The big releases of the week are Tim Burton’s weird but not particularly organic Alice in Wonderland (reviewed on MSN here) and the bloodless (spiritually, not literally) remake of The Wolfman with Benicio De Toro (I reviewed the theatrical release for Parallax View here). The most interesting release of the week is Aleksandr Sokurov’s The Sun, which I review on blog here.
Also from Kino Lorber this week is Tony Manero (Lorber Films), which was Chile’s official submission to the 2009 Academy Awards. The title of this dark crime drama refers not to a real person but the character from Saturday Night Fever played by John Travolta. Raul (Alfredo Castro), a middle-aged petty thief, lowlife and sociopath in the drab outskirts of 1978 Santiago, watches the film repeatedly at a local dive. He obsessively memorizes the dialogue and mimics the moves in a graceless recreation of Travolta’s commanding dance performance. He even has a replica of the iconic white suit, which he prefers to carry around like a talisman rather than actually wear it, at least until he unleashes his act on a chintzy TV talent show (the movie opens outside the TV studio but our would-be Manero got the wrong date and doesn’t realize he’s lined up with the Chuck Norris impersonators).
Director/co-writer Pablo Larrain steers clear of overt political commentary but hints at the repression, the poverty and the underground resistance in the edges of the story. His commentary comes in his presentation of a miserable, impoverished world with a grimy style and murky palette, and the sociopathic thug at the center of it. Castro plays the part with a dead-eyed blankness, a hollow, terrifying a character who is as repellent as he is fascinating. Under his gray death-mask of a face, however, is a sexually impotent, impulsive, angry old man who fashions his identity after an American movie character and kills anyone who gets in the way of his fantasy. Disturbing, brutal, and with a streak of bleak dark humor, it’s a tough and often unpleasant film designed to discomfort viewers. The film features sexual acts, explicit nudity and brutal acts of violence. In Spanish with English subtitles.
The Israeli drama For My Father (Film Movement) is another film about a conflicted suicide bomber whose mission goes awry and goes through a soul-searching detour before he can follow through with his mission. This one focuses on Tarek (Shredi Jabarin), a one-time rising soccer star who has undertaken the mission not out of political commitment or hatred, but purely personal sacrifice. When his detonator fails, he befriends the very people he’s supposed to hate and kill while awaiting a repair. Nominated for seven Israeli Academy Awards, the film from Dror Zahevi makes its points about racism, intolerance, blind faith and the cycle of violence with well-meaning bluntness that oversimplifies a complicated world. The villains and victims are evenly distributed through the opposing sides and they are, of course, more alike than different, just regular folk who like music and football and are simply looking to live their lives in world trying to tell them who they are. In Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles. The disc also features the short film Ali and the Ball from Australia.
The Day I Became a Woman (Olive Films) was originally released a few years ago but Olive Films, a young DVD company about to greatly expand its offerings, recently rereleased their films in an effort to bring a little more attention to them. Let’s hope it brings more attention to Marzieh Meshkini’s assured, astonishing directorial debut, a powerful portrait of what it means to be a woman in a fundamentalist Islamic culture. In a trilogy of stories that mix of allegory, fable, and political commentary, Meshkini (the wife of renowned director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who is credited with the script) takes us from childhood to widowhood, directing with a stark simplicity and austere, stripped-down beauty. I reviewed the film upon its theatrical release in 2001 here.
Richard Lester strikes the right balance between slapstick and swordplay in The Three Musketeers / The Four Musketeers 2-Movie Collection (Lionsgate), a brilliant two-part adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ grand adventure. Michael York is all innocence and naïve chivalry as young D’Artagnan who, in the opening minutes of The Three Musketeers (1974), challenges each of the worldly rascals known as the Three Musketeers to a duel and ends up one of them, fighting off the guards loyal to the scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston, who underplays brilliantly). They, in turn, teach him to steal hearts and steal food with equal aplomb. Oliver Reed is at his best as Athos, whose happy-go-lucky antics in the rambunctious adventures in the hilarious first film hide a haunted soul revealed in The Four Musketeers (1975), when things take a darker turn as the scorned Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway) plots her revenge amidst the chaos of senseless war. Suddenly the never say die heroes and villains actually start dying. Richard Chamberlain is the preening ladies man Aramis, Frank Finlay the pompous Porthos, Christopher Lee the haughty nemesis to the musketeer and Raquel Welch is hilarious as the voluptuous klutz who wins D’Artagnon’s heart. It’s one of the most entertaining double features of the 1970s (they were in fact shot simultaneously with a cast who thought they were making a single film, and sued when they saw the result) that segues from frolicking fun to the fatal repercussions of their intrigue.
The two-disc Lionsgate set is a direct reproduction of the edition previously released by Anchor Bay, from the Studio Canal transfer and digital master (a tad soft but solid, with the option of 1.77:1 widescreen and 1.33:1 “full screen” versions; in the age of widescreen TVs, the dimensions of full screen is now up to debate) to the menus and supplements. The 50-minute 2002 documentary “The Saga of the Musketeers,” split into two parts and spread over the two discs, features a wealth of interviews (including a frank Christopher Lee, who insists he “was a much better swordsman. I want that on record.”) and a few tasty revelations (producer Ilya Salkind’s original inspiration was to cast the Beatles as the Musketeers). It also includes the archival 7-minute featurette “The Making of The Three Musketeers” and trailer and TV spots.
Also new this week: Small Town Saturday Night with Chris Pine and The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Eight, 1955-1959, the final collection in Sony’s exhaustive project to remaster and release every Three Stooges short in its vaults features .