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DVD Reviews for 2/16: Everything Including The Kitchen Sink Drama

by Peter Sobczynski

Something for everyone this week--mob kings, French queens, political documentaries, cult favorites and even a helping of Meat Loaf

As regular readers of this column (you do exist, right?) have probably guessed by this point, I have a taste for films that lean towards the bizarre and off-beat. I am perfectly willing to embrace more conventional entertainment but for the most part, I tend to gravitate towards the kind of movies that make the average person scratch their head in total confusion If ever there was a movie that was guaranteed to elicit just that type of reaction from virtually all who encounter it, it is the 1970 cult classic “Performance,” which makes its long-awaited DVD debut this week. Even though I was more or less prepared for the experience of seeing it for the first time by having read numerous essays about the film and its tangled history (the most notable being the entry in Danny Peary’s invaluable volume “Cult Movie”), I have to admit that after that initial screening about a decade or so ago (at a midnight show, no less), all I could do was scratch my head and say “What the f*#$ was that?” I have seen it several times since then and no matter how many times I have experienced it over the years, each viewing concludes with me scratching my head and saying “What the f*#$ was that?”–for a film of this nature, that is the highest praise possible.

It starts off ordinarily enough with James Fox as Chas, a gangster with a cheerful propensity for violence and the odd sexual quirk or two. (The character was presumably inspired by tales of the Krays, a pair of criminal brothers who terrorized England in the 1960's.) One day, Chas gets into an argument with a longtime enemy and winds up killing him in the ensuing fracas–unfortunately for Chas, he was supposed to be protecting the guy and now find himself being pursued by cops and criminals alike. While a friend tries to figure out a way to get him out of London, Chas takes refuge in a house in Notting Hill and finds it occupied by Turner (Mick Jagger in his film debit), a wildly popular rock star who has become a virtual recluse with only a pair of sexy housemates–Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton)–and a lot of magic mushrooms to keep him company. The three invite Chas into their home and their beds while turning him on to the world of psychedelic experiences. While Chas grows more and more acclimated to his new surrounding, Turner finds himself appropriating more and more of Chas’s original characteristics and before long, the two of them have essentially become interchangeable.

In all honesty, a mere plot description hardly begins to do justice to “Performance”–this is the kind of weird and trippy film that you are better off simply experiencing for yourself instead of having it explained to you. That said, the blend of surreal imagery, grotesque violence, bizarre sexuality and narrative weirdness perplexed and/or horrified most viewers who encountered it back in 1970 (Warner Brothers held up the release for over a year as they frantically attempted to recut it into something more conventional and cohesive before throwing in the towel) and people encountering it for the first time today are likely to have the same reaction. Unlike a lot of the cinematic head-trips of the time that haven’t aged especially well, such as “El Topo,” “Performance” still holds up pretty well these days. People who embraced the works of David Lynch will no doubt find themselves at home with the strange convolutions that debuting co-directors Donald Cammell (who would go on to make a couple of equally interesting films before committing suicide in 1995) and Nicolas Roeg (later to direct such cult favorites as “Don’t Look Now,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession”) put them through. Visually, the film is quite extraordinary as well–Roeg first made his mark as a cinematographer and his work here is among his best. The cast is also fascinating to watch as well. Fox is a strange and scary presence as Chas, a role that affected him so deeply that he disappeared from films for nearly a decade as a result. Although neither Pallenberg nor Breton would make much of an impact in films after “Performance”–the former remains best known for her off-screen dalliances while the later would disappear from view completely–but each one makes a considerable erotic impact here.

Of course, the film is most famous for marking the film debut of Mick Jagger and while no one would mistake his work here for acting in the classic sense of the word, he manages to transfer his considerable stage charisma to the screen so successfully that he is a compelling sight even when he is just standing there. When he does finally kick in to do a song, as he does about halfway through with the killer track “Memo From Turner,” the results are simply electrifying. Even though he delivers the song while sitting behind a desk, it is still a thunderously exciting moment that still ranks as one of the high-water marks in the ongoing relationship between the cinema and rock music and like the rest of “Performance,” the scene will blow your mind. (Warner Brothers clearly recognizes the importance of this sequence–although this DVD is somewhat lacking in the amount of bonus materials that you might come to expect from a legitimate cult classic, one of the extras that is included is a vintage making-of short that focuses on the scene and Jagger’s participation in the project.)

