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Home Video and DVD Releases
August 2000
Compiled by Eddie Cockrell, 4 August 2000

Nitrate Online explores a sampling of the most noteworthy, provocative and satisfying video and/or DVD releases for the month of August 2000 (give or take a few weeks). Titles are followed by original country and year of release, as well as release date (if known). 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 Cider House Rules
USA (1999)
review by Gregory Avery

Tobey Maguire, who gave a wonderful performance as the doleful but brilliant young author in Wonder Boys, did a complete one-sixty here and gives a performance that lights up The Cider House Rules, based on the John Irving novel, about people who go about the potentially grim job of tending after unwanted children, and unwanted pregnancies, at a Maine orphanage in the 1930s and 40s. Homer (played by Maguire) assists the orphanage's physician, Dr. Larch (Michael Caine, who, despite a strained New England accent, picked up an Oscar for his performance), picks up a crash course in obstetrics, acts as friend and paternal figure to the orphanage's other children, and meets the beautiful Candy (Charlize Theron, in her best performance to date), causing him to be drawn to making his way for the first time in the outside world. The film is more about how people make the decisions, good or bad, that affect the rest of their lives, and director Lasse HallstrŲm, who has successfully handled challenging dramatic material in the past, creates an enriching film, here. Delroy Lindo also gives an astonishing performance as one of a group of seasonal fruit pickers with whom Homer works for a time. Viewers may also want to take into consideration that the film makes use of some exceptional widescreen cinematography (by Oliver Stapleton). The DVD release features audio commentary, deleted footage and a featurette on the production.


The Big Kahuna
USA (1999)
review by Eddie Cockrell  

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Kevin Spacey in a minor key, The Big Kahuna marks the two-time Oscar winnerís debut as producer (via the Trigger Street imprint) and is adapted by Roger Rueff from his play, Hospitality Suite. Essentially a three-hander, the film stars Spacey as Larry, the alpha male in a group of Lodestar Laboratories employees (industrial lubricant division) waiting for the start of a convention mixer in a top floor hospitality suite in Wichita, Kansas. During the course of the ninety-minute film, as they pursue the title bigwig theyíre trying to pitch their product to during and after the party, each manís defenses are peeled away to reveal what really makes them tick. Danny DeVito gives a subdued and world-weary turn as Larry, while Peter Facinelli (also in Supernova, below) as the idealistic young Bob brings God into the equation, representing youthful idealism, or something. Glengarry Glen Ross this talkfest ainít, but it does showcase another one of those smarmy, hail-fellow-well-met Spacey performances that seem to tap into some sort of current social gestalt -- call it millennial corporate irony, the son (or even grandson) of the type of big-business cad Jack Lemmon used to essay so gratingly well in the 1950s. Currently available as a rental-only tape, the DVD edition is a stripped-down affair featuring production notes and the theatrical trailer.


Erin Brockovich
USA (2000)
review by Eddie Cockrell

Steven Soderbergh continues his remarkable run of unconventionally conventional genre exercises (Out of Sight, The Limey) with perhaps his neatest trick of all: in Erin Brockovich, Julia Roberts undergoes a remarkable and long-overdue transformation from fetishized movie star to actual actress. The crusading title character was a floozie-ish single mom who, with the help of her befuddled boss Ed (Albert Finney), brought the mighty Pacific Gas & Electric power company to its knees over a ghastly case of polluted groundwater in a remote desert town (marvelously photographed by veteran cameraman Ed Lachman, whose extensive resume includes both The Limey and Werner Herzogís Stroszek). As with Out of Sight, the film was produced by Danny DeVitoís Jersey Films banner, and although there were reports of discord on the set the finished product is vital, shrewd and relatively free of the mannered Roberts style that people seem to love but often makes her look like she wandered in from a second-rate soap opera. In fact, that Oscar talk that began circulating almost as soon as the movie was released isnít too far off the mark. The generous DVD edition includes a remarkably candid commentary by Soderbergh during a large number of deleted scenes, where he avows that his best strategy while filming the admittedly long script was to "shoot it all and figure it out in the editing room." In fact, the original cut of the film ran well over three hours, and it is a fascinating exercise to watch and listen as the director relates the reasons behind the obviously difficult, yet judicious cuts.


Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
USA (1999)
review by Gregory Avery

Forest Whitaker, in a brilliant performance, as an independent hitman who has recreated himself by way of the ancient philosophical tenants of the Japanese samurai, right down to devoting himself to serving one "master", in this case a member of a group of aging, near sedentary gangsters. Jim Jarmusch's film starts out intriguingly, remains intriguing, but it never entirely rises above the level of the unusual, taking on more dramatic significance at the end than what it had when it first starts out (a recurring problem, I found, with many of Jarmusch's films). Henry Silva is particularly memorable as one of the gangster bosses; the scenes between Whitaker and Issach de Bankole, as an ice cream vendor who is the hitman's best friend even though he only speaks French (and the hitman does not), are quite good; and there's a superb original music score by R.Z.A., mixing and combining hip-hop and rap music beat with Asian music motifs. The DVD edition features the thirty-minute "The Odyssey: Journey Into the Life of a Samurai," deleted footage, a music video and an isolated music track.


I Dreamed of Africa
USA (2000)
review by Gregory Avery

If the movie's flawed, it's not Kim Basinger's fault. Her performance enables us to understand the otherwise bewildering motivations of the main character, who, with her young son, follows her second husband (Vincent Perez) into the African bush to live on his remote cattle ranch, and then must contend with a series of crises ranging from her husband's long periods of absence to the weather, poachers, and an encounter with an extremely lethal puff-adder snake. (The picture is based on the experiences of an actual woman, Kuki Tallmann, who would later write about them.) The film's director, Hugh Hudson, has directed one good picture (Chariots of Fire) and several bad ones after that (Greystoke, Lost Angels, My Life So Far), and this picture doesn't appear so much made as pieced together, with a lot of voiceovers to try and explain just what the audience is supposed to be looking at. The film also features the first music score in years by Maurice Jarre, who previously wrote music for Laurence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, among others. Not a terrible picture altogether, but it should have been a better one. The DVD features production notes, a trailer and a "Making Of" featurette.


Magnolia
USA (1999)
review by Eddie Cockrell  

Equal parts majesty and mystery, P.T. Andersonís much-anticipated follow-up to 1997ís Boogie Nights is nothing less than a Nashville (see below) for the late 1990s, complete with two major players from that landmark film in minor roles. The action is shifted to Andersonís stomping grounds, SoCalís San Fernando Valley, and the style is amped up to reflect the cacophony of modern living. And while much will be written of the labrynthine relationships among the characters, the across-the-board emotionally accuracy of the cast (not coincidentally, Tom Cruise has never been better) and the extraordinary use of Aimee Mannís music, perhaps the most talked-about element of the film will be that out-of-nowhere climax, predicted throughout the film by references, both veiled and overt, to a single bible verse, Exodus 8:2. Magnolia may not have smitten the box office, but it confirms Andersonís status as among the most promising young filmmakers in the world. Disc one of the two-disc DVD edition features the film itself. Disc two has a generous assortment of TV spots and trailers, as well as Mannís "Save Me" video. But the centerpiece of the package is Mark Ranceís "That Moment," a 72-minute video documentary made during the filmís gargantuan 100-day shooting schedule (up from an already ambitious 79) that includes a few tantalizing glimpses of the plot strand featuring Orlando Jones as the mysterious killer that was left on the cutting room floor. And on a related note, those of you who snapped up the first pressing of Andersonís magnificent Boogie Nights will be dismayed to learn thereís a newer edition that promises additional extras. Note to filmmakers: letís not make this a habit, OK? Get your DVDís right the first time and avoid disgruntled consumers. 


