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Home Video Releases for December 1999 - Nitrate Online Store

Home Video Releases for April 2000
Posted 2 April 2000

by Eddie Cockrell and Gregory Avery

Nitrate Online explores a sampling of the most noteworthy, provocative and satisfying video and/or DVD releases for the month of April (give or take a few weeks). Titles are followed by original country and year of release, as well as release date (if known). Street dates change constantly and often differ from format to format, so check with your favorite online or brick-and-mortar supplier for up-to-date information. 

Anywhere But Here (USA, 1999, April 18)

A not bad, but strangely unfocused film version of Mona Simpson's novel, with Natalie Portman as the long-suffering daughter of a mother (Susan Sarandon) who continually uproots their existence to start things anew. Sarandon seems tentative, even uncertain, at times, as if she weren't too sure how to get this very contrary character to come across in a way that makes sense. However, Portman's performance confirms that she is an actress who is someone to watch in films to come. -- Gregory Avery

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Fight Club (USA, 1999, April 18)

David Fincher's film suggests that modern American males have become voids who can only again experience real living by pummeling each other into bloody messes. Visually dazzling, and with a lead performance by Edward Norton that sometimes touches upon genius, but overall is disconcerting, to say the least. Brad Pitt puts in an occasionally amusing appearance as the guy who leads Norton's character down the garden path; Helena Bonham Carter gives a self-consciously flamboyant performance as a woman who shows up at lung cancer support meetings deliberately smoking like a chimney. The DVD edition of this title is now scheduled for a June 6 release. -- Gregory Avery

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For Love of the Game (USA, 1999, April 4)

In a world of shallow emotions and easy answers, Kevin Costner makes deliberate, earnest, fusty films that are meticulous, self-serving and sometimes very hard to sit through (much less defend). After the triumph of Dances With Wolves and the twin economic disasters of Waterworld (not a bad movie at all) and The Postman (an example of wretched excess and narcissism gone amuck), For Love of the Game highlights the best and worst of Costner’s jingoistic, Capra-esque impulses in its story of aging baseball pitcher Billy Chapel and the mental walk down memory lane he takes while pitching a perfect game in the last outing of his illustrious nineteen-year career (all for the same team, the Detroit Tigers). You don’t have to love baseball to appreciate Costner’s third big-screen foray into the sport, but those without a love of the game will fidget at the overripe melodrama on display. Director Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan) does a superb job with the game itself, employing subtle special effects and a rational approach to the sport that makes the scenes on the field riveting and authentic (John C. Reilly and J.K. Simmons are fine but underutilized as his catcher and coach). Unique among his highly-paid peers, Costner is building a career on a stodgy sincerity that is as admirable as it is out of synch with the times. As such, it is possible to admire his work without necessarily embracing it -- which may be the best way to approach For Love of the Game. There is a Spanish-subtitled tape available, and the DVD features production notes, trailers, a production featurette, deleted scenes and two interactive games. -- Eddie Cockrell

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Happy, Texas (USA, 1999, April 11)

“Welcome to Happy,” barks character vet Paul Dooley shortly into Happy, Texas, immediately betraying the deceptively pleasant burg’s motto as “The Town Without a Frown.” And it is from this tension that much of the humor in this caper comedy arises, as fleeing convicts Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam (bringing a tangibly Baldwinesque spin to his American accent) bamboozle their way through a beauty pageant when the boost the original organizers mobile home. Seen by some as a courageously anti-PC comedy and others as a gratingly off-color diatribe against gays and an exaggeratedly clichéd gay lifestyle, individual tolerances for the film will fall somewhere between the two extremes. Clearly, the filmmakers must wonder what all the fuss is about, as everyone attacks their roles with gusto. The dream cast includes William H. Macy (who deftly steals the film as a small-town sheriff with a secret of his own), Ileanna Douglas, Ally Walker, Ron Perlman and Mo Gaffney. The special edition DVD features multiple commentaries/interviews, production notes, deleted scenes, a making-of documentary and a music video. -- Eddie Cockrell

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House on Haunted Hill (USA, 1999, April 18)

