Archive for the 'DVD' Category

The Presence
How Do We Get From Here to Hereafter?

The Presenceis a film that really nails what a good ghost story should do. Yes, it works at a metaphorical level—as Sorvino’s writer gets a chance to work through her “inner demons”—and takes seriously the notion of the metaphysical world. But it also takes that extra step, taking very, very seriously the idea that the metaphysical world has both a bearing on the here and now and, literally, the hereafter. It’s a stirring vision of mercy and redemption. If you’re looking for intelligent, well-crafted, thoughtful filmmaking in the form of a ghost story, invest in The Presence. You won’t regret it, unless you suffer extensively from either clinical or culturally-induced ADD.


The Captains
Unexpectedly Deep

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I have, of late, been working through the newly-restored release of the original Star Trek series, available for streaming on Netflix. It’s been nice seeing the original episodes as they were intended to be seen—if in a far crisper presentation than the makeup artists ever envisioned they would be. And imagine my surprise, upon screening William Shatner’s documentary The Captains, in finding that Shatner himself has always been somewhat embarrassed by the whole, um, enterprise. Also imagine my surprise in discovering that the documentary is not only a thoughtful examination of Star Trek’s—and his own—legacy, but a probing and artful inquiry into the very notion of leadership.


Cafe
Gently Profound

This is a simple film that asks big questions like: What would it really mean if God did exist? What does he have to gain from meddling in our lives? Or, better, what do we have to gain? Right off the bat, I was simultaneously intrigued and put off by the audacity and artificiality of the first act. (And the ubiquitous false eyelashes of star Jennifer Love Hewitt, who plays Claire.) But really: when a key character has lines from Shakespeare writ large on his forearm, you’ve got to ask, “If the Bard can do art hokey and overwrought and still do it well, why not allow others the same creative space?” And writer/director Marc Erlbaum comes through in spades, as far as I’m concerned.


Two Brothers
A Slice of Two Lives

The notion is that a life examined has far more potential than the usual quiet desperation, and for the last ten years Stevenson has followed a fairly large cadre of kids who are now young adults. Two Brothers is the first feature-length documentary fashioned from the footage gathered over that period. Ten years ago, Sam and Luke Nelson were pretty typical gradeschoolers. Luke was the scrappy little brother, Sam the older—who tended to bully his siblings. Then Stevenson stepped in and started his standard interviewing, plus probing inquiries regarding the relationship between the brothers. And a funny thing started to happen. As Sam and Luke both started seeing the contrast between the way things were and the way they wished things could be, their reality started changing.


More Than Diamonds
In the Rough

While Skellenger successfully assembles a completed film with his low-budget cast and sets—which is by no means an insignificant accomplishment, by the way—the end product never really develops a personality or rhythm. When the work on the pre-production end is unpolished, the product will likely be unpolished, too. Anyone remember the original version of Flywheel, for instance? Still, More Than Diamonds doesn’t demonstrate the same kind thematic potential that Flywheel did. In part, that’s because Skellenger is aiming for a light, quasi-comedic tone for this family film while the folks at Sherwood were aiming for profundity. Diamonds, by comparison, is a simple story about a family finding its way through the wake of tragedy… and about kids having fun with a mystery.


The Least of These
Worthy Calling

You can understand the appeal of the film’s story and script, as Isaiah Washington plays a priest with a suspect past… and has been reassigned to a boarding school with what we can only assumed is a history of pedophilia. The best part is that, without even having screened the film, you know it’s going to take seriously the problem of sexual abuse in the Church. And the film lives up to that expectation. Where the film missteps, though, is that it’s made primarily from an evangelical point of view while being set in a Catholic boarding school—which makes it kind of a case of the pot trying to be all serious and stuff about the kettle’s problems, if you know what I mean.


Missing Pieces
God in the Headlights

I can’t imagine Bartlett being satisfied with a $4 million or $12 million version of this film. The style and subject matter are ideally matched to its budget… and this is a film that Bartlett’s idols would, I think, admire—for its trueness to life, its passion, its resolute artiness, its humanity, and its understanding of emotion and the artistic impulse. This is a ultimately a cosmic love story—not only about “the lost and lonely, and their late-night ways,” as Nick Lowe put it, but about how love works its way out in a divine and mysterious fashion. It’s easy to think that God has it out for us, and that Free Will is a sham, when there really is a grand design behind it all.


Accused at 17
Moms and Daughters Mending Fences

Part domestic drama, part detective story, the film works best as the tale of a mom trying to right some of the wrongs of the past and rebuild a connection to her daughter. Although the attractive Nicole Gale Anderson, as Bianca, is the star of this show, former model and longtime TV-movie staple Cynthia Gibb anchors the cast (and story) as Jacqui. Like other MTI-release heroines, Gibb is an actor who is not afraid to look her age—in this case, 40 and motherly. But I have to say… the denouement to this story is one of the silliest I’ve seen in a long, long time. Can there really be a happy (strike that: giddy) ending for Bianca and Jacqui here?


3 Backyards
Seriously Beautiful

Like Mary Haverstick (you really ought to look up her poetic 2008 film Home, featuring Marcia Gay Harden), director Eric Mendelsohn has a poet’s sense with both the cinema and the rhythms of sound and vision.  Individual sequences, like those in Aaron Wiederspahn’s The Sensation of Sight, are designed with a painter’s sense of composition and light, and the score by Michael Nicholas, with whom Mendelsohn worked on his lone prior feature film, lends the film the air of a pointillist Copland concerto, if that makes any sense.  3 Backyards will probably end up being too upbeat for “serious critics” yet too dark for any but arthouse audiences.  But give me cinema like this any day.


Max Manus: Man of War
Biographical War Film, Straight Up

A twenty-something international adventurer and rogue, Manus first saw military action as a volunteer with the Finnish army in their brief war with the Russians at the outset of the Second World War—and his recollections of that horror form the flashback framework for his autobiographical account of his anti-Nazi resistance work during the German occupation of Norway. This is one of those “true story” films which is so earnest in getting all the details “right” that much of the life has been sucked out of it. At the same time, stylistically speaking, the film fits in nicely with classic European war films like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Zulu, or even Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far.


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