Home Video Releases for March 1999
Nitrate Online explores the most noteworthy, provocative and satisfying video and/or DVD releases for the month of March. Titles are followed by original country and year of release. Street dates change constantly and often differ from format to format, so check with your favorite online or brick-and-mortar supplier for up-to-date information.
"The populace is unaroused," notes the opening credit crawl drily, referring to the American political landscape as of mid-March 1996. Popular incumbent California democrat Jay Billington Bulworth (Warren Beatty) seems more unaroused than most, bored with his stump speech and reduced to sitting catatonically at his desk surfing cable. In an early plot twist that could have spun the film to a lower level but doesnt, the senator hires a hitman to kill him over a critical weekend, then decides life is worth living when he meets the mysterious Nina at an otherwise catastrophic fundraiser. Diving headfirst into contemporary black culture, Bulworth begins to rap his speeches and even dresses the part -- all while eluding the hit hes trying desperately to cancel. Drenched in neon greens and dusky blues, the movie looks first-rate, thanks to Vittorio Storaros lensing and Dean Tavoularis production design. And like his veteran collaborators, Beatty brings an old-guard energy to the proceedings missing from most of todays mainstream movies: theres simply no one coming up behind him with the shrewd combination of idealistic energy and sincere cynicism necessary to make a satire like this work. And nobody is better at the multilayered moral befuddlement that made such anti-heroes as Clyde Barrow palatable to a broad audience. Alongside Hal Ashbys Shampoo (produced, co-written by and starring Beatty), Michael Ritchies The Candidate and Robert Altmans landmark Nashville (as well as, on a more serious level, Beattys The Parallax View and All the Presidents Men -- both directed by the late, great Alan J. Pakula) on the short list of great American political burlesques, Bulworth has much to arouse, confuse and inspire the idealist. Available in full-frame and widescreen video editions, as well as a Spanish subtitled tape and a DVD edition.
Ever After(USA, 1998)
Against all odds, this genre-busting spin on the Cinderella story works, sort of: currently busy Drew Barrymore -- shes also in the much less successful new video release Home Fries -- stars as Danielle, a buff scullery maid in 16th-century France who navigates the touchy demands of her hapless betrothed (Douogray Scott) and evil stepmother Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston) while keeping her eyes firmly on the twin prizes of emancipation and autonomy. That sounds like a mouthful for a mall movie, but Ever After is endowed with a peculiar blend of styles that result in a fresh twist on the old tale. The sumptuous period décor is populated simultaneously by young people who speak as if theyre strolling about the mall and authority figures (including Patrick Godfrey as conveniently wise and accessible Leonardo Da Vinci) with imposing English accents. The authentic tone of the screenplay by Susanna Grant, director Andy Tennent and Rick Parks is undercut somewhat by an uneven focus that leaves the audience confused about how to feel. Peril is peril and laughs are laughs, but the two rarely mesh without diluting each other. The whole thing is scored to that pulsing kind of music that the kids are really going for right now (even terrible movies gain legitimacy with eclectic, radio-friendly tunes). This savvy brew has even aged well in a year, as it fits snugly among the slew of upcoming Shakespeare-inspired teen traumas that are currently all the rage. Theres a dubbed Spanish language tape available.
