Home Video Releases for December 1998
Looking for a last-minute stocking stuffer or just a way to unwind after shopping or decorating? Here, in alphabetical order, are some new video releases of note for the month of December. Where applicable, published street dates follow the title and year of release (these dates may vary for all sorts of reasons).
BASEketball (1998) (December 29)
The quirkiest, most fearless comedy of 1998 is a bawdy and exuberant sendup of Americas obsession with professional sports that marks the triumphant teaming of two generations of humorists, "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Airplane! co-director Jerry Zucker. The boys play the co-hatchers of the title sport, which they parlay into a wildly popular industry with its own league (including the Detroit Lemons and Roswell Aliens), TV contract and attendant problems. These last include ruthless businessman Baxter Cain ("The Man From U.N.C.L.E." himself, Robert Vaughn, appearing in his 100th film); game Jenny McCarthy as the conniving widow of team owner Theodore Denslow (Ernest Borgnine, who enthusiastically performs a bit of Right Said Freds "Im Too Sexy"); and Jenna Reed (Yasmine Bleeth), who runs the financially-imperiled Dreams Come True Foundation for terminally ill children (although she prefers to call them "survival impaired"). The games are played to the music of Reel Big Fish, who perform live on the imaginatively-designed stadium set (and do a wicked cover version of a-has "Take On Me"). Destined to be a cult favorite on tape and cable (like Airplane! its one of those episodic comedies that you can walk away from for large chunks of time without missing anything except more jokes), BASEketball does for sports what The Loved One did for funerals. The DVD will feature music highlights, cast and crew biographies and web links.
The Big Hit (1998)
This way-too-hip comedy, as intermittently funny as it is determinedly distasteful, posits that good-looking young hitmen have fairly normal problems -- in this case a demanding fiancee, high-maintenance future in-laws, piles of unpaid bills and the resulting upset stomach -- just like the rest of us. When it is making fun of these mundane, workaday things, The Big Hit often mines a darkly humorous vein. But the mannered, venomous performance of Lou Diamond Phillips as Cisco, the leader of an assassination squad, infects the entire movie, effectively negating the sweetly dorky turn by Mark Wahlberg (acting an awful lot like he did in Boogie Nights) as the put-upon professional Melvin, who must first work with and then elude the wild Cisco when a freelance kidnapping goes awry and hes stuck with the hostage (these sequences hint at the social burlesque that may have been at the heart of the project at one time). Directed by Che-Kirk Wong, a protégé of Hong Kong action filmmaker John Woo (who is a co-executive producer), The Big Hit cant quite overcome an annoying smugness that seems born of unchecked improvisational wisecracking; in the end, it just tries too hard. The Special Edition DVD features deleted scenes as well as audio commentaries from the director and screenwriter Ben Ramsey.
Doctor Dolittle (1998)
A bump on the head gives successful San Francisco doctor John Dolittle (Eddie Murphy) the ability to talk to the animals -- who, in this sassy update of Hugh Loftings stories and the 1967 musical film version with Rex Harrison (minus the big hat), arent shy about expressing their often raunchy opinions. With jokey references to Rocky III, Sling Blade, The Usual Suspects, Dead Man Walking, Austin Powers, Jurassic Park and others, Murphys second star vehicle based on a 1960s movie (following the smash hit The Nutty Professor) is a glossy gagfest that benefits greatly from surprisingly good writing (until the inevitably ramshackle ending, anyway), first-rate special effects and the sleekly paced direction of ex-comic Betty Thomas. Celebrity voices on hand include Albert Brooks as a suicidal tiger, Chris Rock as Rodney the impudent guinea pig, Garry Shandling, Ellen DeGeneres, Gilbert Gottfried, Jenna Elfman, Paul Reubens and, most memorable, The Firesign Theaters own Phil Proctor as a drunk monkey (although the scene where Murphy gives CPR to a flatulent rat will stay with you too). The movie is narrated by and co-stars Norm MacDonald (hes the voice of the dog Murphy rescues from the shelter), whose own howlingly funny comedy Dirty Work -- along with BASEketball the most unjustly neglected laff riot of the year -- is also new on tape.