Reindeer Games 
USA (2000)

review by Eddie Cockrell

A technically accomplished yet dramatically manipulative imitation of the already clichťd Steven Spielberg-helmed big lizard movies on which many of its key personnel toiled (and for which special effects-whiz-turned director Michael Lantieri won an Oscar), Komodo is a good example of the modern B picture, a good-looking yet cheaply produced and relatively humorless Jurassic Park knockoff for the undiscriminating video (or DVD) hound. Jill Hennessey stars as a psychologist who accompanies a traumatized young man (Kevin Zegers) back to the island where the title dragons ate his family, only to find a whole mess of Ďem ravenous from the lack of food due to a rapacious oil company. Shot in Australia, the filmís general level of concentration can be summed up by the lack of accuracy in the story: the DVD case says it takes place off the coast of Florida, a title card on the print says North Carolina, and one of the producers in the production featurette says South Carolina. No matter, for the real stars of the picture are the dragons themselves, a cross between Phil Tippett animatronic creations and computer imagery that slither and drool and are lightning-fast when the story calls for it and slow as molasses when a principal cast member is endangered. As glossy as the finished product is, at some point the astute viewer will wonder, "she left Law and Order for this?"


Simpatico
USA (1999)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

As morose and misconceived a high-profile feature as is likely to be made for awhile (one hopes), Simpatico is the debut directorial effort (uh-oh) of Matthew Warchus, from Sam Shepardís play (hmmm), and stars Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone, Catherine Keener and Albert Finney (wow!) as a group of people variously involved in a long-time scam to cheat at the track by switching horses (one of which is named Simpatico). Unfortunately, the wattage of that cast canít overcome the seemingly deliberate murkiness of the proceedings: Warchus and co-adaptor David Nicholls seem so determined to obfuscate an already tangled narrative at every turn that all one is left to hang on to are the performances, which often seem as lost as the plot. The spartan DVD edition highlights the luminous cinematography of Almost Famous DP John Toll (winner of back-to-back Oscars for Legends of the Fall and Braveheart), but thatís about it. 


SuperNova
USA (1999)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

Deep in space, the crew of a medical vessel becomes entangled with a sinister force that can either rejuvenate life or destroy it completely. The name Walter Hill (director of The Warriors, 48 Hrs.; script doctor extraordinaire) doesnít appear anywhere on the packaging of either the tape or DVD editions of this stylish and substantive sci-fi film, which bears a 1999 copyright and the directorial credit of one "Thomas Lee" (read: Hill) but was ignominiously dumped into theaters early in 2000 (how poorly was it sold? After you watch the DVD and twenty minutes or so of deleted scenes, check out the profoundly stupid trailer). Back to Hill: thereís a story there, detailed in an illuminating article by Gregory Solman in the July/August issue of "Film Comment." Suffice it to say, Hill had his final cut taken away from him and severely chopped up. Thus, MGMís sparkling DVD edition of the film serves as a cautionary primer for just how severely a filmmakerís vision can be compromised -- and, in point of fact, the Supernova that was released is markedly inferior to the one Hill envisioned. If the beleaguered-crew-in-space theme is familiar, well, Hill was instrumental in the development and writing of the Alien franchise, making his poor treatment at the hands of the studio even more mystifying. James Spader is terrific as a typically taciturn Hill hero, while Peter Facinelli is light years removed from the naÔve bible-thumper he plays in The Big Kahuna (see above) and fine turns are delivered by Angela Bassett, Lou Diamond Phillips, Robert Forster, Robin Tunney and Wilson Cruz (Rent). As mentioned, the DVD features that awful trailer, as well as Hillís deleted scenes. Maybe one day the cuts will be restored to the print itself, finally preserving the vision of a director who deserves far better treatment than this.


