DVDs for 10/26/10 – Wild Grass, Playing with Fire, Skeletons and Searchers

Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone (Lionsgate), winner of the Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, debuts on DVD this week. You could say it’s this year’s Frozen River, in that it’s a genuinely independent drama about disenfranchised characters in a regionally distinctive setting (it’s the rural Ozarks here), and features dynamic roles for female characters and performers who meet the challenge (notably Jennifer Lawrence, this year’s revelation) and a strong story that doesn’t flinch from being human; the vulnerability of the characters makes their strength all the more remarkable and gives their journey powerful consequences. I review it for MSN here. On the other end of the spectrum, I review the new edition of the eighties pop culture sensation Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy (Universal) at MSN here. The essential collectible classic of the week is Chaplin at Keystone, which I review in detail (though not as much detail as this set deserves) on the blog here, and the cult discovery is the 1977 pop-art horror blast Hausu. Here are some more reviews…

Alain Resnais' dream cinema

Wild Grass (Sony) – Alain Resnais always seemed to me the most intellectually rigorous of the nouvelle vague directors, thanks to his demanding early features Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad, but he also has a rich strain of playful larks with fantastical diversions and fairy tale dimensions. Wild Grass is a delightful reminder of the romantic streak and cinematic whimsy still in this 88-year-old cinema elder.

André Dussollier and Sabine Azéma weave through the film as eccentric strangers connected by a stolen purse and a curious obsession, not to mention offbeat stream-of-consciousness musings with tantalizing suggestions of past crimes and misdemeanors that Resnais leaves unconfirmed. Is it a romance or simply a strange fascination between middle-aged folks surprised that they still have the capacity to be enchanted and entranced by chance? That is one of the beautiful mysteries of this loving film. Mathieu Amalric is dryly offbeat as a quirky policeman, Emmanuelle Devos is Azéma’s buddy and Anne Consigny is Dussollier’s younger, concerned wife. A great cast and a delight of a movie. Features the six-minute “Portrait of Production Designer Jacque Saulnier,” who guides us through the design and production of the central set he built for the film.

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Music Box) – The second film in the “Millennium” trilogy (based on the novels by Stieg Larsson) is in many ways an improvement over the first, moving away from the murder mystery conventions to focus on the terrible past of fierce punk hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace in a career-making performance) that returns with a vengeance. Emphasis on vengeance: this hits territory just as dark as the first film, but far more personal. Director Daniel Alfredson puts the relationship between Lisbeth and investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) at the center of the thriller, all the more impressive given that they hardly ever share the screen, and that relationship is more powerful and convincing this time around, not narrative contrivance but a personal connection despite Lisbeth’s instincts to keep everyone at arm’s length. But the film belongs to Lisbeth, who is active, smart, fierce, angry and focused, with Blomkvist in support. In Swedish with English subtitles and optional English dub soundtrack. No supplements.

Searchers 2.0 (Microcinema) – The title of Alex Cox’s road movie about washed-up bit part actors on the way to Monument Valley for revenge on a bullying screenwriter is tongue in cheek, of course, as is the oddball satire of western movies, film culture, trivia obsession, corporate power and marginal lives. Del Zamora and Ed Pansullo play veteran bit players from the movies who, decades past their prime and no longer active, meet up by chance and bond over old movies and a long-standing grudge against a bullying screenwriter named Fritz Frobisher (Sy Richardson). The shot-on-video production (co-produced by Roger Corman) is a shaggy little thing, sloppy at times and pitted with awkward political statements, but at its best filled with Cox’s askew humor and unexpected digressions as the men hit the road with the estranged daughter (Jaclyn Jonet) of Zamora’s character. Features commentary by Alex Cox with composer Dan Wool and sound designer Richard Beggs and “The Making of Searchers 2.0,” a low-fidelity 17-minute featurette.

Skeletons (Indiepix) – Psychic housecleaners Ed Gaughan and Andrew Buckley tramp the English countryside sweeping out the secrets and skeletons in the closets of musty homes and lives in this witty little British production. The presentation of metaphysical engineering and psychic jargon wielded by hapless exterminators wound up in civil servant bureaucracy is spot on and puts the paranormal mumbo jumbo into the background of human stories of loss, loneliness and emotional connection, all accomplished with dry humor. Writer/director Nick Whitfield doesn’t bother to explain, he just shows us the cause and effect and lets us piece together the metaphysics as we see fit while he focuses on the people behind the phenomenon. Modest, inventive and quite lovely. Features three viral video promotions.

