Monday, December 08, 2008

DVD Picks For Xmas

Want to get the film lover in your life something special for Xmas? I would hope so - even if that film lover is you.

Here's my list of DVDs you probably haven't even considered for them but really should. I got my hands on each of these this year and love them all. They didn't have big marketing budgets. They didn't generally get cinema runs. They didn't get love heaped upon them by big name critics...

...but they are, without exception, rather superb.

Click on the link where any of them is named to get to an Amazon dot Com page where you can make an order and still receive the disc in time for Xmas. Woo hoo!

It gets tricky now because, operating under the assumption you haven't seen any of these films, I don't know how little or how much I should tell you. Take it on faith, please, that I'm recommending only the films I'm most supremely in love with.

The first gem? The highest profile. Otis (also on Blu-ray) was the fourth Raw Feed film and the second to be directed by Tony Krantz. Starring Illeana Douglas - who regular readers will know I adore - and featuring a wonderful ensemble of other performers, this was not your typical horror fare. Some say it is a satire on torture porn; others a grand guignol comedy of errors; some have compared it to Juno, of all things; I just reckon its sharp, smart and ambitious. A serial killer gets a hold of a suburban girl and when her parents find out, they decide to go all Virgin Spring on his ass - but this time we're a few doors up from the Last House on the Left and nothing quite goes the way you'd expect...

I'd put Otis in a double bill with Carrie any night of the week. Not only as they are both exceptional horror films with a prom twist to their plots, but because then I could make a Carrie/Otis double bill poster and not have to put Wild Orchid or Simon Says on there.

Another satirical horror film would be my second recommendation. Blood Car
is a true indie, apparently funded with just enough shirt buttons to pay for a single shoe string. It did the rounds of festivals - mainly very small ones - and racked up a few lower profile commendations as it did so. The trailer also points out that Jonathan Demme is a fan - and that's good enough for some, I'm sure.

Blood Car takes the Blood for Oil metaphor and makes it literal. It also manages to ridicule vegans while, ultimately, commending veganism. More importantly, perhaps, it has some truly outrageous jokes about pet slaughter by BB gun, butter-and-sex-stained bed sheets, government conspiracy and how to get a hitchhiker to look into the trunk of your car so that you might... er... sacrifice them for the good of mankind.

This is exactly what a no-budget film can do so well. Score a bonus point for the inclusion of Anna Chlumsky, formerly the My Girl girl and two more for introducing the world to Mike Brune.

Even smaller in scale (and that's a pun, and it is intended) is Sean Meredith's film of Dante's Inferno. Quite amazingly, the entire film has been staged and filmed as a piece of Victorian toy theatre - each of the characters being portrayed not by a flesh and blood actor but a cardboard cut out, manipulated in real time. Think of a live action cut out animation - if you can.

Shot by shot, the puppets are replaced giving each the perfect articulation and expression for any necessary moment. The sheer depth and breadth of creative thinking on display here would be recommendation enough but with this Inferno, you come for the dazzlingly original, idisosyncratic visuals and stay for the witty script, smart updates to the original and supreme vocie acting from Dermot Mulroney and James Cromwell. I wasn't blown away by the trailer - though I know some who were - but I really was by the whole thing (which is a nice reversal on the typical state of play).

Etgar Keret is currently pretty hot property with his short stories forming the basis for Wristcutters: A Love Story and Tatia Rosenthal's Best Animated Feature Oscar contender, $9.99 - but he's also directed a film himself, alongside his wife Shira Geffen.

Jellyfish was a lower profile film than Waltz with Bashir this year, but both being Israeli, they have been bundled together by certain critics. Which is very odd, as they have so little in common - some kind of daft nationalism at play?

Jellfish is like a winningly magic realist take on the interleaved-stories subgenre (you might argue Magnolia was a previous entry in this tiny subgenre, but even if you don't, Jellyfish is a far, far better film than Magnolia).

Keret and Geffen are doubtlessly a team to watch - and I'd even expect their next collaboration to be a big international smash.

A few years back, Minoru Kawasaka had something of a cult hurricane on his hands with The Calamari Wrestler, the story of a Wrestler who is also a Calamari (not to be confused with the upcoming Aronofsky film, which, obviously, is a mistake you were about to make - have you seen Mickey Rourke without his Marv on lately?). The rapid shooting schedule - you could count the days of principal photography on your digits if not your fingers - and seemingly less-than-zero budget did nothing to dim Kawasaka's basic good directorial sense, unfettered energy and idiosyncratic, swerving imagination. The same can be said for the three other Kawasaka films released just in the last few months - Executive Koala (salaryman is accused of murder, has a Koala head but that's okay, he's supposed to); The Rug Cop (cop fights crime with his crime fighting wig and no small amount of panache); The World Sinks Except Japan (the world sinks - well, except Japan, anyway and the Nipponese have to pick up the pieces).

The World Sinks is a kind of slanted satire that could just confuse some but fans of, say, Borat will have a field day with it; the others are simpler genre-disruption exercises with infectious pep in spades. Whole shovels of pep, getting lumped at you. This is the Xmas that Kawasaka peaks - with four of his best films in English friendly distribution.

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