New Indie of the Month
He’s got admirers and detractors, but there’s no ignoring Xavier Dolan, the French-Canadian filmmaker who has, at the ripe old age of 24, made three feature films, all of which had their debut at the Cannes Film Festival. (And if that weren't cool enough, he’s also the voice of Stan and Ron Weasley in, respectively, the Quebecois versions of South Park and the Harry Potter movies.)
If you’ve wanted to catch up on his brief but already much-discussed filmography, you’re in luck. Dolan’s debut feature, I Killed My Mother, has just been released by Kino Lorber, after the rights to the film were tied up for years with another company. Dolan, who describes this gay coming-of-age film as semiautobiographical, stars as Hubert, a teenager who’s having a fractious relationship with his mother while experiencing his first love affairs in a series of high schools. The filmmaking is spare but powerful, and it definitely marked Dolan as a rising star on the world cinema scene.
Also available this month: Test out your home 3D system with Storm Surfers 3D (XLrator Media), an eye-popping doc that lets some of the world’s finest wave riders hang 10 right out of your TV; director Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan; Making Mr. Right) assembles a terrific ensemble of a certain age -- including Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah, Camryn Manheim, Virginia Madsen and scene-stealer Wanda Sykes -- for the charming comedy The Hot Flashes (Vertical Entertainment), about small-town women creating a basketball team to save the local breast cancer clinic; Highland Park (Cinedigm/Tribeca Film) stars Billy Burke and Danny Glover as lottery-winning schoolteachers who may have met their match in ruthless mayor Parker Posey.
Terrence Malick divided critics with To the Wonder (Magnolia Home Entertainment), which is either a pure distillation of his vision or a lazy retread of his previous themes -- either way, it’s stunningly gorgeous and elliptical; troubled teens (including Shane Kippel of Degrassi: The Next Generation) fight their way through juvie in Dog Pound (Cinedigm/Tribeca Film); if the negative portrayal of the Black Power movement in Lee Daniels’ The Butler left a bad taste in your mouth, clear your palate with the celebratory documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (Lionsgate); nerd legends Felicia Day and Jason Mewes lead the ensemble of the sci-fi workplace comedy Rock Jocks (Flatiron Film Company).
Sundance award winner This Is Martin Bonner (Monterey Media) tells a subtle but powerful story of redemption; and the documentary The Substance: Albert Hoffman’s LSD (Icarus Films) takes a fascinating historical look at the creation of and controversy surrounding the powerful hallucinogen.
New Foreign of the Month
Your year-end best-of list consideration is not complete until you take in Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy, and you can start with the new release of Paradise: Love (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment). This first segment tells the story of a 50-year-old woman who travels to Kenya as a sex tourist, only to discover that what happens between the beach boys and the “Sugar Mamas” is strictly business. The rest of the trilogy (Paradise: Faith and Paradise: Hope) follows two other women from the same family, taking different vacations that lead to very different outcomes, even though all of them are searching for their own brand of contentment. This first installment raises fascinating and provocative issues about female sexuality and colonization, and it’s a movie you shouldn’t miss.
Also available this month: The seriously trippy Post Tenebras Lux (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) from director Carlos Reygadas (Japón) generates strong responses (Reygadas won Best Director at this year’s Cannes), but whether you love it or are baffled by it, you won’t soon forget it; the gorgeous The Painting (GKids) isn’t just for kids -- it’s a wonderfully rich work of art about a wonderfully rich work of art; Luc Besson gives us a female, globe-trotting Indiana Jones in the loopy and luxuriant period adventure The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (Shout Factory).
And in English: Shadow Dancer (Magnolia Home Entertainment) stars Andrea Riseborough and Clive Owen in a tense spy tale from director James Marsh (Man on Wire); U.K. director Simon Rumley takes a hilarious and compelling look at British youth gone wild in his trilogy Strong Language, The Truth Game and Club Le Monde (all from Jinga Films)
New Classic of the Month
So many “family” movies these days offer an awkward balance of juvenile high jinks and weirdly inappropriate humor aimed at parents that I just wish more directors would sit down and watch The Muppet Movie (Walt Disney Home Entertainment) for a quick lesson on how to do all ages right. The first big-screen adventure for the beloved Jim Henson creations remains one of the all-time greats, and while this “Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition” may be a bit light on extras, the movie retains all its charm and wit, making it the perfect library addition (or gift) for kids and adult Muppet buffs alike.
