Movies Till Dawn: Sunday Screenings (The Normal New 2)

Desolation Center” (2018) Everything you need to know about this documentary, which recalls a series of ’80s-era punk festivals in the Mojave Desert and downtown LA, is covered by Elise in this post. It’s currently available through streaming platforms, and is the top new music doc on iTunes, and for good reason; the film, produced and directed by Amok BooksStuart Swezey (who organized the shows), features extraordinary footage of performances by the Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Redd Kross and Swans, and interviews with Thurston Moore,  Mike Watt, the Kirkwood brothers from Meat Puppets and Perry Farrell. As Elise noted, “This film does a damn good job of letting you get a little taste of what it was like to be there.”

“Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway” (2019) In the year 2035, CIA agent Daniel Tadesse hopes to leave the spy business and open a pizzeria, but the Soviet Union unleashes a computer virus called Joseph Stalin to overtake the agency, which forces him to enter virtual reality (represented through stop-motion animation) to stop the evil empire. Jesus and Batman also factor into this delirious second feature from Miguel Llanso, which pays homage to no-budget exploitation and underground films; usually, this sort of thing falls flat, but Llanso has a terrific sense of warped humor (Tadesse’s VR disguise is a paper mask of Robert Redford’s face), which helps sell the ceaseless stream of surreal imagery and ideas. It’s streaming as part of the June new releases on on the Arrow Video Channel, along with “Dream Demon” and Larry Cohen’s slyly subversive “The Stuff,” while July brings the Korean horror-comedy “Zombie for Sale” the WWII drama “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” with David Bowie and Mike Hodges’ supernatural thriller “Black Rainbow.”

Adrift in Soho” (2019, Random Media) Small-town aspiring writer Owen Drake tries to make his way in the titular London district and with its habitués – a mix of hard-living types and bohemians in training – during the late 1950s. UK adaptation of Colin Wilson‘s 1961 novel by writer-director Pablo Behrens looks gorgeous and does well by underscoring, at least from an audio-visual standpoint, that Soho was the gritty font from which the London scene of the 1960s sprang forth; performances are hit and miss, with Chris Wellington‘s shabby-cool actor a standout, and Behrens’s direction too mannered, but devotees of the period and London culture will appreciate its efforts towards authenticity. Available on Amazon, iTunes and Roku.

Tokyo Godfathers” (2003, Shout! Factory/GKids) For three homeless individuals, another miserable Christmas in a snow-swept Tokyo is upended by the discovery of an abandoned baby, whose return to its parents becomes an intensely physical quest that may also give them some long-sought resolution on the problems that brought them to the streets. Despite the wistful premise, this feature by the influential animator/director Satoshi Kon is no holiday special: brawls, speeding cars, and a hitman figure into the mix, and the back stories for each of the three rescuers can be decidedly grim. By the same token, its central message of redemption through good deeds and inner strength is not only entirely welcome (especially now) but also handled without an abundance of schmaltz (an impressive feat). “Godfathers” is probably the most straightforward title in Kon’s c.v. – his  “Millennium Actress” (also available on Blu-ray from Shout/GKids), shifts time and perspective with remarkable deftness – but that shouldn’t ward off longtime admirers or anime devotees alike. The “Godfathers” Blu-ray features multiple making-of featurettes, a visit to the real Tokyo locations that inspired the film’s backdrop, a Kon short (“Ohayo”) and an interview with trans performer Shakina Nayfack, who voices the film’s drag queen heroine, in the English dub (the original Japanese dub is also included)

Corpus Christi” (2019, Film Movement) Having experienced a spiritual awakening while serving time for a murder charge, young Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) wants to serve as a priest, but finds that his record makes that impossible, until a chance opportunity affords him not only the title but a full, if deeply divided parish. Poland’s entry for Best International Feature at the 2019 Oscars asks what qualifies someone to tend to others’ religious needs – a pointed and thorny question in any language, and one handled here with both intensity and sensitivity. Film Movement’s Blu-ray includes a making-of doc and a short, “Nice to See You,” by “Corpus Christi” director Jan Komasa.

“The Booksellers” (2020, Kino Lorber) Offbeat but endearing doc about the lives of bookstore proprietors in New York City and London – not the big box operators, but antiquarians and secondhand book dealers with whom the connection to the printed word is something akin to romance, with the oldest and rarest items receiving the most praise and attention. Editor turned director D.W. Young‘s attentions are firmly divided between the past – represented by venerable locations like the Argosy Book Store, and those that tend to the ultra-rare and impossible-to-find (or buy) editions – and present in vintage bookselling, with the latter showing not only youth and diversity but a genuine and encouraging positivity towards the industry’s future that the older, larger male veterans struggle to maintain. Kino’s DVD includes additional interviews with bookbinder Cara Schlesinger and the late bookseller William Reese.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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