From the opening credits’ odd blend of Jan Svankmajer stop-motion and Seven-ish sensibility to the casting of horror movie icon Jeffrey Combs (Reanimator) to the very idea of remaking William Castle’s 1958 camp classic, House on Haunted Hill is defiantly proud of its cheesy roots while at the same time making the most of technology to amp up the fright factor. Summoned to the now-abandoned former mental institution by impresario Steven H. Price (Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush in the Vincent Price role, sporting a pencil-thin moustache and a James Woods-ish American accent to match), a gaggle of seemingly unrelated folks are promised a million dollars each (it was a hundred grand in the original) if they survive the night. Some do, some don’t. Director William Malone counts among his sparse credits the cable “Tales From the Crypt” revival, and the presence of two of that show’s executive producers, director Robert Zemeckis and action film producer Joel Silver, indicate that the picture was aiming higher than mere multiplex fodder. And, to a certain degree, the movie delivers, offering some vivid and genuinely unexpected scares amidst the sly and cheerfully profane performances of Famke Janssen, SNL vet Chris Kattan, Peter Gallagher, Taye Diggs and especially Rush. “Sure is a funky ol’ house… Ain’t it,” he leers early in the show, and the movie proceeds with that spirit in mind. -- Eddie Cockrell

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The Insider (USA, 1999, April 11)

One of the best films of 1999, Michael Mann's picture of how one man's attempt to act upon his conscience and bring to light some ulterior practices going on inside the U.S. cigarette industry gradually but surely seizes hold of one's attention and turns into one of the most suspenseful film dramas in years. Great spatial use of widescreen cinematography by Dante Spinotti (which will probably suffer on video), and with impeccable performances all the way around, from Russell Crowe and Al Pacino, as a T.V. news producer, to Diane Venora, Christopher Plummer as "60 Minutes" news anchor Mike Wallace, and Bruce McGill as an attorney who becomes very, very irked during a courtroom hearing. The elegantly-designed DVD edition includes a brief featurette on the film’s making and the fascinating dissection of a single scene that offers a glimpse into Mann’s meticulous creative process. -- Gregory Avery

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The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (France, 1999, April 4)

Luc Besson's grossly misconceived (and historically and factually inaccurate) blood-and-thunder historical drama, with Milla Jovovich, overwrought and way out of her depth, as a hysterical version of Maid of Orléans. Almost worth having a look at for Dustin Hoffman's appearance in the second half (which, in hindsight, is rather good), but be forewarned. Very violent, and unpleasant in more ways than one. -- Gregory Avery

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Mumford (USA, 1999, April 18)

“What makes you so popular? What’s your secret?” someone asks the eponymous small-town shrink shortly into this box-office underachiever from Body Heat director Lawrence Kasdan, and in the answering of those questions Mumford proves to be a deceptively charming character study that requires a good deal more concentration and good will from a viewer than your average Hollywood movie. Having moved to the bucolic town of Mumford to escape his past “back east,” Mumford (Loren Dean) specializes in helping his patients through a combination of palpable empathy and sensible straight talk -- until the audience learns that he’s a fraud in a dazzlingly constructed confessional. Under the deceptively simple exterior, Kasdan once again draws the kind of deep and fully-rounded characters that made The Big Chill (1983) and Grand Canyon (1991) such bellwethers of their time (perhaps this is why so many of the actors in Mumford have worked with him before and the first-timers seem so comfortable). Whether the cumulative effect is satisfying depends largely on the inquisitive nature of the person watching it: if you’ve ever wondered whether the diplomas on the walls of your doctor are real, and you enjoy the telling more than the tale, then Mumford may just be the thing for you. The DVD includes a trailer and making-of featurette. -- Eddie Cockrell 

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Music of the Heart (USA, 1999, April 25)

A change of pace film for scarefilm director Wes Craven, with Meryl Streep playing real-life music instructor Roberta Guaspari, who became determined to teach inner-city students how to play the violin. The film occasionally skirts close to becoming dismayingly clichéd; Streep's performance (for which she recently received an Oscar nomination) does not, nor does Angela Bassett, who brings fire and insight to her portrayal of a burdened school principal. -- Gregory Avery

