New DVD Tuesday: Jan Svankmajer, Mikio Naruse, Lenny Bruce and more!
Dixie Chicks - Shut Up & Sing - Remember when rugged individualism was the hallmark of the "American character"? Remember when that individualism was defined by a willingness to speak your mind? Remember when criticizing your governmental overlords was a patriotic duty? Yeah, me neither. But maybe country music trio The Dixie Chicks were trying to recall that mythologized frontier spirit when lead singer Nathalie Maines criticized President Bush for launching the Iraq War during a 2003 concert. This documentary follows the Chicks during the resulting turmoil in which they lost fans, incurred the wrath of right wing pundits and saw their music banned from several radio stations.
Dream Follies/Dreamland Capers - Something Weird brings us this double bill, the first of which features oddball burlesque acts interspersed with the comedy of a young Lenny Bruce before he became a trenchant social critic and when he was still throwing spaghetti in his mother's face.
For Your Consideration - Christopher Guest's latest mockumentary re-teams the usual suspects (Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, Bob Balaban, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge) in a comedy about a film crew who are all agog when Internet rumors start circulating that three of the film's stars may be up for Academy Awards. Throw in Ricky Gervais as a meddling exec and you have all the ingredients for another trademark Guest comedy that lovingly plumbs the highs and lows of human folly.
Flushed Away - Aardman Animations' first foray into the world of CG follows Roddy (Hugh Jackman), an upper-crust society mouse who finds himself living in the cold, mean sewers where he is befriended by Rita (Kate Winslet) and hunted by The Toad (Ian Mckellan). Yes, the anthropomorphized animals do lose some of their charm in the slick CG world, but even DreamWorks can’t suck the soul out of these lovable characters.
La Sierra - A documentary about life in the La Sierra barrio of Medellin, Colombia, the cocaine capital of the world under siege by the military, paramilitary gangs and leftist guerrillas. This doc follows three of the neighbohood's residents: Edison, a 22-year-old paramilitary leader, assassin and father of six; Jesus, a gang member raised amidst violence and ready to die; and Cielo, a 17-year-old mother struggling to raise her child while her boyfriend is in prison.
Lunacy - Hands down the best film I saw in 2006. Directed by Czech animator and filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, the film features only snippets of his trademark animatronics and puppetry, but it's still a beautiful, surreal, horrific journey. The film begins with an introduction by Svankmajer, who explains that there are two ways to run an institution: absolute freedom and absolute totalitarianism. But there is also a third option that combines both methods, he says, "And that is the mad house we are living in today." Set some time during the 1800s in rural France, the story begins when Pavel (Jean Berlot), a humble traveler, is picked up by the puckish Marquis (Jan Triska) and taken to the Marquis' castle. Glimpsing a blasphemous and sadomasochistic sex orgy, Pavel vows to rescue a comely young woman who claims she is being forced to participate against her will. But Pavel soon learns that the castle is an asylum where the inmates are in charge. And when he releases the asylum's director, who has been locked in a basement dungeon along with his staff, Pavel unleashes a baroque sadist whose absolute adherence to rules is far more brutal and perverse than the libertine ways of the Marquis. Though this movie functions as a philosophical argument about the polar extremes of societal structures, Lunacy is also just a straight-up mind-blowing horror film.
The Prestige - Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale star as rival magicians in turn-of-the-century London. Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) orchestrates the visual theatrics in this crafty drama with a twist ending. There were two period dramas about magicians that came out last year. This was the good one.
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs - Made in 1960 this sensitive drama directed by Mikio Naruse (a contemporary of Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi) stars Hideko Takamine as Keiko, a middle-aged geisha pulled in different directions by the demands of her family, her customers and her heart. Naruse treats his protagonist with such sensitivity that it's hard not to be bowled over by Takamine's aura of fragility and resilience.
Plenty more releases after the jump.