The Italian giallo is reimagined in gloriously overripe style
Is "Amer" (Olive), a giallo—that deliriously stylish brand of Italian horror that (at its best) swirled overripe color and perverse violence with visceral imagery, voyeuristic tendencies and flamboyant camerawork—or a portrait of life imagined as a giallo?
The story (such as it is) of "Amer" comes down to three apparently defining moments in the life of a highly imaginative (perhaps borderline mad) heroine. It's a film seen through keyholes and ajar doors, down hallways and staircases, through windows and under doors, but mostly through the overheated mind's eye of Ana as she transforms family drama and every day encounters into hothouse moments of sexual desire and repression, voyeurism, conspiracy, witchcraft, stalking and murder. That, or she sees the lurid and dangerous reality under the surface that no one else notices.
Any objective understanding of the narrative is tangled up in the subjective experience of Ana (played by three different actress) and the expressionist delirium served up by filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. But this isn't mere tribute to the genre, it's a celebration of the style, the texture, the psycho-sexual atmosphere of the best films, recreated in a triptych that could be a horror film, a coming-of-age story or a twisted Walter Mitty adventure from a Dario Argento fanatic. While the cinematic phantasmagoria is more interesting than any psychological reading or narrative understanding, it's like mainlining decades of giallo highlights in a single screening. Quite a trip indeed.
The DVD also include the first five films by the filmmaking team of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, a series of shorts that explore the same love of horror style, with introductory notes by the filmmakers. Also features trailers and a teaser.
The two survivors of the seventies talk about movies and the generosity of Quentin Tarantino
Pam Grier, the queen of what was not-always-affectionately known as "blaxploitation cinema" of the seventies, and Robert Forster, the intense, enigmatic almost star of the late sixties turned B-movie stalwart of the late seventies and eighties, had never worked together before Quentin Tarantino cast them in "Jackie Brown," but they came to the film with one thing in common: they were both talented actors with distinctive screen personalities who had become out of fashion with Hollywood. Tarantino revived the faltering career of one-time superstar John Travolta with "Pulp Fiction" and was determined to give the same boost to both Grier and Forster in his follow-up. With the Blu-ray debut of "Jackie Brown" (Lionsgate) this week, Videodrone spoke with both performers (by phone) about their early careers, making "Jackie Brown," working with Tarantino and, of course, what they've been watching.
As a side note, I don't believe I have ever interviewed two more gracious professionals in my life. Their appreciation of Tarantino, as both a director and a friend, is unbound.
What have you been watching?
Grier: I do like the View on Demand from Amazon and streaming video from Netflix. I love "It's Complicated" and I like "Secretariat," "Avatar," Hitchcock and the classics. I like "The Red Pony" on DVD. I'm a mood viewer. When I'm in a special mood, I want to view a certain type of film. I don't stick to just one genre. A lot of horse films.
Forster: I watch way too much news. I saw the French film "Point Blank." What a movie! I saw "The Devil's Double." This guy's [Dominic Cooper] going to have a big, big career. You can hardly believe he's playing both parts. And it shows, if you hadn't realized it before, what it must be like for people living under tyranny. Where there is no justice. When you realize that, you realize what the world is composed of free places and places where there is no freedom. You don't want to be part of the latter.
Grier: I like to purchase because I really like to just have them for my collection, like books. I like to read a lot. I like first editions, beautiful leatherbound books. One of my favorite places is Bauman Rare Books in New York. I translate that to film as well. I like to have the DVD, but if it's not on DVD and if I can stream it through Amazon or Netflix, I do that. Because I can be in a hotel and I can stream right to my iPad.
Quentin Tarantino was a fan of your films. Were you a fan of his when you were cast?
Grier: Very much so. He had established himself as a filmmaker of really raw or true grit when you saw "Reservoir Dogs" and he paid homage to me in that. Everyone said, "Do you know you’re mentioned in the Quentin Tarantino movie?" And I said, "Yes, and I fell out of my chair." And I love his work. And then when he did "Pulp Fiction"… I had met with him, we had talked about a role and it wasn't going to work out, the same way with Robert Forster, so he said, "We're going to work together."