Halloween: H2O (1998) (December 15)
Twenty years after that nightmarish Halloween in Haddonfield, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is the headmistress of the tony and remote Hillcrest Academy, tucked into the Northern California mountains under an assumed name and somewhat over-protectively raising her son John (Josh Hartnett). But despite the distance of years and protective coloration, shes got wicked bad nightmares, a jones for pills and a persistent drinking problem. In short, the monstrous killing machine Michael Myers may or may not have died (you know how this genre goes), but in the disastrous effect hes had on Lauries life its like he never really went away. And neither, really, has the Halloween franchise, offering sporadic chapters over the years that have systematically plundered John Carpenters genre-defining 1978 original. If Halloween: H20 (the title has nothing to do with water) is respectfully but marginally better than the tired sequels that preceded it, chalk up the modest success to a coolly jaded script that has some fun with Curtis real-life Mom Janet Leigh and her own horror film legacy ("weve both had bad things happen to us," says Mama, over bits of the Psycho score as she walks towards the very same car she drove in that horror classic) as well as the younger actress own iconographic presence -- her first since the 1981 sequel. When shes got the right material she inhabits a part with the best of them (see Trading Places, A Fish Called Wanda and True Lies), and the haunted melancholy she brings to the role -- "oh, no, not again," she seems to be saying as actress and character -- is the best reason to revisit one womans private hell. The first four films in the series are also available on DVD.
A worthy follow-up to the Disney hit that became the best-selling video of all time, Lion King II follows the grown-up Simba (voice of Matthew Broderick) and mate Nala (Moira Kelly) as they raise their daughter Kiara (Neve Campbell). As Scars former mate Zira (Suzanne Pleshette) schemes to regain control of the pridelands through her son Kovu (Jason Marsden), the youngsters pull a Romeo-and-Juliet number to try and settle their differences. Also along for the ride are the sassy meerkat Timon and his warthog buddy Pumbaa, voiced as in the original by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. The movie is a dramatically satisfying stand-alone feature (short but just right for the kiddies at 75 minutes), and is refreshingly and cheerfully dismissive of the originals most overused ideas -- to the point where Timon dismisses the concept of "hakuna matata" ("stop living the past," he tells Pumbaa). The five new songs (the best of which is Kevin Quinn & Rany Petersens comic reggae shuffle "Upendi," sung by Robert Guillaimes Rafiki with, among others, Ladysmith Black Mambazo) were composed by veteran conductor Nick Glennie-Smith, whose previous scores include music for The Man in the Iron Mask, The Rock and Cool Runnings. As a pleasant bonus the movie is gorgeous, with all the rich colors and meticulous production values of the original (director Darrell Rooney was an animator on the Disney films Tron and Something Wicked This Way Comes). The DVD release of this title is due in the new year.
Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) (December 15)
It must be the same thing Jamie Lee Curtis had to fight in Halloween: H20: how to make a character fresh after being associated with it so closely for so long. The remedy employed by director Richard Donner and stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover is very different than Curtis solution, as Lethal Weapon 4 is a loose, almost improvisational action epic that seems so cheerfully weary of its basic premise -- loose cannon white cop is best pals with his partner, a black cop with family man leanings -- that no time at all is spent filling in audiences that may not know who these guys are. And while they started as a couple of edgy misfits, theyre now like a bickering old married couple, affectionately razzing each other as bullets fly and things explode (starting with the Warner Bros. logo, which vaporizes before youve even settled in your chair). Back for encores are Joe Pesci as motormouthed Leo Getz and Rene Russo as kickboxing cop Lorna Cole (now pregnant with the child of Gibsons Martin Riggs). New to the extended family -- and that, believe it or not, is exactly how the movie has been made and sold, down to the decade-spanning scrapbook under the closing credits -- are Chinese action star Jet Li as sort of an updated Oddjob and Chris Rock as the foil to Glovers anxious Roger Murtaugh, forever on the verge of a serene retirement but goaded into hair-raising feats of derring-do by the newly-altruistic Riggs. This editions spotlight cause is slavery, but plot is decidedly incidental to the great stuntwork, which includes the series highlight to date, a car and mobile home chase on an elevated freeway and through an adjacent office building. Audience friendly in the extreme -- theres a reason they dont use roman numerals for these things -- Lethal Weapon 4 is loud, pleasing hokum. The Special Edition DVD is a digital scrapbook of the franchise, sporting a documentary on the evolution of the series, audio commentary by the director and two original stars, deleted scenes, an "interview gallery" with the cast and crew and theatrical trailers for all four Lethal Weapon films.
