The most signification new releases this week and Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone (Universal), which I review for MSN here, and the Oscar-nominated The Last Station (Sony) with Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, which I reviewed for “The Stranger” here (the supplements are considered briefly in my DVD review for MSN). I go in depth on Criterion’s beautiful edition of Abbas Kiarostami’s masterpiece Close-Up (Criterion) on Parallax View here, consider Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (Criterion) on my blog here, and celebrate the Blu-ray debut of George Cukor’s A Star is Born (1954) (Warner) on MSN here.
Given all that, here are a few releases that might get overlooked.
Le Combat dans l’ile (Zeitgeist) – The last decade has presented many magnificent rediscoveries when it comes to French cinema of the sixties, but none of them have taken me as off-guard as the 1962 feature debut of Alain Cavalier, all but unknown in the U.S. until its 2009 revival. With the cool B&W look of Louis Malle’s early sixties thrillers and a star-studded cast, the opening scenes seem to be leading up to a New Wave thriller set in the chicly impersonal world of Parisian high society. But when businessman Clement (Jean-Louis Trintignant) starts slapping his dizzy trophy wife (Romy Schneider) around as foreplay before heading out to train with his right-wing paramilitary cabal, you know this is heading into truly weird territory. When he starts unpacking his latest toy, a rocket launcher that he assembles right in his own living room, you know we’ve arrived. The scenes of training, followed by a beer-hall celebration, feels like some sick secret society where a weapons practice and fascist ideology just whet the appetite for a cold one with the boys, but he’s a true believer who puts his training into practice with an assignment to assassinate a Communist troublemaker.
Just as disturbing is the response from his wife, who is no innocent dupe sheltered from his extracurricular activities. Her objections aren’t to his actions but to the sacrifices they call for when things go inevitably wrong. What’s she to do for warmth and companionship if he’s on the run from the cops? Cavalier can’t sustain the mix of dispassionate observation and emotional action but he certainly keeps you hooked as our fascist revolutionary follows his warped sense of honor to the bitter end. Henri Serre (of Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim”) co-stars as his boyhood friend whose loyalty ends when he discovers the reality of Clement’s secret life. Cavalier created the new 13-minute short “France 1961,”a reflective piece made up of still photos, musing narration and a survey of Cavalier’s apartment, to accompany the release. French with English subtitles. Also features stills and a fold-out booklet with essays and notes.
Bluebeard (Strand) – Catherine Breillat puts her unique spin on the grisly Charles Perrault fairytale, turning it into a kind of “Beauty and the Beast” with a gentle ogre of a Baron (Dominique Thomas) with a reputation for murdering his wives and a peasant girl (Lola Creton) who connects with the lonely figure. Marie-Catherine, the youngest daughter in a poor family, is only 14 years old but makes a connection with this morose man whose brutish looks (a massive body, bushy hair and beard) and awkward social graces make him an outcast even at his own parties, where he invites all the young folk from the local town to come and frolic. Breillat directs it more like a rarefied period drama than a fantasy, stirred with poetic touches and offbeat humor and dark twists and framed with the poignant story of two little girls both fascinated and repulsed by the dark fairytale. But while there is no bodice-ripping here, Breillat’s approach is still rumbling with sexuality, in this case through games of desire, resistance, idealization and disappointment played by the Baron and his child bride. Absolutely sumptuous. In French with English subtitles. No supplements.
The Maid (Oscilloscope) – Catalina Saavedra is superb as the prickly yet protective maid to a Chilean family in this very human comedy. Having spent her life with this family, she’s like a curmudgeonly, passive-aggressive old aunt who can be catty and unresponsive to a disrespectful family member (like a surly teenage girl) while doting on the young, cute little kids, yet very protective of her turf when the family hires a second servant to help her out as her health declines. With a near-perpetual scowl and unacknowledged resentment building up under her slumping posture, it could easily slip into a black comedy of a war of wills, or worse, a portrait of a domestic sociopath in the making. But Sebastian Silva’s film turns on her unexpected friendship with a young hire (Mariana Loyola) whose upbeat and accepting nature not only wins her over but encourages her to look past her limited horizons to a life outside the walls of her adoptive family’s home. Lovely, funny and sweet without turning sentimental, it’s a warm comic drama of self-discovery in the second act of life. In Spanish with English subtitles. Features a behind-the-scenes featurette, a short storyboard-to-film comparison and stills.
Hit and run is not a felony, it’s the national pastime in Death Race 2000 (Shout! Factory), the hilariously nasty Roger Corman produced sci-fi satire. David Carradine put on a black cape and leather helmet to star as Death Race Champion Frankenstein, defending his title on a cross country race to run over as many pedestrians as possible. Director Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul) perfected his brand of blackhearted humor on this ragged production, overcoming budgetary restraint with inspired moments of B movie spectacle and tongue-in-cheek swipes at the media bread and circus of extreme sports. Bartel is too nihilistic to take any of it seriously and too broad and scattershot to make any real point, but it’s a helluva ride and all the more timely in the reality TV and soap opera wrestling pageants of today. Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov and Martin Kove are among his flamboyant competitors and his navigator/girl Friday/sex toy (Simone Griffith) is an undercover assassin working for the revolution. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, once a master of down and dirty exploitation films, went on to shoot Silence of the Lambs and The Sixth Sense.
It’s been on DVD before in multiple incarnations. Shout! Factory adds a few more, along with a new HD transfer and a Blu-ray release. Along with the supplements carried over from previous DVD releases (including commentary by producer Roger Corman and co-star Mary Woronov, featurettes and interviews) is new commentary by assistant director Lewis Teague and editor Tina Hirsh, a 2008 interview with David Carradine, and additional new interviews and featurettes.
Fuel (Cinema Libre) had its trial theatrical run in Seattle and I reviewed for the Seattle P-I and reflected further on my blog here. I can’t recommend it more highly. It is energetic and informative, and it challenges us not to simply accept what we are told about energy policy by industry or the government, but to research things for ourselves. I didn’t leave the theater thinking, “What a great film” or “What a terrible shame.” I left thinking, “How can we make this happen now?” The DVD features commentary by the filmmakers and practical featurettes on conserving energy. But of course.
Also new this week: the Apatow-esque She’s Out Of My League (Paramount), Remember Me (Summit) with Robert Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin, the documentary Rolling Stones: Stones In Exile (Eagle Rock) and Tom and Jerry: Deluxe Anniversary Collection (Warner).