New releases 10/30/12

Top Hits
The Campaign (comedy, Will Ferrell. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%. Metacritic: 50. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “The Campaign is a comedy about a North Carolina Congressional election. Since it stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as rival candidates — you probably know this if you own a television — the movie is obviously not a realistic depiction of the American electoral process. But its relationship to the reality of contemporary politics is nonetheless interesting to consider. Too soft and silly to be satire, too upbeat to be a cautionary tale, the film [directed by Jay Roach] is a fun-house fable that both exaggerates and understates the absurdities of our democracy in this contentious election year.” Read more…)

Safety Not Guaranteed (comedy, Mark Duplass. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 72. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “An indie comedy as endearing as Safety Not Guaranteed can seem as deceptively easy to toss off as a foolproof recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Measure, stir, bake and presto, you have instant melt-in-your-mouth goodies. That describes the impression left not only by Safety Not Guaranteed but also by the better films associated with Jay and Mark Duplass, two of its four executive producers. The Duplass brothers’ looming juggernaut of hip, smart, modestly budgeted films evolved out of the mumblecore movement. Talky but unpretentious, the genre is a style unto itself. Casually realistic, with semi-improvised dialogue and low-tech production values, it is truthful without seeming portentous.” Read more…)

Ruby Sparks (comedy, Paul Dano. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 67. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “Ruby Sparks, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the team behind Little Miss Sunshine, has the same zany and sweet tone laced with just enough hardheaded wisdom to keep it grounded in psychological truth. The screenplay, by Ms. Kazan, is so polished and witty that it immediately puts her in the same league as Diablo Cody. And Ms. Kazan’s lovely, tart performance is the equal of Ellen Page’s portrayal of the title character in Juno. Both are impetuous screwball heroines who could have been created only by women.” Read more…)

Coma (thriller, Lauren Ambrose)

New Blu-Ray
The Campaign
Safety Not Guaranteed

New Foreign
Elena (Russia, drama, Nadezhda Markina. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 87. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “Post-Soviet Russia in Andrei Zvyagintsev’s somber, gripping film Elena is a moral vacuum where money rules, the haves are contemptuous of the have-nots, and class resentment simmers. The movie, which shuttles between the center of Moscow and its outskirts, is grim enough to suggest that even if you were rich, you wouldn’t want to live there. For My. Zvyagintsev, whose first feature, The Return, won the grand prize at the 2003 Venice Film Festival, it is a brilliant comeback after The Banishment [2007], a disappointing film that was not released in this country. The Return had established him as perhaps the foremost artistic heir to Andrei Tarkovsky.” Read more…)

Americano (France, drama, Salma Hayek. Rotten Tomatoes: 50%. Metacritic: 50. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “Movies are part of [director Mathieu Demy’s] own particular parental legacy, but they also represent a communal storehouse of images and genres, a reservoir of adaptable dreams and renewable meanings. Americano is a film of modest ambitions — it does not strive for greatness or novelty — but it demonstrates unassuming self-assurance and an admirable willingness to take formal and emotional risks in pursuit of a complicated and elusive truth.” Read more…)

 
Polisse (crime drama, Karin Viard. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Metacritic: 74. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From A.O. Scott’s Times review: “Like [her character] Melissa, [director and actress] Maïwenn spent time with a child-protection police task force, and her sympathy and respect for its members, as well as her grasp of their limitations, informs every scene in this long, unruly, gripping film. Though it is a fictional feature [written by Maïwenn and Emmanuelle Bercot], Polisse feels less dramatized than witnessed. It has a rough, ragged narrative structure and a correspondingly hectic visual style. It plows through some harsh, horrifying realities with unflinching sobriety, concerned less with social problems than with facts and in the process illuminates French society with a toughness and fidelity that few other recent movies have dared.” Read more…)

The Young Montalbano Episodes 1-3 (Italy, detective series, Michele Riondino)
The Young Montalbano Episodes 4-6 (Italy, detective series, Michele Riondino)

New American Back Catalog DVDs (post-1960)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968, horror, Mia Farrow. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. From Renata Adler’s 1968 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “If a person exhibits paranoid symptoms these days it would seem common decency not to report him, at least, to the persons he claims to be persecuted by, and when Mia Farrow tells what is, after all, a highly plausible story to her obstetrician in Rosemary’s Baby, it seems wrong of him to deliver her straight to a coven of witches that has designs on her baby. Lord knows how many cases of extremely accurate reporting are cured each day by psychiatrists.” Read more…)