Living Out Loud(USA, 1998)
A fatally muddled focus is also at the heart of screenwriter Richard La Graveneses directorial debut, a highly-anticipated but underwhelming comedy of urban manners that manages to be fleetingly charming entirely on the strength of a wistful performance from OllyHollHolly Hunter. Shes Judith, a very upscale New York thirtysomething whose doctor-husband Bob (Martin Donovan) dumps her for this years model. Looking around for any kind of legitimate human contact, Hunter develops a hesitant relationship with Pat (Danny DeVito), the genial elevator operator in her building who is slowly drowing in gambling debts. She also befriends singer Liz Bailey (Queen Latifah), who takes her to an after-hours club that, like a few sequences in the film, may or may not be a fantasy come to life. Although his first original screenplay, The Fisher King, was nominated for an Oscar, La Gravenese has specialized in literary adaptions of late: his resume now includes the scripts of The Horse Whisperer, The Bridges of Madison County, Beloved and The Mirror Has Two Faces. Its that last work thats closest in tone to Living Out Loud, as genuinely quirky characters whine unconvincingly while stuck in lives a huge percentage of the countrys population can only dream about. In the end, Judith and Pat and Liz and Bob inhabit a kind of tastefully decorated alternative universe and their problems, while genuine, never really matter a hill of beans in this crazy world. For a more successful treatment of the same kind of provocative material, check out Alan Rudolphs 1984 gem Choose Me. Living Out Loud is also available in a bare bones DVD edition.
One Hundred and One Dalmations(USA, 1961)
Vastly superior to the 1996 live-action remake, the original animated version of the uh, tale, is one of the studios most genial, solid and reality-based cartoon features (note the proper title, which is spelled out onscreen as opposed to the number used on the video box). Set to a swingin score by George Bruns, the movie is narrated by the dalmation Pongo, whose "pet" Roger, a songwriter, is a bachelor who marries a woman who just happens to have a girl dalmation. The memorable villainness is the immortal Cruella De Vil, who snatches the puppies of the title. Also out this month from the Disney machine is their by-the-numbers remake of the beloved Mighty Joe Young, a perfunctory exercise in SFX that somehow manages to enervate the awesome technology used to bring the annoyingly cuddly beast to life. Pssst: want to see some real special effects? Rent any movie directed by Ray Harryhausen, who can be glimpsed in the party scene of Mighty Joe Young with 1950s starlet Terry Moore (he started as an assistant on Ernest B. Schoedsacks Oscar-winning 1949 original -- the club scene of which outdoes anything here). Try the 1956 20 Million Miles to Earth or 1958s The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and go from there. Now those are some special effects. One final note: two of the six directing animators on One Hundred and One Dalmations were Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, whose friendship and work is celebrated in the 1995 documentary Frank and Ollie -- which is also newish on tape (last final note: among the many lasting creations of Thomas and Johnston were Baloo and Mowgli in the great Disney classic The Jungle Book. When will they stop remaking -- and diminishing -- these things?). Neither title is on DVD.
One True Thing(USA, 1998)
This glossy weepie, accomplished yet manipulative, falls back on the same kind of family medical crisis that could be its own genre by now (Terms of Endearment comes to mind, and look how successful that movie was). So it came as no surprise to see Meryl Streep garner her thirteenth Best Actress Oscar nomination as Kate Gulden, supermom to Renee Zellwegers grown up daughter Ellen and uberwife to strong-willed and more than a little self indulgent college prof George (William Hurt). When Ellen is summoned home by a clearly annoyed George to care for the increasingly ill Kate, the picture-perfect family begins to crack under the strain of the individuals within it. As much as one would like to be moved by this emotional material and the skillful playing of it, the fact remains that theres very little here that hasnt been represented more successfully elsewhere, leaving One True Thing as a technical exercise in sentimental dramatics which cant really stand up to the big-screen treatment. Surprisingly, the film was directed by Carl Franklin, who burst on to the scene with the ultraviolent 1992 Billy Bob Thornton-penned One False Move (interesting title dichotomy, that) and also directed the Denzel Washington starrer Devil in a Blue Dress. Sure, hes a competent filmmaker and One True Thing goes through its paces admirably, but its hard to work up a lot of enthusiasm for another movie in which audiences are instructed how to feel in part by the songs of Bette Midler. The DVD has numerous extras, and theres a Spanish tape as well.
