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 Michael Bergeron
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DVD slight return 9.3

DVD slight return 9.3
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You know that movie We Bought A Zoo about a guy who, well, bought a zoo? For a more realistic take it should be We Bought a DVD, because they just keep pressing DVDs, Blu-Ray and digital streaming off the internet, and the collective we keep buying them. So until DVDs and Blu-Rays go the way of phonograph records – that is until die hard advocates keep buying same yet everyone else in the universe watches movies on streaming holographic pop-up s8 iAndriod devices – we’ll keep reviewing the discs in the faint hope that it portends a future to the whole affair.

13 (Anchor Bay) sounds like an unlikely title for a tense psychological crime drama. But this bizarre Russian Roulette plot keeps you on the edge until the concluding scene. Desperate men play suicide games while rich men bet on the outcome. This British production is actually a remake of a French film titled 13 Tzameti (2005) with both films directed by Géla Babluani. The cast includes Sam Riley, Ray Winstone, Mickey Rourke, Curtis Jackson, and Jason Statham (one of his best roles to date). There are some faint similarities to a 2001 Spanish film called Intacto. Perhaps the best surprise DVD I watched this year in the sense that I’d never heard of the film before but now want everyone to watch.

Mr. Nice (MPI) explores the real life story of the biggest hashish kingpin during the 70s. We chart the rise of Nice (Rhys Ifans, nicely branching out into eccentric leads roles what with this and Anonymous) through the swinging 60s, to his ascendency as a drug smuggling guru of smoking substances in the 70s, and his subsequent deals with British intelligence (who let him remain free as long as he gave them information on operations in the Middle East and about the IRA). Nice eventually does hard time, looses some teeth, then older and much wiser reunites with his family. Chloe Sevigny, David Thewlis and Crispin Glover also star.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Sundance Selects) reviews the black leaders of that era as seen in documentary footage and newsreels. Fascinating and revelatory, this Swedish documentary rewrites history in the sense that the words being spoken were interpreted through a biased media in that timeframe. Narration is in Swedish and English and includes commentary from Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Melvin Van Peebles and others.

Silent films on Blu-Ray are their own special animal. Glorious black and white images on a high def screen demand attention. A couple of offerings released in the last few months include The Phantom of the Opera (Image Entertainment), which features the 1925 original (high def dupe from the original negative) and two versions of the 1929 reissue, all with different soundtracks. Also check out Sherlock Jr. (Kino Classics) the 1924 Buster Keaton film. This disc includes cool extras plus Keaton’s stone age short Three Ages.

Going Places (Kino Lorber) was a perennial favorite from the 1970s that always popped at retro houses. I even saw Les Valseuses, the 1974 film’s French title, once at the local Alliance Francaise, so popular was its reputation and allure. Going Places stars Gerard Depardieu (at the height of his glamour) and Patrick Dewaere. Both would again team up for the same director, Bertrand Blier, a few years later for (1979 Oscar winner for Foreign Film) Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, which if possible was an even more twisted sex comedy than Going Places. Perhaps not oddly 2011 has seen domestic cinema return to more mature forms of sexuality with films like Shame, Melancholia, or Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As sprite as those film’s depiction of carnality may be they pale in comparison to ‘70s cinema, particularly helmers like Blier or Nicolas Roeg.

Depardieu and Dewaere roam the countryside; fuck everything in sight including each other. I’ve always thought the closing shot of Going Places was paid homage to by Linklater at the end of Dazed and Confused; just another car on the road of life going nowhere. Miou-Miou, Jeanne Moreau and Isabelle Huppert co-star.

Also recommended: Rio Sex Comedy (Film Buff), a film that actually views Rio de Janeiro in the sense of its attraction to Europeans and Americans while still reveling in its seedy poverty ridden reality. Tabloid (IFC) was one of the better documentaries ever from Errol Morris yet it got a very brief release. What starts as a tabloid driven sex scandal evolves over many years into the story of cloned dog; never a dull moment with Tabloid.

Life In A Day (Virgil Films/National Geographic) is another one of those films I’d never heard but was really blown away upon watching.  Producer Ridley Scott and director Kevin MacDonald solicited user-generated footage from around the world shot on July 24, 2010. The resulting 80,000+ entries were edited into a compact 95-minutes, reduced from over 4500 hours, suggesting a massive team of archivist and editors. Life In A Day starts in one part of the world so early in the morning that it’s dark and progresses around the globe with each snippet seemingly more profound than the previous. Let the viewer beware: while LIAD is a beautiful film full of life affirming realities there is one scene in a slaughterhouse that shows a cow being stunned to death and cut up. You know that pneumatic weapon that Javier Bardem used in No Country For Old Men? Well that’s what’s use to put down the cow and they have to use it three times before the animal spins off its mortal coil. Life In A Day celebrates life but doesn’t deny reality.

Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Criterion Collection) while obviously not for the faint of heart or morals deserves a word here for its fearless presentation that includes great extras, a thick booklet with expert commentary and the film itself, by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Besides the extras that have comments by other directors like Bertolucci and Breillat, there’s a featurette that contains footage of Pasolini shooting scenes from Salo, including the fact he was operating the camera.

Salo is the kind of film you may only need to see once and only once to discuss with full lucidity. A group of Fascists spend the end of the WWII degrading and torturing a bunch of kids from bourgeoisie families. The war lost, the Fascists go on a rampant spree of killing off their victims in a sort of rings of hell style where the puff daddy is watching the whole event with binoculars, only one of the powerful images associated with the film. I think Irreversible is closest film to the Salo of today, as far as a film that pushes the audiences’ button in all the right (or wrong) ways. The film is based on De Sade source material. It is easy to say to a person, sophisticated in their film viewing, yes check this out, but be forewarned other people used to simple genre movies are going to lose control of their body functions. There is a lot of Bauhaus in the set design. Another recent release, Pasolini’s Medea (E One) pairs the Italian auteur with Maria Callas and Euripides.

I was only a few episodes into the first season It Takes A Thief: The Complete Series (E One) when the brouhaha over Natalie Wood’s death and Thief’s star Robert Wagner broke open with the same old info from 30 years ago. That investigation seemed prompted by someone selling a book as opposed to revealing truth. You’d do better to buy the disc, featuring Wagner in an iconic role modeled after Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief, than the book.

The box set of Thief features souvenirs, a framed filmstrip from the show, a booklet that examines Wagner’s Alexander Munday character in detail, lengthy interviews with Wagner and showrunner Glen Larson, and all three seasons of the ABC series including an extended pilot.

Munday’s recruited by the SIA (don’t ask – in the ‘60s they never mentioned the CIA on the tube) to steal valuable documents from enemy nations. As with most series from the ‘60s the emphasis isn’t on the fact the show’s great, because it’s not. We see the same old fakey fisticuffs and recycled spy plots as other series. The magic on display here is how Wagner plays off the femmes of the era: Terry Garr, Senta Berger, and especially repeat performances by Susan St. James as a fellow burglar named Charlie Brown. The series even gets more professional by the third season by expanding to overseas locations that show off exotic places and give the espionage more of a continental feel. ITAT also added Fred Astaire as Munday’s estranged dad for a while during the last season. It Takes A Thief even offered one ep where Peter Sellers appeared for less than five minutes, hamming it up as a Middle Eastern operative.

– Michael Bergeron