Whimsical, ingratiating, very funny, and richly poignant, Wes Anderson pushes the boundaries of what can be accomplished with stop-motion animation. In fact, you can easily forget that you're watching fictional constructs moved a frame at a time, and simply become caught up with wily Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), his family, friends and foes. Mr. Fox agreed to give up his larcenous lifestyle at the request of Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) when she became pregnant, but foxes will be foxes, and, years later, Fox's folly kicks off a grand adventure. Buy it.
Don't hate her because she's rich! Sandra Bullock gives a blessedly relaxed, Academy Award-winning performance in a sports drama that earns its emotions honestly. Bullock stars as a real-life Southern lady who opened up her home to a poor young man; her family followed suit, he embraced them as his own and developed into a star football player. The rest is box office history. (Note: not for those adverse to heartwarming uplift.) Rent it.
You have to hand it to John Woo: very few directors nowadays have any idea whatsoever how to stage large-scale battle scenes. Based on an important episode in Chinese history, the "International Version" of Red Cliff runs nearly five hours; sliced down for US consumption, what's left is a galloping, oft-confusing but rousing war pic that should be seen on as big a screen as possible. Both versions are available. Rent it.
After the jump: Indies on DVD, more Blu-ray, and Collector's Corner!
From Iceland comes a refreshing comedy that proves some things are universal, such as geeky boys and the smoking hot girls they lust after. As I've written elsewhere
tells things from the
young woman's perspective. Left high and dry by her scheming boyfriend, Hildur (Ragnhildur Steinunn Jónsdóttir) is hired at a nerd shop even though she knows nothing about geek culture. Her looks makes her immediately popular, but she's a quick learner, becomes a good sales person, and eventually sees the light.
The film conveys a genial comic spirit and transcends its inside references because of its sound narrative structure, sharp comic dialogue, and whimsical flights of fancy. Astropia resonates strongly for a select audience, but surely deserves a wider audience. Buy it.
Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein continue to find different ways to document what's been happening in Iraq since US armed forces arrived on the scene. First came the widely-acclaimed Gunner Palace, which focused on the soldiers, then the tale of an Iraqi journalist entitled The Prisoner or: How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair. Next the filmmaking duo made Bulletproof Salesman. Fidelis Cloer, the titular character, is as charming, magnetic, and sleazy as any used car salesman. The primary difference is that Cloer sells vehicles that have been specially armored to withstand attack in Iraq. But the real rub comes when you realize how cagily he is playing into the worst fears and suspicions of people who are themselves expressly in Iraq to make big profits from blood money.
Cloer sounds exceedingly proud as he extols the virtues of "superior German engineering" to potential clients. They are fraught with anxiety; he remains calm and cool. He demonstrates his confidence to one prospective buyer by allowing, nay, encouraging, him to shoot a round of machine-gun fire into one of the specially reinforced armored vehicles while Cloer sits inside. The bullets tear into the metal armor and smash into the custom-thickened windshield. Cloer can laugh about it because he has survived -- his vehicles are indeed tightly buttoned-up models of "superior German engineering" -- and he has made a sale. Beyond that, he knows that his customers will talk about his bravado, and he relies upon positive word-of-mouth to remain in business. The doc deserves similar positive word-of-mouth. Rent it.
Also out: The Black Balloon
, Four Corners of Suburbia
An abundance of riches this week; you really can't go wrong with selections like these. Links lead directly to more information at Amazon.com.
Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick's sumptuous period piece stars Richard Gere as an itinerant trouble maker and Linda Manz as his younger sister. Brooke Adams plays his girlfriend, who catches the eye of sickly land owner Sam Shepherd.
/ Toy Story 2
The first great success for Pixar led inevitably to the second, but each tale captures different aspects of the childhood experience in a way that feels grown-up, never insulting the intelligence of either child or adult.
Bigger Than Life
Nicholas Ray directs James Mason as a friendly suburban father and school teacher who loses his grip on everything thanks to an unlikely drug addiction.
Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune take inspiration from Dashiell Hammett and run with it, transforming a hard-boiled noir into samurai comic action. Great entertainment.
Kurosawa and Mifune return in an adventure with a broader tone than its predecessor, but no less entertaining.
John Huston's grand adventure roars to life through the drunken antics of Humphrey Bogart and the strait-laced stubbornness of Katherine Hepburn.
Available on both DVD and Blu-ray, the box set features collectible packaging, an audio CD "with the original Lux radio broadcast of The African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart and Greer Garson," plus a "reproduction of Katharine Hepburn's out-of-print published memoir: The Making of The African Queen or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind," "Collectible Senitype®: a four film frame card illustrating the Technicolor® process," and eight images "inspired by original theatrical lobby cards."
Also out: two Shaw Brothers titles (The 14 Amazons, Shaolin Hand Lock) and three Japanese "pink" films (Yakuza Justice: Erotic Code of Honor, Twisted Path of Love, Sayuri Ichijo: Following Desire).