Reacting to the litany of pessimism in his life, teenager David (Tobey Maguire) has become addicted to the "Father Knows Best"-ish 1950s television show "Pleasantville," where life proceeds without crisis or stress in picture-perfect black and white. His popular sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) thinks hes a jerk. Yet when the two are somehow injected into the show itself -- the result of a magical remote control device given to them by repairman Don Knotts -- their very presence begins to upset the small-screen citizenry and as each townie becomes more aware and emancipated they begin to turn (gasp!) color. What begins as a genuinely ingenious idea succumbs to the temptation of a Serious Message as themes of injustice and intolerance presented in the third act overwhelm the technical razzle-dazzle of the first two. Still, Pleasantville has some subversive digs at sexual metaphors and bohemian posturing, and this may be the only film to date on home video that has a series of screens prior to the opening credits allowing the viewer to adjust fleshtones. For a time a pleasing antidote to the raft of teen sagas currently the hot commodity in the market, its a measure of Hollywoods often delusional faith in high concept material that there was a point just prior and immediately after Pleaseantvilles release when it was being heavily touted as an Oscar favorite. Inevitably, the DVD has a director commentary from Gary Ross and another with composer Randy Newman, storyboards, an "Art of" featurette and the music video for Fiona Apples cover of the Beatles "Across the Universe."
Publicized with the possessive title Jerry Springers Ringmaster (but a puzzling tag in either form), this vehicle for the alternately cherished and reviled king of daytime trailer trash TV talk shows springs from an authentically good idea: by the time his, uh, agitated guests take the stage, ponders the movie (but not very deeply) what part of their story is true and which comes from their anger-fuelled combination of fear and ignorance (presuming, of course, that any of them are real people)? To that end, the movie follows two extremely dysfunctional extended families, a white one from Florida and a black one from Detroit, on their emotionally complex but inevitable paths to the Chairs of Doom. Individual tolerance levels will depend entirely on patience with the lowbrow material and top-of-the-lungs performances, although an actress named Molly Hagan is unexpectedly touching at times as spunky mother Connie Zorzak, whose daughter Angel (Jaime Pressley) is coupling with her layabout husband (direct-to-video martial arts star Michael Dudikoff? Is that really you?). The absolutely worst part of the movie is the feigned astonishment Jerry (who doesnt even have the cojones to use his last name here, opting for Farrelly) continues to show at the rude and violent antics of his guests, as if hes just wandered in to the studio and cant believe what hes seeing. Otherwise, hes more of an excuse to get the story moving than an integral part of the action, as unlike Howard Sterns vanity project Private Parts theres nothing to be learned about Jerrys life or personality beyond a kind of benevolent tolerance for his guests (he signs Connies tight T-shirt at one point) mixed with a faint contempt ("Are thos people OK?" someone asks of the combatants. "No, theyre not OK," Jerry says, "theyre guests on my show."). "Im a disorder?" he says at another point, with no visible show of emotion (Jerrys a lousy actor). "I made the big time." Maybe so, but sincere or not this guys got icewater in his veins. The DVD has an audio commentary track from producer Neil Abramson as well as production notes and the mandatory trailer (not that kind).
The Rugrats Movie(USA, 1998)
If this is the future of commercially viable theatrical experiences for a new generation of children who can be counted on to drag their parents to the theater due to previous small-screen exposure to any given animated franchise (Dougs First Movie is a more recent example of the phenomenon), then The Rugrats Movie is decidedly a good-news, bad-news affair, an ingratiating animated romp that unfortunately overstays its welcome by a good bit (the premise is more suited to television than the multiplex). Revolving around the efforts of newborn Dylan Preston Pickles (called "Dil" by one and all, of course; get it?) to be returned to the hospital by his indignant brother Tommy, cousin Chuckie Finster, twins Lil and Phil and bossy older sister Angelica, the movie places the group of children in comic and barely threatening predicaments that include a talking wagon called Reptar, a forest adventure involving some crafty Russian circus monkeys and situations which spoof Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fugitive, and even 2001: A Space Odyssey. The comic highlight of the movie for kids and adults alike comes early on in the maternity ward of Lipshitz hospital, where an all-star collection of musical talent voice a group of newborns singing "This World is Something New to Me" choreographed in part to their synchronized dancing, uh, waters. Musician Mark Mothersbaugh also resurrects his old band Devos cover version of "Witch Doctor" by Ross Bagdasarian (remember the Chipmunks?), and Lisa Loeb does a song under the closing credits. The Klasky Csupo animation is vivid and quirky, giving the whole thing a childs-eye-view sense of wonder. Also available on DVD.
