"The movie business is macabre. Grotesque.
It is a combination of a football game
and a brothel."
-- Federico Fellini
Jan 082021

Accident (2009 — Hong Kong) A self-styled accident choreographer, Brain is a professional hit man who kills his victims by trapping them in well crafted accidents that look like unfortunate mishaps but are in fact perfectly staged acts of crime. After one mission inexplicably goes wrong, costing the life of one of his men, Brain becomes convinced that this accident has been choreographed: someone is out there plotting to terminate him and his team. He becomes increasingly paranoid, not knowing whether or not to trust his friends and accomplices.

Americano (2011 — France) The offspring of some of the movies’ greatest names come together in this drama concerning inheritance, legacy and the enduring pull of the past. After receiving news of his mother’s death, Martin (Mathieu Demy, who also directed and is the son of filmmakers Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy) leaves his girlfriend (Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni) and home in Paris and sets off for his childhood home in Los Angeles to tie up the loose ends of his rocky maternal relationship. Arriving in the United States, Martin is greeted by his mother’s best friend Linda (Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin), who agrees to help him settle his mother’s affairs. As Martin digs deeper into his mother’s past, he discovers she had a hidden relationship with a beautiful woman named Lola (Salma Hayek), who he finds at a seedy strip club in Tijuana called the Americano. While Lola recounts her affair with his mother, Martin realizes there is more than he ever hoped to know about his mother’s sordid past and his own problems with commitment.

Barbarella BLU-RAY DEBUT (1968) Who can perform a zero-gravity striptease, seduce an angel and still have time to save the universe? Sexy, sultry, space adventurer Barbarella, that’s who! Jane Fonda stars as the titular heroine who lands on the planet Lythion in the year 40,000. Faced with robots, monsters and evil of varying stripes, she must vanquish her enemies, all while attempting — and failing — to keep her skin-tight spacesuit on. Directed by Roger Vadim (Fonda’s ex-husband), “Barbarella” is a kind of sexual Alice in Wonderland of the future, replete with psychedelic set designs, far-out characters and an outrageously entertaining story based on the French comic strip. Co-stars John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau.

Battle Royale: The Complete Collection (2000, 2003 — Japan) A title that has shocked, thrilled and unnerved audiences; a film whose fiendishly simple premise has inspired many imitations, including “The Hunger Games” pictures. Based on the 1999 global best-seller by Koushun Takami, the proto-futuristic tale first came to the screen in 2000, directed by the legendary Kinju Fukasaku. Authors, filmmakers and film fans the world over consider the film and its 2003 sequel, “Battle Royale II: Requiem,” sacred cinematic classics. In the near future, the economy has collapsed, unemployment has soared and juvenile crime has exploded. Fearful of their nation’s youth, the Japanese government passes The BR Law: Each year, a 9th grade class is sent to a remote island where they will be locked into exploding neck collars, given a random weapon, and forced to hunt and kill each other until there is only one survivor left. Chiaki Kuriyama and screen legend Takeshi Kitano star.

Bernie (2012) In small-town Texas, an affable mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when she starts to become controlling, he goes to great lengths to separate himself from her grasp. Low-key comedy — based on a true story — is lovingly directed by Richard Linklater and stars Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine.

A Cat in Paris (2012 — France) In Paris, a cat who lives a secret life as a cat burglar’s aide must come to the rescue of Zoe, the little girl he lives with, after she falls into another gangster’s clutches in this animated comedy adventure.

Certified Copy (2010 — France) The great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami travels to Tuscany for a luminous and provocative romance in which nothing is as it appears. What seems at first to be a straightforward tale of two people — ­played by Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche and opera singer William Shimell — ­getting to know each other over the course of an afternoon gradually reveals itself as something richer, stranger, and trickier: a mind-bending reflection on authenticity, in art as well as in relationships.