Paths Of Glory (Criterion) – An ambitious young filmmaker named Stanley Kubrick made his reputation with this 1957 anti-war classic (set in the trench warfare of World War I) about a trio of soldiers court-martialed to cover up for an officer’s incompetence and the shattered idealism of the commanding officer (Kirk Douglas) who defends them in the face of the inevitable verdict. Adolph Menjou is superb as one of the scheming, vainglorious officers who casually sacrifices soldiers like pieces on a board game as they send them on a suicide mission up “Ant Hill.” From their lofty, removed vantage point it looks just like that: insects scrambling through a pitted, battle scarred barren hill as bombs rain death from above. World War I brought ancient tactics into the face of modern weaponry and Kubrick shows just what that progress has wrought. The new Criterion DVD and Blu-ray edition features commentary by critic Gary Giddins, an archival 1979 interview with Kirk Douglas and new interviews with Kubrick collaborators Jan Harlan and James B. Harris and actress Christiane Kubrick among the supplements

Score (Cult Epics) – In the beautiful town resort of Leisure, in the land of Play, deep within the Erogenous Zone, live a swinging couple who play a little game of seduction, and they’ve set their sights on a naïve young couple. Shot in location in Europe at a gorgeous little seaside village, Radley Metzger’s stylish 1972 soft core erotica combines a playful cinematic style with a cool European sensibility. His attitude towards sex is neither condescending nor judgmental, and his exploration of the pleasures of the flesh is open to all couplings. The actual sex is rather tame by modern standards but still quite sexy, and a remarkable equanimity: there’s as much male as female nudity. At heart Metzger has fashioned a smart, witty sexual fairy tale, where even selfish intentions lead to happy endings. Cult Epics releases the film in two different editions on both DVD and Blu-ray: the original 87-minute release version and the “uncensored” 92-minute cut (with bonus guy-on-guy adult scenes). All editions include commentary by Radley Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen, the 20-minute featurette “On the Set of Score” and a new interview with co-star Lynn Lowry.

Psychomania (Severin) – The Wild Angels meets Night Of The Living Dead? Not quite. Tom (Nicky Henson), the nihilistic, sadistic leader of a British motorcycle gang obsessed with the idea of life after death decides to make his gang’s name, “The Living Dead,” literal. As it turns out, with the help of a contract with the devil made by his frog-worshipping mum (Beryl Reid), tom manages to kill himself and come back looking no worse for the wear. “Oh man, what are we waiting for?!!!” exclaims his almost as nihilistic second-in-command Jane, a hearty brunette in red leather with a love for destruction) and they start offing themselves in inventive ways: driving a bike smack into a truck, leaping from a plane without a chute, jumping from an overpass into an oncoming truck (the shot finds him dead with a satisfied smile on his face).

These zombie bikers look perfectly normal and don’t eat human flash (at that we know of), but they do raise hell and leave a lot of corpses behind that don’t come back. Hammer films veteran Don Sharp is saddled with a silly script and an odd fit—a Wild Ones-style motorcycle gang terrorizing the old folks and cops of a small British town with an eerie supernatural backdrop of witchcraft, devil worship and family crisis—and can’t decide whether to play the goofy script straight or for gallows humor. It works best when he edits every murder scene like the punchline to a sick joke, and he manages to create some memorable moments. The sardonic George Sanders, droll and smooth even in this mix of seventies supernatural and mod zombie doings, hits the right attitude: sure it’s ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun in the meantime. Newly remastered from the best existing elements, this edition also features the retrospective featurette “Return Of The Living Dead,” interviews with soundtrack composer John Cameron and singer Harvey Andrews and an introduction by Fangoria Editor in Chief Chris Alexander.

Also new: Sex and the City 2 (Warner), Oliver Stone’s documentary South of the Border (Cinema Libre), Passenger Side (Strand) with Adam Scott, Edward Burns’ return to zero-budget filmmaking Nice Guy Johnny (MPI), the Irish drama Kisses (Oscilloscope), Everyone Else (Cinema Guild), Wah Do Dem (Factory 25), classic releases Summer And Smoke (Olive) with Laurence Harvey and Tropic Of Cancer (Olive) with Rip Torn, and Cannibal Girls (Shout! Factory), an early Ivan Reitman production starring future SCTV stars Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin.

For TV on DVD for the week, see my wrap-up here. For the rest of the highlights, visit my weekly column, which goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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