Pick Of The Week: New
The Master (Anchor Bay)
P.T. Anderson’s The Master topped our list of The Best Films Of 2012, and by some distance. When the smoke cleared, it was simply the film we wound up thinking about the most, perhaps because its story of a damaged veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) seeking direction from a new religious visionary (Philip Seymour Hoffman) was designed to be mysterious and fundamentally incomplete, a psychological puzzle. And in a year where digital productions took over theaters at every level, The Master had the vision to break hard in the other direction, using the grandeur of 70mm to intensify the complicated relationship between two men look to the other to fill some unappeasable need. The Blu-ray has some great extras, too, including an edited collection of deleted scenes that cast the film in a new light and the entirely of John Huston’s Let There Be Light, an hour-long documentary that was Anderson’s primary influence.
Pick Of The Week: Retro
Chronicle Of A Summer (Criterion)
The term “cinema vérité” is owed to French filmmaker/anthropologist Jean Rouch, who helped pioneer a documentary technique that involved direct observation with the camera, as opposed to voiceover narration. Made in collaboration with sociologist Edgar Morin, 1961’s Chronicle Of A Summer is just that, a living document of how people were feeling in France at that specific, tumultuous time. Topics of conversation range from the individual matters of home and work to more general assessments of a political situation that was changing rapidly. The disc includes new and archival interviews, but the highlight is a 75-minute documentary with outtakes from the film as well as thoughts from Morin and some of the participants.
Don’t Break The Seal
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 (Summit)
The Razzies gave Breaking Dawn Part 2, the closing chapter of The Twilight Saga its big prize as the worst film of 2012, even though most critics can think of many films worse. Though the choice speaks to the growing irrelevancy of this annual anti-awards season tradition, let’s not confuse it for an unrecognized masterwork. The A.V. Club’s Genevieve Koski, for one, thinks the film (and the series on the whole) gives too much service to fans of Stephenie Meyer’s novels: “That fandom will be thrilled to see their beloved characters’ happy endings in Breaking Dawn—Part 2, while everyone else will be left wondering why they were supposed to care about any of them in the first place.” Nevertheless, buyers can enjoy a commentary by director Bill Condon, a Green Day video, and the ability to watch only scenes featuring Edward (Robert Pattinson) or Jacob (Taylor Lautner).
Holy Motors (Indomina)
Until Holy Motors, French enfant terrible (now middle-aged-guy terrible) Leos Carax (The Lovers On The Bridge) hadn’t made a feature since the 1999 fiasco Pola X, but on the evidence here, he was working from one hell of a stockpile of ideas. More a collection of loosely connected vignettes than a conventional narrative, the film follows human chameleon Denis Levant through bizarre and surprising setpieces, including an accordion entr’acte that was among our scenes of the year.
The Loneliest Planet (IFC)
It’s more or less impossible to talk about The Loneliest Planet without The Thing That Happens—the one narrative event on which the entire movie turns. However, Julia Loktev’s tense travelogue about a young couple (Hani Furstenberg and Gael García Bernal) embarking on a guided tour of the Caucasus Mountains works as both landscape film and relationship study.
How To Survive A Plague (IFC)
One of the best in a notably strong Best Documentary Oscar field, How To Survive A Plague looks back at the history of ACT UP, the Brooklyn-based activist group that was one of the first and most effective to lead the charge on HIV/AIDS issues. The group’s triumphs and struggles are fascinating enough, but the real value comes from learning the brilliance of its political strategy, which combined street-level protests with engagement with access to government and medical agencies.
Chasing Mavericks (Fox)
With all the attention paid to deliberate mediocrity of Playing For Keeps, let’s not forget that Gerard Butler made another crappy movie this year called Chasing Mavericks, a fact-based drama about the life and death of surfer Jay Moriarty. A troubled production accounts for some of the hiccups—director Curtis Hanson fell ill and was replaced by Michael Apted—but according to The A.V. Club’s Keith Phipps, the film’s surfer twist on the Karate Kid formula wasn’t terribly promising from the start.
Silent Hill: Revelation (Universal)
The original 2006 adaptation of the popular video game Silent Hill was pretty but convoluted in attempting to reconcile cut-scene mythology with a feature narrative. According to The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin, the sequel exacerbates the problem: “[It’s] burdened with having to laboriously unpack so much conflicting information about the haunted town and child-demon at the center of its faltering, humorless narrative that a more honest title would be Silent Hill: Exposition.”
Girls Against Boys (Anchor Bay)
A feminist exploitation movie in the vein of Abel Ferrara’s far superior Ms. 45, Girls Against Boys stars Danielle Panabaker as a college student who gets raped once, nearly gets raped against by an ex-boyfriend, and doesn’t find a sympathetic ear in the police station. So she and a friend take the law into their own hands in what The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray calls “sub-Tarantino” fare.
Freaky Deaky (E1)
An adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel with Crispin Glover and Michael Jai White? What could possibly go wrong? In this week’s Direct To DVD Purgatory, Nathan Rabin suggests “just about everything else” as the answer to that question.
Chicken With Plums (Sony)
Drawing again from her colorful family history in middle-class Tehran, co-director Marjane Satrapi and her Persepolis collaborator Vincent Paronnaud, return with a live-action portrait that has a lot of Persepolis’ freedom of movement, moving back and forth in time from the starting point of 1958.
Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (Kino)
Director Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema) takes a distanced, observational approach to the work of artist Anselm Kiefer, who specializes in huge architectural installations. The style yields mixed results, according to The A.V. Club’s Alison Willmore: “Shot gorgeously on film, [the doc] is itself a mediation between us and the art, capturing in another medium work that’s meant to be experienced in context.”
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