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Jia Zhangke, Pedro Costa, DVDs and More

The DailyUseless

This coming Saturday, Not Coming to a Theater Near You presents Jia Zhangke's rarely screened 2007 documentary, Useless, at the 92Y Tribeca. Leo Goldsmith opens a new series, Jia Zhangke's Migrations, for which Not Coming contributors will be reviewing all of Jia's features:


Jia's vision of China is both a gritty appraisal of a lurching economy and massively destabilizing reconstruction projects, and a phantasmagoria of the intimate desires of its ordinary citizens. Documentary realism vies with the simulacra of contemporary life: cellphone daydreams explode in flash animation, UFOs rise above the Three Gorges Dam project, everyday banalities mix alchemically with the glimmering seductions of popular culture. Jia's is a cinema of contradictions, of fact against fiction, of bitter memory against the utopias of post-socialism. But most of all, it's defiantly a cinema of the present — not a forecast of the glories of the China to come, but an ode to a receding present moment scarred by history and yet bristling with anticipation — and a little hope.

The first entry: Chet Mellema on Platform (2000).

Pedro Costa's Fontaínhas Trilogy is touring New Zealand for the first time, presented by the Film Society, which has a nifty page dedicated to each of the three films: Bones (1997), In Vanda's Room (2000) and Colossal Youth (2006). "Introducing Pedro Costa" is the title of Tim Wong's fine appreciation in the Lumière Reader, where Brannavan Gnanalingam considers Bones today.



"Andrei Tarkovsky's is very much a wet cinema," argues Josef Braun, "and Solaris (1972), his first foray into science fiction, newly available on Blu-ray from Criterion, represents his densest and most haunting use of water, not only as an elemental motif, but as a fundamental narrative resource." Rob Humanick's argument in Slant is "that Solaris proves the yin to Kubrick's yang, not out of contrarian longing, but because that was the form best suited for the content Tarkovsky wanted to explore. The films complement each other more than the director would have probably liked to admit; if 2001 is the intellect, the mind, the more mathematically precise and optimistic of the two, then Solaris is the messy heart of inextricably entangled emotions, imbued with grief and prone to no shortage of creative tangents." Meantime, Jonathan Rosenbaum's reposted his 1990 review for the Chicago Reader, in which he proposes yet another argument, "that Tarkovsky's Solaris, unlike the Lem novel, qualifies more as anti-science fiction than as science fiction."


Marriage Italian Style

"Sophia Loren and Vittorio De Sica were part of a vital moment in popular Italian cinema," writes Ray Young, "when the hugely profitable American market was temporarily open and eager for European imports, when a lot of people were confused by Federico Fellini or wary of Roberto Rossellini…. Kino Lorber has released both a Blu-ray bundle and a DVD set of three of their pictures together under the title The Sophia Loren Award Collection, and any one of them would go well with a bottle of Chianti and a hearty serving of spaghetti and meatballs: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963), Marriage Italian Style (1964), and Sunflower (1970). All co-star Marcello Mastroianni, whose good looks, sly humor and impeccable manner made him a perfect partner for Sophia. Their combined beauty now looks razor-sharp on Blu-ray, especially considering that these films fell to decay over the years and were available in cut, weathered, dubbed, pan-and-scan version." Ray also points fans of Loren to a tumblr he knows we'll fall for.

"Strange bedfellows in this week's New York Times column," announces Dave Kehr, "thanks to the vagaries of the DVD release schedule. On the one hand, here's a stunning new Blu-ray edition of John Frankenheimer's dramatically inert Cinerama spectacular Grand Prix…; and on the other, Laila, a 1929 Norwegian film from Flicker Alley that imagines a Romeo-and-Juliet romance between a pious young merchant and the wild-child daughter of a nomadic reindeer herder. Directed by George Schnéevoigt, who was Carl Dreyer's cameraman during his great burst of creativity in the early 20s (from The Parson's Widow to Master of the House),it's a magnificent landscape film that at times seems to anticipate the Murnau of City Girl and Tabu."

A "preserved but not restored edition" of Erich von Stroheim's The Merry Widow (1925) is out from Warner Archive and Sean Axmaker notes that he "was the auteur of unapologetic decadence in the silent era and he fills this old world fantasy, an adaptation of a popular operetta, with fairy-tale European kingdoms, arrogant royals and aristocrats and lives of uninhibited attitudes of entitlement that allow — nay, encourage — the most wanton behavior in its princes."

DVD roundups. Ed Gonzalez (House Next Door), Mark Kermode (Observer), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and Nigel M Smith (indieWIRE).



"Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' series Three-Way: A Trilogy of Vintage Erotica expands the sensuous cinematic horizon with diverse old softcore features that run the gamut, from B&W 'adults only' material to stylish color spectacular — both late 1960s and highly European — to a forgotten 1970s documentary about an abortive midwestern shoot of a serious indie drama with graphic sex scenes."


Dennis Harvey for SF360: "Suffice it to say you will laugh, you will cry (albeit from laughing). And you will experience possibly the greatest domestic-cat reaction shots in the history of cinema." Unfortunately, I've caught wind of this series a little late and there's only one screening left: Dimis Dadiras's The Wild Pussycat (1969), Thursday at 7:30 pm.

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