Winner of a clutch of high-profile film festival awards -- including the top award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival and two prizes at Cannes -- Slam comes to home video with just about the best pedigree an American independent film can have in a marketplace currently crowded, if not glutted, with such fare (the film got critical raves but did tepid business during its theatrical run). And in some ways, the movie delivers on the advance hype: documentarian Marc Levins dramatic directorial debut is smooth yet harrowing, and Saul Williams gives a soulful, appealingly mysterious performance as the wrongly imprisoned drug courier who is released from the hell of the notorious Washington, D.C, jail to find fame as a street poet (the title refers to the slang term for public readings). Yet the whole is less than the sum of its parts, as Slam is too dependent on the kinetic urban poetry of its protagonist to propel itself over sketchy exposition, leaving the final impression that this is that rare movie that would have benefited from an additional half hour or so of character development. Of much more interest is Thug Life in D.C., the documentary Levin was in the midst of making when he had the idea for Slam. Stripped of the dramatic contrivance, Thug Life concentrates on the agonizingly slow path through the system of a single young inmate and is thus as harrowing as Slam but with the undiluted punch of cinema verite. Produced in association with HBO, Thug Life in D.C. is as of this writing scheduled to be aired on the cable channel in early May. The DVD edition of slam has audio commentary from Levin and co-writer Bonz Malone, a trailer and the music video for "I Dare You."
The Waterboy(USA, 1998)
Love it or hate it, The Waterboy proves that Adam Sandler and childhood chum-turned-director Frank Coraci have an uncanny feel for what young people are prone to laugh at these days. How else to explain the out-of-nowhere success of this genial comedy (which continues in the sports vein of the unexpectedly hysterical golf spoof Happy Gilmore)? Neither as physically vicious as the Farrelly brothers nor as cerebral as well, OK, forget that thought, Sandlers prototypical onscreen slacker is the late 1990s reincarnation of Jerry Lewis, an overgrown manchild who just wants to have friends and a bit of success in the world via a previously untapped talent that comes to the fore in a helpful fashion. Here hes "aquatic distribution engineer" Bobby Boucher, a 31-year-old who drives a decrepit riding mower to work from his Mamas house on the bayou every day. Fired from his job with the slick Louisiana Cougars college football team, Bobby finds work with the rundown South Central Louisiana State (South Central LA, get it?) Mud Dogs, a team so lame that the cheerleaders are all drunkards and Coach Klein (a beguiling Henry Winkler) is afraid of his own shadow. Do they team up to beat the big boys with the aid of Bobbys productively channeled rage at a lifetime of taunts? You bet. Is any regional gag overlooked? Not a chance. Stuffed with cameos from prominent jocks and broadcasters (as well as Coraci in a weird bit as Bobbys long-lost father), The Waterboy is one of those films in which the audience is cued how to feel at every turn by popular music riffs, but since the soundtrack alternates between classic rock along the lines of Creedence Clearwater Revival and a clutch of new tunes (culminating in Goldfingers terrific cover of "More Than Yesterday"), this isnt such a bad thing. Neither is the movie as a whole. The DVD features a featurette on the films production.