Forster: Well, sure. This guy made great movies. I had auditioned for one of his movies, for "Reservoir Dogs." I thought I was going to get it until I realized that he had dedicated the film to the guy to did the part that I wanted, Lawrence Tierney. So it came as a big surprise when I walked out of that audition thinking that I had just hit it out of the park, and then Quentin comes out after me and says, "Look, this isn't going to work. I'm going to give this part to the guy I dedicated the script to, but I won't forget you."
The first TV gift sets roll out for the holiday season
Okay, do we really need "The Walking Dead: Special Edition" (Anchor Bay), a deluxe edition of a season that ran a mere six episodes? Well, need has rarely played a part in such release strategies and let's face it, cult may not win ratings but it definitely sells DVDs and Blu-rays. And by any measure, this is a series with a passionate following, even after only a mere six episodes.
It doesn't hurt that the show, based on the acclaimed comic book/graphic novel series written by Robert Kirkman and developed for cable by Frank Darabont, is an intelligent, expansive, character-rich program that combines genre conventions (slow moving, voracious ambulatory corpses trailing gore and entrails swarming after humans running for their lives) with the human drama of people trying not simply to survive but find community and meaning after the end of the world as we know it. Which is not to say such concerns were absent from the film incarnations, merely rare and limited. As Kirkman says in the home video supplements, "Zombies movies all have an ending. I wanted to know what happens next."
What does the "Special Edition" have to offer that the first release didn't? To begin with, commentary on all six episodes by episode directors along with various combinations of producers (including comic book creator Robert Kirkman on two episodes), writers, actors and other collaborators (like make-up guru Greg Nicotero on episode two). Then there is a black and white version of the pilot episode (Darabont likes his monochrome), an interview featurette with Darabont and Nicotero, and new featurettes on make-up, the digital effects, the process of adapting the comics and the popularity of the new show. That's in addition to the featurettes of the previous release (including the superior half-hour "The Making of The Walking Dead" and the absurdly useful six-minute "Zombie Tips for Halloween").
Is that enough to entice you to pick up this new edition? Let me know one zombie fever takes over again when the second season shuffles onto AMC later this month.
"Planet Earth: Six Disc Special Edition" (BBC) upgrades one of the greatest natural history documentary shows ever made. The 11-part, almost 10-hour 2006 production, shot with state-of-the-art high-definition cameras and lenses, was the most expensive documentary series in BBC history at the time is still an astounding achievement. The crew gets footage of animal behavior never before captured and tracks animals through their environment from vast distances away, and perhaps more importantly uses the scope of their imagery to put a new perspective on the traditional documentary. The stunning array of seemingly environments are all connected by shared dependence on the sun, the biosphere, the land and sea, the heartbeat of the Earth, and stunning photography from space reminds us of the interconnection of life on planet Earth.
This edition features the original British version narrated by British documentary legend Sir David Attenborough and includes producer commentary on five episodes, four original bonus programs ("Great Planet Earth Moments," "Snow Leopard: Beyond the Myth," "Secrets of the Maya Underworld" and "Elephant Nomads of the Namib Desert") and a sneak peek at the upcoming "Frozen Planet" and along with the supplements of the previous edition, which includes 10-minute production featurettes on each episode and the three-part, 150-minute documentary "Planet Earth – The Future."
Plus 'Submarine,' Disney's 'African Cats' and more documentaries and foreign films
"Fast Five" (Universal) takes the fast cars and speed-demon criminals to Rio for a cast reunion featuring co-conspirators from all four previous installments and a new nemisis in Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a cartoon characters of a humorless American agent. Videodrone's review is here.
"Scream 4" (Anchor Bay), which reunites director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson ten years after the last chapter in the franchise, is strangely and even comfortingly old school as the filmmakers once again cast the conventions and clichés of horror movies through a self-aware cast of characters. They pile on self-referential gags through the tongue-in-cheek opening, getting it out of the way fast so they can get on with this story of horror movie victimization in the age of reality-TV celebrity.
