by Louis Fowler
Most weeks, I review more DVDs than the Indy can fit into print. You can look for extra write-ups here, on the IndyBlog.
The latest release in the Cohen Media Group’s noble attempt at becoming an even more obscure Criterion Collection-type reissue house, Luis Bunuel’s 1970 masterpiece Tristana, is indeed a film that should put the Cohen Films Collection on the map. While not as well-known as Bunuel’s other films like The Exterminating Angel or Belle Du Jour, Tristana rightly earns its place alongside those for its social-skewering commentary and outright depraved fist-pumping. The alluring Catherine Deneuve smolders as the title character, a young woman who's sent to live with a lecherous guardian but falls in love with a young swarthy artist. It culminates in an excruciatingly bitter love triangle, with a nice side of sexual revenge thrown in. Dark and devastating, but not without its own morally decrepit comedic airs, Tristana finds Bunuel at the height of his creativity, and Cohen’s Blu-Ray does marvelous justice to this lost classic.
As someone who regularly suffers from sleep paralysis and has seen actual shadow people, I can truly appreciate what the movie Shadow People is trying to do. However, while I am thankful for the producers trying to form an entertaining story around an admittedly unbelievable concept, it’s carried out far too amateurishly, on all fronts, to really be taken seriously by anyone. A late-night deejay takes a phone call from a teenager claiming that the “shadow people” — which are exactly like they sound — are trying to kill him. This starts a series on unexplainable deaths that forces the deejay and a CDC official to investigate, with interesting, but ultimately useless, results. The filmmakers are going for a Blair Witch thing, claiming the film is a reenactment and showing scenes from a documentary along with it, but that too is a bit distracting at times, taking your attention to an even better movie. Like I said, I love the concept, but the execution leaves everything to be desired.
When we hear the term “skid row,” most people tend to associate it with any area of a town where the homeless and destitute might live. But as the unflinching documentary Lost Angels shows, it’s actually an extremely thriving community that manages to have resilience even in the face of sweeping city reforms and punishing police enforcement. The camera follows around a group of Skid Row citizens, presenting a warts-and-all depiction that somehow manages to be as life-affirming as it is scary. The documentary also focuses on the different missions and charities that help and feed the residents and give them a purpose in life. Sure, you got your violent offenders and crackheads, but a great case is made to reopen the psychiatric centers that were shuttered in the ’80s. Lost Angels is an important documentary that shows no one is a lost cause.
Having just reviewed All Superheroes Must Die, the gritty revisionist take on superheroes and the concept of heroism itself, I wasn’t really in the mood for another anti-hero screed. So I approached Crimson, an ultra-low-budget feature from director Ken Cosentino, with much apprehension. After about 10 minutes of watching, my face was crimson with embarrassment and regret — at myself. Crimson is actually a smart, impressive and, best of all, clever take on the typical superhero tropes that eschew the forced mythologies and, instead, focus on the spine it takes to be a dispenser of justice. After being beaten half to death, comic book artist Walter wakes up with amnesia and nerve damage. All he can remember are his superhero creations, forcing him to take up the real-life mantle of his four-color counterparts and to destroy his town’s own Irish Mafia. If it sounds like Kick-Ass, well, it kind of is, but in a street-wise, take-no-prisoners way that a corporate franchise like Kick-Ass could only hope to achieve.
Sometimes, the best documentaries are about the most esoteric subjects that you previously had absolutely zero interest in. Take, for example, Knuckleball!. I am not a sports fan, and don’t really know a curveball from a grounder. Not sure I'd even care to learn about the knuckleball, I gave it a chance, and within the first 20 minutes, I found myself not only watching a doc about the history of this misunderstood, mostly maligned pitching style, but also how those who have primarily used it are the true underdogs of the sport. You get the comeback stories of Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey, both pushing 40 and thought to be too over-the-hill to play anymore, defying every odd and becoming two of the most popular and unpredictable players in the game. It’s a real gift that filmmakers Stern and Sundberg have for making me care about things like this, just like they did with their last one, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.