F For Fake (Criterion)
Orson Welles’ last major work—previously issued by Criterion as a standard-def DVD—is a tour de force of wit, illusion, and artistic pranksterism. The subject, at least at first, is art forgery, though Welles quickly expands it to include Howard Hughes, stage magic, his own notorious War Of The Worlds radio-play, film editing, and the very act of storytelling itself. Like his debut, Citizen Kane, Welles’ final masterpiece doubles as a summary of everything movies can do.
Los Angeles Plays Itself (Cinema Guild)
Thom Andersen’s cantankerous, highly opinionated video essay—which has been circulating in bootlegs for the last decade—has had a big influence on American film criticism and film culture. Employing hundreds of film clips, Andersen explores the ways in which movies have portrayed and disguised Los Angeles over the decades; this much-belated release—available in DVD and Blu-ray—comes with Andersen’s recent, playful Tony Longo Trilogy, which pays tribute to the bit actor the filmmaker calls “the axiom of the American action cinema.”
The Girl Hunters (Kino Lorber) cast writer Mickey Spillane as his sadistic gumshoe character, Mike Hammer. With his reedy voice, GI haircut, stocky build, and beak nose, Spillane doesn’t look or sound like anyone’s idea of a chiseled pulp dick; what he does bring to the movie, however, is an unintentionally authentic presence. He looks like a real goon who’s accidentally wandered onto a movie set.
The Naked Face (Kino Lorber), the final feature by English director Bryan Forbes (Seance On A Wet Afternoon), stars Roger Moore as a psychoanalyst accused of murdering one of his patients. It’s hokey stuff, but not without its pleasures—not the least of which is Forbes’ effective use of the industrial corners of downtown Chicago.
La Dolce Vita (Criterion) is the favorite movie of gray-haired Paul Mazursky fans who sit on the advisory boards of lesser opera companies. Federico Fellini certainly did much worse; however, as demonstrated by Nights Of Cabiria and 8 1/2—the films he made directly before and after this one—he could also do much better.
Also out this week: the Christmas-themed low-budget slasher To All A Goodnight (Kino Lorber), which actually opens with a scene in a sorority house where young women run up and down the stairs, shouting “Sorority! Sorority!”; Michael Apted’s often tedious Soviet-set potboiler Gorky Park (Kino Lorber), featuring a script by Dennis Potter, a fascinating mishmash of accents, and one of the most mannered performances of William Hurt’s career; and the tony, S&M-themed West German drama A Woman In Flames (Film Chest).
Snowpiercer (Anchor Bay)
Bong Joon-ho’s grim, violent, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny sci-fi allegory takes place on a perpetually moving train that houses the last survivors of the human race. The way in which Bong equates environment and narrative is often exhilarating; the intentionally unsatisfying ending has proven to be polarizing, though this writer likes to think it shows a rare sense of political integrity.
Norte, The End Of History (Cinema Guild)
The first Lav Diaz movie to secure a Stateside release is, in many ways, atypical of the prolific Philippine filmmaker’s work, marked by rich color and gradual camera movements. Still, this four-hour tweak on Crime And Punishment makes for a perfect introduction to Diaz’s unique vision, which relies on long takes and nearly feature-length tangents to create a sense of people moving through the landscape of history, transforming along the way.
The Purge: Anarchy (Universal) is a head-and-shoulders improvement over its predecessor. Set in an L.A.-like everycity, the movie follows a ragtag band of characters—led by Frank Grillo’s weather-beaten, black-clad man of action—as they try to dodge survivalist snipers, government death squads, machete-wielding gangs, and super-rich sport-killers.
Jan Ole Gerster’s episodic, black-and-white debut, A Coffee In Berlin (Music Box), follows a broke college dropout (Tom Schilling) as he traipses around the German capital, trying to get a cup of joe, and in the process encounters neighbors, school friends, and strangers. (Full disclosure: I recorded a 40-minute conversation with Gerster for this release.) Gerster originally set out to make a World War II drama, parts of which are preserved as a film-within-the-film co-starring one of the protagonist’s actor friends; the result is a movie about modern-day malaise with a rare sense of history.
Speaking of black-and-white Music Box Films titles that are sort of about World War II: The Last Sentence—Jan Troell’s airless biographical sketch of anti-Nazi Swedish newspaperman Torgny Segerstedt—hits digital and physical shelves this week.
Atsushi Funahashi’s documentary Nuclear Nation (First Run Features) takes a ground-level approach to the Fukushima disaster, focusing on the day-to-day lives of displaced residents and on the municipal woes that led the town of Futaba to agree to the construction of a nuclear power plant.
Sex Tape (Sony) takes a stock sitcom premise—a character thinking that something private has fallen into the wrong hands—and adds coke jokes, lame raunch, and plenty of shilling for that beloved minivan of home computing, the iPad.
Also out this week: Gabrielle (Entertainment), a French-Canadian drama about a young woman with Williams syndrome; For A Woman (Film Movement), the latest from director Diane Kurys; and Kundo: Age Of The Rampant (Well Go), a 19th century-set action flick, directed by Yoon Jong-bin (Nameless Gangster), which set box office records in its native South Korea.