New British DVDs
Copper: Season 1

New Documentaries
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (biography, music, gender issues, Genesis P-Orridge. Rotten Tomatoes: 65%. Metacritic: 68. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Highlighting the wacky while playing down the distasteful, Marie Losier’s playful profile of the English musician and artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and his second wife, Lady Jaye [who died in 2007], takes a lighthearted look at the things they did for love. Or, some might say, for attention. As The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye makes abundantly clear, this couple thrived on two things: loving each other and making spectacles of themselves. When, in 2000, they began a series of plastic surgeries — including matching breast implants — in a bizarre attempt to merge identities, these twin passions dovetailed into a continuing performance piece that they called pandrogeny, but that others might call working out your issues.” Read more…)

First Position (ballet, dance competition. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 72. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “The tears are often held tremulously back and the many hurts smiled away in First Position, an appealing, largely upbeat documentary about young ballet dancers duking it out, sometimes on point and in tulle, for top honors at the Youth America Grand Prix.” Read more…)

Hank’s Recommendations 10/30/12

Depending on where you live, this week’s “storm of the century” (borrowing from a highly appropriate Stephen King title on my list) may have swept away any chance for door-to-door trick or treating in your neighborhood. Which may leave you and your kids at home with your TV on this all-too-mischievous Halloween night.

Here’s a list you can draw from to assure the appropriate (albeit virtual) frights. Keep in mind that Halloween is once a year; horror lives forever.

HANK’S HOUSE OF HORROR
(All recommended titles)

SHARE A SCARE: FOR KIDS AND ADULTS

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
Changeling, The
Day of the Triffids
Fly, The (orig.)
Incredible Shrinking Man, The
Invaders From Mars (orig.)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (orig.)
It Came From Outer Space
Lady in White
Silver Bullet
So I Married An Axe Murderer
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Thing, The (orig.)
Village of the Damned
War of the Worlds
Watcher in the Woods

JACQUES TOURNEUR/VAL LEWTON

Cat People
Curse of the Demon
I Walked With A Zombie
Leopard Man, The
Seventh Victim, The

HANK’S OTHER FAVORITE HORROR FILMS

Alligator
American Werewolf in London
Army of Darkness
Asphyx, The
Asylum
Bad Seed, The
Birds, The
Blob, The
Blob, The (remake)
Body Snatchers
Bug
Carnival of Souls
Carrie
Cat’s Eye
Cherry Falls
Close Your Eyes
Cloverfield
Crazies, The
Dawn of the Dead
Day of the Dead
Dead of Night (Brit.)
Dead of Winter
Devil Doll
Devil’s Advocate
Devil’s Rain
Don’t Look Now
Dracula (orig.-Lugosi)
Dracula (Langella)
Dreamscape
Duel (Spielberg)
Entity, The
Evil Dead
Exorcist, The
Final Destination
Fly, The (remake)
Freeway
Forbidden Planet
Frankenstein (Patrick Bergin)
Frighteners, The
God Told Me To
Halloween
Hidden, The
Hills Have Eyes
Horror Express
House
House of Wax
Hunger, The
I Bury the Living
Incubus, The (John Cassavetes)
Innocents, The
In the Mouth of Madness
Jacob’s Ladder
Jeepers Creepers
King Kong (orig.)
Lasst Exorcism, The
Last Wave, The
Legacy, The
Let Me In (American version)
Let the Right One In (original Swedish)
Lifeforce
Lost Souls
Maze, The
Mephisto Waltz
Mr. Frost
Mute Witness
Near Dark
Night of the Living Dead
Nightmare On Elm Street
Ninth Configuration
Ninth Gate
Nomads
Omega Man, The
Omen, The
Patrick
Phantasm
Poltergeist
Prophecy
Psycho (orig.)
Q: the Winged Serpent
Quatermass and the Pit
Repulsion
Ring, The
Ringu
Ritual
Rosemary’s Baby
Salem’s Lot
Scream
Sentinel, The
Serpent and the Rainbow
Seventh Sign
Shout, The
Signs
Sisters
Sixth Sense
Splinter
Stand, The
Stepford Wives (orig.)
Stigmata
Stir of Echoes
Storm of the Century
Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Thing, The (remake)
Tingler, The
Tremors
Unbreakable
Vanishing, The
Vanishing, The (American version)
Walking Dead, The (TV series)
When A Stranger Calls
When A Stranger Calls Back
Wicker Man, The
Wolfen

