“Pastor Paul” (2015, IndiePix) Pressed into playing the ghost of Hamlet’s father in a Ghanaian film, white mathematician Benjamin (co-writer/producer/director Jules David Bartkowski) appears to become possessed by a real spirit, and sets out to find help from both the Christian and witchcraft communities in Ghana. Clever microbudget comedy-drama, billed as the first “American Nollywood film,” pokes impish fun at both the outlandish plots of Nigeria and Ghana’s prolific film industries, and outsiders seeking inspiration from African culture without bothering to understand anything about it; Bartkowski’s penchant for long, meditative takes, which unfold under a propulsive jazz/Afrobeat score, and the clash between his stone-faced tourist and sly locals – including musicians Wanlov the Kubolor and Funsho Ogundipe, who also produced and co-wrote the film – suggest Jim Jarmusch’s fish-out-of-water comedies (“Down By Law”). IndiePix’s DVD includes making-of clips and some relentlessly funky performances by Ogundipe in Accra, including a cover of “I Put a Spell on You” with unique vocals by Bartkowski.
“Birdboy: The Forgotten Children” (2016, Shout! Factory/GKids) Alarming Spanish animated film follows a gaggle of youthful talking animals, including a demonically possessed, drug-dealing bird, a mouse tormented by her deranged fundamentalist parents, and a rabbit plagued by homicidal inner voices, as they try to escape their island home, which has been left in ruins following an industrial disaster. Death is a constant threat, whether from trigger-happy dog police, a king-sized spider or a gang of drug-addicted rats, and not everyone survives the attempt. Needless to say, this is probably not a film for kids, and even some adults will find it troubling, but directors Alberto Vazquez (adapting his own graphic novel, “Psichonautas”) and Pedro Rivero conjure up some remarkable, phantasmagoric images –Bosch by way of Sanrio – and even a sliver of hope in its apocalyptic finale. Shout! Factory and GKids’ Blu-ray includes interviews with the filmmakers and two shorts, including an introduction to Birdboy in a 2012 short.
“The Cremator” (1968, Second Run) For 1930s-era Czech crematorium worker Rudolf Hrusinsky, his work is less of a job than a higher calling, inspired by his bent understanding of Buddhism and the transference of souls from one body to another. And it’s that increasingly maniacal devotion to his profession that soon brings him to the attention of the occupying Nazi forces, who believe that Hrusinsky’s talents may be of use to their master plan. Unsettling feature from Juraj Herz, himself a concentration camp survivor who also endured the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which consigned “The Cremator” to oblivion for decades for its oblique comparisons between the Nazis and the Soviets; though the subject matter, disorienting camerawork by Stanislav Milota (lots of fish-eye angles and extreme close-ups) and a disturbing surrealist trip to a waxworks suggest horror, the cremator’s blissfully deluded state reaches such an absurd extreme that the film can also be viewed as a very black comedy, buoyed by Hrusinsky’s unctuous, purring performance. The all-region Blu-ray from Second Run packages a new HD transfer, commentary by Kat Ellinger and an edition of the Projection Booth podcast devoted to the film with an astute introduction by the Quay Brothers and Herz’s 1965 short, “The Junk Shop.”
“The Violent Years” (1956, AGFA/Something Weird Video) A quartet of well-groomed but craven teenage girls terrorize Los Angeles with a crime spree that quickly escalates from gas station stick-ups to murdering a cop (“So what…?”) in a shootout. The jig is up in less than an hour’s running time in this threadbare but ballsy juvenile delinquent thriller, perfunctorily directed by William Morgan but penned by an uncredited Edward D. Wood, Jr. The “Plan 9” auteur gets only a few chances to employ his woozy dialogue (“If you knew how to prevent [juvenile delinquency], you’d go down in history as the greatest person of all time”) but liberally salts the story with the gang’s increasingly unhinged mayhem – at one point, they do something unseemly off-camera with a boy at a lover’s lane – and ponderous moralizing, like a judge (I. Stanford Jolley) who advocates jail time and religion for teen troublemakers. Overripe performances (save for Wood regular Timothy Farrell, giving his usual lizardy turn as a seen-it-all cop) and a relentlessly repetitive jazz score render “Violent Years” an express route to Junktown for the cult faithful, while LA Plays Itself devotees will appreciate seeing Bill Whisling’s Club Hawaii (later Modern Jazz Room) on Sunset and the Tiffany Club at Normandie (with Slim Gaillard on the marquee). The AGFA/ Something Weird Blu-ray packages a remastered print of the film with the 1961 teen-rampage thriller “Anatomy of a Psycho” (reportedly co-written by Wood), a clip from Wood’s unfinished JD pic “Hellborn” (with Wood himself in drag) and very funny commentary by “Basket Case” director Frank Henenlotter and Wood biographer Rudolph Grey.
2018 House Cleaning: “The Jacques Rivette Collection” (Arrow Video) bundles the French New Wave filmmaker‘s attempt to create an allegorical quartet of experimental films, of which only two – the allegorical fantasy “Duelle” (1976) and the adventure “Noroit” (1976), with Geraldine Chaplin as a pirate – were completed before he suffered a nervous breakdown. He eventually abandoned the project and instead directed “Merry-Go-Round” (1981), an improvised crime drama with Maria Schneider and Joe Dallesandro. Arrow’s limited edition six-disc DVD/Blu-ray set includes the three films, as well new and archival interviews with Rivette and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, and a book-length collection of essays on the trilogy.