Titus
USA (1999)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

Long considered the most heavy-handed of Shakespeareís tragedies (of which it was the first), "Titus Andronicus" is here given a prodigiously imaginative treatment by theater director Julie Taymor that despite its surreal and modernist trappings gives a good argument for justifying the playís initial popularity with audiences in the late sixteenth century. Anthony Hopkins essays the title role, a Roman officer returning from a triumphant war with the Goths and finding himself swept up in a byzantine domestic power struggle punctuated by stylized, pulpy gore (limbs are cut off, competitors are baked into pies - that sort of thing). The major players include Alan Cumming as reptilian emperor Saturnius, James Frain (Reindeer Games) as Saturniusí brother Bassianus, Laura Fraser as Lavinia, Titusí daughter and the woman they fight over, and, in the filmís most sustained revelation, Jessica Lange as the devious and lusty Tamora, the Goth queen captured by Titus during his campaign. The DVD edition features a costume gallery, both commentary and a question-and-answer session with Taymor, a "Making Of" featurette, trailers, and scene-specific commentary from Hopkins and Harry J. Lennix, who is superb as Tamoraís doomed moor lover. Titus was produced by Paul Allenís Clear Blue Sky production entity, and the lavish attention to detail and unbridled imagination of the costume and production design highlight the distinctive yet familiar landscapes and urban canyons of Pula and Rome, where the film was shot.


Beyond the A List


Afterlife
Wandufuru raifu
Japan (1998)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

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Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-edaís follow-up to the exquisite Maborosi (itself available in a sell-through tape edition and DVD in October), After Life begins with a haunting premise: if Heaven was only a single memory from your life, which memory would it be? To answer that question, the film supposes a way-station on the way to the Final Reward in which counselors work with the newly-deceased to help them choose that single memory with which theyíll spend eternity. One man wants to remember a gentle breeze felt in his youth, while a woman wants to remember dancing with her brother in a red dress. Then, the film charts the progress of creating these tableaux, utilizing the same production methods used to film a movie: stories are decided on, sets are built, sound effects are recorded and the memories are brought to, uh, life. A movie full of dignity and no little mischief, After Life marks its maker as a film humanist in the same vein as Ingmar Bergman. Priced at the moment for the rental market (read: expensive), the VHS tape of After Life will be followed September 25 by a DVD said to include production notes and at least one theatrical trailer. Hereís a suggestion: try and see these films in the order they were made -- Maborosi first, followed by After Life -- so you too can say youíre charting the progress of a new auteur in the making. 


The Bank Dick
USA (1940)

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W.C. Fields: 6 Short FilmsUSA (1915-1933)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

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Perhaps more than any other film comedian in the early days of movies, W.C. Fields is an acquired taste. His absurdist brand of humor, at once dry and surreal, endures for the simple reason that the movies bear up under repeated viewings; in fact, itís almost a necessity to watch them over and over, if only to figure out why theyíre so funny. In his second-to-last feature, The Bank Dick (which he wrote under the moniker "Mahatma Kane Jeeves"), Fields as unemployed layabout Egbert Souse -- Soosay, if you donít mind -- replaces drunk movie director A. Pismo Clam on a location shoot in his hometown of Lompoc, California before chance lands him in the job of bank detective -- after which the movie becomes a riff on the comic possibilities of his new-found notoriety. The stellar comic supporting cast includes future Stooge Shemp Howard as the bartender at Fieldsí regular haunt, The Black Pussy, and Preston Sturges regular Franklin Pangborn as bank examiner J. Pinkerton Snoopington. The digital transfer overseen by the Criterion Collection utilized a 35mm fine-grain master print and optical track, making for a pristine disc in the original 1:33 (full-screen) ratio. W.C. Fields: 6 Short Films features his first ever appearance, exhibiting his billiards skill in the silent 1915 Pool Sharks, as well as all five of the talking shorts he made between 1930 and 1933. Theyíre all good, but the gem of the bunch is the surreal 1933 masterpiece Fatal Glass of Beer, among the most inexplicably funny shorts ever made. As is usual for the Criterion Collection, the quality is excellent, especially given the disparate source material the technical crew had to work with. Over the years the critical and commercial fortunes of the pioneers of film comedy have dipped and risen; the work on these discs may not lift Fields higher in the pantheon, but theyíre a persuasive argument for his distinct and subversive brand of comedy.  


