“A Fish Called Wanda” (1988, Arrow) A mismatched trio of thieves (Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin) attempt to retrieve a stolen cache of diamonds, but a lovelorn barrister (John Cleese, who also co-wrote the script) and their own oversized personalities turn the crime in a different direction. Three decades haven’t dimmed the acidic comedy and cracked charm of this much-loved comedy, which earned an Oscar for Kline and nominations for Cleese and Ealing Studios vet Charles Crichton. The film boasts a number of indelible moments and lines of dialogue, including animal lover Palin’s horror at attempting to kill a key witness, but succeeding only at dispatching her dogs, Kline’s inability to apologize and Cleese’s melancholy explanation of why the British fear being wrong (“[It’s] saying to someone, ‘Do you have children?’ and being told they all burned to death on Wednesday.”), which have done much to preserve the film’s high placement in the comedy ranks. The remastered Blu-ray includes commentary by Cleese, who’s also featured in vintage interviews with cast and crew, as well as deleted and alternate scenes and a visit to the locations.
“Superman: The Movie” (1978, Warner Archive Collection) By “Justice League” standards, Richard Donner‘s take on Siegel & Shuster’s Man of Steel seems almost quaint – special effects are cleanly done (especially the flying sequences) but save for a bit of world-rescuing in the finale, there’s really nothing that compares with, say, an entire city being lifted in the air. So why does “Superman” remain so well remembered? Probably because direction and performance and writing is as important to the film as the effects: Christopher Reeve is both charming and suitably steely as Superman – you believe he can fly, romance Margot Kidder‘s Lois Lane, fight Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor and reverse the course of time, all in the same picture– and there’s genuine excitement and sincerity in Donner’s direction and the script, penned by, among others, Mario Puzo (“The Godfather”) and Tom Mankiewicz. Warner’s Blu-ray is a must-have for fans (those that aren’t dedicated to the original theatrical version, that is), offering both the Special Edition of the theatrical cut and 188-minute extended cuts, and numerous extras from the Anthology set, including Donner and Mankiewicz’s commentary, three making-of featurettes, screen tests and numerous music extras.
“Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” (2017, Kino) Sprawling documentary about the unheralded contributions by Native American artists to nearly every form of popular music for the past century. “Rumble” takes its title and its launching pad from Shawnee Link Wray‘s malevolent 1958 instrumental, which is paid tribute in awestruck terms by everyone from Iggy Pop to Martin Scorsese. From there, the picture dovetails into profiles of blues players like Charley Patton, jazz singer Mildred Bailey, folk singers/activists Buffy Sainte-Marie and John Trudell and rock heavyweights Jimi Hendrix and Robbie Robertson, while interviewees ranging from Tony Bennett to George Clinton testify to the pervasive influence of Native American rhythms on New Orleans jazz and R&B, funk (Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love“), hip-hop and metal. If “Rumble” occasionally feels rushed due to the sheer scope of its subject – which also touches on issues of censorship, racism and identity – it’s a subject that’s long overdue in acknowledging, and one that’s solidly supported by its interview subjects and stellar music clips.
“Documented” (2013, Film Movement) Timely documentary from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who examines the thorny issue of who deserves to be called an American citizen through his own perspective as an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines. Having come to America against his own wishes as a 12-year-old, Vargas was never told about his status until he tried to apply for a driver’s license as an adult; the revelation spurs the picture’s exploration of American attitudes, both governmental and from everyday citizens, towards immigrants, which are often divided arbitrarily into “legitimate” and “illegal” categories. The film is effective when Vargas takes a rational stance against pundits and immigrant-phobic individuals, though a secondary thread concerning Vargas’ mother, with whom he has not spoken since leaving for the States, provides its most memorably emotional moments.
“Pop Aye” (2017, Kino Lorber) Reeling from a crumbling marriage and failed career, architect Thana (Thai musician Thaneth Warakulnukroh) comes across another throwaway – an aging elephant, biding its remaining time on the street. Recognizing the animal as his childhood companion Pop Aye, Thana impulsively decides to return it to his remote village home, hoping that purpose will show itself along the way. Their long journey, dotted with encounters with a variety of equally burnt-out cases, is less redemptive than realistic – traveling across country with an elephant is hard work, even if the animal is as charismatic as Bong, who plays Pop Aye, and attracts as many problems as solutions. First-time writer-director Kristen Tan eschews the anthropomorphized sentimentality inherent to animal-driven pictures for “Pop Aye,” favoring instead a sort of rueful appreciation for blind-eye determination, even in the face of fading relevance. One of the more unusual films you’ll see this year, but with a path and perspective that pays off more handsomely than mainstream material.