This week’s DVD/Blu-Ray/VOD release list includes a film nominated for the Foreign Language Oscar, George A. Romero’s latest, a box set of three from Josef Von Sternberg, and a profile of radio/early TV star Gertrude Berg. Aviva Kempner, who directed the Berg flick, “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” (criticWIRE rating: B), took her film across the country to Jewish film fests and marketed the film to audiences that would have nostalgia for Berg and her radio and TV shows. The result was more than a million dollars at the box office. In The New York Times, Stephen Holden calls the film an “engrossing documentary portrait of a once-beloved radio and television star who died in 1966 and today is barely remembered.” He continues, “The film could be described as Exhibit A in a study of media celebrity and collective forgetfulness in the age of information overload.”
Three new specialty releases also come to home theaters this week. Scnadar Copti and Yaron Shani’s “Ajami” (criticWIRE rating: B), directed by the Israeli-Palestinian directing team, chronicles violence in the eponymous multi-ethnic neighborhood in the city of Jaffa. Writing for this site, Eric Hynes says, “For a film that offers various and shifting perspectives, “Ajami” does well by avoiding convenient or representational sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a strategy that emphasizes community and complex environments over superficial distinctions; religious, ethnic, and sociological differences are subtle — to the untrained eye they veer toward the inscrutable. Real differences exist, of course, and have significant implications and repercussions, but here they seem inherited and ingrained, and thus all the more intractable.” “George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead” (criticWIRE rating: C), the new film from the grandfather of zombie films himself, gets a special two-disc release this week. Most critics agree his latest, though, does not pack the same punch as the best in his oeuvre. Writing in New York Magazine, David Edelstein says it “almost never snaps into focus. Even its oxymoronic title doesn’t work. It feels marginal, like an extended footnote.” Similarly unenthused, Jason Anderson at the Toronto Star compares this to Romero’s earlier films, “Missing is the careful balance of visceral horror and sociopolitical satire that made its predecessors so remarkable.”
The Andy Garcia-starrer from Raymond De Felitta, “City Island” (criticWIRE rating: B-), also gets a release this week. Robert Horton writes that the film is “not exactly good,” saying, “Indie movie distributors surely must be on constant lookout for the next ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding,’ a cheaply made little crowd-pleaser that can settle into a theater and generate nice word-of-mouth. ‘City Island’ won’t be quite as fat or as Greek as that fluke, but it’s got similar appeal: a comedy about a family in which everybody pushes everybody else’s buttons — but they love each other anyway, goshdarnit.”
Dennis Lim, writing in the L.A. Times, has high praise for the Criterion Collection and the master hand of director Josef von Sternberg for the former’s release of three of the latter’s silent films. He says, “These are films that were made as silent movies were entering their twilight, a period that was both a last gasp and a final flowering of expressiveness and creativity. In Von Sternberg’s supremely atmospheric silents, which stand alongside the crowning achievements of F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage, the signatures of his cinematic language are already in place: the mobile camera, the complex interplay of shadow and light, the near-fetishistic attention to visual textures and close-up, halo-lighted faces, not to mention the simultaneous delicacy and extravagance with which he treats his themes of betrayal, salvation and doomed love.”
Going up against the second half of Spike Lee’s return to New Orleans after “When the Levees Broke” (reviewed here by iW‘s Eric Kohn), which airs tonight on HBO, PBS’s POV will broadcast “The Edge of Dreaming” tonight. The film is Amy Hardie’s investigation of the subconscious, helped along by neuroscientists and a shaman, motivated by a predictive streak in her dreams that is followed by one in which she dies in a year. In other TV news, the complete series of two of the past decade’s most talked-about series, “Flight of the Conchords” and “Lost,” will be available on DVD this week. (Ed. Note: Unfortunately, there is no box set that only includes the tantalizing first half of “Lost,” foregoing the meandering time-jumping last seasons.)
Also coming home this week are the Arthouse Films release of Marion Cajori’s “Chuck Close,” 2009 TIFF alum “Dorian Gray” (which boasts Ben Barnes and Colin Firth in its cast), Franny Armstrong’s “The Age of Stupid” (which was featured in this year’s SnagFilms SummerFest),Maximillian Plettau’s portrait of Jürgen “The Rock” Hartenstein “Comeback,” and Abbas Kiorastami’s staging of the Persian epic poem “Khosrow and Shirin” depicted visually through the faces of its audience (including Juliette Binoche).
This week’s winner for best title, a zombie horror flick, is really titled, “DIEner” (get it?).
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.