The Brothers Quay Collection
United Kingdom (1984-93)

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Institute BenjamentaUnited Kingdom (1995)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

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Kino Video offers DVD editions of the collected works of the Brothers Quay, first released on tape in late 1999. Complex, often impenetrable and utterly fascinating, these meticulously created stop-motion flights of fancy were created by Timothy and Stephen Quay, reclusive identical twins who draw upon the strong Eastern European influences of their rural Pennsylvania upbringing to lure the viewer into bizarre and unforgettable works composed entirely in Koninck, their London studio. The collection DVD includes their most famous works, The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (the Czech animator is perhaps their most important influence) and the astonishing Street of Crocodiles, as well as two music video collaborations with His Name is Alive (the Quays apprenticed in advertising and contributed to Peter Gabrielís legendary "Sledgehammer" video). Expanding upon the video edition, the disc also features their first short work, the 21-minute 1979 film Nocturna Artificialia, as well as a four-minute interview with the brothers and a trailer for Institute Benjamenta. No less fascinating but a good deal more challenging is their 1995 feature Institute Benjamenta, an atmospheric meditation on servitude and fairytales with the quite logical secondary title "This Dream People Call Human Life." The disc edition also includes a 15-minute assemblage of behind-the-scenes footage from the set, as well as the same trailer and interview. Once experienced, the work of the Brothers Quay can never be forgotten -- or explained.


Fargo
USA (1996)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

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With each passing year, Joel and Ethan Coenís Fargo looks better and better, a multifaceted yet concentrated blast of satirical Americana supposedly based on the true story of a kidnapping and multiple murder in Minnesota. When morose car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) gets in trouble pulling a scam at the dealership, he hires two laconic and inept thugs (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so he can bail himself out with the ransom. Instead, just about everyone ends up either in prison or dead -- except for the intrepid and very pregnant cop who breaks the case, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand, who won an Oscar for her perfectly calibrated performance -- as did the Coens for their script). Finally available on DVD from MGM, the disc starts a little rough with some dirt evident on the source print during the snowbound opening credits but soon settles down to a clear, satisfactory image. Although there are no extras on the disc save the original theatrical trailer, the four-page booklet has some interesting background into the gestation and casting of the film, including Macyís immortal threat "Iím not leaving until I get the role. If I have to kill your pets, Iíll do it." Also, this is one of those discs that has a full-frame version on one side and a widescreen transfer on the other; viewers who opt for the former deprive themselves of cinematographer Roger A. Deakinís subtly funny compositions.


Good MorningOhayo
Japan (1959)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

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Yasujiro Ozu was a Japanese director whose serene body of work more often than not explored the details of day-to-day life in contemporary Japan. At once among his best and most atypical films, Good Morning (essentially a Technicolor update of his silent film I Was Born, ButÖ) is quite a bit more upbeat and spry than the majority of his other works. In a small subdivision outside Japan, two youngsters attempt to persuade their father to buy a newfangled television set. He resists, claiming "TV will produce one hundred million idiots." The prescience of that statement aside, the film finds the family wrestling with the clash of older, more leisurely customs with a fast-paced middle-class and entirely new norm. The kids protest the lack of TV by refusing to use such "pointless" phrases as the title greeting, a stance which brings about misunderstanding and confusion among the adults over some missing womensí club dues. Thus is the importance of tradition underscored. This Criterion Collection DVD release offers a fine Technicolor transfer (from a print, not the negative) and no additional material; for Ozuís fans, the existence of this disc is quite enough.