Contagion (2011) Steven Soderbergh’s prescient global action thriller that revolves around the threat of a deadly outbreak of a fatal disease and the people determined to keep it at bay. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart. Stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Tien You Chui, Josie Ho Josie, Daria Strokous, Monique Gabriela Curnen.

Drive (2011) A mysterious Hollywood stuntman and mechanic ( Ryan Gosling) moonlights as a getaway driver and finds himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbor (Carey Mulligan). Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Albert Brooks is terrifically out of character as a mobster; co-stars Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks.

Girlfriend (2010) A coming-of-age drama that explores the nature of love and human compassion. Evan, a young adult with Down Syndrome, lives with his mother in a poor, working-class town. When he unexpectedly inherits a large sum of money, he decides to use it to help out his friend and high school crush, Candy, a single mother deeply in-debt and facing eviction. The two form an unlikely relationship, and everything seems to be falling into place, until Candy’s volatile ex-boyfriend interferes. Stars Shannon Woodward, Jackson Rathbone, Amanda Plummer

Haywire (2012) by Steven Soderbergh: Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a highly trained operative for a government security contractor. Her missions take her to the world’s most dangerous areas. After Mallory successfully frees a hostage journalist, she’s betrayed and left for dead by someone in her own agency. Knowing her survival depends on learning the truth behind the double-cross, Mallory uses her black-ops training to set a trap. Stars Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum.

Headhunters (2012 — Norway) A successful business headhunter who secretly funds his lavish lifestyle with a sideline in art theft learns that one of his contacts has a valuable painting; he resolves to steal it, not realizing the deadly world of trouble he is entering. Based on the book by Jo Nesbø.

Killer Joe (2012) by William Friedkin: Finding himself in considerable debt, Chris (Emile Hirsch), a Texan drug dealer, decides the only solution is to murder his mother to collect the insurance money. Getting together with his father, the ex-husband of Chris’ mother, they decide to hire Joe Cooper (a contract killer) (Matthew McConaughey) who also happens to be a police detective. The plan is that the money will go to Chris’ sister Dottie. However due to the size of the contract fee, Chris agrees that Joe can take Dottie as a retainer until the insurance comes through. Nasty work. Stars Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon.

Life Without Principle (2011 — Hong Kong) by Johnny To: An ordinary bank teller turned financial analyst is forced to sell high-risk securities to her customers in order to meet her sales target. A small-time thug delves into the futures index hoping to earn easy money to post bail for a buddy in trouble with the law. A straight-arrow Police inspector who has always enjoyed his middle income lifestyle is suddenly desperate for money when his wife puts a down payment on a luxury flat she can’t afford and his dying father wants him to look after a young half-sister he never knew he had. Three in dire need of money have nothing in common until a bag of stolen money lands them in an intricate situation that forces them into making soul searching decisions about right and wrong and everything in between.

Miami Connection (1987): A kung-fu disco-rock band fights the mob in Miami. Miami Connection Raging synth rock, furious TaeKwon-Do and kill-crazy motorcycle ninjas all collide in this midnight movie sensation as martial arts rock band Dragon Sound embark on a roundhouse wreck-wave of crime-crushing justice in the streets of Orlando. Following “Miami Connection’s” near-nonexistent theatrical/VHS release in 1987, the film vanished into obscurity. Over two decades later, Austin Texas’s Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson blindly purchased a rare 35mm print from a reluctant eBay seller for $50. A small test screening of the film’s first reel unveiled a relentless fury of ninjas, ’80s rock, lawless bikers and brutal knife fights. The crowd lost their minds. The film has been called a “forgotten B-movie masterpiece” — and based on our viewing, it is definitely one of the better off-the-wall ‘B’ outings what with its non-acting actors and old-style martial arts fighting. A real treat for grindhouse film lovers.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) by Wes Anderson: Anderson’s sweet, low-key comedy set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, as a young boy and girl fall in love they are moved to run away together. Various factions of the town mobilize to search for them and the town is turned upside down – which might not be such a bad thing. Stars Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban.

