Monday, September 14, 2015

What I did this summer (and spring, and…): DVD reviews and articles

I have several blog posts in the offing, but since it's been so long since I put something up here, I wanted to spotlight the other writing I'm doing on the Net. The readership for this blog is most likely unaware that these reviews and articles are up – the Internet being (as I note repeatedly) that wood where many trees are falling and you can't hear a sound. Unless, that is, someone points out a tree coming down and yells “jeezis, will ya look at that!"

This is my attempt to make a little sound.

The Eclipse/Criterion box of films made by the “grandma of French independent cinema” when she was living on the West Coast (Lions Love is a particularly freaky favorite), Agnes Varda in California.

Marco Ferreri's classic dark comedy about a quartet of haute bourgeois men who decide to eat themselves to death, La Grande Bouffe. With many new and amazing supplements.

Wim Wenders' documentary about a photographer friend, Salt of the Earth.

The DVD release of episodes from Joan Rivers' daytime talk-show (discussed here on this blog) as a box set. See Joan before she became caustic, watch late Sixties celebs talk about mundane topics, catch a glimpse of the “girl talk” daytime format intended for housewife viewers, in That Show With Joan Rivers.

The Criterion package that includes both big-screen versions of The Killers, with many terrific extras, including a student film by Tarkovsky (the most exact reproduction of the original Hemingway story).

The infinitely trippy Czech cult movie Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, with many wonderful supplements exploring the film's symbolism (coming of age, loss of virginity, the lecherous nature of the clergy – it's not that hard to figure out), plus a new alternative music soundtrack for the film.

Yves Montand is superb in Costa-Gavras' controversial The Confession, where the Leftist director explores the horrors of the Stalin regime via a “show trial.”

Jean-Pierre Melville's first film, and first masterwork, La Silence de la Mer.

Silent Ozu: Three Crime Dramas is a trio of silent features by the legendary Japanese director, focusing on thieves, gangsters, and their molls.

Cheesy, sleazy widescreen exploitation, The Beat Generation is a cash-in effort by producer Albert Zugsmith that at least has the sight of Vampira as a beatnik poet and Mamie Van Doren as a crooked chick in a sweater.

Resnais' last film The Life of Riley isn't as perfect as his next-to-last (You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet), but it still contains some beautiful visuals and lovely musings on romance, old age, and death.

Robert Montgomery's Ride a Pink Horse is a grim little noir that finally has received the DVD release it deserves.

Godard's “comeback film” Every Man For Himself makes its home-entertainment debut with a terrific Criterion package, spotlighting Uncle Jean when he consented to many on-camera interviews – and he even smiled!

Rivette's Le Pont du Nord also received its first U.S. home-entertainment release this year. The film is a great “late” Rivette that features both terrific location photography and a wonderfully paranoid scenario.

Ever wonder what goes through the mind of a man willingly trapped in his hometown? Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg offers a fantasia based on real events (and a bunch Guy made up) from that snowy burg.

The DVD re-release of Fassbinder's sublime The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant includes new documentaries and featurettes.

The relationship between softcore legend Joe Sarno and his wife Peggy is the focus of A Life in Dirty Movies. The film provides valuable background on Joe's career – some of it coming from a talking-head film historian who looks a lot like me.

Liliana Cavani's extremely controversial chronicle of l'amour tres fou, The Night Porter remains a subject of debate but, whatever your take on the plot, the performances and direction are flawless.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's TV miniseries adaptation of a popular novel Penance is a fascinating mix of melodrama, thriller, horror, satire, and a bitter critique of the Japanese notion of honor.

Finally bowing on DVD (do you sense a trend here?), Robert Altman's Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean was Altman's first “theatrical film.” It contains Altman's trademark “gliding” camerawork and is a great showcase for its six-woman ensemble.

Billy Wilder's last great movie, Fedora is an exploration of the Garbo mythos in the form of a variation on Sunset Boulevard. The final plot twist is a good one, and William Holden makes a great mouthpiece for Wilder's embittered opinions about the “new Hollywood" of the Seventies (those “kids with beards”).

Leos Carax's Mauvais Sang got a DVD re-release that included both a restored print of the film and a full documentary on Carax.

The Python reunion is a strange affair, in which two of the ensemble seem to be having a great time and the other three gents are just along for the ride (and the paycheck). Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go

Chris Marker's Level Five is his final feature. An essay about memory, the Battle of Okinawa, and Laura, among other things, it's an uneven affair... but uneven Marker is better than most folks' best.

John Ford's My Darling Clementine get the Criterion treatment with featurettes discussing Ford, Wyatt Earp, and the alternate version of the film.

Polanski's Venus in Fur is a minimal affair that is both kinky and intellectual. Mathieu Amalric (as a Polanski surrogate) and Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski's real-life wife) are both terrific. 

The Midnight Special box set is a mind-warping flashback to the Seventies when the Top 40 contained standard soft pop, hard rock, country, funk, “new wave,” and disco. This late-night TV show had all of the genres, with nearly all the performers playing live. 

The Betty Boop Essential Collection, Volume 4 finishes up Olive's carefully curated set of the non-public domain Boop cartoons from the Fleischer Studios. The pre-code entries in the series continue to be mind-blowingly weird (and oddly sexy).


I spoke to Armando Iannucci when he was doing press for Veep. The print version of the interview, found here, focuses mostly on that much-lauded HBO show and its amazing source (The Thick of It), but in the full interview (which will appear on the Funhouse TV show soon), I got him to talk about his older creations, including I'm Alan Partridge, The Armando Iannucci Shows, and the stunning The Day Today with Chris Morris

My interview with the wonderfully talented comedic filmmaker Roy Andersson appeared in print in a much-abbreviated version to promote a screening of his latest, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, in Buffalo.

Mike Leigh is considered notoriously “difficult” by the press (the British press in particular, it seems), but he was incredibly nice to me (albeit extremely intense and thoroughly focused, dissecting my questions as he answered them). The print version of the interview ran here.

A piece discussing the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet, a master of showing alternate realities, and a man who (along with his wife) really enjoyed the thought of women in bondage. 

A review of the “high-concept”documentary Listen to Me Marlon. Brando's audio recordings are presented in a somewhat linear fashion (as linear as the thoughts of the great eccentric could ever be). The verdict: he was a pretty depressed human being.