What Dreams May Come(USA, 1998)
What Dreams May Come certainly means well: cerebral director Vincent Ward has explored similarly metaphysical themes in his provocative features Map of the Human Heart (1992) and The Navigator (1988); Ron Bass is one of the most prolific and respected screenwriters in Hollywood (he shared an Oscar with Barry Morrow for writing Rain Man); and the source material is from the nearly iconic Richard Matheson (his novel "I Am Legend" alone has made into a movie at least twice with a third edition currently bouncing around Hollywood). So what went wrong with this saga of a successful couple so devoted to one another that the husband in heaven pursues the wife who committed suicide literally to hell and back? Part of the problem is the impenetrable series of buzzwords that make up the script, another part is the squishy acting of Robin Williams and the increasingly annoying Cuba Gooding Jr. (although Max Von Sydow is never bad and idiosyncratic German director Werner Herzog can be glimpsed as one of a sea of faces on a vast muddy floor on the way to Hades). And the special effects are nothing short of astonishing (note to techheads: the DVD is scheduled for release on May 25). Unfortunately, for all its supposed humanity, there isnt the slightest trace of humor or joy in this exercise, that giddy feeling of indomitable love that might make the quest thrilling -- or even involving. Theres just one indescribably imaginative SFX sequence after another, stretching off into a distance as ill-defined as the afterworld Williams wanders in. And thats a pity; in the right hands (Terry Gilliam?) and with the right people (anybody but Williams), this couldve rocked.
Beyond the A-List: Some Other Titles of Note
Heres a cross-section of fare for the more adventurous viewer. Remember that many of these tapes may be priced for rental only, which means a hefty price tag for purchase. Some eventually come down, others dont.
The Best Man(Il testimone dello sposo, Italy, 1997)
Like many movies recently, this Italian import is timed to coincide with the new millennium. But unlike most others, The Best Man comments on the phenomenon by setting its tale of of an arranged marriage in 1899 and emphasizing the dreams and fears of rural Italians as the dawn of the century now about to close first glimmered in an apprehensive world. Immediately smitten with Angelo (Diego Abatantuono), the successful millionaire whos returned from America just in time to be the best man at his older friend Edgardos (Dario Cantarelli) wedding, reluctant bride Francesca (Ines Sastre) spends the rest of the film trying to ditch Edgardo and win Angelo. Veering crazily between opposing views of Francesca as tortured martyr (think Truffauts The Story of Adele H.) and take-charge proto-feminist (think Drew Barrymore in Ever After), the movie finally crumbles under these contradictions -- but no before weaving a seductive spell of rural ritual and unpredictable love. After stints as a salesman and jazz musician, director Pupi Avati began his filmmaking career in the late 1960s and early 1970s with an emphasis on the supernatural, but has gradually moved to stories of history and nostalgia which emphasize his strongest trait, which is the directing of young actors. His 1990 biopic Bix, the story of 1920s jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke shot in English on authentic Iowa locations, and 1989 drama The Story of Boys & Girls, are both available on tape.
Carlas SongCarlas Song (United Kingdom/Germany/Spain, 1996)
In a career spanning almost four decades of social change, Ken Loach has been acknowledged as the master of the British realist tradition (his latest work, My Name is Joe, played selected theatrical dates earlier this year). Carlas Song is shot in the same you-are-there documentary style that gives all of his films their emotional propulsion (he works largely with the same crew from project to project). The movie follows the combustible, love-smitten Glaswegian bus driver George (Robert Carlyle of Trainspotting and The Full Monty fame) and the object of his affection, troubled Nicaraguan dancer Carla (Oyanka Cabezas, remarkable in her first English language film) as they journey to her native land in the politically unstable atmosphere of the 1987 war between the Contras and the Sandanista government. Along the way they meet human rights worker Bradley (Scott Glenn, in a fierce performance) and learn that their love, mischievously portrayed in a scene where they remove each others clothes with their teeth, may not survive the chaos and confusion. "It is," says the tremendously gifted Loach, "a film about the possibilities of people when they decide they will be together." A number of the directors other movies, including Riff-Raff (1990), Raining Stones (1993) Ladybird, Ladybird (1994) and Land and Freedom (1995), are also available on tape and make for absorbing and rewarding viewing. In a new record for leadtime, the DVD is scheduled to street on the last day of this year.
Crows(Wrony, Poland, 1994)
One of the most distinctive visual stylists at work in the world today, Polish director Dorota Kedzierzawska makes short yet remarkable features that brood on her twin themes of anthropology and childhood. In Crows, 10-year-old Wrona (Crow), the product of a broken home, leaves her mother (who is distracted by work and a new boyfriend) to find a world of her own. Along the way she befriends Malezstwo (Little One), a four-year-old street urchin who is only too happy to fall under the Crows control. "Im not really crazy about anything other than my daughter and filmmaking," Kedzierzawska told a journalist in 1994, and went on to explain in the films presskit "I wish this film to focus on the simplest matters: the lack of love and the need to be loved. Love bears love. Lets go out into the street and have a look around. Each one of us is a Crow." Those taken with her remarkable vision are going to want to order her debut feature Devils, Devils (1991). Kedzierzawskas latest work, Nothing, is a gorgeous widescreen experimental-tinged feature currently popping up at regional film festivals across North America. All three films are highly recommended.
Everest(USA, 1997)/Into Thin Air: Death on Everest (USA, 1997)
For those who might be interested in the creative decisions that are brought to bear on documentary and narrative treatments of the same material, these two films make for a fascinating comparative study. In the early months of 1996, more than a dozen separate expeditions were massed at the base of Mt. Everest, preparing to make the climb during the brief window of opportunity afforded by the weather. In the resulting traffic jam, a series of mistakes compounded by a fierce storm lead to multiple deaths on the mountain. As tragic as the events were, there are also stories of determination (two words: Beck Weathers) and teamwork that make for absorbing drama -- hampered, of course, by the fact that everything takes place in a howling wind among people swathed in protective clothing scattered on a mountainside over a period of days. Produced by the MacGillivray Freeman team, Everest is a 45-minute documentary made in the huge IMAX format that looks great in those theaters but logically suffers on the small screen -- there are virtually no close-ups, and the nature of most IMAX theaters dictated the films public television mentality (simple emotions, swelling score, panoramic vistas). Worse yet, the closing credits indicate that some of the climbing scenes were staged. Of course the climbing scenes were recreated for Into Thin Air, a Columbia TriStar TV production filmed in the Tirol with an Austrian/Czech crew. Adapted from the best-selling memoir by Jon Krakauer (a journalist along to cover the commercialization of organized climbs), the film does the best it can with an undistinguished but capable cast (Christopher McDonald plays Krakauer) but creates an unnecessary good-guy/bad-guy dynamic between two guides -- one of them played by Peter Horton -- and squanders its climactic scenes on a horribly mawkish portrayal of an actual event (despite this, Nathaniel Parker is terrific as the "good" guide). While neither film is completely satisfying, each communicates the sheer drama of this dark episode in the history of climbing and is possessed of a palpable sense of panic that overwhelms the technical challenges and limitations. Note: have the book nearby for easy reference.
The Farm: Angola USA(USA, 1998)
Winner of the Grand Prize at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival and among the Final Five in this years Best Documentary Oscar race, this frank, forceful documentary profiles a year in the life of six inmates at the Louisiana State Prison at Angola, a thriving slave plantation throughout the Civil War and, with 18,000 acres total, now the nations largest maximum security prison (many of the 1,800 employees live in an adjacent town often called "the safest in America"). Young, old, white, black, each of these men -- as well as the other 5,000 convicts (80 per cent African American) incarcerated there -- must make his own peace with the system and himself. These are stories of inspiration and injustice, punctuated by thoughts from controversial warden Burl Cain and lifer Wilbert Rideau, who edits the award-winning "Angolite" magazine and has interviewed every prisoner on death row in the last two decades (hes also co-director of the film with Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus). Serious issues are brought forth in this deliberate, contemplative film, issues which have been successful in stirring debate on the methods used in this country to incarcerate convicted felons. The tape box may be labeled The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison.
