It's one of those weeks where there are definitely plenty of titles worth talking about, but you have to do a little digging to find them
The big deal titles... the ones you'll see on every endcap at every Target and WalMart and Best Buy... are a fairly uninspired bunch. "Bride Wars" with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway playing sociopaths on a crime spree. There's also the insert-dog-pun-here-tastic "Hotel For Dogs," which looks like a movie for kids who reeeeeeally love dogs. My youngest son is momentarily obsessed, and I would imagine this film to be a hypnosis tool where he's concerned. And there's the entirely-okay "The Uninvited," which is not poorly made or poorly acted or even poorly written, but it is familiar ground, a twist that's not particularly shocking, and a finale that sort of fizzles out offscreen instead of the showdown the popcorn movie version of this film should have built to. I'll say this for "The Uninvited"... the BluRay transfer is rich and sharp, and a further indication that Paramount treats even a disposable title well when it comes to these high-definition transfers. They're definitely one of the studios who seems to understand why you go through the effort of upgrading or buying a BluRay in the first place. All three are available in mass quantity on BluRay and DVD.
Even though I've got two different versions of it on DVD, as far as I'm concerned, the big news of the day is "Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One" on BluRay disc. I know people who have the HD-DVD version, like Hercules The Strong, who I saw at a "Star Trek" screening, and I'll bet I could find a cheap one for sale at Amoeba right now. I still have a working HD-DVD player in the house. But I think BluRay transfers are really starting to pop, and I just saw two Paramount transfers today that kind of blew my mind. I'm betting all of the "Star Trek" titles are good, but I don't have any of them in the house yet. The movies are making their BluRay debut in May, and I'm going to review it all in the weeks ahead. I'm ready to indulge myself in the core material, the stuff that started it all, in these new spruced up versions. I love that you can just hit angle and see the original or the new version. I think that's how you handle this sort of thing. That way, the purists aren't left out.
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There's a smattering of TV box sets this week, like "Mission: Impossible - The Sixth TV Season" from Paramount and "Stephen King Presents: Kingdom Hospital", one of the strangest of the Stephen King TV experiments as he remade the Lars Van Trier miniseries about a hospital with all sorts of crazy supernatural surprises around each deranged soap opera corner. I was surprised by the British TV series "Pulling," which is well-observed and clear-eyed about a certain kind of married/single anxiety. It's "Sex And The City" by way of Ken Loach. It's brutal at times, and while it's ostensibly a comedy, it cuts fairly deep, and instead of happy endings by the end of the six-episode run, it's more like crushed surrender. Finally, I'm curious to pick up a copy of "Frost/Nixon: The Complete Interviews," since I'd love to watch the actual dynamic play out now that I've seen Ron Howard's very solid film.
I am itching to hear Wilco's new album "Wilco," and I think I'll throw in a side-order of the live DVD, "Ashes Of American Flags." I named my old TypePad blog after a Wilco lyric... "All my lies are only wishes." I always forget how much I love Wilco until there's new Wilco out there, and then suddenly I need a lot of Wilco in my life. So I like this doulbe-barrelled release approach.
I'm sure I'll put in my copy of "The DaVinci Code" before "Angels and Demons" screens, but it's not something I'm eagerly awaiting. The first film had issues, and I'm sure I'll remember what they were when I'm watching it again. Still, I'm a sucker for an extended cut, especially on BluRay.
The most recent in a line of IMAX movies being released on BluRay is "Amazing Journeys," which I've never seen, but these are safe bets. This one's about migration, shot in 65MM 1.44:1 IMAX. A good transfer of those original elements should be stunning, and I use things like this as reference discs when they're done well.
Nagisa Oshima's infamous "In The Realm Of The Senses" makes its BluRay debut this week thanks to Criterion. This film is one of the most notorious blendings of hardcore explicit sexual content and dramatic credibility. It's a film about obsession and the blurring of boundaries when a married man becomes fixated on sex with one particular prostitute, who becomes equally fixated on him. It's a disturbing ride into a jet-black abyss, but somehow, it's not an endurance test like "Caligula" or "Salo," other films with the same sort of reputation. It's rough, but it's got a soul, and there's a damaged beauty to the stark visual style of the film. Can't wait to see how it looks, and I'm still sort of pleasantly surprised that a film like this is already getting the deluxe BluRay treatement. Criterion's also got two new DVD-only releases this week, "The Hit" and "Empire Of Passion." "The Hit" is an early Stephen Frears film with John Hurt, Terence Stamp, and Tim Roth, a film about two hitmen assigned to bring a former gangster back to England from his hiding place in Spain. It's a wry, odd film, and the performances are great. "Empire" is another film from Nagisa Oshima, a twisted Japanese take on a film noir version of "The Tell-Tale Heart," made between "Realm" and his early '80s David Bowie film "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence."