THRILLERS WITH HORRIFIC ELEMENTS

Boys From Brazil
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Day the Earth Caught Fire
Deep Impact
Diabolique (orig.)
Hitcher, The
Jaws
Manchurian Candidate
Manhunter
Misery
Night of the Hunter
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Rear Window
Rebecca
Silence of the Lambs
Soylent Green
Spiral Staircase
Terminator
Videodrome
Wait Until Dark
Wizard of Oz

RECOMMENDED HORROR FILMS ADAPTED FROM STEPHEN KING

Cat’s Eye
Dead Zone, The
Dolores Claiborne
Green Mile, The
Mist, The
Silver Bullet
Stand, The
Storm of the Century, The

Hank’s Recommendations 10/23/12

TWO NEW TV SERIES & HALLOWEEN

MAD MEN SEASON FIVE — The mystery of Don Draper returns in still yet unexpected ways. This most acclaimed and, at Best Video, awaited series—a multi-Globe and Emmy winner of the last four years—came out last week. Nonpareill art direction and period detail along with compellingly ambitious characters recreate the Madison Avenue world of the 60s, limning issues of misogyny, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, the glass ceiling and consumer materialism that resonate today. The first two linked episodes serve as both a reprise of what went before and a pilot of what’s to come. It’s a model of sophisticated writing and structured story telling: a fulfillment of everything promised.

 

THE WALKING DEAD — This edge-of-the seat horror drama is my choice for this year’s Halloween fare. The flight-and-pursuit story of a sheriff and a small group of people trying navigate zombie apocalypse—staying ahead of the dead that relentlessly stalk them while seeking solace in the hope of a refuge that may (or may not) lie ahead—focuses equally on the survivalist conflicts and rivalries within the group. Full of surprises and suspense and, above all, characters you can relate to, this is a show that has single-handedly reanimated the over-populated zombie genre. I’m trying to get my wife to watch it by comparing it to Friday Night Lights. Good luck to that.

Halloween is once a year but horror lives forever: a good horror film survives the designated Day of the Dead, remaining eternal in reminding ourselves of our dark side and how titillating it is to temporarily burrow in. With that in mind, we’ve created a BEST HORROR FILMS SECTION near cult and horror—in tall shelving that will tower over you like Frankenstein’s monster. Here is a sampling of our recommended horror films (two to watch with your kids; the other just for you) that will be good for any time of the year.

THE CHANGELING — Here, along with the following title (both rated PG), is the answer to a parent’s perennial plea: for a film that is “scary but not gory.”  Both are ghost stories that are among the best of their kind.

George C. Scott, putting in the inevitable strong performance, plays a music composer who witnesses the death of his wife and young son in a freak truck accident. Months later, he has taken refuge in an old, isolated Victorian house: all he wants is to be alone where he can immerse himself in his work. Instead, what he comes up against (or perhaps it’s the other way around) is the ghost of a murdered boy who seeks to use Scott as the instrument of his own vengeance. Scott’s at first reluctant and then dogged determination to carry out the boy’s mission puts him through some scarifying paces and winds up enabling him to exorcise his own demons along the way.

Octogenarian Melvyn Douglas, as a devious old man whose money and social prominence hides the answer to an ancient puzzle, adds a gem of a performance to a long distinguished career. If your idea of a horror thriller is to be moved as well as scared, then allow this ghost-thriller, complete with supernatural manifestations, séances and nocturnal grave diggings, to manifest itself on your TV screen.

 

LADY IN WHITE — Here’s a superb New England ghost story that’s also a Hitchcockian mystery thriller, great for both older kids and adults.

Twelve-year old Frankie, still in costume from a class Halloween party, is lured back into school by two mischievous friends and locked in the cloakroom overnight. Being alone, however, is not going to be his biggest fright. A man in a black face mask breaks into the cloakroom looking for something, encounters Frankie, and tries to strangle him. In the twilight between life and death, Frankie sees the apparition of a little girl, who, he realizes, is a former victim of his own assailant. Following his survival, he uses that vision as a clue to try to uncover the identity of the murderer, who, it turns out, has left nine other victims in the town.

