Posts Tagged ‘Four Star Video Heaven’

She’s breaking my heart

April 27, 2010

Austin-based director/actor Bob Byington’s “Harmony and Me” (2009) was one of the surprise hits of the 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival. Somehow, this 75-minute “romantic” (for lack of a better word) comedy filled the 1000+ seat Union Theater to maximum capacity. However, its reception by that audience is another story. J.J. Murphy wrote:

if I were to pick one indie film of the past year that I would jump at the chance to see over and over again, it would be Harmony and Me, a film in which every single scene manages to work, while being woven into an intricate medley of idiosyncratic humor. And I say this as someone who generally shuns comedies for the simple reason that most of them aren’t very funny.

Fearful Symmetries’ Palmer thought differently:

Despite really wanting to like Harmony and Me I ended up feeling like director Bob Byington tried way too hard to create a childish movie and ended up succeeding. I mean this literally. While I like things crass, this movie was something my 10-year old stepson would probably fall over laughing at. I mean, I like The Three Stooges but this just gave shallow and insulting a bad name.

I’m with Murphy on this one; “Harmony and Me” features hilarious turns by Alex Karpovsky (“Beeswax”), Pat Healy (“Rescue Dawn”; “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”), Kevin Corrigan (you name it, he was in it) and Byington himself (who also had a memorable role in “Beeswax”). There is indeed a pervasive whinyness throughout the film (mostly courtesy of mumblecore man-about-town Justin Rice), but it’s so calculated and cleverly deployed that I simply don’t see how anybody could find it grating rather than funny. That Byington and his collaborators were able to achieve such a consistently high and dry level of hilarity with ostensibly D.Y.I. means is a marvel.

Like Murphy, I too could revisit “Harmony” over and over again. Well, now I’ve got my chance to do so: Four Star Video Heaven just began carrying “Harmony and Me” on DVD. I’ve got a hunch that you’re going to like it, and I’m not just saying that.

(Visual) Quotes…, 4/22

April 22, 2010

Today’s installment of (Visual) Quotes… features images from Claire Denis’s very worthwhile “35 Shots of Rum” (2009), which is now available for rental at Four Star Video Heaven. “35 Shots” is an engrossing and evocative film that extracts a great deal of poetry from the so-called “everyday,” that is to say, it caramelizes the quotidian; in this way, it probably deserves to be grouped in Denis’s oeuvre with “Friday Night” and “Nenette and Bobi” (with “Chocolat,” “The Intruder” and “Beau travail” on the other side of the spectrum). Of course, “35 Shots of Rum” is also an unrelenting pleasure to look at (props to Agnès Godard, as always).

Get (re)acquainted with “sa vie”

April 21, 2010

Perhaps you’ve already heard but today the Criterion Collection released Jean-Luc Godard’s fourth feature, “Vivre sa vie” (1962), on what is no doubt a handsome new DVD.

I’m not embellishing when I say that “Vivre sa vie” is one of the greatest, most poignant and most formally striking films ever made; it may be the single most powerful document of love between a fragile young woman (Anna Karina) and a slightly older man who finds poetry in her every gesture (Godard, whose gaze is manifested through Raoul Coutard’s revolutionary camerawork) in all art.

The film’s rewatchability is almost unparalleled—of all Godard’s work (much of which I prefer), it is “Vivre sa vie” that I return to a couple times a year, just to make sure that it remains as affecting and potent as it seemed to me the first time I saw it.

Armed and dangerous with her raven bob and buttoned-up cardigan, traipsing around Paris with a breathtaking (har har) mixture of whimsicality and precocity, Karina is the image of beauty as a bottomless pond on a windless day. As everybody seems to know at this point, all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun, and “Vivre sa vie” is as perfect an illustration of this axiom as any in Godard’s oeuvre. I can’t wait to check the new Criterion disc out; it practically goes without saying that you should go out of your way to do so yourself. “Vivre sa vie” is now available for rental at Four Star Video Heaven.

Five yes/no questions with Manohla Dargis

April 16, 2010

I’m always running into familiar faces at Four Star Video Heaven, but those faces usually don’t belong to such eminent figures in the film community as UW’s David Bordwell and the NY Times’ Manohla Dargis. I’ve been reading Dargis quasi-religiously for some time now, so when I heard she’d be at Four Star for an in-store WORT broadcast, I knew I had to suppress my nerves and introduce myself.

Seeing as how Dargis has no shortage of speaking engagements and interviews to attend to while in Madison, I thought it was only fair that I keep my interview with her to five yes/no questions; because she’s apparently nothing if not a gamer, she was willing to oblige me. (Her answers are paraphrased.)

ds: In your estimation, is Michael Mann the best filmmaker to attend UW?

md: Yes. [Bordwell then reminds her that James Benning is a UW alum. This causes her to change her answer.] No.

ds: Is digital video diminishing the beauty of the film image?

md: No. (The video image and the film image are utterly distinct.)

ds: Is seeing a film on a laptop always inferior to seeing it on the big screen?

md: No.

ds: Is file-sharing (torrents, streaming, etc.) good for film culture?

md: No.

ds: Will NYC always be cinema’s artistic capitol in the US?

md: God no.

Don’t forget to check out Dargis’ introduction of Mann’s “Collateral” (4:30 at the Orpheum). Again, many thanks to her for being such a good sport.

In my absence

April 5, 2010

‘ello everybody. Just got back from a 9-day road trip to Boston, MA (and countless other places between it and Madison). Only caught one movie while apart from the Badger State; you’ll know which one it was when/if you read my next DC column.