Written by Donald Cammell. Directed by Nicolas Roeg & Donald Cammell. Starring James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg and Michelle Breton. 1970. 106 minutes. Rated R. A Warner Home Video release. $19.95.


13 TZAMETI (Palm Pictures. $24.99): Serving as a reminder as to the potential dangers of opening other people’s mail, this French thriller follows a man who opens an envelope addressed to another person that promises riches and follows the instructions right into a deadly game of chance that is half “Saw” and half “The Deer Hunter.”

BABES IN KONG LAND (Secret Key. $9.98): The sad thing is, you just know that this DVD is going to satisfy some strange fetish held by someone out there.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $58.99): The sad thing is, you just know that this DVD is going to satisfy some strange fetish held by someone out there.

BICYCLE THIEVES (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Italian neo-realism at its most profound (and profoundly depressing), this deceptively simple film about a poor man and his son on a desperate search for the stolen bicycle that he needs for his job became an instant classic when it premiered in 1948 and continues to be studied and referenced today. Still waiting for that Griffin Mill-produced remake.

THE BUTCHER BOY (Warner Home Video. $19.98): Neil Jordan’s terrifying, tragic and blackly funny 1998 adaptation of Patrick McCabe’s novel about an exuberant young Irish lad (Eamonn Owens) whose exuberant fantasy life collides with drab reality with horrific and heartbreaking results. If you dug “A Clockwork Orange,” “Heavenly Creatures” or “Tideland,” you will probably be equally impressed with what Jordan has done here. For the rest of you, there is the still-jarring sight of Sinead O’Connor playing a tart-tongued vision of the Virgin Mary.

THE DEPARTED (Warner Home Video. $34.98): I can only assume that I do not need to sell you on the virtues of Martin Scorsese’s thrilling Boston-based remake of the HK crime epic “Infernal Affairs,” other than to mention that this two-disc special edition (there is also a single-disc movie-only version as well) includes a collection of deleted scenes, with an introduction by Scorsese, and the feature-length TCM documentary “Scorsese on Scorsese” that offers an overview of his entire career. Never shy to ride on the coattails of someone else’s success, Harvey Weinstein, who botched the Stateside release of “Infernal Affairs” a couple of years ago, hopes to cash in this week as well with the release of the original “Infernal Affairs Trilogy” (The Weinstein Company. $39.99) as well.

FUCK (Velocity/ThinkFilm. $19.99): A glib but not uninteresting documentary that utilizes archival footage, newly-shot interviews and Bill Plympton animations to analyze the history and sociological impact of the four-letter word that made David Mamet famous.

GINGER AND FRED (Warner Home Video. $19.98): Although this late effort from Federico Fellini, in which two music-hall performers (Marcello Mastroianni and Giulietta Masina, both in fine form) are asked to revive their old dance act for a weirdo TV variety show, was generally drubbed by critics as a pale imitation of past glories, it is interesting to watch today since the satirical jabs at television now play more as prophecy than exaggeration.

THE GIRL IN THE BIKINI (Synkronized USA. $29.98): This is a fairly obscure 1952 French sex comedy about a couple of rivals who arrive at a seashore town to find sunken treasure and soon find themselves battling on land over the titular lass, the sexy young daughter of the lighthouse-keeper. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t even rate a mention here except for the fact that the girl in question is a 17-year-old Brigitte Bardot in only her second screen appearance. My guess is that the film is terrible but you will be too busy staring at Bardot (who was still a few years away from “And God Created Woman”) to notice.

