By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire December 14, 2010 at 5:18AM
This week's DVD/VOD/TV top 5 sees "Joan Rivers" join Banksy and Jeunet's latest amongst some fascinating small town subjects. Turn the channel, insert the disc, or just press play and lean back, here are this week's Small Screen Top 5:
1. The Art of Stand-Up Comedy and Street Art on DVD
Crowd-pleasers "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" (criticWIRE rating: B+) and "Exit through the Gift Shop" (criticWIRE rating: A-) both come home on DVD today. While Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's "Joan" was snubbed on the Oscar shortlist, it's still been getting plenty of love as critics look back at the year in docs. Writing during the film's theatrical release, iW's Eric Kohn notes, "As the title says, she’s a piece of work, but she’s also scrambling to keep on working. At the time of this writing, the first automatic search suggestion when one types 'Joan Rivers' into Google is 'plastic surgery before and after.' If 'A Piece of Work' has any lasting impact, it lies in the capacity to take the story far deeper than that." On the other hand, the doc shortlist does include Banksy's "Exit through the Gift Shop," a documentary about street art as it exists and the establishment of a new, rather comic, artist on the scene, which Roger Ebert has called "admirable and entertaining" and Kohn calls "a multi-layered riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…or maybe just an old fashioned prank."
2. Jeunet's Romp "Micmacs" (criticWIRE rating: B) Comes Home
The effervescent Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amelie," "A Very Long Engagement") returned recently with a film that bursts with playful drama. French screen star Dany Boon stars as Bazil, a man who is looking to find revenge against the men who killed his father. To do this, he relies on a cadre of misfits he meets in a junkyard. On iW, an unimpressed Karina Longworth notes of Jeunet, "He’s so invested in the law of happy accidents as a worldview that his worlds, though incredibly dense with psychic irregularities and sheer accumulations of stuff, inevitably feel suffocatingly small." Variety's Rob Nelson takes those observations as compliments to the film, saying, "The movie's zanier scenes are allowed to work so well in part because Jeunet has given them sufficient room to breathe; unlike the director's more aggressively hyperactive work, "Micmacs" carefully apportions its visual jokes rather than bombarding the viewer with them."
3. Small Towns on the Small Screen: "45365" on PBS & HBO alum "Gasland" on DVD
PBS's Independent Lens series runs with Truer than Fiction and SXSW Doc Competition award winner "45365," the labor of love of Bill and Turner Ross, who explore the everyday occurrences of the titular zip code: Sidney, OH. The vérité doc favorite premieres tonight on PBS. Also exploring small town America is Josh Fox's "Gasland," a trip across the country lighting drinking water on fire and fighting for anti-fracking (hydraulic fracturing) legislation. The HBO doc comes out on DVD today.
4. "The Quintessential Guy Maddin!"
Guy Maddin has the distinction of being Winnipeg's greatest film auteur, and Zeitgeist Films has taken note, releasing a collection of the director's films, featuring "Archangel," "Careful," "Twilight of the Ice Nymphs," "Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary," and "Cowards Bend the Knee." Writing on the box set, which includes 5 feature films, two shorts, and special features including small matte poster cards, audio commentaries, and behind-the-scenes featurettes, DVD Talk's Thomas Spurlin notes, "The Quintessential Guy Maddin! collection covers the underexposed corners of the idiosyncratic director's oeuvre, a kaleidoscope of unique but challenging features that might dazzle the eyes and frustrate the mind at the same time."
5. "Mother and Child" (criticWIRE rating: B-) on DVD
Rodrigo García's "Mother and Child," an ensemble film about the bond of, well, the mother and her child, hits the shelves this week. Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) was given up for adoption by her mother (Annette Bening), and the two do not know each other. Meanwhile, Lucy (Kerry Washington), unable to conceive, enters into the adoption market. Samuel L. Jackson, Cherry Jones, Jimmy Smits, and S. Epatha Merkerson are also featured. Emmanuel Levy evaluates the film, "ately, “Mother and Child” is too literal, wearing its humanist message, about the power of the strong, unbreakable bond between mother and child, on its sleeves. These attributes, and the fact that, in the end, everything is explained, turns the saga into an inspirational TV-like drama. I fully embrace the film’s timely and humanist message, but I think it’s trying to do too much. There is no ambiguity—emotional, narrative—and every single detail is depicted and explained. 'Mother and Child' would have been a better, more provocative film, if it did not have clear closure, or explicit resolution, not to mention upbeat ending. As it is, there is nothing for the audience to do, no surprises whatsoever, but to not at the end with approval."