I love "Martyrs." I find it disturbing, provocative, and oddly touching. It's like "Breaking The Waves" meets "Hostel," and if that description bothers you, then I'd say you should even try to watch this one. It's much better than that description makes it sound, but that's a fair comparison in terms of what sort of content you might expect. What begins as a movie about abused girls taking revenge on the people who imprisoned and tortured them turns into something radically different midstream, something much darker and sadder. I think Pascal Laugier is an impressive new voice in horror, and I'm curious to see what he does next. There are two versions of this film in stores this week, an unrated and an R-rated cut, so beware.
I'm not necessarily the go-to guy on French cinema. I see my fair share of it. But I do have some favorites, and Patrice Laconte is on a very short list of the most talented French guys of any era in French film. "The Hairdresser's Husband" traces one man's 40 year attempt to fulfill his childhood erotic fantasies about the local hairdresser. It's a really languid, sexy film, smart and well-observed, and I haven't seen it in a while.
Very few people saw Rod Lurie's "Nothing But The Truth" and "What Doesn't Kill You" when they came out for a nanosecond in theaters, so maybe people will see the casts and give the films a try at home. I hope people get the word that Jean Claude Van Damme's work in "JCVD" is not what you'd expect, and worth seeing. It's not quite a Charlie Kaufman film, but it's a pretty clever little metafiction character study that deconstructs and then reassembles the entire persona of "Jean Claude Van Damme," to fairly powerful result. I quite like Susan Montford's debut feature "While She Was Out," with Kim Basinger giving one of her more vulnerable performances. It's a all-in-one-night thriller about a housewife who crosses the wrong carload of assholes on Christmas Eve. When their attempts at intimidation escalate into murder, she runs, and they go after her to silence her. "Cargo 200" is a tough movie about a real life Russian sex slave incident involving corrupt police and crazy country bootleggers. It's harrowing, and not really a "horror" film in the fun sense, but it'll stick with you.
Dalton Trumbo only made one film as a director, but it sure was a cold-hearted sonofabitch of a movie. "Johnny Got His Gun" is famous to most as the film that was turned into the video for "One" by Metallica. More people have seen that video than ever saw the movie, and I'd imagine that's still the case. It's the story of a man trapped inside his own disfigured body after a horrible trauma during war. It's black, awful, despairing stuff in the way it's handled, but really, it's not much different than "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" in terms of general ideas. It's all in the execution.
I haven't seen "The Price Of Sugar," a well-regarded documentary about the sugar trade in Haiti and the human toll it takes, or "One-Eyed Monster," in which a porn film shoot is interrupted by a meteor crash that (A) severs Ron Jeremy's penis (B) reanimates Ron Jeremy's penis and (C) turns Ron Jeremy's into a murderous monster on a rampage. I haven't seen "The Night Buffalo," a Diego Luna film about a guy trying to understand why his friend killed himself, or "Stranded," a documentary about that soccer team in the Andes in the '70s. I'm curious about all four, though.
And then there's the "trash," which as I've said many times before, is frequently where I find gems I love, stuff I would never call trash. I'm sure that among the stack of titles like "The She-Beast" and "The Centerfold Girls" and post-apocalyptic "Glen And Randa" and box set "British Cinema, Vol. 2 - The Comedy Collection" and "The Perfume Of Yvonne" and "A Chick's Ability" and giallo "Deadly Sweet" and "The Revenge Of The Crusader" and "Naked Rashomon," and John "No, Seriously, I Had A Lot To Do With 'Night Of The Living Dead'" Russo's '70s softcore comedy, "The Booby Hatch," there have got to be at least a few titles worth watching. And there are a number of those titles here in the house already, so I plan to do my own research into the matter.
And from boobies to Russian geniuses, we round out the column today with a DVD double-feature: "Tarkovsky Rediscovered: The Steamroller and the Violin/Voyage In Time." I don't know the first thing about these two movies. I don't know when they took place in Tarkovsky's career or how they're considered against his other work, but I know I'm interested because it's Tarkovsky and he's one of those guys who thought of cinema in a slightly different way than anyone else. And when he's on, he's on, so I'm curious to see what of his directorial personality I see in these two films.
Next week we'll be talking primarily about BluRay, since there are so few interesting DVD titles. Instead, we'll look at the new transfers for "Grease," "Saturday Night Fever," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Roxanne," and the Criterion "Benjamin Button." See you then.
On The Shelf appears here every Monday. Except when it doesn't.
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