Top pick: Classic
The Complete Jacques Tati (Criterion)
Orson Welles claimed that Jacques Tati was the only movie star who disappeared in close-up. Welles’ observation was meant to be dismissive, but it works, inadvertently, as a summary of both Tati’s unique comic style and his singular approach to filmmaking. Playtime, the French clown-turned-director’s magnum opus, is a radical reimagining of film comedy and one of the medium’s defining masterpieces, a film so intricately designed that it allows the viewer an unparalleled degree of freedom. This seven-disc disc Blu-ray set (also available as 12 DVDs or 180 audiocassettes) is about as close as the boutique home-video market gets to an event release, collecting all of Tati’s features and shorts, along with alternate versions like the restored color release of Jour De Fête and the Tati-supervised English dub of Mon Oncle. It also marks the U.S. home video debut of Tati’s under-seen and under-appreciated final work, Parade.
Other classic picks
What a difference 20 years can make. A kind of spiritual sequel to Sunset Boulevard, Fedora (Olive) re-teamed director Billy Wilder and star William Holden for another look at Tinseltown vanity; this time, however, Wilder and Holden represented the passé old guard, making an unfashionably classical film at the height of New Hollywood. The result has all the virtues of the old-school studio style, but with the bonus of a bitter outsider’s perspective; unjustly overlooked, the film stands alongside Avanti! as one of the major accomplishments of the latter part of Wilder’s career.
Mario Bava’s sublime Planet Of The Vampires (Kino Lorber) pits a crew of spacemen and spacewomen against a variety of garish colors, sleek textures, and fog effects. This is sci-fi filmmaking at its most plastic and unabashedly pulpy; the movie had a profound influence on Ridley Scott’s Alien and its B-movie-ish not-quite-prequel, Prometheus, which has enough similarities with Planet Of The Vampires to qualify as a remake.
Clive Barker has long claimed that his 1990 horror fantasy Nightbreed (Shout! Factory)—about a man who is drugged into believing he’s a serial killer and escapes into a secret society of monsters—was undermined by studio meddling and deceptive marketing. Viewers can judge for themselves from this new edition, which reinstates most of the footage cut from the theatrical release. Also out this week from Shout! Factory: the killer-earthworm flick Squirm, a typical specimen from the mid-1970s “natural horror” craze, featuring make-up effects by Rick Baker.
Thirty-five years after it debuted as the black sheep of MTM Enterprise’s sitcom stable—home to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, and others—WKRP In Cincinnati: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory) finally gives The Queen City’s most middling AM destination its proper due. The punk-rock upheaval of the 1970s and ’80s was well underway by the time WKRP came to CBS, yet this workplace comedy was one of TV’s first shows to treat pop music with any sense of reverence, all the while sending up “rock ’n’ roll all night/party every day” burnouts like WKRP breakout Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman). Shout! Factory’s 13-disc set rights many of the musical wrongs done to the show by syndication packages and 20th Century Fox’s season-one DVD set, returning soundtrack cuts from The Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello, Otis Redding, and many others to their proper place: the airwaves of Cincinnati’s own WKRP.
The late George Sluizer’s best-known film, The Vanishing (Criterion), gets a Blu-ray upgrade. Like many of Criterion’s recent re-releases, this looks remarkably different from its earlier standard-def edition—brighter, with a cooler, less austere color palette.
Also out this week are two Tarantino reference points: Compañeros (Blue Underground), a Franco Nero flick directed by Sergio Corbucci, the definitive brusque, brutish stylist of the Spaghetti Western; and Shogun Assassin (Animeigo), the delirious, collage-like Lone Wolf And Cub re-edit that was produced for the American market in 1980 and ended up spawning a cult of its own.
Top pick: Catch-up
Dormant Beauty (Kino Lorber)
Inspired by the media hubbub that surrounded the death of Eluana Englaro, an Italian woman who spent 17 years in a persistent vegetative state while her family fought to have her taken off life support, Marco Bellocchio’s ensemble drama is far from the Italian director’s best work. But despite some bouts of heavy-handedness, the movie has plenty to recommend it, not the least of which is a darkly comic subplot that follows an ex-socialist politician (Toni Servillo) through the underworld of the Italian senate. This is the work of a master filmmaker at his second-best—scattershot, but peppered with intense performances and sharp monologues.
Other catch-up releases
Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud’s Hong Kong-set “erotic horror” flick Red Nights (Breaking Glass) trades in Giallo-inspired latex-fetish imagery. Even if that’s not your thing, there’s enough bizarre playfulness here to hold interest. Those who prefer their psychosexual kicks with a little more—or maybe a lot more—castration can pick up Moebius (RAM), the latest from Korean self-styled provocateur Kim Ki-Duk. This dialogue-free black comedy opens with one of the most energetic of Kim’s career, but ultimately settles into a familiar mixture of hamfisted symbolism and outré tedium.
Speaking of outré tedium: James Franco’s hillbilly-teeth Cormac McCarthy adaptation Child Of God (Well Go) hits home video this week. Like Franco’s split-screen take on As I Lay Dying, the movie conflates unintelligibility with authenticity; as a McCarthy adaptation, it’s an abject failure, though it occasionally works as a trashy, art-damaged hicksploitation film.
Ten years after Garden State and nine years after everyone decided that Garden State was kind of wack, Zach Braff has returned to the director’s chair with Wish I Was Here (Universal), a movie that’s sort of like Garden State, only far less likely to be interpreted as an indicator of the hip zeitgeist. In the words of our own A.A. Dowd, the film is “essentially Braff’s This Is 40, with all the self-indulgence and only a smidgeon of the honest insight such a comparison suggests.”
Begin Again (Anchor Bay) is a bogus, over-stuffed “let’s put on a show” musical that only occasionally captures the energy of John Carney’s shoestring sleeper hit Once. Despite its artificial take on the modern music business, the movie manages to pull out one scene that both perfectly conveys a professional musician’s point of view and merits the story’s loopy chronology: a playful, Gondry-esque sequence in which a self-destructing A&R man (Mark Ruffalo) watches a singer-songwriter perform in a bar and imagines an arrangement coming together out of the instruments scattered around the stage.
Also out this week: the brisk Elmore Leonard adaptation Life Of Crime (Lionsgate); Good People (Millennium), which, according to our own Mike D’Angelo, “utterly fails to transcend its generic scenario, coming up woefully short in both visual style and inventive plotting”; and Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine The World Without Her (Lionsgate), which is presumably about trying to imagine what the world would be like without Ugly Betty star America Ferrera.