Monday, November 29, 2010

November '10 New Films on Disc


Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss (Zeitgeist) – Maker of the most notorious of all the Nazi-era anti-Semitic films, Jew Süss, Veit Harlan has become persona non grata in postwar Germany and in film history. Felix Moeller’s documentary explores his life, career and legacy with an honest evenhandedness, considering the explosive propagandistic material it deals with. The film in question still cannot be shown in Germany, so the excerpts Moeller shows remain quite explosively shocking. Finessing this portrait are interviews with many of Harlan’s living relatives, including his sons, daughters, grandchildren and even Stanley Kubrick’s widow Christiane (his niece) and her brother (and Kubrick’s assistant), Jan Harlan. It’s a window into the complexities of how Germany is still dealing with the remnants of the Third Reich. Extras include interviews with Harlan’s granddaughter Jessica Jacoby and director Alexander Kluge.

Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition (Fox) brings back James Cameron’s visually dazzling but dramatically inert sci-fi blockbuster with an additional 16 minutes of footage, which neither helps nor hinders the overall experience (best extra: Capturing Avatar, feature-length documentary); Lucy Walker’s timely and expertly-rendered documentary, Countdown to Zero (Magnolia), explores the history of the atomic bomb from Hiroshima to today, as terrorism brings new fears of detonation (best extra: additional interviews); although Monica Bellucci and Sophie Marceau are the stars of Marina de Van’s mind-bending Don’t Look Back (IFC), the derivative thriller’s most notable feature is that they both play the same woman; in the offbeat comedy The Extra Man (Magnolia), Kevin Kline is in top form as an eccentric escort of wealthy widows who mentors a young man (Paul Dano)—also starring is Katie Holmes, delightful as the green-oriented colleague Dano’s interested in (best extra: two commentaries with Kline, directors and writers); the question “Is it real or a hoax?” is asked by the train-wreck pseudo-doc I’m Still Here (Magnolia), in which Joaquin Phoenix either renounces acting to become a rapper or plays a loathsome Hollywood actor who renounces acting to become a rapper (best extra: commentary with Affleck, Phoenix, cast and crew); Christopher Eccleston persuasively plays a garrulous and self-absorbed John Lennon during after Beatlemania in the slice-of-life biopic Lennon Naked (BBC America); Lie to Me—The Complete Second Season (Fox) features Tim Roth in an absorbing drama about “deception experts,” who are basically human lie detectors (best extra: Lie Detection Tutorial featurette); the tepid porn-industry parody Love Shack (Strand Releasing) tries for shock value but ends up as simply a limp take-off on the adult industry that raises no eyebrows (lone extra: deleted scenes); the onstage play Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lions Gate) is another of Tyler Perry’s cash cows: here, his lovable cross-dressing character centers a comic drama with musical numbers about fixable family squabbles—the energetic cast is one-upped by the audience, so it’s too bad Perry’s script remains at a sitcom level (lone extra: meeting the actors featurette); the provocative doc The Price of Pleasure (Cinema Libre) shows to what extent pornography has influenced popular culture and even our daily lives (best extra: Porn Performers--The Business featurette); Sleepwalking Land and What a Wonderful World (Global Film Initiative), the latest releases in the valuable Global Lens series, are set in Mozambique and Morocco respectively, and are typically eye-opening and first-rate dramas; another sexy performance from British newcomer Gemma Arterton (Tamara Drewe, The Disappearance of Alice Creed) is the standout of Three and Out (e one), an otherwise one-note comedy that also wastes a couple of British veterans, Colm Meaney and Imelda Staunton; (best extra: making-of featurette); Taiwanese action master Johnnie To’s Vengeance (IFC) contains his superbly-staged shootouts, all anchored by a sympathetic Johnny Hallyday performance as a father bent on avenging his daughter (lone extra: making-of featurette).

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