DVD RELEASES 2010/4/6

This week brings the home video release of two highly acclaimed independent American dramas, which will hopefully enable them to reach a much wider audience. Also, a gonzo batshit film from Werner Herzog, a gonzo batshit foreign film that must be seen to be believed, and a documentary that combines music and humanity in a very special way. Nice work, April 6th, 2010:

Beeswax (Cinema Guild) — Andrew Bujalski has, perhaps somewhat facetiously, described Beeswax as a legal thriller. Indeed the plot, however small in scope, surprises us with its tight construction. Clues are planted, so casual they seem like remnants of an improv session, but they later prove essential to our understanding of the situation in Jeannie’s store (and in her sister’s unmoored headspace.) It’s no Pelican Brief, but Beeswax does use the conventions of litigation-tinged mystery to frame an altogether more personal story. Read the rest of Lena Dunham’s review, then buy it on DVD or watch it Movies on Demand style through your local cable provider.

Easier With Practice (Breaking Glass Pictures) — In his feature film debut as a writer/director, Alvarez and his team have delivered a top-notch production every step of the way. Easier With Practice looks good, sounds good, and is extremely well acted. But what distinguishes this low budget effort from so many others on the festival circuit is not just the story Alvarez tells, but how he tells it. Beginning with a catchy—dare I say quirky—hook (based on the GQ article “What Are You Wearing?”), he gradually, deceptively draws viewers into a more joltingly personal place. By the conclusion, you’ll wonder how Alvarez managed to go from there to here, and you’ll be all the more surprised and impressed because of it. Read the rest of my review, then buy it on DVD.

Taxidermia (E1 Entertainment) — Taxidermia is an undeniably impressive technical achievement, in which the most difficult, accomplished camera movements are employed and the sets, crowds, and period details are flawlessly realized. That it’s all in the service of a three-part story about masturbation, zoophilia, overeating, vomiting, and bodily mutilating, well, that’s why it’s taken three years for it to find an even tiny theatrical release in America, but it’s also why it has finally reached these shores. While there are certainly cinematic precedents for Taxidermia, they’ve never looked quite like this. Read the rest of my review, then buy it on DVD.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (First Look) — If I had waited and watched Werner Herzog’s gonzo “revision” of Abel Ferrara’s original Bad Lieutenant for the first time at home one night when I didn’t have anything better to do, I would have probably given it a 4-star rating. But seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival after its critically lauded bow in Venice, I couldn’t help but scratch my head in confusion and bestow upon it a lackluster 2. There were, without question, some astounding moments to behold—most of them coming out of the mouth of a Vampire’s Kiss worthy Nicolas Cage—but otherwise it felt too sloppy to be taken even somewhat seriously. Granted, Herzog has always been a messier than tighter director, especially in his fiction work, but in this case, I think a 10- or 15-minute trim could have aided it immensely. Having said that, now that it is finally available for viewing in the comfort of your own home, I would upgrade it to must-see status on the small screen. Funny how that works. Buy it on DVD or Blu-ray (or skip the hard copy by renting and/or downloading it through Amazon’s Video on Demand).

Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (Oscilloscope) — Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary about Senegal’s legendary singer has a scope that I hadn’t expected. It isn’t merely a rousing portrait of a truly special individual, though it certainly is that. It also works as a stirring corrective/counterbalance to most nonfiction works that concentrate on the bleaker and more troubled aspects of both Africa and Islam. This continent and this religion have a positive, uplifting spirit, and in N’Dour, Vasarhelyi has found the perfect individual to represent this. Not to mention how pretty this movie is. Buy it on DVD.

Wild Card of the Week

Harlem Aria (Magnolia) — In the old world in which this movie was actually made, based on the date of its theatrical release (last month???) it would have been many more months before the DVD was purchasable. But that old world was a long, long time ago (press play on the trailer below and you’ll see what I mean). Anyway, as with Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the lowered expectations of home video should certainly help to lessen the blow of this movie, but unlike Herzog’s film, I think this one retains its 2-star impact on the small screen as well. Buy it on DVD.

— Michael Tully

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