The New: Chess, Trolls, and Privileged Parents
Some great movies you might have missed during their recent arthouse runs are making their way to DVD, most notably the charming French import Queen to Play (Zeitgeist Video; now available), which stars Sandrine Bonnaire as a Corsican housekeeper whose life takes an unexpected turn when she discovers she has a flair for chess. We’ve seen this kind of middle-aged-blossoming story before, but Bonnaire and writer-director Caroline Bottaro (adapting a novel by Bertina Henrichs) give the tale some unexpected twists. The film also gets a boost from supporting player Kevin Kline — performing the entire role en français — and cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu (Elegy), who deserves some sort of kickback from the Corsican tourism board for making the island look so heavenly.
And speaking of cinematographers, one of the most talented men to ever peer into a viewfinder gets his due with Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff (Strand Releasing Home Video; now available). An exploration into the work of the man who shot such classics as The African Queen, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes, Cameraman follows Cardiff’s extraordinary career from his work as a child actor in silent films to his well-deserved career achievement Oscar. Anyone who cares about movies and how they’re made needs to check this one out.
The wonderfully weird Trollhunter (Magnet; August 23) takes the hand-held chills of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield and transports them to the Norwegian mountains, where three film students attempt to document the existence of trolls. They find a mysterious hunter who gets them closer to the monstrous action than they ever imagined. If you’re a fan of new-millennial monster movies like The Host, Trollhunter will deliver the fun (and the occasional goosebumps).
A promising-looking newcomer that wound up being a big disappointment was The Best and the Brightest (Flatiron Film Company; now available), a satire about newly-transplanted Manhattan parents (Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville) desperate to get their five-year-old daughter into a super-competitive private kindergarten. If the film were smarter or funnier, we might relate to these first-world problems — the movie treats the idea of public education as the most horrifying thing ever — but even a talented cast (which also includes Amy Sedaris, Christopher McDonald, Kate Mulgrew, John Hodgman, and Peter Serafinowicz) can’t elevate this leaden screenplay.
The Classics: Vintage Polanski, An Indie Landmark, and the Dude Still Abides
While it’s not as well-known in this country as Chinatown or Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac (The Criterion Collection; now available) is slowly becoming one of the controversial filmmakers most respected films. Françoise Dorléac (sister of Catherine Deneuve and a star in her own right, before her tragic death in a car accident at age 25) and Donald Pleasance play an unhappy couple whose isolated existence is interrupted by the appearance of fugitive American gangster Lionel Stander. Polanski-esque head games ensue, and the new Criterion Blu-Ray features a 2003 documentary on the making of the film as well as a 1967 TV interview with Polanski.
Jim McBride’s David Holzman’s Diary (Lorber Films; now available) is as much a cornerstone of American independent cinema as the films of Cassavetes, and it’s also one of many great movies about the filmmaking experience itself. Archive-restored and made available on Blu-Ray for the first time (with three McBride shorts thrown in for good measure), the film stars L.M. Kit Carson as David, a filmmaker who loses himself behind the camera lens as his personal life disintegrates. If you think American indies started when Miramax bought sex, lies and videotape at the 1989 Sundance Film Festival, Diary is essential viewing.
Mad Men fans might want to seek out The Hucksters (Warner Archive; now available), a comedy-drama that proves that Madison Avenue was up to no good even back in 1947. Clark Gable stars as an adman desperately trying to hang onto his integrity (talk about your never-ending struggles) despite the demands of fat-cat Sydney Greenstreet. Ava Gardner, Adolphe Menjou, and a very young Deborah Kerr are along for the ride.
And if lines like “That rug really tied the room together, did it not?” are part of your daily patter, you’ll want to get your hands on another special edition of The Big Lebowski (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; now available), featuring the film’s hi-def debut, documentaries on the film’s ongoing cult status, and a limited edition booklet featuring interviews and a trivia quiz.
TV: MST3K Forever!
I know I’ve mentioned Shout Factory’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD releases before, but the company keeps upping the stakes and coming up with sets that are irresistible to fans. The company’s box sets usually include four episodes, but Volume XXI (now available) gives us five, so that we can get the complete run of Gamera movies as goofed on by Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson), Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy), and Crow T. Robot (Trace Beaulieu), with lots of great Gamera-related extras (and a cool tin display case) included as well.
Coming up September 13 is a two-disc celebration of one of the show’s greatest episodes: the infamous Manos, the Hands of Fate, rescued from obscurity by MST3K and now generally considered to be one of the stinkiest movies ever made. The set includes the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode; the film itself; interviews with Hodgson, Beaulieu, Mary Jo Pehl, and Frank Coniff about their Manos memories; the film Hotel Torgo, which returns to the Manos locations and finds a surviving cast/crew member; and Jam Handy to the Rescue!, a documentary about the industrial-films company that unfortunately devotes too much time to the antics of Lost Skeleton of Cadavra’s Larry Blamire.
Throw in new DVDs of the MST3K episodes Red Zone Cuba and The Unearthly (both now available), and it’s a treasure-trove for fans of this classic comedy series.