Movies Till Dawn: Arthouse Confidential Part II

Gas Food Lodging” (1992, Arrow Academy) Unvarnished snapshot of life in a dead-end town, as seen through the tired eyes of a single mother (Brooke Adams) and her daughters (Fairuza Balk and Ione Skye). Getting through the day-to-day on their own steam is the primary concern for all three; Balk disappears into the overwrought romances of a fictional Mexican movie star, while Skye looks for affection in geologist Robert Knepper. Writer-director Allison Anders has a keen understanding of the dreams and frustrations boiling under the skin of small-town residents, and she has an exceptional cast to bring them to life; Balk is the standout, but there’s solid support from James Brolin, Chris Mulkey and Jacob Vargas as more-or-less reliable men in Adams and Balk’s orbit, and an amusing cameo by J. Mascis, who also provided the soundtrack. Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray offers an interview with Anders and a 1995 documentary on women filmmakers, including Anders, Kathryn Bigelow and Gale Anne Hurd.

De Niro and De Palma: The Early Films” (1968-1970, Arrow Films) Trio of ragged-but-right independent features that marked the beginning of both Robert De Niro and Brian De Palma‘s film careers. All three features, made for peanuts (even by low-budget standards of the period), lampoon the pressing social anxieties of the day through raucous/raunchy comedy and visual techniques adopted from underground film: in “The Wedding Party” (filmed in 1963 but unreleased until 1969), De Niro (billed as Robert Denero) is a groomsman determined to help anxious Charles Pfluger marry Jill Clayburgh amidst a flurry of eccentric family members, while in “Greetings” (1968) and “Hi, Mom!” (1970), De Niro’s unrepentant voyeur takes some unusual routes to avoid the Vietnam War draft and make a name for himself (through stag films and an extremely confrontational experimental play). The films are unpolished, though De Palma’s kinetic style is evident, and if the humor is occasionally dated (and offensive), all three also offer a chance to see two exceptional talents in their nascent stage. Arrow’s two-disc Blu-ray set includes an interview with the films’ producer, Charles Hirsch, commentary by Glenn Kenny on “Greetings” and an appreciation of the actor and director by Howard Berger.

Daisies” (1966, Second Run) Saucy, surreal and subversive comedy from Czechoslovakia, with non-professional actors Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová as two girls, both named Marie, who, decide that the world is “spoiled” and set out to prove their point through increasingly anarchic pranks, culminating in a world-wrecking food fight. Director Vera Chytilová skillfully deploys a barrage of Pop Art and experimental imagery to poke fun at the powers that be (especially men), which clearly unnerved the Czech government enough to ban the picture after a few screenings. It’s gleeful razzing of the patriarchy makes Second Run’s Blu-ray a timely release, without question; the remastered all-region Blu-ray comes with two commentaries (critics Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger and historians Peter Hames – who also pens insightful liner notes – and Daniel Bird) and “Journey,” a documentary portrait of Chytilová by Jasmina Blazevic.

Found at ‘Mostly Lost’ Volume 2” (1906-1922, Undercrank Productions) Ten more silent shorts, previously considered lost and rescued from the ravages of time by the Library of Congress and producer/composer Ben Model’s Undercrank imprint. The set features both comedy and drama, with brief forays into animation (1922’s “Fresh Fish,” a Bobby Bumps cartoon by cel animation pioneer and Disney storyboard artist Earl Hurd) and vaudeville (a 1903 Edison short featuring quick-change artist Adolph Zink); among the highlights are the tear-jerking “The Faithful Dog” (1907), the Western adventure “The Falling Arrow” (1909), directed by Native American filmmaker James Young Deer, and showcases for comedy stars Billy Bletcher (“The Noodle Nut,” 1921), Monty Banks (“Derby Day,” 1922) and Snub Pollard (“Do Me a Favor,” 1922). A lively cross-section of what kept America entertained in the early 20th century; Model, Philip Carli and Andrew E. Simpson provide original scores.

Fireworks” (2017, GKids/Shout Factory) A mysterious glass marble provides teenager Norimichi with an opportunity to relive certain events, which comes in handy with his pursuit of comely classmate Nazuna. Distributed by the venerable Toho Studios and produced by Genki Kawamura (whose global hit, “Your Name,” follows a plot similar to “Fireworks”), this animated sci-fi/romance is beautiful to look at, but saddled with a middling script that drifts, rather alarmingly, into leering at its female characters (making this less than appropriate for younger viewers). That’s unfortunate, because the time travel aspect of the film is well handled, and serves to ground its hero instead of buoying immature his fantasies. GKids/Shout Factory’s Blu-ray includes an interview with the English-language cast.

The Serpent’s Egg” (1977, Arrow Films) As the Nazi Party surfaces in post-World War I Germany, dissolute trapeze artist David Carradine and his sister-in-law (Liv Ullman) fight, fornicate and drown their self-loathing in oceans of alcohol while trying to root out why his brother killed himself. Ingmar Bergman‘s second English-language film, shot in Germany during his self-imposed exile from Sweden, is awash in physical and emotional ugliness, and little else; as with other misfires by great directors, it’s largely for Bergman completists, though watching the picture collapse due to its mix of unstable elements (chief among these is Carradine’s catatonic performance and Ullman’s musical numbers) is perversely fascinating. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes a sympathetic assessment by writer Barry Forshaw and two archival shorts, one with the leads and the other with Bergman biographer Marc Gervais.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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