Looking for something to rent this week? Here's what we had to say about the films out on DVD/Blu-ray today. Titles include "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Fright Night," "Monica & David," "Worst in Show," and "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975."
The three big titles hitting home video this week were all major surprises for me, and I really liked them all. Yes, even the cartoon sequel and the vampire movie remake. Of course, the big favorite for myself and others is "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," which just earned a few Critics' Choice Awards nominations, including Best Action Movie and Best Supporting Actor for the motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis. What this means for Serkis' Oscar chances is unknown, but it's something that's been up for discussion since early August (see our call for at least a special Oscar and our recognition of the official campaign). Another discussion to take part in now that you'll catch the movie on DVD or Blu-ray include how apes will indeed out-survive humans in the event of disaster. And be sure to learn how to sign the film's silent catchphrase, "why Cookie rocket?"
As for my review, posted August 4, I celebrated "ROTPOTA" as "the best remake of "Project X" since "Project Nim." An excerpt:
Like many other critics, I particularly appreciated the moments in "ROTPOTA" without dialogue, those scenes where it's just Caesar interacting with other chimps, an orangutan and a gorilla. It's reminiscent of the first act of "2001." A favorite moment of mine also features no speech, as the escaped simians travel above a suburban street through treetops, stealthy except for all the leaves they're causing to fall. Wyatt displays a remarkably rare knack for visual storytelling here, and though there is some necessary verbal exposition at times, I imagine this film is just as entertaining with the sound turned off. [...]
Recommended If You Like: "Project X"; "Spider-Man"; "12 Monkeys"
"Kung Fu Panda 2" also just recieved a Critic's Choice nomination, for Best Animated Feature, and I expect it will follow in the origina's footsteps of getting an Oscar nod, too. It's a sequel that's at least as good as the first film, as I recognize in my review from May 26. I also celebrate its metaphoric employment of 3D. Here's an excerpt:
About the historical aspect, there is something compelling about the way "Kung Fu Panda 2" deals with the duality of gunpowder, how it can be utilized for pleasure and pain. The little rabbits and pigs and other peasants of this version of Ancient China love their fireworks but are of course anti-cannon. I almost want to call it an inadvertent metaphor for 3D or this specific film itself, with its flashy animation spectacle that's fun and exciting and really about as repetitive and familiar as most peony-style fireworks displays. But is there really anything in cinema as evil as the giant guns in this film? I don't think so, though some people might consider bad 3D to be analogous, in which case Po is representative of ... Jeffrey Katzenberg? Or maybe he's the peacock, another part of the film symbolizing a double-sidedness involving simultaneous beauty and deadliness. [...]
Recommended If You Like: "Kung Fu Panda"; "Pom Poko"; "Harry Potter"
Few people enjoyed the remake of "Fright Night," which is fine, but I have to disagree with anyone who says the original is better. The first film is terrible, and therefore just right for a remake. I think the redo fixes all the problems I have with it, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Here's a part of my review, originally posted August 19:
a terrific modernization of the first "Fright Night," a schlock horror flick then situated in the not-quite-utopia of '80s suburbia and a classic, Hitchcockian formula based in simple xenophobic paranoia. Noxon, whose work here is like gratefully subdued Kevin Williamson, has moved the setting to a housing development just outside of Vegas and perfectly places the action within the present context of the mortgage crisis aftermath and the local context of a city full of nighthawks and transients -- how great it would have been for The Doors' "The Changeling" to show up on the soundtrack for its title's duality (not to mention a possible nod to the usage of "People Are Strange" in "The Lost Boys"). These contexts are directly referenced by characters, too, so when Jerry's killing spree is masked by the usual abandonment of houses in Nevada (about 1 in 7 homes in the state is currently empty) or his lifestyle excused as common, these concepts are more explicit surface ideas than subtext, though at the same time we may accept an overlap where Jerry's presence and activities deal in an overt subtext all the same. [...]
Recommended If You Like: "The Lost Boys"; "Zombieland"; "The Faculty"
Also on DVD are three documentaries I recommend. The first is Alexandra Codina's personally involved yet not too subjective love story "Monica & David," about the marriage of a couple each with Down syndrome. Here's part of a brief review from Cinematical, in a report from Silverdocs 2010 posted June 30 of last year:
They seek work and responsibility, move into their (sort of) own apartment, have arguments, as any new couple does, and most importantly love each other, day by day. Like Block's film, though, Monica & David is partly about a parent dealing with her daughter growing up and wanting to be more independent. While concentration is on the marital narrative and the struggles of Monica and David to make a life for themselves as a separate unit, Monica's mother is also a very big part of the film as their primary caretaker. It is her conflict, through which she seems to want to let go but also can't bear to, that really holds the film together.
Fitting with this year's incredible canine presence, and which I disappointingly forgot in my post about the trend, is the cute little documentary "Worst in Show," about the annual World's Ugliest Dog Contest held in Petaluma, California. Here's part of my full review from the currently-on-hiatus Nothing But the Doc blog, posted March 5:
it’s not Animal Planet fluff. And the real freak show is with the owners. I’m not necessarily saying some of them are ugly — though what they say about pets and their owners looking alike is validated here — so much as they’re just amazingly odd (but not mocked or exploited as such). Christopher Guest could not make up characters better than what you find here. [...]
in some ways it is a simple puff piece similar to so-so competition-based docs like “Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating” and “Wordplay,” which do more to promote their events than provide insight into them or riveting stories within. “Worst in Show” isn’t a great work but it is a worthwhile one, partly because it doesn’t adhere to a conventional structure (and just as I wrote recently about “Norman Mailer: American,” some docs are appropriately unpolished).
Another very highly recommended doc is "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975," which you should go into not expecting a comprehensive history lesson about the American black power movement. Here's part of my report for Cinematical from the 2011 Miami International Film Festival, posted March 16:
I'm happy to say I've now added another film to my favorites (seriously, it might be my new No. 2 following 'Nim') after catching it in Miami: Goran Olsson's 'The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975' is the most fascinating and freshly constructed archive-based history I've seen in years. The amount of layers of perspective here are incredible, as we follow a kind of chronicle of the black power movement through the lens of Swedish journalists at the time, re-configured by a white Swedish filmmaker and commented on by black figures, both of the time and not.
Also be sure to read my two-part interview with the film's director, Goran Olsson. Here at Spout he talks about his foreign perspective on the subject matter, then over at the Documentary Channel Blog he talks about voiceover narration and his unlikely inspiration.