You:

  • "A superb film in its own right, [filmmaker Ken McMullen and writer Tariq Ali's Partition is] also a reminder of a different age of filmmaking (only twenty years ago!)," writes Ian Johnston. "This is not only in the sense, as Ali and McMullen both stress, of it being a time when radical work - radical both politically and aesthetically - could be made and shown on British TV. It's also a different age of political cinema, when filmmakers were concerned, in equal balance, with both the political content and finding a suitably radical form in which to express that content."

I Am Cuba
  • Also, I Am Cuba: "This is not profound filmmaking - after all, The Cranes Are Flying, the earlier Cannes prize-winner that made [Mikhail] Kalatozov's international reputation, had an otherwise banal storyline that was kicked into life by the energy of the camerawork - and it operates pretty much on the surface of things; but what a surface!" More from Chris Barsanti in PopMatters: "[F]or all its propaganda, I Am Cuba is more than just an advertisement for the workers' revolution. It's ideology presented with a vibrantly avant-garde vision that is constantly threatening to overstep its bounds. One can almost imagine the Mosfilm apparatchiks saying, 'Okay, that's great, but could it be less... revolutionary?'"

  • With Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer "have crafted a visual photograph of the men and women who live and work around the Salton Sea, one that alternates between humorous and heartbreaking and serves to capture a society on the edge of abandonment," writes Adam Balz. "But they've also cast a seventy-three-minute record of happiness and survival in the face of desertion."

"With the DVD version of the summer hit The Bourne Ultimatum arriving at stores this week, it's time to look back on the entire Bourne film franchise to date," decides PopMatters' Bill Gibron.

"Charles Burnett's legendary Killer of Sheep exemplifies how little distance sometimes exists between a sketchbook of ideas and an accomplished masterpiece, especially when, as here, the film recurrently locates the glory and the nausea of sublimity within stunted, inchoate, evanescent experience rather than long character arcs, complex narratives or abstracted political structures," writes Nick Davis for Stop Smiling.

"In the midst of the screwball-inflected 30s, Dodsworth stands out as an extraordinary evocation of adulthood, presenting a couple caught in the vacuum between middle and old age, retirement and renunciation, marriage and companionship, and, above all, America and Europe," writes Billy Stevenson.

Garbo Silents Reviewing Flesh and the Devil (following a spoilers alert), Anne M Hockens focuses on what this 1926 silent film featuring Greta Garbo shares and doesn't share with the noirs that would follow.

Five discs for a single two-hour film? "The fact is, whether you see Blade Runner retouched, re-edited, raw, voiced-over, deleted, rescored or even upside-down and backwards, it still looks and sounds fantastic," writes Carrie O'Grady in the Guardian. "After 25 years, its cyber-grime aesthetic and ontological riddles still fascinate; it hardly needs a good wash and a brush-up, but it certainly deserves one." More from Kenneth R Morefield and Doug Cummings at the Matthew's House Project.

"Kurosawa considered Drunken Angel, his ninth film, to be his breakthrough," writes Steve Erickson for Nerve. "In hindsight, it's most noteworthy for its combination of violent action and humanist emotion, a hallmark of much of his work. The film combines styles that shouldn't gel, but miraculously, they do." In the Austin Chronicle, Raoul Hernandez focuses on Toshirô Mifune: "[T]he lean, mean, late-twentysomething ex-Army pilot son of a photographer unleashes a naked rage that anticipates James Dean by a half-dozen years."

"Whatever the more serious intentions Park [Chul-soo] may have had for 301, 302 give way to the fetishistic treatment of surfaces," writes Peter Nellhaus.

DVD roundups: DVD Talk, Bryant Frazer, the Lumière Reader and Peter Martin at Cinematical.

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Posted by dwhudson at December 11, 2007 3:39 PM