Thursday, April 28, 2011

The View From Home 24: New releases on DVD

By John Thomason

Heartless‭ (‬IFC‭)
Release date:‭ ‬April‭ ‬12
Standard list price:‭ ‬$17.99

A visionary director whose visions are all too infrequent,‭ ‬Britian’s Philip Ridley has made just three films in‭ ‬21‭ ‬years,‭ ‬making Robert Bresson look like a workaholic.‭ ‬His audience is tiny and seems unlikely to grow:‭ ‬His outstanding debut,‭ ‬The Reflecting Skin,‭ ‬has never been released on DVD in the United States,‭ ‬and his sophomore effort,‭ ‬The Passion of Darkly Noon,‭ ‬is long out-of-print.

Ridley’s third and latest picture,‭ ‬Heartless,‭ ‬may revive nominal interest in the director’s scant resume,‭ ‬if only because it has the advantage of being available.‭ ‬Unlike his previous forays into humanity’s dark chasms,‭ ‬this gonzo horror comedy resides in a clearly identifiable genre hybrid that has,‭ ‬for years,‭ ‬been growing in popularity.‭ ‬But a Ridley film wouldn’t be a Ridley film if it was accessible to a mainstream audience‭; ‬simultaneously loud and quiet,‭ ‬blunt and subtle,‭ ‬art-house and grind-house,‭ ‬gruesome and sentimental,‭ ‬Heartless exists within these dichotomies,‭ ‬ping-ponging between tones and textures with the abandon of a director who doesn’t care if the midnight-movie masses like,‭ ‬or even get,‭ ‬his psychotic ramblings.

Like Ridley’s other films,‭ ‬Heartless is a pre-apocalyptic thriller depicting a world crumbling at the seams,‭ ‬physically and morally.‭ ‬Photographer Jamie‭ (‬Jim Sturgess‭)‬,‭ ‬forever tainted by a large red birthmark over his left eye and part of his body,‭ ‬prowls the decrepit streets of East London for material.‭ ‬It’s the kind of place that would makes the Fleet Street of‭ ‬Sweeney Todd look like a stroll down Sesame Street.‭ ‬Sharp-toothed demons and rival gangs patrol the metropolis,‭ ‬graffiti plasters every public space and Molotov cocktails erupt on a daily basis.‭ ‬The world is going to Hell,‭ ‬literally it seems:‭ ‬A paranoid,‭ ‬gun-toting shopkeeper rails against society’s descent into Hades,‭ ‬and Ridley similarly alludes to the Devil by having Jamie read Dante’s‭ ‬Inferno and order a drink called the Faust at a nightclub.

When most everyone close to Jamie begins to systematically die,‭ ‬he confronts the source of the terror:‭ ‬A gaunt,‭ ‬scarred Mephistopheles by the name of Papa B‭ (‬Joseph Mawle‭)‬,‭ ‬the self-proclaimed‭ “‬patron saint of random violence.‭” ‬He agrees to remove Jamie’s debilitating birthmark in return for Jamie’s spray-painting of blasphemous messages on the street‭ – ‬or so he thinks.‭ ‬Devils,‭ ‬obviously,‭ ‬cannot be trusted‭; ‬the bargain actually forces Jamie to murder someone in cold blood,‭ ‬remove his heart and feed it to Papa B.

Within this grisly,‭ ‬B-movie scenario is the kind of scabrous humor,‭ ‬artistic expressionism and thematic density of a more serious-minded picture.‭ ‬Ridley controls the film’s color palette with painterly exactitude,‭ ‬bathing one scene in darkroom reds,‭ ‬the next in spiritual yellows,‭ ‬the next in placid greens.‭ ‬Everything is propped and set-designed in service to Ridley’s atmospheric rigor,‭ ‬where everyone’s tattoos and birthmarks suggest the branding of otherworldly beasts,‭ ‬and where Christian iconography battles spatially with Satanic forces.

For the comedy,‭ ‬the scenes between Jamie and Papa B are a dry-witted interlude to the best scene in the film:‭ ‬a cameo by Eddie Marsan‭ – ‬the driving instructor from Mike Leigh’s‭ ‬Happy-Go-Lucky‭ – ‬as the devil’s on-site‭ “‬weapons man,‭” ‬impatiently issuing mission directives to the flustered Jamie.