Kelly's HeroesUSA (1970)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

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Whatís the big deal about a thirty-year-old Clint Eastwood World War II actioner? Moviegoers surprised by the easy banter between his Clintness and Donald Sutherland in the late summer hit Space Cowboys will be even more shocked at their first co-starring vehicle three decades ago: making a very belated debut in any kind of widescreen format whatsoever, the 1970 comedic World War II drama Kellyís Heroes reveals itself on DVD to be the missing link between Three Kings and Saving Private Ryan. On his way inland from the Normandy invasion, Clintís steely Lieutenant Kelly learns of a huge cache of gold behind enemy lines. Enlisting the services of a ragtag group of hustlers and misfits from his and the surrounding units (including Sutherlandís proto-hippie tank commander, Animal), he eludes the Nazis and gets the gold with the help of an opportunistic German officer. Future TV stars Telly Savalas (Kojak), Carroll OíConnor (All in the Family, the TV version of In the Heat of the Night), Gavin McLeod (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Stuart Margolin (The Rockford Files) share screen time with Eastwood, Sutherland, Don Rickles (occasionally lapsing into schtick) and (briefly) Harry Dean Stanton -- without the "Harry" -- in director Brian G. Huttonís much funnier follow-up to Where Eagles Dare. Long unavailable in its original letterboxed format, the DVD features Dolby Digital 5.1 remastering, a trailer, and those rugged Yugoslav locations. 


The Lathe of Heaven
USA (1980)
review by Gregory Avery 

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When this adaptation of Ursula K. LeGuin's novel aired, for only a few times, around 1979 - 80, word-of-mouth rapidly spread and it soon came to be regarded as one of the best science-fiction films ever made. I would not go quite so far in categorizing it in those terms (I think the unavailability of the film, after it was broadcast, had more than something to do with its building a mystique), but it is rather good and it effectively uses the science-fiction genre to explore ideas about existence and reality in ways that could not be dramatized just as well in other genres (the film's popularity also probably had something to do with the Star Wars phenomenon, at the time). Bruce Davison plays a menial worker in a devastated-looking Portland, Oregon of the near-future who is deeply troubled by the possibilities that his nightly dreams are, in spite of himself, altering daily reality; Kevin Conway is the psychiatrist who initially tries to straighten him out, then sees the potentiality of exploiting his ability; Margaret Avery (who would later appear in The Color Purple) plays a social worker who tries to intervene on Davison's behalf. Directed by Fred Barzyk and David E. Lonton, from a screenplay by Robert E. Swayhill and Diane English, and they pull off some wonderful surprises by the time the story's conclusion arrives. The DVD includes a Bill Moyers interview with LeGuin.


Loves of a Blonde
Laske jedne plavovlasky
Czechoslovakia (1966)

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Firemen's Ball
Hori, ma panenko!
Czechoslovakia (1967)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

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Home Vision Cinema is to be applauded for the pristine new VHS tape transfers of these two early, pivotal films by Czech director Milos Forman, the dean of the 1960s New Wave movement there. A shrewd observer of human foibles and an extraordinary director of actors, Forman has stumbled recently with The People vs, Larry Flynt and Man in the Moon but came to modest prominence in the west with Blonde and Ball at a time when Czech society was obscured behind the Iron Curtain. In the former, a lonely young woman who works in a shoe factory has a fling with an itinerant piano player. During the latter (Formanís last film before coming to America and a career that has included One Flew Over the Cuckooís Nest and Amadeus), the middle class is lampooned via a celebration ineptly organized by a local fire brigade during which everything goes wrong. Each of these films features Formanís unique blend of sarcasm and compassion, in which institutions are ruthlessly criticized while the people who make them up are seen as appealing eccentrics. Also available as part of this release and highly recommended is Ivan Passerís 1965 drama Intimate Lighting (Intimni osvetleni); Passer co-wrote both Forman films and went on to a Hollywood career that to date includes the excellent Born to Win, Cutterís Way (a.k.a. Cutter and Bone) and that startlingly good cable biopic Stalin (1992, with Robert Duvall as the dictator). As happened with the migration of German film artists and technicians during the 1930s, Europeís loss was once again Hollywoodís gain.


