Highlights from the Criterion Collection.
It's hard to know where to begin when perusing the typically plentiful options available from the Criterion Collection's latest output, so we'll stick to highlights from its December releases (although last month's Director's Cut of "Heaven's Gate" also belongs on your radar). Your options are especially diverse: Viewers saddened by the conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman series can take a look at the filmmaker's origins with his cryptic debut, "Following," a haunting black-and-white noir about a writer stalking people in London and drawn into seedier antics by one of the targets of his voyeuristic impulses. The story is told in a perplexing nonlinear fashion, but the DVD contains a "chronological edit" that puts the pieces together. However, those interested in an even more fragmented experience should look further than "The Qatsi Trilogy," a gorgeous box set of Godfrey Reggio's lyrical, Philip Glass-scored depiction of civilization's deleterious impact on the natural world. From the rush of urban development in "Koyaaniqatsi" to the influx of digital technologies in "Naqoyqatsi," Reggio's vision is a fluid one, if persistently overwhelming. If you'd rather find a more overtly entertaining route to exploring the pratfalls of technology, stick with Criterion's long-overdue Blu-ray treatment of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil," available in a meaty package that contains both the bleak Director's Cut and the "happy ending" theatrical version, both of which remain potent indictments of today's media-saturated culture. Available on Amazon and the Criterion site.
"The Independent Filmmaker's Guide: Make Your Feature Film for $2,000"
Filmmaker Glenn Berggoetz's slim, accessible volume stands above countless other how-to guides to filmmaking by breaking down the entire process into seven breezy chapters ranging from "The Script" to "Funding." His conversational tone gives the impression of a friendly advisory session rather than an attempt to tell you everything you need to know, but the final two chapters -- "Getting Your Film Released" and "Checklist" -- close things out on a practical note. Available on Amazon.
"Sokurov: Early Masterworks"
Cinema Guild's newly translated collection of diverse efforts by master Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov is a must-have for fans of better-known achievements like the essential "Russian Ark": Primarily a collection of short documentaries, the films span 20 years of output, including several literary achievements ranging from the Dostoevsky-inspired "Whispering Pages" (on Blu-ray) and "Save and Protect," the director's take on "Madame Bovary." There's also audio commentary by critic James Quant, a BBC program directed by Sokurov about Anton Chekov's house and intriguing oddities like the 10-minute short "Sonata for Hitler." Available on Amazon.