On The Shelf (3.2.09) Baz Luhrmann, 'Wonder Woman,' and avant-garde 'Treasures'
Another week, another batch of new releases on DVD and BluRay, and it's time for us to take a look at what titles of interest are available. I just made an Amoeba run with Toshi the other day. It's one of his favorite places to go with me, and he spends most of his time flirting shamelessly with all the crazy rocker tattooed chicks who work there. Boy's ambitious... I'll give him that. We picked up a huge fistful of BluRays, including the oh-so-controversial transfer of "The French Connection," and I plan to have a review of that later this week.
For now, let's just jump in, starting with one of the fall's biggest commercial disappointments...
Which is not to say that I disliked "Australia," because I didn't. I actually thought it was of a piece with the rest of Baz Luhrmann's work, and if you like what he does, you'll probably like this one. I think he's a rowdy, playful filmmaker, and he makes these eccentric cartoons, big and silly and brash. "Australia" doesn't work all the way through, but it's got a lot of things to like in it, and I'm a sucker for any story in which an unconventional family is drawn together by choice and circumstance. Nicole Kidman's the weak link here, but Hugh Jackman almost convinces you that she still looks like a human being instead of a wax figure of her former self. He's at his most appealing here, and he sells the idea that he's attracted to this difficult, prissy, rigid stick of a woman. I'm sure the BluRay transfer is amazing, since Fox does a nice job overall, and if I pick this up, that'll be the format.
[more after the jump]
One of the first things I did after starting work here at HitFix was sit down with Baz Luhrmann to talk about the film. If you didn't read it at the time, check it out. It was a pretty interesting conversation.
Disney sent over a BluRay of "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," and as soon as it came out of the envelope, Toshi said, "I'm pretty sure I like that movie, Daddy." That's his thing now. He's "pretty sure" about everything. So he and I have an appointment to watch the film together, and I'll have a review of it soon. Disney's got several titles that will be in an article next weekend about the best transfers on BluRay right now, and I'm impressed with just how noticeable the difference is in what they're doing. The film's very much in the tradition of Disney live-action family films... big and broad. A pampered Chihuahua voiced by Drew Barrymore gets lost in Mexico and goes on a road trip. Lots of talking dogs. Lots of dogs in clothes. Lots of other talking animals, including a wacky lizard and a rat. Also available on DVD.
Warner Bros. has two animated titles today. Their new "Wonder Woman" looks great even on regular DVD, but I definitely want to trade mine for the BluRay for the vesion I keep. I was surprised how adult their take on Wonder Woman is... the Amazon backstory is violent and dark and melodramatic, and there's a lot of death along the way. There's also some strong sexual suggestion in the film. It's well-animated, and it's pretty large-scaled, and if it's any indication of what Warner Bros. wants from the character in the live-action world, it's ambitious. I think it's smart for the company to try out different takes and styles in terms of their major marquee characters, using the animated versions as a sort of trial run. I am equally glad to see them try something like "Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic," also out today on DVD and BluRay, which is something like five hours long as it faithfully brings very limited animation to every single panel of the original Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel.
I am required by law to like Bertrand Tavernier, since he started his professional career as a film critic before hopping the fence to become a writer/director. And I'm a fan of the work of James Lee Burke, whose Dave Robicheaux novels also served as the source of the 1996 film "Heaven's Prisoners." Alec Baldwin played Robicheaux in that film, but this time out, Tommy Lee Jones plays the character. "In The Electric Mist" has been recut from its original running time for American release, against Tavernier's wishes, but I'm still curious to get a look at it. I really like the sort of southern-fried mystery gothic noir that Burke writes, and this is a great book they're using as source material.
I love the effort and the taste behind the ongoing "Treasures" series, and I'm thrilled that this week sees the release of "Treasures IV, American Avant-Garde Film 1947 - 1986." Here's a description from Amazon.com:
26 Major Avant Garde Films Never Before on Home Video! 27 artists from Bruce Baillie to Andy Warhol who worked outside the mainstream and redefined American cinema are collected in this stunning, five-hour set sampling an array of film types and styles. An array of film styles from animation to documentary are showcased in this collection of classics and rediscoveries, selected from five of the nation's foremost avant-garde film archives.
Featured Films include: "Here I Am" (Bruce Baillie), "Aleph" (Wallace Berman), "The Riddle of Lumen" (Stan Brakhage), "Eyewash" (Robert Breer), "Bridges-Go-Round" (Shirley Clarke), "By Night with Torch and Spear" (Joseph Cornell), "Peyote Queen" (Storm De Hirsch), "(nostalgia" (Hollis Frampton), "Fog Line" (Larry Gottheim), "Litlte Stabs at Happiness" (Ken Jacobs), "Hamfat Asar" (Lawrence Jordan), "I, an Actress (George Kuchar), "New Improved Institutional Quality" (Owen Land), "Necrology" (Standish Lawder), "Note to Patti" (Saul Levine), "The End" (Christopher Maclaine), "Notes on the Circus" (Jonas Mekas), "Go! Go! Go!" (Marie Menken), "The Off-Handed Jape... and How to Pull It Off" (Robert Nelson & William T. Wiley), "7362" (Pat O'Neill), "Chumlum" (Ron Rice), "Bad Burns" (Paul Sharits), "Odds & Ends" (Jane Conger Belson Shimane), "Film No. 3: Interwoven" (Chick Strand), "Mario Banana (No. 1)" (Andy Warhol)
Featuring newly recorded music by John Zorn, a 70-page book of program notes with a forward by Martin Scorsese, more than 200 interactive screens, and 2 postcards from the films.
You had me at John Zorn.
I'm sorry I didn't see "I've Loved You So Long" earlier. It's a blistering pair of lead performances by Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein as sisters separated by a long prison stretch for Thomas. Whatever she did, the film isn't in a hurry to tell you, and that tension as well as the pain that simmers just below the surface in both of these women is what makes the film so powerful. It's in French, but don't let that dissuade you. The feelings that fuel the film are universal.
Although I'm not crazy about the push to create special editions and director's cuts and alternate versions of everything these days, I admit a real sense of excitement about finally checking out "Ashes Of Time Redux" this week. I've still got a wicked case of the vapors after watching my Criterion BluRay edition of "Chungking Express," and I'm curious what it was that drove Wong Kar Wai back to "Ashes of Time" all these years later. Hopefully this will be one I pick up soon. If you're unfamiliar with it, it's the most atypical film on his filmography, a metaphorical piece about a swordsman in the desert who helps broker the interactions of other swordsmen. Picture the Shaw Brothers version of "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind," and you're in the right ballpark.
Finally, there are a few vintage titles I'll pick up this week, like "The Buccaneer," Cecil B. DeMille's adventure film with Frederic March in the lead, or the great "Johnny Handsome," directed by Walter Hill and featuring one of the last of the awesome '80s Mickey Rourke performances. And while I wouldn't call "Narrow Margin" great, it's a slick, stylish Peter Hyams film, and I have a real fondness for this era of grumpy Gene Hackman performances. Finally, I'm going to indulge a bit of nerdstalgia and pick up "The Return Of Man From U.N.C.L.E.," although I should probably pick up that awesome box set of the complete series first.
NEXT WEEK: Looks like a big week, with titles like the new "Pinocchio" BluRay from Disney, "Cadillac Records," "Let the Right One In," "Milk," "Rachel Getting Married," and the title absolutely no one has been demanding, "Howard The Duck."
Which my three-year-old now loves to a distressing degree.
But more on that next time.
On The Shelf appears here every Monday. Except when it doesn't.
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