Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect
Profile of the Dutch architect—who in his youth made films with Wim Wenders’ cinematographer Robby Müller and the director Jan de Bont—that tends toward a dry, academic tone in its presentation and style. Ideally a documentary should be able to make any subject compelling; unfortunately this is largely unexciting save for coverage of Koolhaas’ book “Delirious New York” and the last quarter, which examines the architect’s innovative design for the CCTV headquarters in Beijing, completed for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Oliver Stone’s third Presidential biopic, and this one while the Commander in Chief was still in office! Josh Brolin’s Dubya is a commendable interpretation of a near-illiterate warmonger, and Stone’s script is certainly well-researched, but ultimately the film conflates too many characters and incidents—and is, chronologically speaking—too close to its subject to achieve the necessary critical distance. Entertaining, but ultimately more parody than critique—and less engaging for it.

Rachel Getting Married
Jonathan Demme (director of countless music videos and concert films, and the superb doc Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains) crafted one of the best pictures of 2008 in this slice-of-life film from an effervescent script by Jenny Lumet, daughter of director Sidney. Anne Hathaway stars as a drug addict given a weekend pass from rehab to attend her sister’s wedding—a performance which garnered her a well-deserved Oscar nomination—as well as Rosemarie DeWitt, the profoundly talented Anna Deavere Smith and, in his first film role, Tunde Adebimpe, front man of the Brooklyn band TV on the Radio. A snapshot of the dynamics of a family in various states of disrepair, and a vérité-style portrait of relationships both blossoming and breaking down, Rachel Getting Married is a profoundly engrossing piece of work.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Michael Cera and Kat Dennings (Charlie Bartlett) alongside up-and-comer Ari Graynor (Whip It, Youth In Revolt) in this quick-paced ‘New-York-minute’ teen-rom-com. A poppy soundtrack, cameos from Aaron Yoo, Jay Baruchel and SNL’s Seth Meyers and Andy Samberg, and the two effervescent lead performances keep things fresh and save the story from its own clichés.

Irma Vep
One of French director Olivier Assayas’ best films, this stars a perfectly-cast Maggie Cheung (In The Mood for Love) as an actress/herself and Jean-Pierre Léaud (The 400 Blows) as an insane, egotistical genius director trying to remake—or, more accurately, re-imagine—Louis Feuillade’s 1915 silent serial Les Vampires. In the tradition of and other films about filmmaking, this is both a comedy about the impossibility of movie-making and a commentary on trends in then-current French cinema. But perhaps more simply than all that, it was Assayas’ way of wooing and appreciating the beauty of Cheung, who would marry the director the following year.

The Secret
Supernatural thriller in which David Duchovny’s wife Hannah and teenage daughter Sam—played by Lili Taylor (TV’s Six Feet Under) and Olivia Thirlby (Juno, Uncertainty)—are involved in a car crash. Sam survives—only to find she swapped souls with her mother at the moment of death. Thus Hannah, in Sam’s body, must learn to navigate her daughter’s world, which she finds was much murkier than Sam let on. There’s the usual tacky presentation of some sort of ethereal ‘afterlife,’ but what could have easily turned into an awfully tacky by-the-numbers TV movie—with writing and direction to match—is rescued by excellent performances by Thirlby and Taylor.

M.G.M. Film Noir
Four classic films noir from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer vaults, restored and presented in a four-disc box set. The best of the lot is Orson Welles’ The Stranger, from 1946, in which Edward G. Robinson’s UN War Crimes Commissioner tracks down Welles’ Nazi fugitive Franz Kindler, who has adopted a new name since the war and taken a job as a university professor in Connecticut. Odds Against Tomorrow stars a relatively young Harry Belafonte and, unusually for its time, pulsates vibrantly to a jazzy score, while in the Dalton Trumbo-scripted He Walked By Night John Garfield’s cop killer gets tangled up with a young girl eager to escape to the excitement of the wrong side of the tracks.

Night Of The Living Dead
Still scary after all these years, George A. Romero’s landmark black-and-white Zombie pic—whose influence reverberates to this day in wave after wave of films imitating its techniques—has been meticulously remastered and beautifully packaged for its 40th anniversary. A group of freaked-out strangers boards up inside a farmhouse and listens to increasingly paranoid—but tense and believable—radio and TV news broadcasts in order to escape a rampant horde of zombies that converges outside. Eventually they realise there’s no way to escape the congress of the undead but to fight them head-on. Includes the newly-commissioned extensive feature-length documentary “One for the Fire” as well as interviews and an audio commentary with Romero, writer John Russo and various cast and crew.

Les Enfants Terribles
Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1950 film of Jean Cocteau’s novel—whose title translates as “The Holy Terrrors” or, literally, “The Horrible Children”—has been wonderfully restored and packaged on DVD. Co-written by Melville, it follows brother and sister Elisabeth and Paul as they seal themselves off from the outside world and play mind games with each another—and anyone brave enough to enter their world; the film’s obvious influence on Bertolucci’s The Dreamers is apparent almost from the first frame. Although it was only Melville’s third feature, his fondness for occasionally balletic camerawork is already apparent, as is his attention to detail.

Painters Painting
This 1973 doc, new to DVD, about the New York School of painters is dry but interesting for its archival contents, including interviews with de Kooning, Warhol, Jasper Johns, Barnett Newman and Hans Hoffman. Explores the work of a number of movements ranging from pop art to abstract impressionism, and attempts to probe the psyche of the postwar American painter—his influences, his identity and his motivation.

Cadillac Records
A re-telling of the story of how the Chess Records blues label grew out of Chicago to claim its influential place in music history. With Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters and Beoncyé Knowles as Etta James, the film is directed and scripted with a heavy hand; the writing stifles some great performances that only seldom peek through, and the film is overall too in-your-face.

Diagnosis: Death
Straight-to-DVD kiwi horror-rom-com starring Jessica Grace Smith and stand-up comic Raybon Kan as drug-test volunteers holed up in a cancer ward that used to be the psych ward where an author named Christine Mansfield—who wrote a book called “An Angel at my Picnic”—spent her last, depressed days. Increasingly bizarre supernatural happenings occur amid a burgeoning romance. With a lively script written by Kan and cameos from the Flight of the Conchords and their manager Murray, the film is frequently funny but, as with many small NZ films, its tight budget makes the end product seem like B-roll or rehearsal footage.

Late Spring
Yasujiro Ozu’s favourite of his own films, remastered and available on DVD for the first time in New Zealand. Set in post-war Tokyo, the film follows Noriko, a young woman who looks after her aging widowed father, who takes it upon himself to organise a husband for his daughter. A delicate, emotional portrait of family dynamics.

Götz Spielman’s revenge tragedy about a Ukranian prostitute and an ex-con is stylistically amazing and beautifully photographed—with performances to match. Frankly sexual and explosively dramatic, this is European art house film at its finest. (A nice picture but irritatingly patchy subtitles on the local disc, though—not to mention the lack of special features, unlike the Criterion collection’s meticulous [US] release.)


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