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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (USA, 1999, April 4)

The movie everyone waited sixteen years for: you either loved it (judging from the box office receipts) or hated it (judging from the disappointing critical, and also audience, response). The first of three films set prior to 1977's "Star Wars", and sketching the origins of the characters who would figure prominently in it, the picture is a triumph of special effects artistry (most of visuals were computer-generated) even if the story is not all that different from the first and third "Star Wars" films, and a certain lack of the human element (evinced by the constrained -- and, in Natalie Portman's case, often trussed-up -- performances by an otherwise talented cast) is ever present. -- Gregory Avery

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Stuart Little (USA, 1999, April 18)

Franchising is the name of the game in Hollywood these days, which is why the well-tooled yet distractingly antiseptic Stuart Little bears about as much relation to the E.B. White book on which it’s based (The Sixth Sense writer-director M. Night Shyamalan is one of the adaptors) as fast food does to a gourmet meal. That’s not to say the film isn’t a satisfying entertainment for children and an interesting spin on family values, just that whatever whimsy is on display results more from cold calculation than the magic generated by the admittedly super special effects. “He’s very clean,” says family doc Dabney Coleman to the Littles (Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie) of the glib mouse (glibly voiced by Michael J. Fox) they’ve just adopted to the astonishment of their existing son George (Jonathan Lipnicki) and cat Snowbell (voiced by Nathan Lane). And the same could be said for the film itself: once the novelty of the special effects begins to wear off and the predictability of the story begins to settle in, Stuart Little begins to resemble nothing so much as a provocative cross of the stylized polish of American Beauty and Beetlejuice’s skewed, slightly otherworldly family vibe (this last may be triggered by the presence of both Davis and Jeffrey Jones, who co-starred in Tim Burton’s surrealistic classic, as well as the miniature train set in the Little’s basement). That’s one way to get through it, anyway. Another is to imagine the possibilities for future editions of the series -- maybe if Burton or Shyamalan took a crack at it…? The deluxe DVD edition includes a half dozen deleted scenes, a gag reel (some of which is also on the rental tape), multiple commentary tracks, the HBO production featurette, a handful of music videos and even early conceptual drawings. -- Eddie Cockrell

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Superstar (USA, 1999, April 11)

Arguably the funniest and certainly the most focused of the recent crop of Saturday Night Live Players, Molly Shannon’s transferal of her disaster-prone Mary Katherine Gallagher character from skit to feature-length protagonist (under the tutelage of SNL producer Lorne Michaels) has the same determined, absurdist vibe as the Norm Macdonald vehicle Dirty Work and A Night at the Roxbury (in which she also appeared), making Superstar the month’s outstanding guilty pleasure. Ohioan Shannon, who will next be seen as Betty Lou Who in the live action version of the Dr. Seuss chestnut How the Grinch Stole Christmas, surrounds herself with former Kids in the Hall sketch artists Mark McKinney and Bruce McCulloch (who directed), resulting in that almost patented Canadian atmosphere of neat-as-a-pin surrealism. The story, such as it is, follows the nerdy Catholic schoolgirl’s yearning for stardom and acceptance, but the real fun of the piece comes from the spot-on observances of religious rigidity shot through with aggressive physical humor and a muted shrewdness that never draws attention to the anarchy. As he’s done in both Austin Powers movies, Will Ferrell neatly steals every scene he’s in, here appearing in the dual roles of school BMOC Sky Corrigan and Mary Katherine’s imagined hipster Jesus -- who, upon hearing Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” proclaims to the youngster “that song’s about me.” Silly, to be sure, but also inspired. Paramount’s bare-bones DVD edition includes the theatrical trailer. -- Eddie Cockrell

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Three Kings (USA, 1999, April 11)