Also available this month: Time has been kind to oddball comedy Ishtar (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) -- now that its budgetary excesses are part of history, we can more directly revel in Elaine May’s sharp direction of Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty as the world’s worst singer-songwriters (their awful tunes were penned, brilliantly, by Paul Williams, who also did the wonderful Muppet Movie tunes); Rosemary Clooney didn’t get a lot of movie gigs after White Christmas, but she makes the most of the Western Red Garters (Warner Archive Collection), singing and shimmying her heart out as a crafty saloon girl; there’s not a princess in sight in The Sword in the Stone: 50th Anniversary Edition (Walt Disney Home Entertainment) but this tale of a young King Arthur and his formative years with Merlin remains a Disney fave; okay, yes, these movies feature yellowface, but the Charlie Chan Collection (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) offers up some zippy whodunnits once you get past the queasy racial impersonations.
Barbra Streisand recalls her past lives in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Warner Archive Collection), the one movie that would team her with director Vincente Minnelli and costars Yves Montand and Jack Nicholson; Judy Garland makes her transition from ingénue to leading lady in the charming Presenting Lily Mars (Warner Archive Collection); Harriet Craig (Sony Pictures Choice Collection) offers Joan Crawford in an iconic role of a woman who loves her sumptuous house more than the husband who paid for it; Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel The Loved One (Warner Archive Collection) works better on the page, but the movie is worth a look for Haskell Wexler’s stunning black-and-white cinematography; and the Blu-ray premiere of Cavalcade (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) isn’t good news only for Best Picture completists -- this adaptation of the Noël Coward play should thrill Downton Abbey fans, as it looks at 34 years of Great Britain through the eyes of a single family.
New Grindhouse of the Month
As he did about so many things, Roger Ebert had a great story about Q the Winged Serpent (Shout Factory), making its Blu-ray debut. After the film screened at Cannes, Rex Reed apparently told the film’s producer, schlock legend Samuel Z. Arkoff, “Sam! I just saw The Winged Serpent! What a surprise! All that dreck -- and right in the middle of it, a great Method performance by Michael Moriarity!” Arkoff apparently replied, “The dreck was my idea.” So yes, the movie rides a fine line between monster-movie silliness and monster movie taken seriously, and it’s tons of fun. And who can resist when petty crook Moriarity yells “Eat him!” when the titular beast has one of the character’s enemies in its clutches?
Also available this month: Hats off to the fine folks at Shout Factory, who in a single month have offered up gorgeous new editions of such legendary genre movies as A Boy and His Dog, Swamp Thing, X-Ray and Schizoid (double-feature disc), Dark Angel, and The Hot Spot and Killing Me Softly (double-feature disc). And if that weren’t enough, the label also released the absolutely stunning The Bruce Lee Legacy Collection, a handsomely bound 11-disc set featuring four classic films (The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon and Game of Death), three feature-length documentaries and hours more of extras.
I’m more a Christmas guy myself, but Halloween Home Haunts (Apprehensive Films) will thrill anyone who just can’t put enough skeletons, rubber goblins and dry ice in his yard every October; the quirky Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal (Doppelgänger Releasing) stars Thure Lindhart (Keep the Lights On) in the most twisted art world-based horror comedy since Bucket of Blood; director Xan Cassavetes pays homage to 1970s Euro horror with the stylish Kiss of the Damned (Magnolia Home Entertainment); and Swedish import Wither (Artsploitation Films) puts a wonderfully creepy spin on The Evil Dead as it sends its own set of teenagers to a cabin in the woods.
New TV of the Month
It seems inconceivable that two decades have past since Armistead Maupin’s wonderful stories first made their way to the small screen, but here comes Tales of the City: 20th Anniversary Edition (Acorn Media) to remind us how time has flown. (To put it in perspective, this early '90s miniseries was set in the early ’70s, which means the miniseries is now as old as the books were when the miniseries was produced.) Laura Linney (in one of her first big roles) leads a stunning ensemble in these stories of San Franciscans of various social strata trying to make sense of the Me Decade, with plenty of sex, drugs and drama balanced with humor and occasional moments of poignancy. Tales does justice to the source material, and even if you’ve never read Maupin’s wonderful work, you’ll find yourself enchanted by these characters and their misadventures.
Also available this month: When TV historians discuss this new millennial Golden Age of Television, they’re going to have to start with HBO, which this month alone presents Enlightened: The Complete Second Season (at just two seasons, this is a series that needs to go on your binge-watching list), Girls: The Complete Second Season and Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Third Season. And while it may not have the gravitas of the output of its sister network, Cinemax is keeping things lively with Banshee: Season One and Strike Back: Season Two, two over-the-top shows that never let things drag.
For obsessive fans of various stripes, there’s also Community: The Complete Fourth Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), Sons of Anarchy: Season Five (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) and of course The Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season (Anchor Bay Entertainment), all offering behind-the-scenes goodies that can’t be found anywhere else.
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