This film is cleverly suspenseful and scary, but not gory. There is one possibly shocking moment when someone is shot in a car, and a suggested molestation motif, but the story is as sensitively told as it is beautifully photographed. If you’ve survived the rigors of that well-crafted, hoary chestnut, A CHRISTMAS STORY, but are in the mood for something spooky and horrific instead of hilarious, then allow this spirited film about one boy’s singularly determined quest into your own family den.

THE HUNGER — Vampire films (THE TWILIGHT SAGA, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, TRUE BLOOD) have been all the rage lately, targeted to the unrequited hormonal yearnings of teen girls. Here is a highly stylized cult film with an A cast whose leanings are decidedly more toward sexual fulfillment and whose target audience is clearly adult.

Catherine Deneuve is an ageless, wealthy vampire whose successive lovers all too quickly age and die. Current lover David Bowie (an intriguing actor, as in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH and the Criterion edition of MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE) is on the way out (the scenes of this boy-man’s rapid aging are fascinating) and Susan Sarandon, the head of a rejuvenation clinic to which Bowie has sought help, is on the way in. How she gets the “hunger” from Deneuve and how she fights it is what the story’s about. Directed by Tony Scott (TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3, DOMINO, MAN ON FIRE, CRIMSON TIDE, TRUE ROMANCE, DAYS OF THUNDER), the film plays like a slick fashion spread where the blood is real. The story offers a dream of a cast in a film that itself is like a dream, yet goes straight for the jugular.

Hank’s Recommendations 10/16/12

MOONRISE KINGDOM — Following BOTTLE ROCKET, RUSHMORE and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, Wes Anderson’s live action films—LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU and DARJEELING LIMITED—seemed to me an attempt to replace what was totally original and winningly eccentric into with a “Wes Anderson” formula that was simply precious and coy.

Moonrise Kingdom, his latest, however, is a brilliant return to form.

Taking place on a New England island in 1965, the film opens with a stately albeit whimsical introduction to an oddball family and their home called Summer’s End. The parents, the Bishops, are two lawyers who are most compatible when citing law cases to each other. He (Bill Murray) is otherwise distracted while she (Frances McDormand) runs their rambunctious household with the help of a bullhorn while carrying on a clandestine flirtation with the island’s lonely self-effacing sheriff (Bruce Willis). Suzy, their twelve-year-old daughter, jaundiced about her family, including a trio of much younger male siblings, loses herself in fantasy novels she steals from the library and wishes she was an orphan. But she is part of a clandestine plot of her own.

For on the other side of the island is a Boy Scout camp strictly but lovingly run by Ed Norton, who finds not one of his uniformed charges up to standard—except for Sam who does everything Scout-wise right but is alienated from the rest of the troop. He actually is an orphan who loses himself in landscape painting and whose off-island foster family doesn’t really want him anymore.

A year ago the two momentarily, and wordlessly, met at a school pageant. A subsequent correspondence of letters espoused their mutual devotion and sealed their pact to escape the adult world together. And sure enough they do, galvanizing the entire island adult world—parents, scout leaders (along with their troops), neighbors, social services (Tilda Swinton) and the island’s sheriff—to rise to the madcap search and rescue. Of course these adults, so rooted in their ways, don’t realize they will be totally outpaced by Sam’s mastery of survival techniques and skills. All this just as an offshore storm approaches.

So much of the filmmaking, in its framing and with its judicious use of split-screen, slow motion, flashback asides, is witty; the art direction and cinematography scrumptuously eye-catching. The dialogue, with not a wasted word, is a touch surreal, yet realistic enough to evoke sympathy and even suspense.

When Bruce Willis’ sheriff acknowledges that twelve year old Sam is smarter than himself, he adds: “But even smart kids stick their finger in the electrical socket sometimes…It’s been proven by history, all mankind makes mistakes. It’s our job to try to protect you from making the dangerous ones if we can. [Handing him a beer] Want a slug.”

The Bishops lying in bed with the rain falling:

“I’m sorry Walt.”

“It’s not your fault. [Beat] Which injuries are you apologizing for, specifically?”

“Specifically? Whichever ones still hurt.”

“Half of these were self-inflicted.”