Doing for the Persian Gulf War what Catch-22 did for World War Two and M*A*S*H did for Korea, this irreverent and kinetic anti-war movie -- improbably reminiscent, above all, of the giddy clash of greed and glory in the cult 1970 Clint Eastwood movie Kelly’s Heroes -- spreads its cynicism thicker than most entries in the genre but tempers it with a cheerful streak of absurdist panache that keeps the irony from overwhelming the drama. Little in director David O. Russell’s previous two features (Spanking the Monkey and Flirting With Disaster) indicated his leanings towards this kind of epic sweep, yet the picture struts along for three-quarters of its conventional 105 minutes on the sheer brio of its conceit: with a map plucked from the ass of a dead Iraqi soldier, four unlikely compatriots chase down a cache of gold ingots and discover the flaws of the military action and strengths of their individual characters in the process. George Clooney finally seems on track to get the kind of roles he excels in, while Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze are precise in support. Special mention to cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel for one of the year’s most unorthodox visual styles and composer Carter Burwell (Fargo) for a memorable score. The feature-laden DVD edition includes Louis Pepe & Keith Fulton’s irreverent twenty-one-minute production featurette Under the Bunker, deleted scenes with or without Russell’s commentary, an interview with Sigel, and, believe it or not, An Intimate Look Inside the Acting Process with Ice Cube and an “Enhanced Assmap.” -- Eddie Cockrell

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Tumbleweeds (USA, 1999, April 11)

Made on a spit-and-chewing gum budget, this mother-and-daughter-on-the-road story is in many ways everything that "Anywhere But Here" should have been. Rowdy, sometimes howlingly funny, and with dramatic moments that sometimes make you sit up and wince, the picture has a superb performance by Janet McTeer (who's British, but, telling from her performance here, you wouldn't notice it), along with excellent work by Kimberly J. Brown, as McTeer's daughter, Jay O. Sanders as a would-be suitor, and Gavin O'Connor (who also co-wrote and directed the film). Highly recommended. -- Gregory Avery

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Beyond the A-list:

Blue Velvet (USA, 1986, April 25)

Although nearly fifteen subsequent years of Dennis Hopper’s shenanigans, Twin Peaks and all the various movies and TV shows influenced by Blue Velvet have blunted its impact somewhat (particularly for first-time viewers, who may wonder what the fuss is all about), the film was groundbreaking in its day and remains unique and startling, a fact reconfirmed early in this first-ever DVD transfer from MGM. When young Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) discovers a severed ear in a field, it leads him to the seamy underworld that lurks just beneath the bucolic surface of his hometown, Lumberton (the film was shot in Wilmington, North Carolina). As he digs deeper, he becomes torn between torch singer Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) and his partner in crime Sandy (Laura Dern), the wholesome daughter of the town’s chief detective. The odd juxtaposition of normalcy and violence remain jarring (The Hardy Boys Get Naked?), particularly in the cryptic, vein-popping, altogether mesmerizing performance of Hopper as mad inhaler Frank Booth and the lulling discord of Angelo Badalamenti’s music, Alan Splet’s sound mix and Frederick Elmes’ crisp photography. The menu interface is particularly clever, using the concept of the blue velvet curtain to separate the available items -- which include no special extras (wouldn’t a commentary by Lynch be just the thing?) and a disappointingly sparse “Collectible Booklet.” “One day when it’s all sewed up I’ll let you know the details,” someone says, referring to the stray ear. The genius of Blue Velvet is that is that the strange and sinister events in Lumberton will never be sewn up, and it’s doubtful that Lynch will ever reveal the details of his bizarre, unsettling and dreamlike world. -- Eddie Cockrell

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Brown’s Requiem (USA, 1998, April 4)

