Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DVD releases for November 13

Good stuff came out this week. Here 'tis:

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
"Rainer Werner Fassbinder's controversial, fifteen-hour-plus Berlin Alexanderplatz, based on Alfred Döblin's great modernist novel, was the crowning achievement of a prolific director who, at age thirty-four, had already made forty films. Fassbinder’s immersive epic, restored in 2006 and now available on DVD in this country for the first time, follows the hulking, childlike ex-convict Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) as he attempts to "become an honest soul" amid the corrosive urban landscape of Weimar-era Germany. With equal parts cynicism and humanity, Fassbinder details a mammoth portrait of a common man struggling to survive in a viciously uncommon time."
* This seven disc Criterion set is the kind of thing that DVD collectors dream of. Even if you are not a fan, there are enough special features to make anyone envious. While I might be a Fassbinder fan and admirer, I haven't seen a minute of this series. If I were made of money, I would buy it. Instead I will have to rent it over a weekend. Thanksgiving entertainment?

Killer of Sheep (1977) directed by Charles Burnett
"The first feature film from acclaimed independent African American filmmaker Charles Burnett, this intensely emotional drama concerns a man who makes his living at a slaughterhouse as he struggles for economic and emotional survival and tries to patch up his often strained relationship with his family. Shot on weekends over a period of several years and first shown publicly in 1977, Killer of Sheep slowly but surely began to develop a potent reputation among film enthusiasts; in 1981, it won honors at the Berlin International Film Festival and an enthusiastic reception at the Sundance Film Festival. It was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1990."
* Definitely one of the biggest re-release triumphs in the last ten years, seeing Killer of Sheep in the theater this past summer was an extremely memorable experience for me. It's an understated time capsule that feels just as genuine today as it probably did thirty years ago. This two disc set also features the original cut and directors cut of Burnett's My Brother's Wedding.

This is England (2006) directed by Shane Meadows
"It's 1983, and the schools are breaking up for summer. Shaun is 12 and a bit of a loner, growing up with his mum in a grim coastal town, his dad killed fighting in the Falklands War. On his way home from school where he's been tormented all day for wearing flares, he runs into a group of skinheads, who against expectations turn out to be friendly and take him under their wing. Soon Shaun discovers parties, girls and snappy dressing, and finds some role models in Woody, Milky and the rest of the gang. But when an older, overtly racist skinhead returns home from prison, the easy camaraderie of the group is broken, and Shaun is drawn into much more uncomfortable territory. Based largely on Shane Meadow's own experiences."
* I found this film extremely charming and brutally honest. Meadows resists the temptation to play out the narrative in a standard tragedy/comedy/drama, and the result is pretty unique.

Legends of the Poisonous Seductress Series: Female Demon Ohyaku (1968), Quick Draw Okatsu (1968), Okatsu the Fugitive (1969)
"Synapse Films releases the next three entries in the 'Pinky Violence Collection' originally begun by Panik House Entertainment. The three films are part of an unrelated trilogy, starring the same lead actress (Junko Miyazono) as similar, but distinctive characters, and feature many familiar Toei stock company faces among the supporting cast. They're collectively known as the Yoen dokufu-den, or Legends of the Poisonous Seductress series, and have never had any video release in the US, nor a DVD release yet in Japan."
* I'm sad that Panik House went out of business with such strong releases right out of the gate (Pinky Violence Collection). I guess that just goes to show the DVD biz ain't all that you would think. Fortunately, Synapse, an equally independent but conscientious label, has picked up the rest of Panik House's holdings. They released the awesome Horror of Malformed Men and Snake Woman's Curse last month. This series looks just as impressive as any of the other pinky releases. Who wouldn't want a Poisonous Seductress under their Christmas tree?

Paris Je T'Aime (2006) directed by Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Isabelle Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Gérard Depardieu, Raymond Depardon, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenesse, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydes, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant
"Eighteen different directors and a slew of indie actors come together for Paris, Je T'Aime, a cinematic homage to the City of Light. Each director presents his or her own short story set in a different Parisian quarter, each one featuring a different cast of characters. The pieces vary in length, with some of them striving to tell a fully developed tale--no matter how simple the plot--while others are more abstract, content to rely on sparse dialogue and vivid imagery.
I think DVD may be the optimum viewing situation for this film. It is a step above You Tube and you can skip to the directors you are interested in or simply skip over the ones that seem lame (because some of these shorts are lame.) Not to be missed is the short by Chris Doyle and Alexander Payne. But that is just my opinion. Check it out for yourself.

Innocence (2003) directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic
"At the heart of a densely wooded forest lies a mysterious girls' boarding school, cut off from the outside world by a great wall with no door. Within, a group of youngsters aged between seven and twelve gather round a small coffin, from which emerges a new pupil, six-year-old Iris. Led by the eldest girl, Bianca, Iris is introduced to this strange yet enchanting world of lamp-lit forest paths and eerie underground passageways, where there are no adults save for some elderly servants and two melancholy young teachers. But this haven is one from which the girls are forbidden to leave; those that do are never heard from again. Haunting and bizarre, filmmaker Lucile Hadzihalovic imbues Innocence with a fairytale-like sense of menace and images of surreal beauty, creating a mesmerising and timeless evocation of childhood."
* This is an interesting film. Beautifully shot with a compelling yarn.

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