The Mask of Zorro (1998)
Knowing that the director of this two hour and ten minute version of the beloved story of the suave bandit and his fast-paced adventures is Martin Campbell, the same guy who helmed the Bond outing GoldenEye, helps prepare you for the strange mix of leisurely, old-fashiomed storytelling and high-tech hijinks (explosions and the like) that make this one of the most unique and confounding movies of the year -- and thats not necessarily a compliment. On one hand, the comic interplay among the three leads, Antonio Banderas as the rakish bandit, the eternal Anthony Hopkins as his mentor and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the ravishing love interest, is for the most part clever and refreshing (Zeta-Jones swordplay, particularly), putting one in mind of nothing so much as a vintage Errol Flynn Warner Bros. outing. Yet for all of the beguiling brio of its swashbuckling scenes, the movie seems bloated and often unwieldy, suffering particularly when it pauses for some alarming mugging my Banderas that may up his heartthrob factor but also has the unfortunate effect of screaming "look how clever we are!" Still, this is a grand time at the picture show, aided immeasurably by James Horners rousing score, the fight choreography of veteran blade blocker Robert Anderson, and the gorgeous lensing of GoldenEye cinematographer Phil Meheux (who also shot the 1980 British crime drama The Long Good Friday, just out on DVD and a fine companion piece to John Boormans soon-to-be-released The General). The Mask of Zorro is also out in a DVD edition that includes a photo gallery and making-of featurette.
The Negotiator (1998)
Samuel L. Jackson gives an authoritative yet perfunctory performance as a police hostage negotiator who turns the tables on the cops who frame him in this vigorous but ultimately by-the-numbers action thriller. Promising his new wife (Regina Taylor) that "crazys on the bus" -- that is, hell settle down in married life -- he instead grabs a handful of people on the twentieth floor of the Chicago administration building and demands to meet with Chris Sabian (Kevin Spacey), a legendary colleague who does the same thing (and, in the movies laudable but hollow attempt to flesh out the characters, is first seen mediating a tiff between his wife and daughter). Although both actors rise above the material admirably, the essentially B-movie script glosses over its lack of depth with lots of testosterone-fuelled platitudes laced with police jargon, sternly barked by a large and distinguished supporting cast (including J.T. Walsh, who passed away this year and to whom the film is dedicated). As in his previous film, Set It Off, director F. Gary Gray gets the blood pumping with scenes of efficiently staged action, but loses touch with the human element through a kind of visceral overkill that is all too common in movies that try to condemn violence and deceit by larding on layers of violence and deceit. Like the situation itself (apparently based on something that really happened in St. Louis), The Negotiator, in the end, represents an awful lot of firepower deployed to specious effect. The Premiere Collection DVD includes commentary tracks by Jackson and Spacey as well as a documentary on the Chicago location shoot and information on real-life police negotiators.
Six Days, Seven Nights (1998)
Anne Heche is the antic, blustery heart of this dangerously by-the-numbers romantic/screwball comedy from director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) in which her ditzy yet intense photographer and Harrison Fords charmingly crusty pilot become stranded on a spectacular desert island in the South Pacific. Shes just been proposed to by David Schwimmer (who is, truth to tell, making slow but steady progress on the big screen), and hes left masseuse pal Jacqueline Obradors at the same hotel, and the movie gathers what little forward motion it has from the parallel developing of these unlikely pairings. With a sublime instinctual timing that seems to be a tribute to the great Jean Arthur and other screen comediennes of years past, Heche takes great strides toward laying to rest the controversy surrounding her increasingly public private life. Her subsequent work, in the thoughtful Return to Paradise and Gus Van Sants triumphantly subversive remake of Psycho (hey, if Sheryl Crow does a good cover version of a Bob Dylan song -- "Mississippi," to be exact -- does that make it any less of a Bob Dylan song?) proves that shes not only a skillful mimic but an actress of uncommon focus and range possessed of the sort of face that the camera finds endlessly fascinating. These attributes, more than sexual preference, ensure her continued success. The DVD includes that truly weird theatrical trailer with the hand-up-the-dress gag.