Adapted from the novel by James Ellroy, Brown’s Requiem is a satisfyingly low-key hardboiled private eye film that marks an auspicious feature debut for writer-director Jason Freeland. Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) stars as former LAPD cop and current recovering alcoholic Fritz Brown, whose gig moonlighting as a sleuth while not repossessing cars leads him to follow the sister of filthy racist caddie Frederick “Fat Dog” Baker (Mad TV's Will Sasso, who has since dropped a lot of the weight he sports here). The investigation leads Brown through a grimy yet oddly chaste Los Angeles underworld more in keeping with the 1950s spirit of Ellroy’s work -- part pulp, part passion -- than more contemporary and heavy-handed spins on the genre (Cynthia Millar’s brooding, elegant score helps). And Freeland’s got a fine eye for the City of Angels, from the stained glass bar of the Rustic Inn to rain-soaked Venice. Winner of the best premiere Jury Award at the 1998 Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival, Brown’s Requiem sports the stellar supporting cast of Kevin Corrigan, Brad Dourif, Harold Gould, Barry Newman, Valerie Perrine, Christopher Meloni (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) and the late Brion James (who made no fewer than 13 films between this and his death in August 1999). It’s a modest surprise among the relative wasteland of contemporary B pictures and thus worth a look when the high-profile fare just won’t do. There’s a Spanish subtitled tape available, as well as a DVD edition featuring commentary by Freeland and Rooker, deleted scenes, a “making of” documentary and production notes. -- Eddie Cockrell

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Cabaret Balkan (Bure Baruta, aka The Powder Keg, France/Greece/Republic of Macedonia/Turkey/Yugoslavia, 1998, April 11)

To the exclusive list of visionary, subversive films made from innovative, politically-charged urban theater pieces (Ettore Scola's Le Bal and Reinhard Hauff's Linie 1 come immediately to mind; there are more), add Cabaret Balkan (formerly knows as The Powder Keg), the violent, funny, profane and dazzling new movie from veteran director Goran Paskaljevic. Adapted from a stage play that clocks twenty-four harrowing hours in the underbelly of urban Belgrade and injected with a strong but subtle dose of political pertinence by the filmmaker -- the movie is set on the eve of the Dayton Peace Accord in late 1995 -- these short cuts  comprise a crazy and combustible daisy chain of coincidence, as strangers and friends alike ricochet off each other in an extended ballet of misunderstanding, pain, frustration and anger that begins with a minor traffic altercation and escalates to murder. A meek citizen erupts when a careless teenager involves him in a fender bender; a seventeen-year-old Bosnian Serb refugee rebels against his idealistic parents and becomes enmeshed in a shady drug scheme; two burly boxers square off in their gym's shower, with tragic results; an agitated teenager hijacks a bus for a brief midnight joyride; a returning immigrant tries to woo back a former lover. The huge, all-star cast of iconic types -- pawns, really -- seem driven by a particularly cruel fate, a sensation heightened by "Boris, the esoteric cabaret artist" who opens and closes the film. Although patches of the film are rough going (which is as it should be), Paskaljevic's point is that just beneath the confusion and hair-trigger mayhem, these honest, good-hearted people remain defiantly human (a self-confessed "shameless optimist," the director affirms "it is in that humanity that I place my hopes"). Explosive, unpredictable and passionate, Cabaret Balkan -- winner of the European Film Academy's 1998 European Critics Award, Best Film awards from three festivals (including Venice, where it received a 10-minute standing ovation) and Yugoslavia's official submission to the Academy Awards -- is urgent, relevant cinema of the highest order. -- Eddie Cockrell

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Coming Apart (USA, 1969, April 4)

Alone in the annals of uncompromisingly personal filmmaking, there’s nothing quite like Milton Moses Ginsberg’s Coming Apart, a tightly scripted and ferociously acted black and white inquiry into the mental disintegration of Manhattan shrink Joe Glazer/Glassman (Rip Torn) via a procession of visiting women (including Viveca Lindfors and, in a career-making performance, Sally Kirkland) he bullies, seduces and otherwise impacts over an unspecified course of time. Filmed with a single, mostly static camera that looks primarily at a sofa with the skyline reflected in a huge mirror above it, Coming Apart opened to mixed reviews in 1969 and promptly dropped from sight, only to be rediscovered by the Museum of Modern Art and Kino International, which re-released the film to great critical acclaim in 1999. The DVD includes Cominga Part 2, a forty-one-minute assemblage of video footage documenting the film’s recent festival screenings in Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Washington, as well as Ginsberg’s 1999 short video “The City Below the Line.” Remarkably fresh in spite of its period trappings (two of the doc’s visitors are canvassing for Eugene McCarthy), Coming Apart may stimulate further inquiry into this type of filmmaking; if so, Ginsberg points to Kon Ichikawa’s Odd Obsession (Kagi, aka The Key, 1959), Luis Buñuel’s Belle du Jour (1967), Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (1973), John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and, of course, the L.M. “Kit” Carson/Jim McBride collaboration David Holzman’s Diary (1968) as influential inspirations. “If oblivion is what you crave…follow me!” Ginsberg says in the essay included on the DVD, and it’s an invitation worthy of response. -- Eddie Cockrell

