"Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to direct his first feature since 2001's Invincible with this dramatic action film inspired by his own 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly and detailing the escape efforts of a German-American pilot who was taken as a prisoner-of-war after being shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. When U.S. fighter pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) escaped death after being shot down over one of the most intense front lines in the Vietnam War, his troubles were only beginning. Subsequently taken captive by the enemy and forced to endure a harrowing stint in a Vietnamese prison camp, Dengler and his fellow captives stage a death-defying escape that would later inspire one of German's most accomplished directors to capture the remarkable tale on camera."
* I can not tell a lie; I was a little disappointed in how conventional this film was. It is pretty incredible that Herzog would follow up the wild The Wild Blue Yonder with this. Nonetheless, it is worth a look, and Christian Bale is pretty amazing. Rent it with Little Dieter.
Helvetica (2007) directed by Gary Hustwit
"Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type. Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day."
* If you just read the above synopsis, and this seems like your thing, you will love this film. This screened to a sold out audience of helvetica-loving geeks at the Walker. (Also, check out the nice website through the link above. You can order the DVD that includes a 'I hate Helvetica' and 'I love Helvetica' button. Very clever.)
Manufactured Landscapes (2006) directed by Jennifer Biachwal
"Manufactured Landscapes s the striking new documentary on the world and work of renowned artist Edward Burtynsky. Internationally acclaimed for his large-scale photographs of 'manufactured landscapes'—quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines and dams—Burtynsky creates stunningly beautiful art from civilization’s materials and debris. The film follows him through China, as he shoots the evidence and effects of that country’s massive industrial revolution. With breathtaking sequences, such as the opening tracking shot through an almost endless factory, the filmmakers also extend the narratives of Burtynsky’s photographs, allowing us to meditate on our impact on the planet and witness both the epicenters of industrial endeavor and the dumping grounds of its waste."
* Similar to Workingman's Death and Our Daily Bread, Manufactured Landscapes is full of some of the most captivating scenes you will see on screen. This doc is incredibly well shot. The opening shot that pans down an enormous manufacturing factory for miles is amazing. The film is inspired by Edward Burtynsky's photographs and documents his process, but unfortunately Burtynsky's narration does nothing for the film.
Ghosts of Cite Soleil
In Between Days (2005) directed by So Yong Kim
"Upon learning that the object of her affections only has eyes for an Americanized Korean girl, a recently arrived teenage Korean immigrant is forced to journey inward to ponder her outsider status in director So Yong Kim's melancholy tale of acceptance and isolation. Aimie is a stranger in a strange land, and her only connection to the new world that surrounds her is her best friend, Tran. Eager to take their relationship to the next level but frightened at the prospect of losing her only friend, Aimie keeps her growing feelings to herself even as Tran shows increasing signs of affection for another, more Americanized Korean girl."
* This screened at this year's Women With Vision at the Walker. It's a hugely understated film but worth the time investment. I just found out that this film loosely fits into the new (now dead?) genre of film called "mumblecore." More info on this in the current issue of Film Comment.
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991) directed by George Hickenlooper and Eleanor Coppola
"An intimate look at the making of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 classic Apocalypse Now, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse combines the usual documentary interviews with outtakes from the film and rare documentary footage, some shot on the set by Eleanor Coppola. Not long after the arrival of Francis Ford Coppola and crew in the Philippines, the shooting schedule begins spiraling out of control; the film's cost has soon far surpassed the original budget, with the ending still unwritten. As the problems mount, from lead Martin Sheen's heart attack to the disappearance of several helicopters needed for a scene (because they went to fight in a nearby war), the making of the film begins to frighteningly resemble its subject -- an unending tale of madness and obsession in the jungle."
* This documentary without a doubt, rivals the film itself. Everyone who has seen Apocalypse Now has to see this documentary. It is absolutely fascinating. The DVD includes a commentary with Francis and Eleanor, as well as Eleanor's new documentary, CODA: Thirty Years Later, about the shooting of Coppola's new film Youth Without Youth.
Monsieur Hire (1989) directed by Patrice Leconte
"Lonely and shy bachelor Monsieur Hire, suspected in the murder of a girl, secretly watches his young, attractive neighbor Alice through the window. Once, when lightning flashes during a thunderstorm, she notices his face in the window and comes to him to find out what he is after. Adapting George Simenon's novel, Patrice Leconte emphasized the psychological drama rather than the detective story and created a film about loneliness and voyeurism; his cold precision is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock or Fritz Lang. The low-key acting and moody soundtrack add a lot, but it's the director who deserves the most accolades, as he manages, with only glances and gestures, to achieve a degree of eroticism that other films fail to reach even through explicit sex scenes."
* A sentimental pick for me. Newly out on DVD, this film played at the theater I worked at in Kansas City. I remember liking it...but it was 18 years ago.
Death Note Vol 1
"Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects--and he's bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. With L hot on his heels, will Light lose sight of his noble goal…or his life?"
* In trying to decide what I think about the Death Note franchise, I will no doubt have to watch the anime. Hideo Nakata has signed on for the third live action film in the series, and that certainly has perked my ears up. I have to assume that this series is probably a better material for manga and anime than live action. This DVD contains the first four episodes. There will be 10 or more DVDs to follow.
The Lady Vanishes (1938) directed by Alfred Hitchcock
"In Alfred Hitchcock's most quick-witted and devilish comic thriller, the beautiful Margaret Lockwood, traveling across Europe by train, meets Dame May Whitty’s charming old spinster, who seemingly disappears into thin air. The young woman then turns investigator and finds herself drawn into a complex web of mystery and high adventure. The Lady Vanishes, now in an all-new digital transfer, remains one of the master filmmaker's purest delights."
* Yes, indeed. One of my favorite Hitchcocks. This film is whip-smart. This two disc set has all the bells and whistles.