Sliding Doors (1998)
With Shakespeare in Love poised to delight moviegoers in search of smart holiday diversion, let us now praise that movies leading light, Gwyneth Paltrow, who is quietly balancing the commercial (A Perfect Murder) and adventurous (Hard Eight) in a career of pleasing depth and commitment. In writer-director Peter Howitts Sliding Doors she essays the challenging dual role of Helen, a contemporary British career woman whose future takes two distinctly differing paths after a chance encounter with a subway door. When Helen catches the train, she meets and romances James (John Hannah); when the doors of fate slide shut in her face, she misses out on John and instead falls into an emotional funk after catching her callow live-in boyfriend Gerry (John Lynch) with his old American flame Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Although the movie isnt without its charming faults -- James constant references to Monty Python become grating and a late-in-the-game plot twist seems overly contrived -- the film is held together by Paltrows bravura performance, which manages to create two wholly credible Helens, each sculpted from the happiness and pain of each lifes arc. A deceptively slight movie with surprising emotional resonance, Sliding Doors is thoughtful, provocative and mischievously entertaining. This title is also available on DVD.
Small Soldiers (1998)
A shrewdly marketed movie about the shrewdness of entertainment marketing, Small Soldiers is the latest in a long line of -- dare it be said? -- shrewd social satires from Joe Dante, who patented this kind of thing with his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, The Explorers and, of course, the Gremlins franchise (fair warning: this movie is just as cheerfully violent). An overzealous toy company wonk accidentally procures a batch of surplus military computer chips, which are installed in two lines of action figures: the Commando Elite, a caricatured line of muscled military men (voiced by some of the original Dirty Dozen plus Bruce Dern), and the lovably misshapen, peace-loving Gorgonites (led by Archer, with the soothing voice of Frank Langella, supplemented by the guys who starred in This is Spinal Tap). Once these perfunctory plot points are out of the way, the movie vigorously mines the comic possibilities of havoc within a comfortable suburban existence, as the warring toys do battle in amongst the befuddled citizenry (including Phil Hartman, whose last role this was). Best scene: Kirsten Dunst, wholesomely far from her earthy turns in Interview with the Vampire and "E.R.," is attacked by her newly-animated distaff Gwendy Doll collection (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Christina Ricci) to the strains of Led Zeppelins "Communication Breakdown." Saturated with pop culture references -- another Dante trademark -- Small Soldiers also benefits from the skillful animatronic work of special effects veteran Stan Winston, which gives new meaning to the plaque under the youthful protagonists computer: "Question Reality." The DVD includes behind-the-scenes footage, interactive game demonstration, production notes, biographies of the cast and crew and the theatrical trailer.
Beyond the A-List: Some Other Titles of Interest
Funny Games (1997)
"Terrifying" doesn't describe your average film festival entry and it certainly isn't an adjective guaranteed to lure uncertain moviegoers who might be put off by subtitles. Yet those with an interest in and tolerance for a full-throttle onslaught of disturbing, confrontational images in the service of intellectual discourse on the place and effect of violence in media and our complicity in this awful spectacle need to see -- endure? -- this singular new Austrian film, the latest work from uncompromising maverick Michael Haneke. On a visceral level, Funny Games is both shocking and mischievous, a leisurely, malicious story of home invasion and human suffering in which a bourgeois family is attacked and killed in and around their vacation house by a pair of tender youths who unleash the most vile and evil impulses imaginable on their helpless prey. No stranger to this theme (the film follows the equally harrowing The Seventh Continent , Bennys Video , and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance ), Haneke approaches his incendiary material with the aplomb of a pathologist revealing the life-ending mysteries hidden within an increasingly messy vessel. "You can't solve the problem by chatting about it," the director told the prestigious British film journal "Sight and Sound," so be cautioned: the controversial Funny Games isn't casual conversation. But it is one of the best films of the year.
Popular Cuban filmmaker Tomas Gutierrez Alea (he co-directed the 1993 art-house hit Strawberry and Chocolate -- the first Cuban film to be nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar -- with long-time collaborator Juan Carlos Tabio) died in 1996, but not before teaming with Tabio one last time on this 1994 satire that pokes fun at the rampant bureaucracy of his native land in its story of a truck-driving Lothario (Jorge Perrugoria) who joins a funeral cortege on the long trek from Guantanamo to Havana with the body of recently-deceased opera singer Yoyita (Conchita Brando). The performers government-wonk son-in-law has the bright idea to avoid a country-wide gasoline shortage by changing the corteges cars in each town they pass through, a scheme which serves not only to highlight a catalogue of absurd rules and regulations, but to drive his exasperated wife into the arms of the happy trucker as well. Gutierrez Alea made movies for almost a half century, and the ease with which he sends up the restrictions of his native land is balanced by the ingenious ways people subvert the reigning authority and spiced with the instantly recognizable musical motif, "Guajira Guantanamera."