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The Kids of Degrassi Street
Degrassi Junior High
Degrassi High
(Canada/USA, 1979-1991, April 11)

Fans of this Canadian series that spanned twelve years in the lives of a group of Toronto youngsters (and inspired Fox to create “Beverly Hills 90210” when American rights negotiations broke down) can rejoice now that all twenty-six episodes of  Kids, forty-two episodes of Junior High and twenty-eight episodes of High are finally available in three box sets and as individual tapes that pair two episodes from each series. Now all that’s needed is the video release of the post-High feature film School’s Out (1992) and the subsequent six-part Degrassi Talks series of topical documentaries on issues of importance to teens. The Degrassi series requires a major commitment of time but pays off spectacularly, as this seminal franchise is nothing less than the real-life version of Michael Apted’s Up series of British documentaries, and unlikely to be equaled in this generation.  -- Eddie Cockrell

The Kids of 
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Last Night (Canada, 1998, March 28)

Known principally as the co-writer, with François Girard, of the art-house hits Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and The Red Violin (he plays Samuel L. Jackson’s tech-savvy assistant in the late reels of the latter), Canadian writer-actor Don McKellar comes into his own as a filmmaker with Last Night, a dryly funny genre exercise about a group of interrelated people facing the last six hours of life on earth as we know it in a mysteriously sun-drenched Toronto. He stars as Patrick Wheeler, who, in the course of those hours, strikes up an oddly tender relationship with Sandra (Sandra Oh), who, in turn, is trying to catch up with her politely solicitous gas company employee husband Duncan (filmmaker David Cronenberg) in time to honor their simultaneous mutual suicide pact. The terrific cast features Sarah Polley as Patrick’s sister, Callum Keith Rennie as a priapic childhood chum of the protagonist, the great Arsinée Khanjian (the wife of Atom Egoyan, for whom McKellar acted in Exotica) as a mysterious woman on a bus, Geneviève Bujold as a schoolteacher, Jackie Burroughs as sort of a doomsday jogger and blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em walk-ons by Girard and director Bruce McDonald as rowdies. Among the film’s funniest gags is the ubiquitous radio countdown of all-time great hits (heavily skewed to the Canadian), which includes appropriately thematic tunes by The Fifth Dimension, Looking Glass, Parliament, The Defranco Family, Edward Bear, Randy Bachman, Pete Seeger and, of course, The Guess Who. A charming and provocative antidote to the other two high-profile 1998 end-of-the-world movies (Armageddon and Deep Impact), Last Night signals the beginning of a promising new directorial career. -- Eddie Cockrell

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Lord of the Flies (United Kingdom, March 14)

Making a long-awaited appearance on DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection, British theater director Peter Brook’s low-budget, highly absorbing 1963 adaptation of William Golding’s 1950s novel about a group of 30 English choirboys and their descent into savagery after crash landing on a deserted tropical island carries echoes of contemporary films from The Blair Witch Project to The Beach but endures as a unique and masterful triumph of emotion over style. Criterion’s transfer is, in a word, flawless, and even the airless looping of dialogue (“the beast is us”) and the abrupt jump cuts serve to heighten the surrealism of the allegorical story. Accompanying the film is commentary from the principals (Brook, producer Lewis Allen, cinematographer Tom Hollyman, and cameraman/editor Gerald Feil), excerpts from the novel read by Golding, a deleted scene accessible with or without commentary, the theatrical trailer, excerpts from Feil’s 1972 documentary on Brooks’ theatrical process and a generous selection of production stills, home movies (many charting the film’s Cannes festival premiere) and outtakes. Yet another example from Criterion of how DVD restoration, presentation and packaging should be done, this edition of Lord of the Flies is definitive, and thus, priceless.

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New Orleans (USA, 1947, April 25)

One of three unjustly neglected and rarely-screened Hollywood musicals released on the above date by Kino Video, Arthur Lubin’s New Orleans features performances by Louis Armstrong, Woody Herman, Kid Ory, Meade Lux Lewis and Billie Holiday, who brings an ethereal beauty to the blues number, “Farewell to Storyville.” The other two titles in the series are Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1947 drama Carnegie Hall (featuring performances by Artur Rubinstein, Lily Pons, Jascha Heifetz, Leopold Stokowski and others) and Terence Young’s British-French 1960 Technicolor romp Black Tights, starring Cyd Charisse, Moira Shearer, the Ballets de Paris of Roland Petit and the narration of Maurice Chevalier. All titles save Carnegie Hall are also available on DVD. -- Eddie Cockrell  

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Regret to Inform (USA, 1999, April 25)

In 1968, on Barbara Sonneborn’s twenty-forth birthday, she learned her husband Jeff had been killed in Vietnam. Twenty-four years later, the established photographer and visual artist traveled there to confront her past, accompanied by a film crew and Xuan Ngoc Evans, herself a South Vietnamese war widow who immigrated to America in the 1970s. Made in part to neutralize the “social invisibility” suffered by widows of that war, Regret to Inform profiles the lives and experiences of numerous women on both sides of the conflict (called “The American War” in Vietnam). These remembrances are visualized with over 150 archival clips, creating a you-are-there feel to these previously untold stories. Winner of the Documentary Director’s Award at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, the Video Source Award from the International Documentary Association, and one of the Final Five in the Documentary Feature category of this year’s Oscar race, Regret to Inform -- nine years in the making -- is a powerful, valuable document of war and the unforeseen devastation it wreaks on those who survive, robbed of their loved ones. -- Eddie Cockrell

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The Shop on Main Street (Obchod na korze, Czechoslovakia, 1964, March 21)

Newly-available in a version vastly superior to what’s circulated in America for years, this Home Vision Cinema/Janus Films joint release of The Shop on Main Street restores this Best Foreign Language film winner (from the former Czechoslovakia) to something very near its original condition. During the Second World War, a small village in Slovakia reels from the occupation.  Appointed the Aryan supervisor of a button shop and its elderly Jewish proprietress Rozalie (Ida Kaminska), the listless but inadvertently principled Tono Brtko (Josef Kroner) forms a friendship with the woman that is threatened by current events. The direction of Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos renders the film remarkably fresh today, emphasizing the absurdities inherent in the situations without sacrificing any of the dramatic impact of the choices made by average people in extraordinary circumstances. Kaminska, then-star of Poland’s Warsaw Yiddish Theater, was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her moving performance, winning the acting award from the Cannes festival that year alongside Kroner as the petty little man who shields her from harm as long as he can. At the moment, this release appears to be exclusive to VHS -- a pity, since the new transfer is spotless.  -- Eddie Cockrell

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Son of the Sheik (USA, 1925, March 21)

Gigolo or immortal lover? The question has always dogged Rudolph Valentino, the silent screen star who went from Italian country boy (his given name was Rodolpho Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguollo) to Hollywood heartthrob in the first five years of the 1920s before abruptly dying of severe peritonitis in 1926. The sequel to his career-making turn in 1921’s The Sheik, George Fitzmaurice’s brief (sixty-eight minute)  Son of the Sheik casts Valentino once again as a sultry lover, this time a desert leader whose love of a dancing girl (Vilma Banky) isn’t without cost. The other two titles in Kino Video’s “Notorious: Movies of the Jazz Age” series are Cecil B. DeMille’s 1920 drama The Affairs of Anatol (adapted from a play by Arthur Schnitzler, who wrote the material that became Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut) and D.W. Griffith’s jazz age comedy The Battle of the Sexes. Of the three, only Son of the Sheik is available in a spartan DVD edition, which begins rather choppily but features some luminescent blue tinting as the pair pitch nocturnal woo and the atmospheric sets of William Cameron Menzies (The Thief of Bagdad). -- Eddie Cockrell

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