On the Bowery: A powerful “documentary” by 1950s political filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. For songwriter Woody Guthrie, his guitar was a machine that “kills fascists.” For Rogosin, the weapon of choice was a movie camera, and his first battle was waged on the streets of New York City. Exploring the underworld of the city’s skid row, Rogosin developed his signature style. After months drinking with men he met on the Bowery, he worked with his buddies to write a screenplay that reflected their lives — and then cast them as themselves. This technique of making films “from the inside” allowed Rogosin to film ordinary people caught up in universal problems. “On the Bowery” chronicles three days in the drinking life of Ray Salyer, a part-time railroad worker adrift on New York’s skid row.

Outrage: Way of the Yakuza (2010) by Takeshi Kitano. When a boss of the notorious Japanese crime syndicate (just as likely in today’s modern world to be playing the stock market as well as shaking down pachinko parlors) issues an order to his associates to keep a rival gang in line, the task falls on Otomo (Kitano), who soon instigates a play for power that creates an all-out gang war, illustrating the brutal fate that befalls anyone who dares to violate the structured ways of the Yakuza.

The Paradise Lost Trilogy Collector’s Edition (2012): The landmark documentary that sparked an international movement to “Free the West Memphis Three.” “Paradise Lost” investigates the gruesome 1993 murder of three 8-year-old boys and the three teenagers accused of killing them as part of a Satanic ritual. From real-life courtroom drama and clandestine jailhouse interviews to behind-the-scenes strategy meetings and intimate moments with grief-stricken families, filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky were granted unprecedented access to all the players involved, capturing the events as they unfolded. “Paradise Lost: Revelations” delves deeply into the shocking aftermath of the trials, updating the story seven years after the murders. With one teen on death row and two serving life sentences, “Paradise Lost: Purgatory” picks up the story and reexamines the horrifying crime with fresh insights that only the passage of time can provide. Facts are reexamined, new evidence is revealed and new suspects are scrutinized. (Just before the third documentary was completed, the three men were exonerated).

Take Shelter (2011) by Jeff Nichols: Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father (Michael Shannon) questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself. Stars Jessica Chastain, Kathy Baker, Katy Mixon, Shea Whigham, Tova Stewart.

Unforgivable (2011 — France) by Andre Techine: Francis (Dussollier) is a successful crime writer who moves to Venice to work on his next novel. When he meets model-turned-real-estate-agent Judith (Bouquet), he is instantly infatuated. Francis and Judith eventually marry and move to a remote house on Torcello Island but Francis’ newfound happiness hinders his writing. Obsessing over what Judith does while at work, he hires a young ex-convict to investigate. As Judith’s sexual past is revealed, both men become increasing fixated on the mysterious woman. Set against the beautiful backdrop of Venice, the film examines the consequences of unresolved past relationships and their far-reaching effects into the future.

Wallander (2009-10) The acclaimed Swedish series about Kurt Wallander (Krister Henriksson), a brilliant but flawed detective who drinks a little too much, struggles with anger control, meets opposition from his friends, family and co-workers, but who always is on the job when it comes to tracking down the evildoers who slither through Sweden’s dark underbelly. From the novels of Henning Mankell.

The Woman in the Fifth (2011 — France) by Pawel Pawlikowski: A down-and-out college lecturer (Ethan Hawke) flees to Paris after a scandal costs him his job. In the City of Lights, he tries to reconcile with his wife and daughter, taking a room in a shady hotel and getting an equally shady job as a night watchman; he eventually meets a mysterious widow (Kristin Scott Thomas) and begins an affair with her that leads to a series of inexplicable events — including death and destruction.

