Stephanie Daley (Genius)
This drama directed by Hilary Brougher and starring Amber Tamblyn and Tilda Swinton barely got a release this year following its debut at Sundance 2006. Stephanie Daley (Tamblyn) is the girl (dubbed the “ski mom” by tabloid-style journalists) accused of killing her newborn baby at an upstate New York ski resort. Lydie Crane (Swinton) is the psychologist tasked with determining her actual culpability in the incident. There’s a lot to complain about — on one level, this is just parallel-lives melodrama, with Daley’s story bringing a kind of closure to the pregnant Lydie’s feelings about her own recent miscarriage. But Swinton is just credible enough to carry the film through some rough patches, Tamblyn is surprisingly effective, and, most importantly, Brougher is a real director who builds this business into something ferocious and visceral. I left the theater shaken, and my line on it at the time was “scariest movie about childbearing since the original Alien.” Brougher has something relevant to say about society’s view of women and what goes on in their wombs; it’s an effective antidote to the current blithe tendency in mainstream film to romanticize childbirth.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Stephanie Daley
Robot Chicken: Season Two (Adult Swim)
The second season of this action-figure sketch comedy series isn’t quite the laff riot that the first one was, but it’s still ideal DVD fare for short-attention-span households (episodes clock in at less than 15 minutes, and of course each individual sketch is substantially shorter than that). The DVD set includes the Christmas special — but not the special, occasionally hilarious all-Star Wars extravaganza that aired in June, so don’t get your hopes up.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Robot Chicken – Season Two (Uncensored)
Stranger Than Paradise (Criterion)
My favorite Jarmusch film gets the Criterion DVD treatment. Reviewing its premiere at the New York Film Festival back in 1984, Vincent Canby said, “Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise looks as if it had been left on the windowsill too long.” Set in New York, Cleveland, and Florida, It’s hard for me to articulate what I like about it so much — the direction and the gently comic performances have a calculated nonchalance that’s charming and wears well. “Stranger Than Paradise is a very funny movie that uses melancholy as its chief device, sort of the way Buster Keaton employed his face,” wrote Luc Sante for the original Criterion laserdisc release back in 1998. “It’s also a road movie that charms a strange dynamism out of sheer inertia.” It’s a sterling articulation of the low-key American indie sensibility that seemed so promising back in the 1980s, and which now, post-Tarantino theatrics, exerts a strong nostalgic tug. The new disc boasts a fresh transfer, plus a real bonus: Jarmusch’s 1980 debut feature, Permanent Vacation.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Stranger Than Paradise – Criterion Collection
Night on Earth (Criterion)
Night on Earth probably isn’t anybody’s favorite Jarmusch, and it’s as uneven as any anthology film, but it has its moments. It comprises five stories of five taxi rides in five different cities. I vividly remember seeing this at one of the Landmark theaters in Denver — as a callow hipster, I was looking forward to seeing Winona Ryder play-act at taxi-driving in Los Angeles, but the Roman episode featuring Roberto Benigni was the show-stopper. I’m not sure how the segment would have played had Benigni’s Italian not been subtitled, since the laughter in the theater was so sustained and uproarious that none of the dialogue was audible at all. I can’t imagine it will play the same in my living room — and, checking Ebert’s review, I’m surprised by his claim that the New York segment (with Armin Mueller-Stahl, Giancarlo Esposito, and Rosie Perez) is the funniest and the Benigni the “least successful.” Maybe that’s the way it played at the critics’ screening, sure — but I’ll always remember this film for the astonishing skill with which Benigni worked the arthouse crowd.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Night on Earth – Criterion Collection
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (IFC)
This Ken Loach film about a tumultuous moment in Irish history is perhaps educational and occasionally spirited in its politics, but to be honest it’s a little too much melodrama for me — do the two lead characters have to be literal brothers as well as metaphorical ones? At the time I called it “familiar but compelling.”
Buy it from Amazon.com: The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Georgia Rule (Universal)
Too bad about the personal problems, because Lindsay Lohan is a natural, charismatic screen presence — despite a much-publicized free-spiritedness where the actual duties of film production are concerned. Looking back at my review, I’m surprised that I seemed to like this enough to give it a C+. It’s pretty forgettable.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Georgia Rule (Widescreen Edition)