From Dusk till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money(USA, 1998)
"What the hail are vampires doin robbin a bank?" someone asks towards the end of this direct-to-video sequel to the Quentin Tarantino-penned and Robert Rodriguez-directed genre celebration/spoof From Dusk till Dawn, and the answer -- "I guess they need money just like everybody else" -- does double duty as an absurdist punchline summing up the affection for the genre at the core of this franchise and the motivation for keeping it alive (after making more money than anyone apparently expected with the original, the rumor at the moment is that the third chapter, FDTD 3: The Hangmans Daughter, will see a commercial release). Not nearly as wretched as some early reviews have indicated, the vigorous direction of Sam Raimi disciple Scott Spiegel (who wrote the screenplay with co-star Duane Whitaker) is, if anything, overly stylish. The absorbing and solid action work is punctuated by a flood of film school-ish point of view shots, including but not limited to a cooler-cam, desktop fan-cam, bat-cam (bats are key to the plot), mirrorball-cam, parking meter poll-cam and, of course, the ever-popular skull-cam. He also lifts the shower scene from Psycho (prompting the movies best line from an awed cop), does a neat tribute to Sam Peckinpahs The Wild Bunch (one of that films co-stars, Bo Hopkins, plays a lawman named Otis here), and even has a brief bit as a Rodriguezish porno movie director who gets a load of buckshot in the chest. "Theyre makin Happy Meals out of our ass," Otis wails as the genuinely creepy showdown goes on (and on, and on, and on), yet while purists might sniff at the derivative hipness of it all, the casual fan will find precious little difference between this and Rodriguez own The Faculty. Theyre both dumb, campy fun -- and TBM is superior in concept and execution to the months other two mainstream horror releases, Bride of Chucky and Dee Sniders Strangeland.
Girls NightGirls Night (United Kingdom, 1998)
An interesting, if probably unintentional, companion piece to One True Thing (spiced with a bit of the same plot contrivance that fuelled Waking Ned Devine), Girls Night stars Brenda Blethyn as Dawn, one of a pair of northern England birdies who win 100,000 pounds at their weekly bingo game and decide to escape their stifling jobs and disasterous home lives for a shot at happiness, Las Vegas style. The more domestic of the two, Blethyn is in stark contrast to Julie Walters party girl Jackie, a responsible family type who initially opts to pay off the mortgage before being persuaded to make the trip. The other deciding factor is the return of doctor-shy Dawns breast cancer, which prompts Jackie to buy the tickets. Once in the gambling mecca, Dawn finds a soulmate in genuine cowboy Cody (Kris Kristofferson, in a part much smaller than his billing might indicate). Blethyn is without peer at creating vivid yet pitiable creatures, which is what made her star-making turn in Mike Leighs remarkable Secrets and Lies so convincing and memorable. But taken in tandem with her annoying Oscar-nominated turn as the braying Mari in Little Voice, it seems clear that Blethyn has opted for an ill-advised course of scenery chewing over substance. Much better is Walters as the tarty Jackie, a woman of conflicting urges whose inspiring faithfulness to her sick friend emerges as the one truly inspiring element of the story -- seemingly the exact opposite of the the filmmakers initial focus. Co-produced by Showtime, Girls Night debuted in the competition section of the 1998 Berlin International Film Festival before being broadcast.
The Mirror(Zerkalo, USSR, 1974)
Bookended by his genre landmark Solaris (1971) and vastly more linear Stalker (1979), Russian director Andrei Tarkovskys autobiographical The Mirror is a demanding work that mixes black and white with color footage and finds different actresses playing his mother at different times during his boyhood in an artists colony outside Moscow. The dramatic footage is intercut with documentary sequences from the Spanish Civil War and Soviet-Chinese confrontations, lending the film a strong feeling of historical allegory. Ultimately, Tarkovsky was a tragic figure (he became an increasingly embittered and artistically self-indulgent exile after completing Stalker), yet the sheer force of his unique vision is here undiluted by despair and pessimism.