Arguably,‭ ‬Heartless falls apart at the end,‭ ‬plunging too deeply into the dubious waters of flashback-induced sentimentalism.‭ ‬But it doesn’t negate the powerhouse of uninhibited emotion that preceded it.‭ ‬The film’s thematic cauldron examines religion,‭ ‬man’s free will,‭ ‬schizophrenia,‭ ‬youth violence and the perennial anxiety over inner vs.‭ ‬outer beauty.‭ ‬The film’s minions of trench-coated,‭ ‬leathery lizards are just the means Ridley is using to touch on life’s most monumental,‭ ‬and unanswerable,‭ ‬questions.

Rabbit Hole‭ (‬Lionsgate‭)
Release date:‭ ‬April‭ ‬19
SLP:‭ ‬$15.49

Hedwig and the Angry Inch director John Cameron Mitchell might seem an unusual choice to helm a film adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s terrific play‭ ‬Rabbit Hole.‭ ‬But the camp-master handles the material‭ – ‬a survey of the emotional wreckage left on a middle-aged couple after their young son is killed in a traffic accident‭ – ‬better than you might expect,‭ ‬directing this chamber piece with appropriate sensitivity and realism.‭ ‬Better yet,‭ ‬screenwriter Lindsay-Abaire clearly recognizes the difference between film and theater,‭ ‬expanding his spartan story with added characters,‭ ‬locations and storylines.‭ ‬The movie isn’t perfect:‭ ‬The Oscar-nominated Nicole Kidman was justly praised as the grieving mother,‭ ‬but costar Aaron Eckhart shoots over the top in the film’s most dramatic scenes,‭ ‬hoping in vain that sheer volume will convey everything.‭ ‬But the only major flaw here is the image itself.‭ ‬Mitchell shot the film on the dreaded but ever-popular Red One digital camera,‭ ‬giving the movie a distractingly ruddy complexion.‭ ‬Judging it purely on its visual aesthetic,‭ ‬Rabbit Hole is one of the great casualties of the digital conversion.

Ingrid Bergman in Sweden‭ (‬Kino‭)
Release date:‭ ‬April‭ ‬19
SLP:‭ ‬$27.49

Though she starred in an impressive canon of Hollywood movies,‭ ‬Ingrid Bergman was always an actress of the world,‭ ‬working for everyone from Hitchcock to Rossellini to Renoir.‭ ‬No nationality escaped her.‭ ‬But before her late‭ ‘‬30s discovery by David O.‭ ‬Selznick that started her A-list ascent,‭ ‬she was a humble actress in Sweden,‭ ‬making some‭ ‬11‭ ‬movies in her native tongue that,‭ ‬today,‭ ‬are barely remembered.‭ ‬Kino’s three-disc box set hopes to change that,‭ ‬bringing two of those films back in print and another to DVD for the first time.‭ ‬The collection includes the original,‭ ‬1936‭ ‬version of the romance‭ ‬Intermezzo‭ – ‬whose Hollywood remake a few years later introduced Bergman to American audiences‭ – ‬as well as the facial-disfigurement drama‭ ‬A Woman’s Face and Per Lindberg’s crime thriller‭ ‬June Night.

A Summer in Genoa‭ (‬Entertainment One‭)
Release date:‭ ‬April‭ ‬12
SLP:‭ ‬$11.99

Five months after the fatal car crash of his wife,‭ ‬a college professor‭ (‬Colin Firth‭) ‬and his two daughters‭ (‬Willa Holland and Perla Haney-Jardine‭) ‬spend the titular summer in Italy to assuage their still-palpable grief.‭ ‬Not much happens until Mary,‭ ‬the youngest daughter,‭ ‬begins to see visions of her dead mother‭ (‬Hope Davis‭)‬,‭ ‬whose appearances put Mary in danger.‭ ‬Despite its A-list cast‭ – ‬including Catherine Keener as Firth’s ex-flame,‭ ‬who accompanies him on the excursion‭ – ‬and top director‭ (‬Michael Winterbottom has helmed‭ ‬A Mighty Heart‭ ‬and‭ ‬24‭ ‬Hour Party People,‭ ‬among several masterpieces‭)‬,‭ ‬A Summer in Genoa petered into obscurity after a dismal festival run,‭ ‬and it never picked up theatrical distribution in the United States.‭ ‬From a commercial standpoint,‭ ‬it’s easy to see why‭ – ‬there’s nothing gangbusters about it,‭ ‬and Winterbottom’s meandering,‭ ‬restless camera never gains anything resembling a narrative thrust.‭ ‬But perhaps that’s the point:‭ ‬He wants us,‭ ‬like the characters,‭ ‬to gradually unravel as we lose ourselves in a foreign land.‭ ‬A good effort from a great filmmaker.

No comments: