Day Night Day Night (IFC)
I think of Day Night Day Night in some ways as a companion film to United 93. One is about a real event, one is imagined. One uses handheld camera and fast edits to convey a sense of urgency and naturalism, one gets much the same effect through long takes and subjective camerawork. Both are utterly gripping studies of how people react in high-stress situations — one is about the victims of terrorism, the other about the perpetrators. The protagonist of Day Night Day Night is an unnamed young woman (Luisa Williams) who has chosen to leave her life and her family behind to carry a bomb into Times Square in a backpack and detonate it. Writer/director Julia Loktev keeps all this material non-specific — the masked men who prep her for the job seem American; the guy who drives her into the city looks Korean; the folks who make the bomb look … Jewish, maybe? It doesn’t matter. Loktev forces audience identification with her as a frightened woman looking for redemption, not as a symbol of any specific political beef, by keeping the camera close to her face and body, and in certain moments showing us exactly what she sees. (Cinematographer Benoît Debie, who also shot Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, knows a thing or two about the subjective camera.) It’s a slow-paced, methodical film, and also a very smart and instructive one that’s sympathetic to its sad bomber without forgiving her her intentions.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Day Night Day Night
Spider Baby (MTI Home Video)
This is a week late, but the folks at MTI Home Video were kind enough to send me a review copy of their September 25 release of Spider Baby, a movie whose reputation I knew well but had somehow managed to avoid until now. To my delight, it’s an entirely excellent B-grade horror comedy that exhibits director Jack Hill’s trademark good-natured humor but also manages to crank up an impressive creep factor in a couple of scenes and fulfills its disturbo potential without being self-consciously transgressive. (This was strong material for the mid-1960s.) The cast, including Lon Chaney Jr. and latter-day Rob Zombie stalwart Sid Haig, is generally very good — and Jill Banner, the big-eyed newcomer who played the arachnophilic slasher Virginia (pictured), is sexy as all hell. The DVD image quality is excellent and “The Hatching of Spider Baby,” a new short documentary consisting of latter-day interviews with the stars and filmmakers, is good fun as well. There’s also an audio commentary with Hill and Haig. My only quibble is with the audio track, which starts to exhibit a droning noise that sounds like digital distortion in the film’s midsection. (Whether this artifact was introduced by this particular DVD transfer I can’t say.) Otherwise it’s an excellent release.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Spider Baby (Special Edition)
1408 (The Weinstein Company)
As this haunted-hotel horror movie closes out a long segment in which insistent hotel manager Sam Jackson tries to convince spook-travelogue specialist John Cusack not to stay in a room with a reputation for malevolence, it feels a little like B-movie heaven. At that point, there’s nothing in the world wrong with 1408; it feels like a taut thriller on the road to an explosion of nastiness. After that it sort of goes to hell in two senses of the word. But, as I wrote in June, “I enjoyed Cusack’s fearless, highly entertaining performance — either
he’s too committed to realize how silly some of this shit is, or he
just doesn’t care.” Worth a look.
The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. 2 (Fantoma)
Anger is not my favorite underground/experimental filmmaker, but if you’re at all interested in the influence that the avant garde has had on the mainstream — exerted by Anger in terms of the combination of image and sound as well as his rigorous editorial style — he’s absolutely essential viewing. He’s also a landmark director in the history of queer cinema, regularly infusing his highly symbolic images with a frankly gay eroticism, and a serious follower of Aleister Crowley. It’s bold, unique stuff. According to the specs, like its predecessor, this disc includes audio commentary by the man himself, plus written essays by Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant and Guy Maddin.
Buy it from Amazon.com: The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. 2
The Fantastic Four—a superhero team so square that their leader is a science whiz—never shared the street credibility of more muscular heroes like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man. But their unique combination of sci-fi adventure, situation comedy and soap opera resonated enough to pull a lot of lifelong comic-book fans into the fold. It’s not entirely inappropriate, then, that their film franchise is an inconsequentially dopey cheesefest. These aren’t dazzling movies to lose yourself in or to be amazed by. They’re more like big friendly puppies who jump on you and slobber on your face and helplessly implore you to embrace them and rub their tummies. Returning from the first film are all four fantastic protagonists, along with Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), a supervillain who’s blander even than James Franco’s Harry Osborne from the Spider-Man movies. Among the regulars, only Michael Chiklis, emoting from underneath a big pile of latex, is a stand-out. By far the best scenes feature the aptly named Silver Surfer (ably performed by creature specialist Doug Jones), who zooms around the universe on a chrome-plated surfboard, scouting out meals for his less-charismatic buddy Galactus, who eats planets. <Shrug.> You could do worse.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Fantastic Four – Rise of the Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four – Rise of the Silver Surfer (The Power Cosmic Edition, 2-Disc Set), or Fantastic Four – Rise of the Silver Surfer [Blu-Ray]
Hey, studio publicity types: send review DVDs to PO Box 791, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591; if you’re using UPS, FedEx or DHL, just email me for a street address.