Mother Wore Tights(USA, 1947)
There was a time in the history of American movies when musicals were perceived as a balm for pressing social ills, including the Great Depression and World War II. Produced by 20th Century-Fox at the height of Betty Grables popularity -- shed been the most popular pin-up girl for our boys overseas, with one studio famously insuring her legs for a million dollars with Lloyds of London -- Mother Wore Tights paired the veteran hoofer with Dan Dailey, himself a returning war vet and established dancer who was a year away from his own lone Academy Award nomination (When My Baby Smiles at Me). Exploiting the strong strain of nostalgia that even then made for box office success, the two play a song-and-dance team who travel the USA at the turn of the century (the last one, of course). The framework affords them plenty of opportunity to showcase the Mack Gordon/Josef Myrow tunes and Seymour Felix/Kenny Williams dance numbers, and the whole thing is redolent of the kind of glossy Hollywood cheer they just dont make anymore. Mother Wore Tights won Alfred Newman an Oscar for Scoring of a Musical Picture (see how popular the genre was?) and was nominated for Harry Jacksons vivid color photography (in those days a separate award was given for color films; the Oscar rightly went to Jack Cardiff for Black Narcissus -- one of the most stunning achievements in the history of cinematography) as well as the song "You Do," which was beat out by "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," from Walt Disneys Song of the South. If youre in the right mood, Mother Wore Tights can be a lot of fun -- and is priced to own.
Point of Order!(USA, 1964)
While the precise reason for this reissue is unclear, in light of recent political events involving the president the timing of this groundbreaking documentary couldnt be better. Supposedly rejected by the programmers of the 1963 New York Film Festival on the grounds that it wasnt "a real film," this dispassionate look at the notorious televised Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954 is a precursor to the cinema verite movement that was constructed entirely at the editing table by peripatetic Marxist Emile de Antonio from the voluminous and primitive video material shot during the event. Nothing less than a rigorous inquiry into the nature of the national hysteria known as "McCarthyism," the film succeeds not only in deconstructing those fears but revealing the slimy back room politics at work in the US Senate at the time (Bobby Kennedy and Stuart Symington are among the identifiable faces). Prior to his 1989 death de Antonio -- who is credited with inspiring Andy Warhol to experiment with film -- also made the JFK assassination film Rush to Judgment, the radical Vietnam documentary In the Year of the Pig, Milhouse: A White Comedy, Mr. Hoover and I, and other pithy works.
The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (USA, 1998)
This unrelentingly sunny direct-to-video musical fantasy marks the unlikely but moderately successful collaboration of writer Ray Bradbury, Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon and Walt Disneys producing brother Roy. As such, it is an item of some interest for fans of any of these factions. Updated from its mid-1950s origins, Bradburys story of honest longing is set in contemporary South Central Los Angeles (it was shot in Boyle Heights) and concerns the efforts of conman Gomez (Joe Mantegna) to persuade three of his like-sized friends and an enthusiastic bum to contribute twenty dollars towards the purchase of a glowing white suit which each man can share. Sure enough, the clothes have an immediate effect on the men, as each gets to wear the ensemble for an hour. The musician Dominguez (Esai Morales) attracts a huge crowd in the street; poet Villanazul (Gregory Sierra) finds that people actually listen to his work; Martinez (Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez) finally gets the attention of the woman of his dreams; and even filthy Vamenos (Edward James Olmos) finds adventure in a local club (the movies most energetic and cartoonish sequence). Drenched in vibrant colors and passionately played by an all-star cast to the bouncy score of Mariachi Sol de Mexico, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit is this months justification for the entire format, the kind of movie that probably wouldnt have been successful in commercial release but will provide 90 minutes of silly, satisfying diversion. Fans of the groundbreaking TV program "Your Show of Shows" will note the brief re-teaming of Sid Caesar and Howard Morris as the Zellman brothers, two panicked tailors.
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