In this one, Neve Campbell returns home and so does Ghost Face, the killer with a thousand alter egos. David Arquette and Courtney Cox are also back but most of the screaming and bleeding duties are left to cast of younger models: Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Kieran Culkin, plus knowing bits by the likes of Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Lucy Kate Hale and Aimee Teegarden.
"One surprise of the film is that, overall, it doesn't play nearly as tired as you think it's going to," admits MSN film critic Glenn Kenny. "It's not a disgrace -- indeed, it's not bad if you like that sort of thing -- while not particularly good, and yet it's one of the better horror films I've seen in a long time."
The DVD features commentary by Wes Craven and cast members Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere and Neve Campbell, "The Making of Scream 4" featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, plus an alternate opening and an extended ending among the supplements. The Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack also features a code for the downloadable Digital (good until Dec 21, 2012).
Watch the trailer below, after the jump.
"Submarine" (Anchor Bay), a British indie coming-of-age comic-drama, stars Craig Roberts as a disaffected Welsh 15-year-old trying to hold his parents' marriage together while acting out in the ways that quirky kids in indie coming-of-age films do. MSN film critic Glenn Kenny complains that "Not one of the talented cast, which includes Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine in its adult cast and Craig Roberts as Oliver, can sell the material as much else beyond a sour live-action affected-hip cartoon." On DVD and Blu-ray, both with a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.
"African Cats" (Disney) is Disney's latest big screen natural history documentary. MSN film critic Glenn Kenny praises the photography but reminds us that the filmmaking is "in a grand tradition of kid-friendly Disney nature films and thus rather shameless in its attempts to make young viewers empathize and identify with the film's titular kitties." Samuel L. Jackson narrates and Disney will contributed a portion of all home video sales to a conservation fund to protect lions, cheetah, elephants, zebra, giraffe and a host other species in Africa. The Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack features an interactive "Filmmaker Annotations" mode with behind-the-scenes footage and a "Save the Savanna" featurette among the supplements. Also available via High Definition Movie Download and OnDemand.
The acclaimed "Buck" (IFC) is a documentary profile of Buck Brannaman, the real-life horse trainer who inspired "The Horse Whisperer." The film is "beautiful, thoughtful and a look inside a world few of us know," observes MSN film critic James Rocchi, but ultimately the film "works less as a discussion of how to ride and more as a discussion of how to live." Features commentary by the filmmakers with Buck Brannaman and deleted scenes.
Zach Braff stars as a drug dealer whose life is at a crossroads in the indie drama "The High Cost of Living" (Tribeca/New Video). "Jackass" buddies Ryan Dunn and Bam Margera star in the comedy "Living Will" (Lionsgate).
The Argentine comedy "A Boyfriend For My Wife" (Olive), about an unhappy husband who hires a womanizer to romance his wife in the hopes that she will ask for a divorce, was the top-grossing film in Argentina in 2008. Stephen Rea stars in "Nothing Personal" (Olive), an award-winning drama from Ireland, and "Little Sparrows" (Film Movement) is a drama from Australia about three sisters who come together when their mother's breast cancer returns.
"Jig" (Screen Media), a look into the little known world of competitive Irish Dancing, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack with two commentary tracks and featurettes. "The Red Chapel" (Lorber), a chronicle of a Danish comedy trio's tour of North Korea, and "The Juche Idea" (Lorber), a deconstruction of North Korean propaganda, both take a satirical approach to North Korean political culture.
And the rest:
Brian J. White and Zoe Saldana star in the romantic comedy "The Heart Specialist" (Fox). "The Presence" (Lionsgate) is a ghost story starring Mia Sorvino and Justin Kirk and "The Caller" (Sony) is a thriller starring Rachelle Lefevre and Stephen Moyer.
MSN has an exclusive clip with Sam Jackson talking 'Pulp Fiction'
"Pulp Fiction" (Lionsgate), Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore feature, solidified his reputation as a cinematic mixologist of genre stories.
See an exclusive interview clip (shot for but not used on the Blu-ray) with Samuel L. Jackson, talking about his shared interests with QT, below.