And don’t forget the following Criterion releases:

Brazil (1985) In this dystopic masterpiece, Jonathan Pryce plays a daydreaming everyman who finds himself caught in the soul-crushing gears of a nightmarish bureaucracy. This cautionary tale by Terry Gilliam, one of the great films of the 1980s, now ranks alongside antitotalitarian works by the likes of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. And in terms of set design, cinematography, music, and effects, this nonstop dazzler stands alone. Co-stars Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Kim Greist, Jim Broadbent. Restored high-definition digital transfer of Gilliam’s 142-minute director’s cut.

Children of Paradise (1945 — France) Poetic realism reached sublime heights with “Children of Paradise (Les enfants du paradis),” widely considered one of the greatest French films of all time. This nimble depiction of 19th-century Paris’s theatrical demimonde, filmed during World War II, follows a mysterious woman (Arletty) loved by four different men (all based on historical figures): an actor, a criminal, a count, and, most poignantly, a street mime (Jean-Louis Barrault, in a longing-suffused performance for the ages). With sensitivity and dramatic elan, director Marcel Carne and screenwriter Jacques Prevert resurrect a world teeming with hucksters and aristocrats, thieves and courtesans, pimps and seers. Thanks to a major new restoration, this iconic classic looks and sounds richer and more detailed than ever.

Eclipse Series 32: Pearls of the Czech New Wave Of all the cinematic New Waves that broke over the world in the 1960s, the one in Czechoslovakia was among the most fruitful, fascinating, and radical. With a wicked sense of humor and a healthy streak of surrealism, a group of fearless directors — ­including eventual Oscar winners Milos Forman and Jan Kadar — ­began to use film to speak out about the hypocrisy and absurdity of the Communist state. A defining work was the 1966 omnibus five-part anthology film “Pearls of the Deep,” which introduced five of the movement’s greatest voices: Vera Chytilova (“Daisies,” 1966), Jaromil Jires (“The Joke ,” 1969), Jiri Menzel (“Capricious Summer,” 1968), Jan Nemec (“A Report on the Party and Guests,” 1966) and Evald Schorm (“Return of the Prodigal Son,” 1967). This series presents that title, along with five other crucial works that followed close on its heels, one from each of those filmmakers — ­some dazzlingly experimental, some arrestingly realistic, all singular expressions from a remarkable time and place.

Harold and Maude (1971) With the idiosyncratic American fable “Harold and Maude,” countercultural director Hal Ashby fashioned what would become the cult classic of its era. Working from a script by Colin Higgins (“9 to 5”), Ashby tells the story of the emotional and romantic bond between a death-obsessed young man (Bud Cort) from a wealthy family and a devil-may-care, bohemian octogenarian (Ruth Gordon). Equal parts gallows humor and romantic innocence, “Harold and Maude” dissolves the line between darkness and light along with the ones that separate people by class, gender, and age, and it features indelible performances and a remarkable soundtrack by Cat Stevens.

Heaven’s Gate (1980) A visionary critique of American expansionism, “Heaven’s Gate,” directed by Oscar winner Michael Cimino (“The Deer Hunter”), is among Hollywood’s most ambitious and unorthodox epics. Kris Kristofferson brings his weathered sensuality to the role of a Harvard graduate who has relocated all the way to Wyoming as a federal marshal; there, he learns of a government-sanctioned plot by rich cattle barons to kill the area’s European settlers for their land. The resulting skirmish is based on the real-life bloody Johnson County War of 1892. Also starring Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Walken, “Heaven’s Gate” is a savage and ravishingly shot demystification of Western movie lore. This is the full director’s cut, letting viewers today see Cimino’s potent original vision.

In the Mood for Love (2000 — Hong Kong) Hong Kong, 1962: Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) move into neighboring apartments on the same day. Their encounters are formal and polite — until a discovery about their spouses sparks an intimate bond between them. At once delicately mannered and visually extravagant, “In the Mood for Love,” directed by Wong Kar-wai, is a masterful evocation of romantic longing and fleeting moments. With its aching musical soundtrack and its exquisitely abstract cinematography by Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin, this film has been a major stylistic influence on the past decade of cinema, as well as a milestone in Wong’s redoubtable career. In a Blu-ray debut.

