November 17, 2010

The Misfortunates

Also this week: The Kids Are All Right, A Christmas Carol, Modern Times, Children of the Corn 

Highlight of the Week
The Misfortunates (Evokative Films) Keeping in mind its under-the-radar 2009 festival run and 2010 theatrical run, chances are you missed one of the most memorable films of either year. Be forewarned: Felix van Groeningen’s adaptation of Dimitri Verhulst’s Belgian coming-of-age autobiography is not for the faint of heart. The film centres on a clever teen growing up under the misguidance of his drunk and disorderly father and three like-minded uncles. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but the harmony of raunchy realism and eccentric humour amounts to surprisingly intoxicating, frequently poetic cinema that plays a bit like a boozy blend of Fubar and Ken Loach. It’s a touching and positively inspired ode to buffoonish anti-heroism. If you can read French or understand Flemish, the extras, which don’t include English subtitles, consist of interviews and a making-of.

Also Available
The Kids Are All Right (Alliance) It’ll come as little shock if Annette Bening or Julianne Moore (or both?) score Oscar noms for their respective roles as halves of a lesbian couple that gets twisted and turned upside down when their teenage daughter and son reach out to their sperm-donor father (a tip-top Mark Ruffalo). Director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko does a wonderful job depicting a same-sex union that’s as plausibly turbulent as any hetero suburban marriage. Packaging it as an accessible Hollywood dramedy with some added bite was a smart move. Extras: cookie-cutter making-ofs and blasé commentary from Cholodenko.

A Christmas Carol (Disney)
 Robert Zemeckis hasn’t made a live-action film since Tom Hanks got shipwrecked with a volleyball in 2000. In the meantime, the director churned out three dubiously cutting-edge animated features: the trippy and unintentionally terrifying Polar Express, the trippy and unintentionally smutty Beowulf and now the trippy and visually sound translation of Dickens’ holiday classic. (Zemeckis’ upcoming remake of Yellow Submarine is poised to be his most ’shroom-worthy undertaking.) The narrative plays second string to the imagery, but Zemeckis’ equipment has markedly improved and this title actually stands a chance to look OK on 2-D TV, owing to a thorough mise en scène that, for once, justifies the technology. Extras: making-ofs, deleted scenes, interactive bells and whistles.

Modern Times (Criterion) Known as Charlie Chaplin’s last (mostly) silent film and his final appearance as the signature Little Tramp, Modern Times hasn’t lost any of its sophistication and significance in 74 years. If you waited this long to see Chaplin’s man vs. machine masterpiece at home, I can’t imagine it getting better than this. For those who purchased the previous edition — also perty and stacked with extras — I’d say a rental is in order. But if you’ve upgraded to Blu-ray, the Criterion treatment is a must own, featuring several new and insightful extras like commentary by Chaplin biographer David Robinson, two visual essays, a Chaplin two-reeler and a near-spotless high-def transfer.

Children of the Corn (Anchor Bay) The Children of the Corn films haven’t earned much respect. I’m betting that next to no one reading this has endured the entire catalogue, let alone can guess how many sequels were made since 1984’s Stephen King–adapting originator. (Six — you’re welcome.) Despite follow-ups that paid the bills for once-struggling actors Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts, it’s high time that someone restarts from scratch — after all, the origin of small-town quasi-Baptist kiddies killing in the name of He Who Walks Behind the Rows sounds more appealing than Saw 3D, right? Oh, what’s that? They already remade it into this dreadful TV movie for the Sci-Fi Channel? Oh well, whatever, never mind. Extras: behind-the-scenes, interviews.