Unsurprisingly, there were a few notable developments in town while I was gone. Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” which I still haven’t seen, began a run at the Orpheum showing alongside Sebastián Silva’s “The Maid,” which I also haven’t seen; probably the most attractive coupling of films to play at the Orpheum in quite a while. That said, it’ll be tough to give Scorsese and Silva nearly 4 hours of one’s time when the highly anticipated “Letters from Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa” DVD set is sitting at Four Star Video Heaven, ripe for the rentin’—actually, when I went to scoop the entire trio last night “Ossos” and “Colossal Youth” were both M.I.A., leaving me to begin my private Costa retrospective tonight with the seemingly brutal n’ bleak chamber-binge “In Vanda’s Room.” I guess you gotta start somewhere, right?

Tuesdays are for new DVDs

September 29, 2009

Of all the new DVDs that arrived today at Madison’s own Four Star Video Heaven, the one you probably want to check out is Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience (2009). I missed out on a handful of opportunities to treat myself to The Girlfriend Experience this summer while performing all kinds of bitch work on the super mean streets of downtown Manhattan, so I was very grateful to get another crack at seeing this film; having watched it this morning, I’m pleased to find that it met my expectations with ease. The Girlfriend Experience is disjunctive, slippery, fascinatingly constructed and scarily on-point in its attempts to capture the gaudy affluence and cloaked apathy of contemporary Manhattan. Looking at Soderbergh’s compositions is like squeezing thick chunks of ice: bitterly cold until they begin to burn. The Girlfriend Experience is perhaps too uneven and sketch-like to be a legitimate contender for 2009’s best, but nevertheless it’s a film that anyone who has spent some time in NYC ought to see. For good measure, I give you the trailer:

UPDATE (5:49PM): Glenn Kenny chimes in with a couple words about The Girlfriend Experience DVD and about his own role in the film as an online escort critic (seriously). Q-tips…

Essential rental: ‘Jeanne Dielman…’

August 31, 2009


Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) is widely regarded as one of the all-time greatest cinematic challenges. The film is, in part, an interrogation of cinema as a medium, and the intensity and rigor of that interrogation is unmatched except perhaps in the films of those other masterful analytic provocateurs: Bresson, Warhol, Varda, Straub-Huillet, Godard, Snow, von Trier, etc.

But all of this has already been well-established. What really sets Jeanne Dielman… apart, at least for me, is the experience that the film unleashes upon its viewer: 201 unflinching minutes of pure investigation, yielding an almost effortless dissection of domestic automation, the discreet hegemony of gender roles and daily rituals, and the physical act of shooting a film. There’s nothing quite like Jeanne Dielman…: it’s the least boring 3+ hours of nearly dialogue-free cinema you’ll ever see.

The Criterion Collection’s new DVD release of the film is obviously exceptional. Four Star Video Heaven is now carrying the two-disc set, and having rented it just the other day, I feel compelled to recommend it very, very highly. The set also contains Akerman’s No-Wave-y cinematic finger-painting (and directorial debut) Saute ma ville (1968), which is something of a must-see in its own right.

As far as background literature on Jeanne Dielman… is concerned, there’s a very helpful essay on Criterion’s website by Akerman scholar Ivone Margulies (whose book, Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman’s Hyperrealist Everyday, sounds like a must-read). Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson’s collaborative analysis of the film, a short piece entitled “Kitchen Without Kitsch” (which can be found in the Farber collection Negative Space), is also worthy of a look. But the authoritative breakdown of the film is an extremely comprehensive paper written by UW-Madison professor Ben Singer, entitled “Jeanne Dielman…: Cinematic Interrogation and ‘Amplification'”, which can be found in the Winter 1989/Spring 1990 issue of Millenium Film Journal; a volume of Millenium Film Journals from 1989 is available at Memorial Library, so check it out.

You may find the prospect of a 201-minute time commitment more than slightly repellent, but trust me: You’ll never feel the same way about cinema, or about your apartment.

(Four Star Video) + Heaven

August 4, 2009

As my lone commenter noted yesterday, the new subscription service at Four Star Video Heaven on N. Henry St. sounds almost too good to be true. For $18 a month, subscribers are allowed to rent as many films as they’d like, 3 at a time. Of course, this smells a lot like an effort to compete with the growing hegemony of NetFlix, which recently provided its own subscribers with the “Instant NetFlix” service, allowing them to stream films directly from the NetFlix website (though I’ve heard the selection of films with “Instant” accessibility leaves something to be desired).

Four Star Video Heaven is a local treasure, as its relatively devoted membership would tell you without hesitation; its selection of DVDs, particularly of international films, is nothing short of encyclopedic, and their hours (8:00AM-1:00AM, “every day of the year”) are ideal for impulsive cinephiles. I’ve personally lost a handful of afternoons browsing their immense collection. That said, in the past it’d been kind of a folk-y argument to say that the experience of navigating Four Star’s Library of Babel was rewarding enough in-itself to justify their rather steep rental rates ($4.50 per DVD, 2 for 1 with the coupon that runs biweekly in The Onion). But now that Four Star is willing to compete with NetFlix’s prices, I see no reason for locals not to head there for all their rental needs (that is, if Memorial or College Library doesn’t have whatever you’re looking for). Me, I’m holding off on signing up for the subscription service until I move later this month… next-door to Four Star Video Heaven. No joke.