NashvilleUSA (1975)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

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Although nearly forgotten by a generation of young cineastes due to its recent unavailability in any format, Robert Altmanís collaborative, kaleidoscopic, magnificent Nashville, coming as it does to DVD on the eve of the presidential election, reveals itself to be not only the inspiration for Paul Thomas Andersonís Boogie Nights and Magnolia (see the latter, above), but an incisive, benevolent and ultimately inspiring slice of mid-1970s Americana as well. Strung together by the connective tissue of Replacement Party candidate Hal Phillip Walkerís traveling campaign van (in which the unseen politician exorts the populace via loudspeaker to abolish the National Anthem, tax churches and remove lawyers from Congress) and the silent motorcycle meanderings of Tricycle Man (Jeff Goldblum), the film follows two dozen characters from all walks of life as they move through the traffic jams, clubs, bars and churches of the town dubbed "the Athens of the south," culminating in an outdoor political rally that provides a cautionary epiphany to the filmís events. Nashville is about a lot of things, not the least of which is the complicity between social classes and the tragic consequences of misunderstanding that imperative. Two of the filmís stars also appear in Andersonís Magnolia, the most prominent of which is barfly Henry Gibson, whose performance as country music popinjay Haven Hamilton may be the best thing about the film. The DVDís extras include an interview with Altman where he reveals some early casting preferences (Robert Duvall for Gibson, Louise Fletcher for Lily Tomlin) and a commentary that isnít so much constant as appropriately pithy. Also worth seeking out is the filmís soundtrack, featuring the songs written by the cast and performed by them in the film. Long out of print, the new CD features all 13 of the tracks on the original LP (despite web postings to the contrary).


Variety Lights
Luci del Varieta
Italy (1950)
review by Eddie Cockrell 

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Federico Felliniís feature debut, Variety Lights bears established Neorealist filmmaker Alberto Lattuadaís name as co-director, but thereís little doubt into which manís filmography this work belongs (Fellini professed to not remembering "which scenes were directed by Lattuada and which by me," but he inevitably hastened to add "I regard the film as one of mine."). No argument from the scholars, who see in the story of a tawdry touring theatrical troupe the germ of ideas that would populate Felliniís entire oeuvre. In truth the film is a family affair, as Lattuada (with whom Fellini had previously collaborated on a handful of scripts) was married to leading lady Carla Del Poggia, and the young female co-star Giulietta Masina, soon to be known to the world for her roles in La Strada (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1957) and Juliet of the Spirits (1957), was even then married to Fellini. Three years later, Fellini embarked on his bonafide solo career with the satirical romantic comedy The White Sheik (Lo sceicco bianco), and the rest, as they say, is film history. Criterionís DVD edition of Variety Lights has little in the way of extras, but Andrew Sarrisí brief essay in the accompanying fold-out brochure is illuminating, and the transfer itself is generally spotless, restoring some black and white luster to a film that heretofore existed in notoriously poor prints. Special kudos to Michael W. Wiese for the fine audio restoration.


Who the Hell is Juliette?
Quien diablos es Juliette?
Mexico (1997)

review by Eddie Cockrell 

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At its world premiere screening during the 1997 Toronto film festival, audience members knew theyíd found something special: Argentine cinematographer-turned-first-time-director Carlos Marcovichís Who the Hell is Juliette? , initially financed with $5000 heíd saved shooting commercials, is an unclassifiable dramatic documentary (or documentary drama) about two young women, Cuban Juliette (Yuliet Ortega) and Mexican Fabiola (Fabiola Quiroz), brought together in a mutual search for their respective fathers, by no less than the filmmaker himself. Marcovich has said he was looking for a "day to day reality," and the film reflects that struggle, shot as it was over a three-year period with a crew of only two. The directorís enthusiasm for the project is reflected in the notes printed on the inner sleeve of the Kino Video DVD release, and the transfer itself preserves the beauty that first attracted Marcovich to Cuba.


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