Leading the list of new specialty releases this week are Terry Zwigoff's profiles of cartoonist R. Crumb and musician/artist Louie Bluie on Criterion, Michel Gondry's personal doc, and a Hindi film megahit. "Crumb," Zwigoff's widely acclaimed doc of Robert Crumb and his idiosyncratic brothers, gets the Criterion treatment this week. Noting the set includes unused footage, Zwigoff commentary, and a booklet with Crumb family art, Film.com's Sacha Howells notes, "whether you think Crumb's art is self-indulgent dreck or a window into what he calls "the horror of America," this quiet portrait is funny, troubling, and in the end, sad." On Zwigoff's lesser known "Louie Bluie," his first film, a profile of Howard Armstrong, according to the L.A. Times' Dennis Lim, "establishes the director's taste for esoterica and his antiquarian bent...The loose-limbed "Louie Bluie" is Zwigoff's most affectionate film, filled with infectious music and winning anecdotes from its subject, a world-class raconteur."
Indie auteur Michel Gondry gets a chance to show off his documentary skills in your living room this week with his film "The Thorn in the Heart" (criticWIRE rating: C). The film, a portrait of the Gondry matriarch, Michel's aunt Suzette, and her son, split critics deeply. Writing in the L.A. Times, Sheri Linden says the film "is brimming with affection and beautifully shot, but it builds a flimsy case for why it matters." She continues, "This is a film of gentle recriminations, which might be closer to most people's reality than fashionably exaggerated dysfunction. Yet Gondry leaves things at their gentle surface." In New York, David Edelstein, calling the film "extraordinary," praises Gondry's ability to subtly speak for his cousin. He continues, "One reason Gondry is so worthy of our indulgence (and he demands to be indulged) is his reverence for the simplest ways of making art."
Though it didn't fair too well with the critics (criticWIRE rating: D+), Karan Johar's "My Name is Khan," a Hindi-language film starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan as a man mistaken for a terrorist when he takes a plane to the U.S., grossed $4 million in the U.S. and took in around $40 million worldwide. Rachel Saltz, though, in the New York Times excuses the film, saying "The message of 'My Name Is Khan,' an effective exercise in Bollywood high emotionalism, is less political than movie-ish: there are two kinds of people in the world, good and bad, a distinction more important than any other differences, like those between Hindus and Muslims."
Also on DVD is Sundance '09 alum "Children of Invention," a portrait of a single mother, Elaine Cheng, trying to get by, by Tze Chun. In a three-out-of-four star review for the Boston Globe, Wesley Morris notes, "The stakes for Elaine and her two children are as high as they need to be. Another movie might have risked more...But Tze is going for unhappy circumstances rather than full-blown tragedy. I suppose Elaine’s incredible naivete and lack of common sense are as incriminating as her fictional predecessors’ lack of discretion. [Actress] Cindy Cheung’s sincere if limited performance features a lot of smiles and grimaces. But 'Children of Invention' is appealing as a modest appreciation of certain strengths of innocence...how refreshing to see a movie about a mother’s struggles that doesn’t culminate in her lying on her back to make ends meet."
"The Dungeon Masters," which does for Dungeons & Dragons what "Wordplay" and "Word Wars" do for crosswords and Scrabble, respectively, is on DVD and VOD courtesy of FilmBuff. Also on DVD this week, Philippe Lioret's multi-Cesar-nominee "Welcome;" the Paul Dano & Brian Cox-starrer "The Good Heart" (criticWIRE rating: C+); the documentary indictment of the unequal treatment of students in the U.S. educational system, "The Lottery" (criticWIRE rating: B+); Brooks Branch's "Multiple Sarcasms;" "Max Headroom: The Complete Series" from Shout! Factory; lesbian web series turned feature-length film "We Have to Stop Now;" Animal Collective's film collaboration with director Danny Perez, "Oddsac;" and this week's title champ, "Graphic Sexual Horror," which takes a behind-the-scenes look at bondage porn websites.
Bryce J. Renninger, an indieWIRE contributor in the New York office, is also the shorts programmer for Newfest and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Media Studies at Rutgers University. He can be reached via Twitter.