Marie Baie des Anges (1998)
On a sun-drenched French Riviera nearly devoid of adults, in the shadow of the twin shark fin-shaped rock outcroppings known as the Bay of Angels, 15-year-old petty thief Orso (Frédéric Malgras), who isn't very good at what he does, meets 14-year-old vixen Marie (Vahina Giocante), who spends her time entertaining Americans on and around a nearby base. Eventually, they come together, only to be separated by cruel fate and the power of a gun. Conjuring up such seminal films of disaffected youth as Breathless, The 400 Blows and Pixote, this debut feature -- five years in the making -- has been prompting critics and programmers to compare writer-director Manuel Pradal's shimmering, fragmented style to "pure poetry," in the words of Toronto International Film Festival director Piers Handling, "Rimbaud and Kerouac transcribed onto celluloid, a breathless film for the 1990s." Profoundly disturbing and undeniably powerful, Marie baie des anges is a singular, memorable moviegoing experience.
Mouth to Mouth (Boca a Boca) (1995)
Director Manuel Gómez Pereira has pioneered an astonishingly successful genre of contemporary Spanish screwball comedies this decade, with a run of glossy and cheerfully carnal box office smashes including Salsa Rosa (1992), Why Do They Call it Love When They Mean Sex? (1993) and You Men are All the Same (1994). This howlingly funny merry-go-round of mistaken identity and misplaced lust starring Javier Bardem (Bigas Luna's Jamón, Jamón) as an aspiring actor come to Madrid in hopes that his pushy agent (Maria Barranco of Almodovar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) can land him a role in a Hollywood movie. While he waits for his break he takes a job at a phone sex service to hone his craft, where a call from repressed gay plastic surgeon Ricardo leads to an in-person assignation with the doctor's wife Amanda (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon from A Walk in the Clouds) -- or is she? And if she's not she, who is she? Then who's he? Imagine Preston Sturges fluent in Spanish and clutching a lifetime supply of Viagra and you're close to approximating the movie world of Manuel Gómez Pereira, who has elevated the raunchy yet tastefully done sex farce to new heights of hilarity.
Nenette and Boni (1997)
Nenette and Boni is about an estranged brother and sister buffeted about by the world who, once reunited in a Marseille far removed from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, learn to tolerate and accept each other. Within the deceptively simple plot summary of this fine film, French director Claire Denis and her stock company of collaborators behind and in front of the camera crystallize the themes of that have run through her films (including Chocolat and I Can't Sleep): dreams and discord, displacement and reconciliation. Anchored by remarkably erotic performances from Grégoire Colin (Pascal Aubier's The Son of Gascogne) as pizza maker Boni -- "more or less a good guy," Denis told an interviewer -- and Alice Houri (who co-starred with Colin in Denis' U.S. Go Home) as the independent Nénette, the film is as personal yet accessible an auteurist statement as has been seen this year, featuring a memorable score by the British band Tindersticks as well as global acclaim -- including the Golden Leopard for best film at the 1997 Locarno festival. Five features into her career, Claire Denis may be counted among the most intuitive and honest moviemaking talents in the world
Night Tide (1961)
This atmospheric and haunting American International Pictures release has been hard to find on video over the last few years, so its good to see it back in print. A very young Dennis Hopper stars as Johnny Drake, a shy sailor on leave who meets Mora (Linda Lawson), an odd yet beautiful woman who works as a mermaid at a sideshow attraction on the Santa Monica pier. As they fall in love, Johnny learns that a few of her previous lovers have drowned (which explains her chaste approach to their romance) and she believes herself to be descended from actual sea creatures. Director Curtis Harrington was an experimental filmmaker who moved first into genre features (Who Slew Auntie Roo?, Whats the Matter With Helen?) and then to television, directing episodes of "Wonder Woman," "Charlies Angels" and "Dynasty," among others. The strong visual strains of the avant-garde here include whiffs of Jean Cocteau (the lovely black and white photography is by The Hideous Sun Demon cinematographer Vilis Lapenieks) and even Val Lewtons Cat People. Also worth tracking down is Harringtons 1967 psychological thriller Games, starring Simone Signoret (in her Hollywood studio debut), Katharine Ross (The Stepford Wives) and a very young James Caan. The music is by David Raksin, whose dozens and dozens of scores include memorable music for Laura (1944), Force of Evil (1948) and Nicholas Rays Bigger Than Life (1956).
