RISE OF THE BLUE MEANIES — The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, a deliciously psychedelic animated extravaganza from 1968, was one of my favorite films growing up and still transfixes me today. It’s a simple story augmented by great musical sequences and imaginative landscapes as Captain Fred escapes the once utopic Pepperland, a haven for artistic expression that has been taken over by the fascistic Blue Meanies, and enlists the aid of The Beatles in Liverpool to hatch a rescue plan. Fred and the Fab Four travel through various dimensions—The Sea Of Time, The Sea Of Monsters, The Sea Of Holes—to get to Pepperland and free its hostage population by defeating the Blue Meanies through the power of song. This trippy travelogue is filled with great Beatles tunes, zippy one-liners delivered in sublime fashion and highly original characters like Jeremy (the Nowhere Man), the chief Blue Meanie and the flying Glove, one of cinema’s most fun villains. Capitol’s frame-by-frame hand restoration for the Blu-ray release looks fantastic—this is the best that the movie has ever looked.
THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE — The last time I remember a silent movie making waves in the mainstream was, well, Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie back in 1976. But The Artist is not simply a modern film with a gimmick. This Oscar-winning French production focuses on a dashing silent movie star (Jean Dujardin) who faces the age of talkies in 1920s Hollywood, and he’s not onboard with the program. But when the young ingénue he mentors soon turns into a talkie star and rises above him, all sorts of personal and professional turmoil ensues for the twosome. This is a charming, funny and poignant film that actually has a couple of sound moments in unexpected places, and it features music accompaniment throughout. Ultimately the fact that a silent, black and white film shot in full frame keeps you captivated in 2012 is not only a testament to its artistry but its originality. It’s a great love story.
PARANOID NIGHTMARE — The Brain, Fatty, Woman and Uncle form a team of killers who assassinate their targets through complex, pre-ordained accidents that may have you looking over your shoulder in the future. But when one of their own is bumped off in what looks like an “accident” aimed at them, The Brain goes into hiding to investigate who or what may be responsible for this nefarious plot. What he uncovers is a complex web that leads to unexpected places and people and divides his remaining team. Soi Cheang’s dark thriller Accident is well-crafted and ripe with paranoia, and the initial accident that is staged will throw you off-guard. If you liked the devious Ewan McGregor movie Shallow Grave, which just got reissued through Criterion, you should dig the vibe of this film.
ALTERNATE TERROR SOURCE — Sector 7 was a big hit in Korea last year, a 3D spectacle that raked in the bucks. I don’t have a 3D TV, so I have to judge this monster movie’s merits based on what it looks like in 2D. The story is set on an oil rig that is going to be shut down because its crew cannot find oil, but a stubborn member wants to keep it open and make her late father proud. Some of the team stays behind for one last shot at finding petroleum, and then a nasty, tentacled blob monster shows up to start taking them out one by one. But there is more to this monster than meets the eye. Life’s a beast sometimes. Sector 7 combines elements of Aliens, The Abyss and another Korean hit, The Host, into its milieu. It’s not original or scary but has its moments, although I suspect it’s a fun guilty pleasure in 3D. You can tell even watching it in 2D that many shots were set up for the 3D format. But I’m still not plunking down $3K for one of those TVs.
MARKET MELTDOWN — Still stewing about the mortgage crisis and subsequent financial meltdown that followed in its wake? Or perhaps need a little reminder of the insanity we went through? The original HBO production Too Big To Fail won’t make you feel any better about what went down back in 2008, and it may re-inspire you to get pissed off and want to buck the system all over again. This one’s got a stellar cast—William Hurt, James Woods, Cynthia Nixon, Paul Giamatti and Tony Shalhoub, among others—playing top federal officials and bank CEOs as they try to sort out the financial mess. Hurt is center stage as former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who must find a way to fix things. The government doesn’t want to bail out the banks but once insurance giant AIG, who is involved in this massive monetary mess and is connected to everyone, looks set to fall, the Feds have to figure something out. One thing you’ll glean from this recreation of events is how fear has the power to let people make foolish decisions. Even those you think are intelligent enough to see past it. The bonus documentaries add some further insight into things.
SOUTHERN HOSTILITY — John Boorman’s cinematic rendering of James Dickey’s novel Deliverance is a visual feast on Blu-ray, with the natural colors of the river landscape really popping in HD. That does not make the unsettling story any easier to digest—four city boys (Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox) take a canoe trip down a quiet river; one gets raped by a pair of rednecks, one of whom they kill while the other escapes. The emotional turmoil brought on by the ethical dilemma the protagonists face—bury the body or confess their guilt to a potential redneck court?—still resonates strongly today, especially as we are in the midst of an ideological civil war in America between rational people and cultural rednecks. This 40th anniversary edition comes handsomely packaged in book form with photos and liner notes and a new extra, “Deliverance: The Cast Remembers.”