Tuesday, September 30, 2008

DVDebuts: What's Wheat, What's Chaff?

Above and below are some of the week's wheat. (The chaff will appear tomorrow....)


Scott Prendegast's KABLUEY starts out very badly, making his lead character (played by the writer/director) into someone ready for the loony bin -- which is simply not the case. That the movie recovers is surprising enough, but it goes on to become a dark charmer full of very personal humor, sadness and regeneration. And the "blue guy" is an absolutely inspired concoction.

A bleak, black and damn funny look at addiction of various sorts, FINDING AMANDA gives Matthew Broderick yet another chance to shine. He glows and so does his co-star, Brittany Snow, in a movie that is well cast, well written and full of bracing ideas about the world in which we live and lose. If Peter Tolan's film dallies with sentimentality toward the end, it does not cave into this.

Joan Allen mellifluously narrates THE RAPE OF EUROPA , an intelligent and (to me, at least) somewhat surprising documentary about the Nazis and art. Connoisseurs not only of terror, torture and genocide, they knew their art and what they liked. The film is eye-opening, occasionally bleakly funny and gives us a rare and too-short glimpse of some of the art done by Adolf Hilter in his early years. And -- yikes -- it looked pretty good to me: not experimental, certainly, but executed with some skill, style and charm. As one of the movie's talking heads notes: If only the guy had been accepted into art school, someone else could have run the country. (If this sounds enticing, you might want to rent Menno Meyjes' interesting movie MAX.)

Yes, BEFORE THE RAINS has a Merchant/Ivory look (those two names are attached to the poster for the film, though not in a writer/director/producer mode), but since the pair turned out a number of fine films, so what? This one, set in a slightly pre-Ghandi India, serves up an excellent story-as-metaphor for what colonialism does to both servant and master. The tale is believable and upsetting, the performances good all-round, and the locations utterly gorgeous.

Unlike last year's silly The Fountain, which served up a lot of visual pizzazz to little point, THE FALL is even more of a visual knockout while offering strange and interesting characters and a bizarre plot that keep us involved. I was no fan of Tarsem's earlier The Cell, but his new one is so beautiful and vivacious that it held me in thrall first shot to last. Further, leading man Lee Pace demonstrates yet again how versatile and watchable he is.

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