GREEN FOR DANGER (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In this crackling British wartime mystery, a Scotland Yard detective (Alistair Sim) arrives at a rural hospital to investigate the death of a patient while on the operating table and discovers that it may well have been murder. Though largely unknown in these parts, this is a wonderfully entertaining film that deftly skewers the mystery genre while still working as a fairly tense and exciting example of same.

HALF NELSON (Sony Home Entertainment. $26.98): An idealistic young history teacher at an inner-city junior high and a 13-year-old student strike up an odd friendship after she catches him feeding his crack habit in the locker room. While I must confess to not being as enamored with the film as others have been–it stuck me at times as basically being an After-School Special with slightly more crack–I will admit that the two central performances from Ryan Gosling (whose work here scored him a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Actor) and Shareeka Epps are strong and impressive enough to make it worth checking out.

INFAMOUS (Warner Home Video, $27.98): Otherwise known as “The Other Truman Capote Movie,” this film, like “Capote,” takes a look at Capote’s struggles to write his landmark true-crime book “In Cold Blood” and his strange relationship with accused murderer Perry Smith. Although there are a couple of nice supporting performances from Sandra Bullock (as Harper Lee) and Jeff Daniels (as Alvin Dewey), Toby Jones’s work as Capote never transcends the boundaries of mere imitation in the way that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s did and the rest of the film is just a shallow retread of material that we have seen done better elsewhere.

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE RUNNER (Warner Home Video. $19.98): Tony Richardson’s acclaimed 1960 drama is the bleak story of an angry young man (Tom Courtenay) coming to grips with his past and future after being picked to run on the track team at the reform school where he has been sentenced for petty theft.

MAN ABOUT TOWN (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): Mike Binder, the creator of such profound triumphs of the human spirit as “Blank Man,” “The Mind of the Married Man” and the last ten minutes of “The Upside of Anger,” returns with a film about a hot-shot PR man (Ben Affleck) who tries to jump-start his life after some personal and professional disasters. Apparently too good to be seen in theaters, the film has gone direct-to-video despite a relatively high-profile cast that includes Rebecca Romijn, John Cleese, Adam Goldberg, Gina Gershon and Bai Ling.

MARIE ANTOINETTE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): Sofia Coppola’s visually dazzling and thoughtful look at the pleasures and perils of giddy superficiality, as seen through the eyes of one of history’s more infamous women (played wonderfully by Kirsten Dunst), is a beautiful, haunting and thoroughly underrated work that may remind some of “Barry Lyndon,” only with a beat that you can dance to. Although Coppola, not exactly the most verbose filmmaker around, does not provide a commentary, this DVD does come equipped with a collection of deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and something entitled “Cribs With Louis XVI.”

MASTERS OF HORROR–PELTS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $14.98): Returning for another go-around with the admittedly uneven Showtime horror anthology series, Italian master Dario Argento teams up with another guy who became famous in the 1970's for cheerfully disreputable over-the-top luridness, Meat Loaf, for a tale of a creepy furrier who uses some especially luxurious raccoon pelts to create a coat for the stripper he loves–alas, these are sacred raccoons and they wind up cursing everyone they encounter with a connection to the fur trade. Not quite as impressive as Argento’s previous “MOH” contribution, the supremely depraved “Jenifer,” but it should prove to be demented enough for Argentophiles.

MR MOTO–VOLUME 2 (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98): Peter Lorre returns as everyone’s favorite Japanese secret agent in the collection of 4 programmers from the late 1930's–1938's “Mr Moto’s Gamble” (which actually began life as “Charlie Chan at the Ringside” until Sidney Toler died in the middle of filming) and 1939's “Mr Moto’s Last Warning,” “Mr Moto in Danger Island” and “Mr Moto Takes A Vacation.”

MUTUAL APPRECIATION (Image Entertainment. $26.95): Following on the heels of his acclaimed feature debut, “Funny Ha Ha,” writer-director Andrew Bujalski returns with a hilarious, thoughtful and cheerfully aimless sort-of romantic-comedy about a slacker musician who arrives in New York with vague dreams of forming both a successful band and a relationship with his best friend’s girlfriend. Although it only received a limited theatrical distribution last year, it made enough on an impact on those lucky enough to catch it to land it a place on Film Comment’s list of the 20 Best Films of 2006 at #17 (over the likes of “Children of Men,” “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Casino Royale.”) This DVD features a new short film from Bujalski and commentaries from the parents of the cast and crew.