The dialogue of the two young escapees—neither coy nor precious nor littered with faux-kids-speak—are credibly appropriate to their ages yet somehow uttered with a wisdom beyond their years, its palimpsest of innocence leavened with the foreknowledge that innocence won’t be likely to survive childhood. About a deceased pet:

“Was he a good dog?”

“Who’s to say. But he didn’t deserve to die.”

In this wonderful eye-catching, ear pleasing film that is a fable, a satire, a parody of adult speech and manners, of escape films, war films, westerns, therapy dramas, pageants and religious miracle plays, not to mention HIGH SIERRA and KEY LARGO, there are plenty of surprises, which I could never spoil even if I wanted to. True art is original, and never duplicable.

Oh yes, and Harvey Keitel is in it.

 

Hank’s Recommendations 10/09/12

DETACHMENT — This powerful film about a good teacher who is compelled to be a substitute so he won’t have to commit doesn’t offer easy answers to the problems that plague inner city schools. If you’re looking for answers, a la STAND AND DELIVER  or  LEAN ON ME, you’ll have to look deeper, but you will find some in this tough, uncompromising film. I suspect it’s the film’s integrity—along with its strong writing—that attracted Adrian Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, William Peterson and Bryan Cranston to sign up for this low budget, independent movie.

And you should too.

Henry Barthes (Adrian Brody), himself the product of a troubled past, makes the substitute circuit among city schools, staying long enough to inspire the students and then cutting out. No long-term relationships for him. But then, despite chronic resistance, he does becomes involved with three women—an overweight student with fiercely budding artistic ambitions (Betty Kaye), a young, annoyingly insistent street hustler (Sami Gayle), and a lonely fellow teacher (Christina Hendricks, from Mad Men) who awaken Henry to the scary prospect of change.

Especially notable among this great cast is James Caan, delivering a cleverly sarcastic performance in confronting the endemic hostility of students, a teacher trying to ride the wave of a career while fending off the pressures of an untenable vocational situation. Everyone acquits themselves well. Brody, in particular, is the perfect center of the film. An Oscar winner for THE PIANIST, here he is smart and tragic, sympathetic and detached. He draws you in to both his and the schools’ dilemma.

Directed by Tony Kaye, who did another tough, uncompromising film (Edward Norton’s debut) called AMERICAN HISTORY X that’s had a cult following and a very popular history in our store, this latest film is also a no holds barred film without the consoling streamlining of mainstream films. But it certainly has good writing and acting and honesty in its corner. It’s hardly detached from the problems that infest our schools.  And what it ultimately suggests as a solution to Henry Barthes’ issues also pertains to the change that’s required in our schools. In fact, that suggestion pertains to all of us. Who should watch this movie.

Hank’s Recommendations 10/02/12

SOUND OF MY VOICE — Two would-be investigative journalists—Peter, a third grade teacher in an all-girls school, and his girlfriend Lorna—go underground to expose a secret cult led by Maggie, a beautiful charismatic woman (Brit Marling) who claims to be from the future and is amassing followers in the basement of a suburban home.

Peter and Lorna want to do something that matters. But will that “something” be exposing the cult or wind up being sucked in by it? For one can readily see they are also unwitting fodder for Maggie. Peter is the product of a lonely childhood after his mother suddenly died and “abandoned” him. Lorna, the daughter of a Hollywood film producer, has spent a wasted adolescence at club parties and movie openings.

As the two plot how to hide a tiny camera, we hear Obama’s voice in the background commenting on the Gulf BP oil spill caused by an underground explosion: nice metaphor for what’s about to happen as they go underground.

There are amazing scenes in this movie that I won’t spoil by describing them. This film is, in part, about the future though the climactic plot strand—beginning with a request by Maggie of the skeptical Peter—involves an eight-year-old girl (one of Peter’s students) about to go on a field trip to the beginning of time at the La Brea Tar Pits. It’s a nice irony; and it’s where all the answers lie waiting in this questing film.

Like ANOTHER EARTH (also written by and starring Brit Marling), this is a personal human drama with a sci-fi background whose tautness never lets up, and that moves to a perfect and profound resolution bordering on the metaphysical. The style of both films is to negotiate the sensational in a matter-of-fact way that sucks you in.

One of the defining elements of a cult is secret knowledge. In this film, all of the characters wind up having secrets from one another: everybody is his or her own cult. It’s fair to say that Brit Marling is developing one of her own. This is a film that has you in its grip all the way.