This Is Not A Film, Smashed, and This Must Be The Place are among the neglected gems this week on DVD/BD
New On DVD And Blu-ray: March 12, 2013
Pick Of The Week: New
This Is Not A Film (Tartan)
Words like “brave” and “courageous” get thrown around a lot in reference to movies about tough subjects or stars who take off their clothes, but those descriptive terms shrink the face of a project like Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not A Film. Convicted for merely intending to collude and propaganize against the Islamic Republic—an arrest no doubt linked to his support of the Green Movement and Mir Hossein Mousavi—Panahi’s not-film shows him under house arrest, awaiting his appeal on a six-year prison sentence that includes a 20-year ban from making movies or leaving the country, effectively ending a career that’s offered such gems as The Circle, Offside, and Crimson Gold. Smuggled to the Cannes Film Festival on a USB drive tucked inside a cake, This Is Not A Film is an extraordinary personal essay, chronicling the director as he continues to express himself any way he can, including staging a blocked-out scene from his latest screenplay. The DVD includes a commentary track by Iranian documentary filmmaker Jamsheed Akrami and excerpts from a 2008 interview Akrami conducted with Panahi.
Pick Of The Week: Retro
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: 25th Anniversary Edition (Buena Vista)
Technological breakthroughs are often associated with pedestrian films: The Robe may have introduced the world to CinemaScope, but the format has outlasted the movie; Avatar made it possible to imagine 3-D as a viable means of expression rather than a gimmick, but in the service of a corny sci-fi adventure. The marvels of Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which had human characters and cartoon characters interacting plausibly within the same field, look quaint in our digital age. But the noir-inflected fun of a private detective’s adventures in Toontown hasn’t diminished a whit in 25 years—and Zemeckis, to his credit, hasn’t tried to put a George Lucas polish on it. The new set has Zemeckis and a host of guests on a commentary track, three Roger Rabbit shorts, a 37-minute documentary, and a handful of more disposable featurettes.
Don’t Break The Seal
There was no more useless film in 2012 than Hitchcock, the second of two lackluster biopics (the other being HBO’s The Girl) to reveal the temperamental human side of the great director while shortchanging his creative genius. It didn’t have to be that way: Hitchcock follows the making of his horror classic Psycho, a ferocious and shocking film at the time, and one that signaled changes in Hollywood, in culture, and in the man himself. But much of the film is given over to Hitchcock’s partnership with his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) and the notion that she surrendered her own ambitions to submit to his. Their domestic squabbles seem petty and distracting and reductive: Of all the things to emphasize about the making of Psycho, mild tension within the Hitchcock home has to be the least interesting. Director Sasha Gervasi and Stephen Rebello (who wrote the book Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho) contribute a commentary track to a disc that includes a deleted scene and featurettes galore.
Life Of Pi (Fox)
Ang Lee won Best Director for his filming of Yann Martel’s unfilmmable best seller about a 16-year-old Indian boy who survives a shipwreck that claims his family and journeys on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger across the Pacific. Life Of Pi appears to steer into mushy spiritual territory—albeit beautifully—but the relationship between boy and tiger (and boy and the heavens) turns out to be much more complicated than it seems.
Rise Of The Guardians: Limited Edition Easter Gift Pack (Paramount)
“Limited Edition Easter Gift Pack” are a lot of words to denote that the DVD/BD of Rise Of The Guardians, the DreamWorks animated holiday extravaganza from late 2012, comes with two hopping toy eggs. Otherwise, viewers are stuck unpacking the deeply confusing mythology that brings the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Jack Frost, The Sandman, and The Tooth Fairy into conflict with a determined holiday-ruiner called Pitch.
Little attention was paid to this independent drama about an alcoholic schoolteacher who seeks help, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead gave one of the year’s best performances in the lead and Aaron Paul is nearly her equal as a husband and drinking buddy who wants to keep the party going.
This Must Be The Place (Weinstein)
Just the image of Sean Penn as an aging, retired rocker of the Robert Smith variety was enough to kill This Must Be The Place, even before the mixed reviews convinced the Weinsteins to bury it late last year. But there are many wonders in Paolo Sorrentino’s funny, eccentric American road trip, which resembles (and references) Paris, Texas and has an incredible soundtrack by Will Oldham and David Byrne.
Just stop right there with your Willow revisionism. This gooey fantasy adventure was bad then and it’s bad now. For those overcome by nostalgia, however, it now exists on Blu-ray with Ron Howard commentary and features.
Sound City (Gravitas Ventures)
Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl has been proselytizing lately about the virtues of analog recording over the digital present and future, and now he’s extended that passion to filmmaking with Sound City, a documentary about the studio responsible for such classic records as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush, and Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes. And since he’s Dave Grohl, some of those famous musicians (and many more) turn up to talk about the place.
Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away (Paramount)
James Cameron helped produce Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away as a technically spectacular 3-D theatrical experience. So 3-D TV owners: Knock yourselves out.
The First Time (Sony)
They may not have the profile of the Coppolas, but the Kasdan family has been producing some talented filmmakers of their own. First there was Jake Kasdan, who directed Zero Effect and Walk Hard, and now there’s Jon Kasdan, whose high-school romantic comedy The First Time is described by The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray as a film that reveals “a lot of actual truth lurking behind the Hollywood version of truth.”
Ministry Of Fear (Criterion)
Based on Graham Greene’s novel about a freshly released mental patient caught up in an international spy ring, Fritz Lang’s Ministry Of Fear brings another of Lang’s visions of wrongful persecution to American genre fare. Full review posting tomorrow.
Vikram Gandhi, the Jersey-born writer/director/star of this stunt-documentary, invented the title character, a fake spiritual leader from the Himalayas who wears a long beard, a flowing orange robe, and spouts homespun wisdom. He attracts a following, but The A.V. Club’s Alison Willmore finds the point he’s trying to make about conformity to be thin.