PAUL ROBESON: PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST (The Criterion Collection. $99.95): Before abandoning the world of film to dedicate his life to crusading for civil rights, Paul Robeson was a widely known and acclaimed movie star at a time when Jim Crow laws still ruled much of the land. This four-disc set contains seven of his films–“Body and Soul,” “Borderline,” “The Emperor Jones,” “Jericho,” “The Native Land,” “The Proud Valley” and “Sanders of the River”–along with the full-length documentary “Paul Robeson: Tribute To An Artist,” commentaries with Robeson scholars, additional programs with clips from some of his other films and a 1958 radio interview with the man himself.

POLICE STORY 2 (The Weinstein Company. $19.95): The good news is that Jackie Chan’s much-loved 1988 action-comedy has finally been given a decent Stateside release in its full-length version. The bad news is that the bonus features include a commentary track that finds HK film expert Bey Logan inexplicably sharing duties with none other than Brett Ratner.

THE QUIET (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95):Although it possesses the second-best DVD cover of the still-young year (trailing only “Bandidas”) Jamie Babbitt’s film about an orphaned deaf girl (Camilla Belle) who moves in with a family teetering on the verge of self-destruction and becomes the repository of all their dark secrets (while having a few of her own) is a bizarre and not entirely successful blend of suburban angst, sexual melodrama and satire. And yet, while it doesn’t “work,” as they say, its imperfections are at least intriguing, as are the performances from Belle and Elisha Cuthbert as a sexually and emotionally tormented cheerleader.

SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (The Weinstein Company. $29.95): If you a have a desire to spend your hard-earned money on Billy Bob Thornton-related entertainment, I urge you to wait a week for the release of the weirdly wonderful “The Astronaut Farmer.” If you can’t wait that long, you should still try to avoid this mirthless “Bad Santa” riff in which he plays a nasty assertiveness-training teacher who butts heads with geeky student Jon Heder for the heart of Jacinda Barrett.

SO GOES THE NATION (IFC. $24.95): Filmed during the weeks leading up to the 2004 presidential election, this documentary follows both the Bush and Kerry camps as they pull out all the stops (everything from slander and gay-bashing to appearances from celebrities like Bruce Springsteen) to get out the vote in the key swing state of Ohio and shows how their efforts helped and hindered the outcome.

THE US VS. JOHN LENNON (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $27.98): Utilizing a familiar collection of archival clips and contemporary interviews, this documentary takes a potentially interesting subject–the efforts of the US government to deport John Lennon as an undesirable because of fears of his potential influence on the youth vote–and turns it into little more than an extended commercial for yet another CD package by utilizing the kind of fawning approach that Lennon himself would most like have recoiled from.

WILD CAMP (Lifesize Entertainment. $24.95): In this French erotic drama, an ex-con (Leos Carax favorite Denis Levant) takes a job as a sailing instructor at his brother-in-law’s summer camp and falls under the spell of a sexy camper (and since she is played by Isild le Besco, you can’t really blame him) that leads to bad news for all involved.

ZOOM (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.99): Though apparently based on a well-known children’s book, this atrocious comedy-fantasy, in which a past-his-prime superhero training a quarter of kids with mysterious powers to continue the good fight, is little more than an inept compilation of elements ripped off from “X-Men,” “The Incredibles” and “Sky High.” Pretty much a career low for all involved–a frightening notion when you consider that the grown-up cast includes Tim Allen, Courtney Cox and Chevy Chase (the latter in an inexplicably straight-faced role that isn’t half as funny as his recent turn on “Law and Order”).

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originally posted: 02/16/07 19:37:59
last updated: 02/17/07 02:20:46
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