The playful quartet of overlapping stories mixes American film noir, the French New Wave, and a post-modern sensibility to create a movie-movie for the 90s. John Travolta (in a career-reviving turn) and Samuel Jackson are a pair of fun-loving hit-men who wander through the urban crime landscape with easy style, trading shaggy stories and off-kilter insights in a film that twists and turns and double backs on itself with the sheer delight of a narrative magician. Bruce Willis is a doughy boxer who double crosses a fight fixer, Uma Thurman the flirtatious mob wife of Ving Rhames (all ropy muscle tensed to a vengeful pitch), Harvey Keitel a mob cleaner, and the list goes on. (The cast also includes Maria de Medeiros, Christopher Walken, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Rosanna Arquette, Frank Whaley, and Quentin Tarantino himself, in parts large and small.)
Tarantino tosses off quotable dialogue like confetti and fills the film with playful pop-culture references, shaggy dog stories, dark humor, and punctuations of bizarre violence, mixing the classic with the kitschy in a way that appreciates both. Tarantino’s sophomore effort earned him an Oscar for Best Screenplay (shared with former video store buddy Roger Avery) and nominations for Best Director and Best Picture, among others.
"Jackie Brown" (Lionsgate), Tarantino’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s "Rum Punch," isn’t quite his best film, but it should be. It’s easily his most mature. Where his previous films aren’t so much stories as strings of anecdotes (movie moments, urban myths, conversations strewn with pop culture references), his take on Leonard’s tale bypasses the jacked-up, smart talking pulp adolescents that populate his earlier films to tell the stories of a pair of middle aged survivors. Seventies blaxploitation action queen Pam Grier, gracefully aging into the modern world, is the middle-aged stewardess trapped between the feds and the crooks when she’s caught smuggling drugs. Robert Forster, a forgotten character actor of the late sixties turned exploitation stalwart of the late seventies, melds understated authority with the lived-in ease of age to play the world weary bail bondsman who helps her hatch a scheme to play the cops against the crooks. There’s a lot of water under the bridge since their heydays and Tarantino draws on it for these seventies icons come nineties survivors. Dropping them into a caper film with a funky beat, Tarantino creates genre soup, shuffling his love of movie references and cult movie iconography with grown up, lived-in characters with a soul. It’s a qualified success -- in giving them room to breathe he lets the caper elements go slack -- but it points to a new, mature attitude for the king of film quotes. Co-stars Samuel Jackson as a gun-obsessed drug dealer, Robert DeNiro as his thick ex-con buddy, and Bridget Fonda as his ditzy pot-head girlfriend.
Ken Burns' latest slice of American history arrives on DVD and Blu-ray the day after concluding its PBS run
"Prohibition" (PBS/Paramount) follows Ken Burns' trademark approach to American history by putting big events into perspective through the personal stories of both significant historical figures and the everyday citizens.
That's particularly effective in the story of prohibition, which traditionally is presented in terms of the activism of Carrie Nation, the decadence of speakeasy culture and the rise of gangsterism and the mob. Burns and Lynn Novick, his filmmaking partner, tell us a much more interesting story that begins with an unlikely alliance of special interest groups and moral activists passing a constitutional amendment that defies long-standing cultural practice and results in a culture where a huge portion of the country's population (including many of the politicians who passed the amendment and the officials charged with enforcing the subsequent law) flagrantly defies the law of the land. That is the story that most intrigues Burns and Novick and makes this chapter of American history, with all of its missteps and misjudgments, matter.
Along the way, they also tell some great stories. Witness Seattle, where a former policeman named Roy Olmstead (not to confused with the parks pioneers) became the king of the Puget Sound Bootleggers without resorting to guns or violence. He simply greased the wheels with bribes, from the beat cops to the judges all the way up to the elected officials. That was business as usual during the prohibition era, and as presented by Burns, that was its most damaging legacy to the country.
Peter Coyote narrates and the voice cast includes Patricia Clarkson, Paul Giamatti, Jeremy Irons, John Lithgow and Tom Hanks.
