HOME VIDEO PICKS
*** Last Train Home (Zeitgeist Films) — If you want to fully grasp the impact of globalization on scales both large and small, look no further than Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home. An indirect companion piece to Yung Chang’s toweringly great Up the Yangtze (which was also produced by the Montreal production company EyeSteelFilm), Last Train Home is a visually breathtaking, emotionally devastating achievement that humanizes the massively complex issue of globalization by focusing on one Chinese family as they struggle to make ends meet. Read my full review, then buy it on DVD.
*** Fish Tank (Criterion) — Early on, Fish Tank seems to be firmly rooted in kitchen sink realism, recalling those great BBC films from the 1970s and ’80s. But gradually, the film’s true purpose is revealed, turning it into something else altogether. Like Red Road, Fish Tank is a naturalistic drama that feels like a thriller. Read my HTN Conversation with writer/director Andrea Arnold, then buy it on DVD or Blu-ray.
*** The Temptation of St. Tony (Olive Films) — Once upon a time, while vacationing in Estonia, Bela Tarr watched a double-bill of Dead Man and Lost Highway and went to sleep. Then he had a dream. The Temptation of St. Tony is that dream, transferred to black-and-white 35mm celluloid. Okay, maybe it isn’t, but if that concept makes you perk up, Veiko Ounpuu’s blackly comic fever nightmare is bound to deliver. If those references are foreign to you, that might only spice up your viewing experience. Ounpuu opens his dazzling head trip with a quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy, and he goes on to update that story to reflect modern Eastern Europe life at its most comically grotesque. In the film, Tony (Taavi Eelmaa, looking like an odd Estonian hybrid of Reggie Miller and Peter Weller with Jack Nance’s Eraserhead mop-top) is a successful everyman who begins to lose a grip on his life when a series of freak events occur. The journey he embarks upon is filled with one surprise after another, each more increasingly bizarre than the last. While The Temptation of St. Tony is certainly one of those cases where personal taste buds will determine one’s tolerance for the antics on display, to simply know that movies like this are still being financed is a wondrous realization indeed. I haven’t seen Oonpuu’s first feature, Autumn Ball, but after watching this, I’m now determined than ever to track it down. More than that, I’m anxious to see what he comes up with next. He’s a genuine visionary. Buy it on DVD.
Two in the Wave (Lorber Films) — The title and description of Emmanuel Laurent’s Two In The Wave is a tad misleading, for Laurent’s documentary—made in collaboration with writer/narrator Antoine de Baecque—does much more than focus on the friendship and eventual falling out between French New Wave luminaries Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. That’s both a good and bad thing. In broader terms, Two In The Wave recounts the rise and demise of the French New Wave itself, certainly focusing on Godard and Truffaut, but doing it in an almost parallel storytelling fashion. When their paths do converge, sparks might not fly as brightly here as they did in real life, yet the film does present some very interesting stock footage that makes it a worthy enough venture for viewers with a taste for this material. Read my full review, then buy it on DVD.
Zenith (Cinema Purgatorio) — Directed by “Anonymous,” the transmedia experience that goes by the name of Zenith—visit the official website to get the full experience as I confess to being a tad overwhelmed by it—is one of those stylized, cyberpunk experiences that will electrify a certain type of viewer. Buy it on DVD.
Re-Release of The Week
*** Sweet Smell of Success (Criterion) — Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), a press agent on the come-up, will do anything to get ahead. And the all-powerful, Walter Winchell-like gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) knows it. When J.J.’s younger sister gets involved with a jazz guitarist, Sidney is sent in to break them up, at any cost. Sweet Smell of Success, from 1957, is one of the last of the great film noirs—even though it has very little in the way of explicit sex or violence, it can’t be beat for its ripe mood of urban depravity and corruption, its gleam-in-the-gloom B&W cinematography (by James Wong Howe), and of course, its famously pungent dialogue (by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets): this is easily a candidate for the most quotable screenplay of all time. The movie is so well written, and so wonderfully acted by Curtis and Lancaster, that you may not notice at first that it’s also a master class in the art and craft of directing—Alexander Mackendrick had been lured to Hollywood by Lancaster’s production company after helming a string of successes, including The Ladykillers, for London’s Ealing Studios. Criterion’s new edition boasts a digital restoration, audio commentary by the film critic James Naremore (author of last year’s excellent BFI Classics monograph on the film), documentary featurettes on Mackendrick and Howe, and more. I’ve watched the MGM/UA edition many times—it’s perfectly serviceable, but this is one movie I can’t wait to upgrade. Buy it on DVD or Blu-ray. (Nelson Kim)
New to Blu-ray Pick of the Week
Memento: 10th Anniversary Edition (Lionsgate) — If I may be honest here, well, it’s like this: Christopher Nolan’s Memento didn’t really do it for me when I finally caught up with it on home video after its breakout theatrical run, and I don’t really have a desire to ever watch it again. But I hear lots of folks consider it a real standout and worthy investment of your time. So perhaps you should be listening to them and not me right now? Buy it on Blu-ray.
Have Not Seen But Really/Kinda/Sorta/Maybe Wanna
The Stieg Larsson Trilogy (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest) (Music Box Films) — To be honest, I plan to read the books before I take in the cinematic translation(s) of this series, but I’ve heard good things about the Swedish trilogy. Buy the 4-DVD Set or 4-Blu-ray Pack.
Birdemic (Severin Films) — My fascination with and love for movies that are so-bad-they’re-incredible makes me feel a tad insecure that I haven’t caught up with this universally praised gem, but I promise to do that now. Buy it on DVD or Blu-ray.