Purple Noon (1960 — France) Alain Delon was at his most impossibly beautiful when “Purple Noon (Plein soleil)” was released and made him an instant star. This ripe, colorful adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s vicious novel, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” directed by the versatile Rene Clement, stars Delon as Tom Ripley, a duplicitous American charmer in Rome on a mission to bring his privileged, devil-may-care acquaintance Philippe Greenleaf back to the United States; what initially seems a carefree tale of friendship soon morphs into a thrilling saga of seduction, identity theft, and murder. Featuring gorgeous on-location photography in coastal Italy, “Purple Noon” is crafted with a light touch that allows it to be suspenseful and erotic at once, while giving Delon the role of a lifetime.

Quadrophenia (1979) The Who’s classic rock opera “Quadrophenia” was the basis for this invigorating coming-of-age movie and depiction of the defiant, drug-fueled London of the early 1960s. Our antihero, Jimmy (Phil Daniels), is a teenager dissatisfied with family, work, and love, who identifies with the fashionable, pill-popping, scooter-driving mods, a group whose opposition to the motorcycle-riding rockers leads to a climactic riot in Brighton. Director Franc Roddam’s rough-edged film is a quintessential chronicle of youthful rebellion and turmoil, with Pete Townshend’s brilliant songs (including “I’ve Had Enough,” “5:15” and “Love, Reign O’er Me”) providing emotional support, and featuring Sting and Ray Winstone in early roles.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Terrifying and darkly comic, “Rosemary’s Baby” marked the Hollywood debut of Roman Polanski. This wildly entertaining nightmare, faithfully adapted from Ira Levin’s best seller, stars a revelatory Mia Farrow as a young mother-to-be who grows increasingly suspicious that her overfriendly elderly neighbors, played by Sidney Blackmer and an Oscar-winning Ruth Gordon, and self-involved husband (actor and filmmaker John Cassavetes) are hatching a satanic plot against her and her baby. In the decades of occult cinema Polanski’s ungodly masterpiece has spawned, it’s never been outdone for sheer psychological terror.

Shallow Grave (1994) This diabolical thriller was the first film from director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew MacDonald, and screenwriter John Hodge (the smashing team behind “Trainspotting”). In “Shallow Grave,” three self-involved Edinburgh roommates — ­played by Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor, in his first starring role — ­take in a brooding boarder. When he dies of an overdose, leaving a suitcase full of money, the trio embark on a series of very bad decisions, with extraordinarily grim consequences for all. Macabre but with a streak of offbeat humor, this stylistically influential tale of guilt and derangement is a full-throttle bit of Hitchcockian nastiness.

Weekend (1967 — France) This scathing late-sixties satire from Jean-Luc Godard is one of cinema’s great anarchic works. Determined to collect an inheritance from a dying relative, a bourgeois couple travel across the French countryside while civilization crashes and burns around them. Featuring a justly famous centerpiece sequence in which the camera tracks along a seemingly endless traffic jam, and rich with historical and literary references, “Weekend” is a surreally funny and disturbing call for revolution, a depiction of society retreating to savagery, and — ­according to the credits — ­the end of cinema itself.

World on a Wire (1973 — Germany) A gloriously paranoid, boundlessly inventive take on the future from German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder. With dashes of Stanley Kubrick, Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick, as well as a flavor entirely his own, Fassbinder tells the noir-spiked tale of a reluctant action hero, Fred Stiller, a cybernetics engineer who uncovers a massive corporate conspiracy. At risk? (Virtual) reality as we know it. Originally made for German television, this recently rediscovered, three-and-a-half-hour labyrinth is a satiric and surreal look at the weird world of tomorrow from one of cinema’s kinkiest geniuses.

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2011

 Posted by on January 8, 2021  Add comments

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