The three-part documentary comes on three discs on DVD and Blu-ray and features bonus scenes, interview outtakes and a behind-the-scenes "In the Studio" featurette.
The team reunites in Rio for a cool $100 million heist
"Fast Five" (Universal) takes the fast cars and speed-demon criminals of the surprisingly resilient action franchise to Rio, which becomes more than just an exotic landing pad for the wanted crew.
After kicking off with a prison transport jailbreak (because they don't take on any job that doesn't include precision driving and auto mayhem), the core team—street smart crew chief Dom (Vin Diesel), ex-cop turned outlaw Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom's sister/Brian's girl Mia (Jordana Brewster)—reunites co-conspirators from all four previous installments to take on a drug lord and heist a cool $100 million. Meanwhile Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who signs on as their new nemesis. "This guy, he's Old Testament," explains Brian. "Blood, bullets, wrath of God. That's his style." Okay, whatever. Mainly he's a humorless cartoon character of an American agent whose brawny presence that makes him a veritable double for Vin Diesel, minus the street-smart grin.
You can credit Justin Lin for keeping the franchise as supercharged as it has become. "Fast Five" isn't particularly smart or savvy as a heist film or a battle of wits but Lin knows how to keep things moving, whether it's a footchase through the alleys and over the corrugated roofs of the favelahs or a precision-driving getaway with tandem cars dragging a bank vault. They, of course, turn this anchor into a wrecking cube of a weapon. Forget physics, it's just a fun blast of action movie ingenuity, as is the film as a whole. These guys make robbing a mobster into a party game for criminal buddies who revel in the adrenaline rush of speed and psych-outs between the rubber and the road.
MSN film critic James Rocchi, who gives it high marks, calls "Fast Five" "the improbable offspring of "Bad Boys II" and Soderbergh's "Ocean" films -- the visceral violence and vengeance meshing perfectly with the clockwork cleverness of the caper." You can read his "five good reasons to like "Fast Five"" in his MSN review here.
More than just gangsters and flappers
Ken Burns has spent all of his thirty year (and running) career as a documentary filmmaker turning his camera back on the history of the United States: the defining people, events and accomplishments that defined, divided and united the country. From "Brooklyn Bridge" and "The Statue of Liberty" to "The Civil War" and "Jazz" and "The National Parks" (to name but a few), he has tackled subjects small and expansive with the same focus: finding the human stories that illuminate the history. His latest production, "Prohibition" (PBS/Paramount), presents a complex story of unlikely allies, disastrous political misjudgments and destructive consequences, and a political climate that is eerily familiar today.
The three-part documentary debuted over three nights on PBS and arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, October 4. Videodrone spoke with Burns about "Prohibition," his fascination with American history and what he's been watching.
What have you been watching?
Ken Burns: Not much. I've been working 24/7 promoting the "Prohibition" series. Basically I've been watching "Boardwalk Empire," which is a kind of cousin of what we've done, a dramatic, fictionalized version of the themes that we tackled with our documentary on "Prohibition."
What does Ken Burns pull out of his DVD library to watch to relax after working on a documentary all day?
I'm a child of R&B and rock and roll, I was born in the early fifties and grew up in the late fifties and early sixties and that was my music, but in 2001 we released a 17 ½-hour history of jazz and everything is filled with jazz, I listen to it all the time. I like the old stuff, I like the new stuff, I listen to Louis Armstrong, I think he's God. I think he is to music in the 20th century -- and I didn't say jazz -- I think he is to music in the 20th century what Einstein was to physics, what Freud was to medicine and what the Wright Brothers are to travel, that is to say, a quantum leap in our musical understanding.
My father told me stories of my grandfather, who as a child in the Dakotas would accompany my uncle as he made deliveries of moonshine that his family made from a still in the hills.
Burns: You know what? We traveled all around the country on this promotional tour, every walk of life, and I don’t know anybody that doesn't have some related prohibition story. It's really wonderful. I love the way our films -- "The Civil War," "Baseball," "Jazz," "The National Parks" -- but this one in particular draws out stories in people quite apart from our own stories that we're trying to tell.