New Releases 04/16/13

Top Hits
Django Unchained (action, Jamie Foxx. Rotten Tomatoes: 89%. Metacritic: 81. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Django Unchained is unabashedly and self-consciously pulpy, with camera moves and musical cues that evoke both the cornfed westerns of the 1950s and their pastafied progeny of the next decade. [The title comes from a series of Italian action movies whose first star, Franco Nero, shows up here in a cameo.] It is digressive, jokey, giddily brutal and ferociously profane. But it is also a troubling and important movie about slavery and racism.” Read more…)

Future Weather (drama, Perla Haney-Jardine. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 67. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “A delicate wildflower in a garden of weeds, Lauduree, the 13-year-old protagonist of Jenny Deller’s Future Weather, has little resemblance to her relatives in a scraggly Midwestern backwater. A bright, gifted junior high school student obsessed with global warming, she lives in a trailer with her single mother, Tanya, a flouncing Daisy Mae type… This tiny, beautifully acted movie was funded in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation as part of its mission to support films that broaden interest in science and technology.” Read more…)

The Haunting in Connecticut 2 (horror, Chad Michael Murray. Rotten Tomatoes: 23%. Metacritic: 26.)

New Blu-Ray
Django Unchained
The Quiet Man

New Foreign
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea (France/Israel, drama, Agathe Bonitzer. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 58. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Set in 2007 and unfolding over a single year, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea [based on a young-adult novel by Valérie Zenatti] is a simplistic but heartfelt engagement with war as experienced by those still growing into their opinions and allegiances.” Read more…)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Repo_Man_DVDRepo Man (1984, Criterion Collection edition of classic dark comedy, Emilio Estevez. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 75. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Vincent Canby’s 1984 Times review [requires log-in]: “Repo Man, the first feature to be written and directed by a bright new film maker named Alex Cox, is a most engaging reprieve from Hollywood’s general run of laid- back comedies of simulated nastiness and half-baked nonchalance. Repo Man, which opens today at the Eighth Street Playhouse, is the real thing. It’s a sneakily rude, truly zany farce that treats its lunatic characters with a solemnity that perfectly matches the way in which they see themselves. Its a neo-Surreal, southern California fable, set in a landscape inhabited by failed punk rockers, automobile-repossession men who behave as if they were the knights errant of capitalism, some creatures from outer space, as well as a television evangelist who preaches against ‘godless Communism abroad and liberal humanism at home.'” Read more…
From Dave Kehr’s New York Times review of the just-released Criterion Collection edition of Repo Man: “Mr. Cox would go on to direct the definitive punk romance Sid and Nancy [1986] and a whole series of sly, politically pointed comedies and craftily subverted genre pieces [a favorite remains Three Businessmen, a 1998 fable about the impossibility of finding an edible dinner in Liverpool]. But Repo Man, his first feature-length work, remains a cult favorite, and has now earned its place in the Criterion Collection in a deluxe edition that incorporates a raft of extras, including a hilariously desultory edited-for-television version in which the salty language has been overdubbed by bizarre non sequiturs. Smile when you call me a melon farmer, pardner.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Kumare_DVDKumaré (spirituality, impersonation. Rotten Tomatoes: 64%. Metacritic: 60. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “‘Faith begins as an experiment and ends as an experience.’ That quotation from the Anglican priest William Ralph Inge, which begins the documentary Kumaré: The True Story of a False Prophet, evokes the film’s ambiguous exploration of religion, teaching and spiritual leadership. When Vikram Gandhi — the movie’s New Jersey-born director, protagonist and narrator — grows a beard and flowing hair and dons Indian robes to make a film in which he poses as a swami, you anticipate a cruel, ‘Borat’-like stunt. Cynics will expect a nasty chortle when this glib charlatan finally pulls the rug out from under his credulous followers. But the outcome is much more complicated.” Read more…)

Orchestra of Exiles (history, Holocaust, music. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. Metacritic: 58. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “Richly researched and partly told by some of today’s top-flight musicians, Orchestra of Exiles retraces the world-renowned violinist Bronislaw Huberman’s heroic feat of organizing an orchestra far from the genocidal scourge of the Nazis. While this documentary from Josh Aronson fleshes out every twist in the endeavor with a letter, a reflection or an anecdote, it lacks the storyteller’s sleight of hand that lifts a narrated chronology into something that moves.” Read more…)

Hank’s Recommendations 04/16/13

hank_paperDJANGO JANGLES SPURS AND NERVES

DJANGO UNCHAINED — An escaped slave (Jamie Foxx) bonds with an intellectual German white bounty hunter posing as an itinerant dentist (Christoph Waltz) in order to rescue the slave’s wife from the plantation he escaped from.

This film is the first to deal unstintingly with the cruelties and indignities of slavery since Steven Spielberg’s AMISTAD, but dare I say the treatment here is different. The style of director Quentin Tarantino’s film derives in part (especially the climactic part) from the testosterone blood-splattering showdown mannerisms of the “spaghetti western” made famous by one of Tarantino’s pulp mentors, Sergio Leone (FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, A FEW DOLLARS MORE, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY).

In other words, Tarantino’s film addresses seriously and with a feeling of authenticity the violence of slavery of the anti-bellum South in yet an often non-serious, humorous, albeit stylistically violent way. Some critics and viewers have found this pulp treatment of such a serious subject jarring, even offensive (as they did his pulp treatment of the Holocaust in his prior Academy Award nominated film, THE INGLORIOUS BASTERDS). Spike Lee went out of his way to harshly criticize both Tarantino and his film, tongue-lashing his white colleague’s inappropriately self-taken treatment of an illimitably serious subject that was none of his business in the first place. Others have applauded Tarantino’s daring in offering historically telling details through a stylistically entertaining genre that brings the subject home to a popular mass audience.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s just Tarantino being Tarantino, ever on a quest to top himself both thematically and visually, putting his archival film and filmmaking knowledge in the service of his audacity. Interestingly, Mrs. Video shied away from seeing this violent movie but wound up really liking it; just as many women have come up to me at the store to tell me how much they liked The Inglorious Basterds.

The film does offer historical information made vividly fresh in a good, well-produced story laden with surprises and many Oscar-nominated (and winning) performances. Unmentioned in all the Academy Awards hullabaloo are particularly impressive performances by Leonardo DiCaprio as the glibly menacing wealthy plantation owner and Samuel Jackson as the owner’s servile but deviously self-serving black task master. The film does go on too long (as many films do these days), ending not where the dramatic arc demands but continuing on through a long, blood-splattering coda in order, I suspect, to have the Jamie Foxx character prevail as the hero instead of his white Kemo Sabe dentist bounty hunter. But all carping aside, the film is one to reckon with: to contemplate and even argue about.

Spike Lee admitted he never actually saw the film. You should.