DVD RELEASES 2009/7/7

In a bit of accidental serendipity, this week’s slate of noteworthy new DVD releases is seriously sparse, which gives me the opportunity to plug a few titles that I idiotically spaced out on last week.

Lovely By Surprise — If one clings to the surface of Kirt Gunn’s off-kilter directorial debut, the shell of quirk might too tough to break through in order to reach its genuinely soulful core. That would be unfortunate, for Lovely By Surprise is actually a jarringly unique treatise on death and mourning (loosely calling to mind Emily Hubley’s The Toe Tactic). Gunn tells parallel stories of individuals who are grieving for very different reasons. In the first, a writer (Carrie Preston) loses her grip on reality when she listens to the advice of her mentor and kills off her beloved main character, who escapes from her fictional universe into the real world and the film’s second story, where a car salesman (Reg Rogers) is struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife. As that grieving husband, Rogers delivers an absolute powerhouse of a performance. He manages to be both laugh-out loud funny and heartbreakingly sad at the same time. Rogers deserves to be recognized at the end of the year—or at the very least, he will certainly get mentioned in my own nerdy year-end recap.

Kamp Katrina — After the post-Katrina floods dried up, David Redmon and Ashley Sabin returned to New Orleans to visit a woman by the name of Ms. Pearl, who appeared in Redmon’s feature-length documentary debut Mardi Gras: Made in China. A committed Upper 9th Ward resident, Ms. Pearl and her husband took up the challenge to house displaced residents in their backyard and help them get back on their feet. One of Ms. Pearl’s main rules, however: no drugs or alcohol. At first, everything appears to be going well, but it isn’t long before despondency returns, old patterns resurface, and substances are abused. Mercifully, Redmon and Sabin aren’t here to make a heavy-handed political diatribe about government inaction or social injustice, and they aren’t out to condemn these people either. They are merely documenting, with frank intimacy, the at times crushing humanity in this situation. By taking this approach, they’ve produced an infinitely more layered achievement. Kamp Katrina is humorous, troubling, and deeply complicated. Just like life itself.

Wholphin No. 8 — A full review of this is on the way, which I will link to here once it’s gone live, but for now I wanted to point everyone in the direction of the latest Wholphin DVD Magazine excursion. As usual, Brent Hoff and Emily Doe have assembled some of the best short work of very recent memory, including Sam Taylor-Wood’s just about perfect Love You More, Lauren Greenfield’s sickeningly fascinating Kids + Money, Destin Daniel Cretton’s affecting, Sundance-winning Short Term 12, and Dominic Bisignano’s hilarious animated essay From Burger It Came. However, the collection’s true standout might very well be The Room Before And After: Part 1, in which James Franco quite literally kicks the living shit out of a bedroom in one mesmerizing 30-minute take.

Tokyo! — No offense to the directors assembled—offense is aimed squarely at the feature-length omnibus concept—but I had my bar of expectation stuffed away in an abandoned New Jersey warehouse before watching this film. Fortunately, I found Tokyo! to be a rewarding experience. For my own admittedly distorted wad of money, Leos Carax steals the show with Merde, in which Godzilla meets Dancer in the Dark meets I-Don’t-Know-What-Because-I’ve-Never-Seen-Anything-Quite-Like-It-Before. Carax’s return to the director’s chair feels like a defiantly, gleefully hoisted middle finger at… well, I’m not sure at whom, exactly. Japan? Hollywood? Everybody? Carax regular Denis Lavant plays an animalistic troll who wreaks havoc on Tokyo before being apprehended and forced to suffer through an excruciating trial (Carax makes sure to extend these exchanges of gibberish between Lavant and his similarly grunting attorney to the point of absurdity). Merde is certain to spark actual fury with many viewers, which appears to be Carax’s point. Cinemasochist that I am, I thought it was hilarious, and certainly worth a home video perusal.

— Michael Tully

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