Operation Condor 2: The Armour of the Gods (1986/1998)
The refurbishment of Jackie Chans huge oeuvre continues apace with this enjoyable romp in which the "Asian Hawk" (Chan himself, who also directed) and his pop star pal (Hong Kong heartthrob Alan Tam) go the Indiana Jones route as they pursue some valuable relics through Germany and Yugoslavia, pausing for the trademark blend of action (Chan was hurt badly in the infamous opening stunt, theres a great car chase in the middle and a jaw-dropping balloon leap at the end) and comedy (look quickly for the spoofy pop band Losers at the beginning). Although skillfully done, the dubbing cant quite hide the surreal sight of everyone apparently speaking their own language -- but who cares? This is Chan when he was at the merry peak of his Keatonesque powers, shortly after the seminal 1985 urban action masterpiece Police Story (also newly available in a "remastered" full-frame version) and just before the astonishing Project A II (1987). For new fans of the action star, the stunt work here will be nothing short of a revelation. As always, make sure to watch the closing credits. Also available on DVD.
La Promesse (1997)
Featured at the 1997 New York Film Festival, this new work by Belgian siblings Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (1986's Falsche, 1992's Je pense ŕ vous) is a stunningly effective metaphor for the new evolving European order and a sublime, memorable coming-of-age drama in which family bonds are put to the ultimate test. Fifteen-year-old newcomer Jérémie Renier -- chosen by the experimental and documentary-trained directors, as were all the actors, because they "looked right" for their parts -- stars as Igor, who helps his father illegally import immigrants until the fatally wounded Hamidou persuades the boy to care for his family. Although at first colluding in the coverup of the tragedy, Igor begins to see his father for the amoral opportunist that he is, and this revelation leads the boy to a choice of moral gravity and immediate consequence. Filmed with a gritty immediacy that underscores the weight of the issues and the volatility of the circumstances, La Promesse denounces the capitalistic urges that must inevitably lead to tragedy while exalting the goodness of the lower classes, alarmingly marginalized by the winds of change but capable, as Igor proves, of goodness and decency. This is mature, powerful, thrilling cinema.
The Spanish Prisoner (1998)
"We have no idea who anyone is," someone says near the beginning of this riveting intellectual thriller from playwright-turned-director David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, House of Games, The Edge). This theme manifests itself in a labrynthine story of industrial espionage and the attendant vanity, paranoia and greed that are at the heart of the writer's best work. Steve Martin is superb as enigmatic Julian "Jimmy" Dell, who befriends Joe Ross (Campbell Scott), inventor of a potentially lucrative business practice called "The Process" (shades of Kafka) for his boss Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara). When "The Process" is endangered, Ross goes to his smitten secretary Susan (Rebecca Pidgeon) for help. Discover the rest of the plot for yourself: it includes a Don Budge tennis book, airport x-ray machines, St. Patrick's Day, surveillance videos and the title confidence scam -- all played with the distinctive musical rhythms of Mamet's often oblique dialogue. Reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Spanish Prisoner -- also available on DVD -- is sinister, memorable, and one of the best films of the year.
Village of Dreams (1996)
Winner of a Silver Bear for "outstanding single achievement" at the 1996 Berlin Film Festival, this delicate, deceptively simple new film from veteran director/editor Yoichi Higashi and co-writer Takehiro Nakajima (a director in his own right) is the autobiographical tale of artist Seizo Tashima and his identical twin brother Yukihiko, and their idyllic childhood in the summer of 1948. Left largely unsupervised, over the course of the lazy season the boys catch fish, draw, pinch vegetables and have their tonsils removed. There is an element of the fantastic, too, as Seizo hears mysterious voices underwater, a loincloth develops a mind of its own, and the village is observed by three old witches, who conjure up a climactic thunderstorm. There's depth if depth is desired, as the film suggests a Freudian perspective on impending puberty as well as a reaffirmation of the traditional Japanese values prevalent immediately following World War II. In any event, with its langorous pace and touches of magic, Village of Dreams weaves a beautiful and seductive spell.
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