Saturday, October 3, 2009

New to DVD: Schrader's Adam, a 1940s Ali Baba and Soderbergh's girlfriend/hooker

Before I begin gearing up for next week's new theatrical releases, here's a quick look at a few recently-released-to-DVD titles worth a view (or not).

Would you expect Paul Schrader to give us anything approaching an ordinary view of the Holocaust? Exactly. And good for him. What'll you get from his ADAM RESURRECTED, which provoked quite a cacophony of squeals up on its theatrical release (but then was chosen for the FSLC for its yearly Film Comments Selects series last February) is something bizarre, fascinating and challenging. Even if it doesn't quite work. You'll also get one of Jeff Goldblum's richest and most vital performances, which is saying a lot. Using a screenplay by Noah Stollman (from the novel by Yoram Kaniuk), Schrader offers up a twisty, funny, scary piece of imagined history that, despite is flaws, becomes a don't-miss. After his wobbly The Walker, it's good to see the director back in shape. He gets able support from Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi and Ayelet Zurer, and if his movie's a "dog" (once you've seen the film, my meaning will come clear) it's a dog that blessedly teaches us some new tricks by considering the Holocaust horror anew -- and askew.

Ah, Baghdad... What a difference 65 years can make. In the 1944 version of ALI BABA AND THE 40 THIEVES, Arabs were the good guys and Asians the bad. Of course: The film was made at the end of WWII. Yet who'd have thought that such an ordinary movie could be fun in so many surprising ways? Jon Hall and Maria Montez are as boring a pair of lovers as you could want, so naturally the exotic and resourceful Turhan Bey walks away with the film. But it's really Hollywood's idea (circa the 1940s) of color-blind casting that takes the cake: Andy Devine as an Arab named Abdullah? Well, why not, since Hispanics plays Middle-easterners, Caucasians essay Mongols, and Yiddish theater actor Kurt Katch is the mighty Khan? Simply for its historical perspective, albeit Hollywood style, the movie delights. In the final moment, when at last the flag of Allah flies again above Baghdad and all rejoice, the irony is exquisite.

And the award for quasi-movie of the year so far goes to: Steven Soderbergh for THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE. Not quite a documentary, not quite a narrative, not quite believable or very interesting but not quite worth gathering up the energy to press "eject," the movie is lulling in the oddest of ways. You'd think a film about a pretty prostitute might offer some hot sex. Nope. It's more concerned with money and the upcoming-then-current economic crisis -- but doesn't have much to say about these. Most surprising, I guess, is how naive the leading characters here are: Ms high-level hooker falls for her client after a single meeting and imagines true love and happily-ever-after? Her boyfriend/roommate gets suddenly jealous? She trades sex for a good "review" from a sleazy online critic of call girls, and is shocked, shocked when he writes what a bad lay she was? Yes: all this and more. (Real-life critic Glenn Kenny plays the sleazy "reviewer" in the one performance that rings utterly true and should give you the creeps. Is this Mr. Soderbergh's revenge on us critics?) Real-life call girl Sasha Grey plays the lead with a pretty pout and little variation. I guess this is another example of the director diddling between bigger projects. The film lasts only an hour-and-a-quarter, in any case.

My reviews of other films newly-released-on-DVD -- Mum & Dad, Trumbo, Last Holiday, and Kabei: Our Mother (all worth seeing) -- appear on the GreenCine Guru site. To peruse, simply click on the link and scroll down....

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