Black Book (Sony)
After the crash-and-burn that ended Paul Verhoeven’s career as a director of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, the director took some time off from filmmaking before returning to his native country, the Netherlands, to make this World War II potboiler reeking of sex and betrayal. Star Carice van Houten is all wide eyes and pursed, pouty lips — shoot her in monochrome and you’d swear you were watching an actress from a 1940s melodrama. (Well, but for her copious nudity, I suppose.) It’s not a great film, but a very entertaining one — certainly good enough to qualify as Verhoeven’s comeback. Looking back at my original review, I’m surprised I gave it only a B, not a B+.
Knocked Up (Universal)
There’s something so close to offensive simplemindedness about this whole enterprise that it’s a wonder the results are so strong — dirty, funny, and only suffering from a general adherence to mainstream formula. The subjects of pregnancy and childbirth really do add a new dimension to the ever-present sex comedy, and Judd Apatow’s witty, family-values approach (only glancing reference is made to abortion, and you have to figure a Hollywood comedy isn’t going there anyway) manages to avoid pandering.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Knocked Up (Unrated Widescreen Edition), Knocked Up – Unrated (Two-Disc Collector’s Edition), or Knocked Up [HD DVD]
As You Like It (HBO Home Video)
I knew Kenneth Branagh (remember when he looked like he had the Orson Welles-ish power and drive to go the distance?) had some new Shakespeare thing coming out, but I hadn’t realized that he had been busted down to premium-cable status in the years since his 65mm Hamlet. When this debuted on HBO last month, the TV critics who wrote about it seemed pretty happy (USA Today‘s Robert Bianco praises it as “clearly enunciated” and assures readers “none is likely to confuse you.” Whew!). The movie critics, perhaps remembering Branagh’s earlier, highly lauded, Shakespeare adaptations, seem a little more impatient. “Rather stodgy,” complains Trevor Johnston in Time Out London.
Buy it from Amazon.com: As You Like It
I missed this William Friedkin movie theatrically but look forward to seeing it on video. David Edelstein calls it “insanely powerful” and the Chicago Reader‘s J.R. Jones describes it as a “fearsome horror movie.” See Stephanie Zacharek for the contrary opinion: “junk.”
Buy it from Amazon.com: Bug (Special Edition)
Cinema16: European Short Films (Caroline)
DVD publisher Cinema16 calls this DVD — a “special U.S. edition” of a disc already out in Europe — “essential viewing for anyone with an interest in the moving image.” OK, then! Sadly, it’s missing some of the juicier bits of the original European DVD, such as Jean-Luc Godard’s early, Eric Rohmer-scripted short “Charlotte et Veronique” (Godard-heads already have this on Criterion’s A Woman is a Woman DVD) and material from well-known directors Krzysztof Kieslowski, Patrice Leconte, Lukas Moodysson and Peter Mullan. (They’re replaced by the likes of Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott and Red Road director Andrea Arnold.) Happily, Svankmajer’s “Jabberwocky” is still included. It’s hard to tell what to expect from a collection like this, but the European edition was greeted warmly by reviewers, so this may be worth a look. (Cinema16 also has a collection of films by American directors, including Maya Deren, Todd Solondz, Tim Burton, Mike Mills, and Alexander Payne.)
Buy it from Amazon.com: Cinema16: European Short Films
Deadly Friend (Warner)
Wes Craven’s career reached one of several low ebbs in 1986, with the release of this awkward catastrophe of a science-fiction/horror movie about a kid who implants a chip from the brain of his pet robot into the brain of neighbor Samantha (Kristy Swanson), who goes on a killing spree. (She has her reasons.) Mostly, it’s as terrible as it sounds — but it does include a famous scene in which Swanson decapitates a neighbor with a basketball. That’s something. A YouTube search turns up the basketball murder in its U.S. release version along with a slightly longer and much more satisfying edit of the same scene that I’m guessing was seen internationally. The question is which cut is on this DVD — with a movie this lousy, two seconds of outrageous gore can make all the difference.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Deadly Friend