Wednesday, January 16, 2008

This Just In: New Releases

The Tiger and the Snow (La Tigre e la neve), 2005, directed by Roberto Benigni, Italy
Borrowing a bit from the plot of his Oscar-winning film Life Is Beautiful, Italian actor-director Roberto Benigni plays a romantic poet who vows to follow his love (Benigni's real-life wife, Nicoletta Braschi) to the ends of the earth -- even if that means going to Iraq at the dawn of the American invasion. Skirting political bias, Benigni's whimsical comedy presents a world in which all camps are absurd. French actor Jean Reno co-stars.

Holy Mountain (La Montaña Sagrada), 1973, directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mexico
Avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky weaves a grotesque tale rich in allegory and sacrilegious imagery as a thief (Horácio Salinas) is first crucified, then enlisted by an alchemist (Jodorowsky) to join a group of elites who seek divinity and immortality. Juan Ferrara, Adriana Page, Richard Rutowski, Valerie Jodorowsky, Zamira Saunders and Ana De Sade also star in this surreal mind trip.

Sansho the Bailiff (Sanshô dayû), 1954, directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan
After deliberately disobeying a cruel feudal lord, a governor and his family are exiled and forced to fight for their survival, standing up to a pack of slave drivers determined to capture them and tear them apart. Extras include interviews with Japanese film critics Tadao Sato, Tokuzo Tanaka and Kyoko Kagawa, who discuss the influential work of director Kenji Mizoguchi and the film's status as a cinematic masterpiece.

El Topo, 1970, directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mexico
In this surreal Western, avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky uses allegory and religious iconography to tell the story of a gunfighter, El Topo (Jodorowsky), who wanders the desert on an odyssey seeking enlightenment. But first, he must defeat four master gunfighters and dig a tunnel to free a colony of deformed underground dwellers from their dark confines. This experimental film reached cult status as the first of the "midnight movies."

The Burmese Harp, 1956, directed by Kon Ichikawa, Japan
Set during World War II's last days, this indelible antiwar drama chronicles a Japanese soldier's transformation after coming face to face with the human cost of war. Sent to inform another platoon the war is over, Cpl. Mizushima (Shôji Yasui) can't persuade the men to surrender and becomes the lone survivor when the British attack. But the casualties he sees on the way to rejoin his unit overwhelm Mizushima, and he soon finds a higher calling.

Woman in the Dunes (Suna No Onna), 1964, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, Japan
Hiroshi Teshigahara's award-winning drama centers on a bug expert (Eiji Okada) conducting research who's captured by locals. Held captive in a sandpit with a young widow, he struggles with his imprisonment -- and his growing attraction to the woman (Kyôko Kishida). Based on Kobo Abe's novel, the provocatively erotic allegorical film earned the Cannes Special Jury Prize and two Oscar nominations.

Casshern (Kasshân), 2004, Japan
After decades of warfare, Earth has become a toxic wasteland, and the survivors are slowly dying from a terrible disease. Dr. Azuma (Yusuke Iseya) has developed a genetic treatment that might help regenerate the population, but his experiment goes horribly wrong. Inadvertently creating a race of mutants that threaten the future of mankind, Dr. Azuma must seek an unlikely ally to help defeat the monsters he's created in this sci-fi adventure.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna Ga Kaidan Wo Agaru Toki), 1960, directed by Mikio Naruse, Japan
From acclaimed Japanese director Mikio Naruse comes this somber and moving tale of Keiko (Hideko Takamine), a middle-aged bar hostess who entertains businessmen after work in the postwar Ginza district of Tokyo. Soon, she finds herself at an unwelcome crossroads -- marry a rich client or buy a bar of her own. Naruse, in one of his most socially conscious films, examines the system that traps Keiko in this dehumanizing and merciless lifestyle.

Fires on the Plain (Nobi), 1959, directed by Kon Ichikawa, Japan
In director Kon Ichikawa's harrowing film set in the Philippines during World War II, a Japanese soldier, his emotional and physical resources nearly depleted, endures the vicissitudes of war. Ichikawa, whom some cineastes say was as talented as his better-known contemporaries, including Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi, had a way with infusing light in the darkest places.

Train Man: Densha Otoko (Densha Otoko), 2005, directed by Masanori Murakami, Japan
While riding the train, a desperate geek meets the girl of his dreams, prompting the socially deprived but brave young nerd to start a chat room thread asking his faceless Internet compatriots, "How do you talk to girls?" The courtship advice he receives from his online pals -- and what he does with their expert counsel -- form the basis for this charming romantic comedy, a love story for the 21st century.

Requiem, 2006, directed by Hans-Christian Schmid, Germany
Set in 1970s Germany, this taut drama from director Hans-Christian Schmid follows troubled 21-year-old Michaela Klingler (Sandra Huller), a devout Catholic whose epilepsy results in a tragic exorcism. Michaela is determined to get a college education regardless of her condition, but the pressures of school and sexual awakenings give rise to seizures that she ascribes to demonic possession. Based on a true story, the film also stars Imogen Kogge.

Verdict on Auschwitz (The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial 1963-1965), 1993, directed by Rolf Bickel and Dietrich Wagner, Germany
Twenty-two former members of Hitler's SS, many of whom had carved out comfortable lives for themselves in postwar West Germany, stood trial in 1963 before 360 witnesses who accused them of murdering millions. This riveting, heartbreaking documentary re-creates the momentous Frankfurt trial. Filmmakers Rolf Bickel and Dietrich Wagner build the film around taped testimony from more than 200 Auschwitz survivors.

Antibodies (Antikörper), 2005, directed by Christian Alvart, Germany
After confessed killer Gabriel Engel (André Hennicke) is captured, small-town cop Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Möhring) interrogates him, hoping a journey into the madman's twisted mind will give clues to an unsolved murder committed in the same heinous manner as Gabriel's crimes. Gabriel claims to know the killer's identity but turns the investigation into a psychological game, leaving Michael questioning his own sanity in this German thriller.

Equinox Flower (Higanbana), 1958, directed by Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
In his first color film, acclaimed director Yasujiro Ozu explores the tension between modern romance and family tradition in postwar Japanese society. A prosperous businessman (Shin Saburi) with a reputation for doling out sound, objective relationship advice to his friends finds it difficult to practice what he preaches when his oldest daughter (Ineko Arima) announces her engagement to a man he doesn't like.

Late Autumn (Akibiyori), 1963, directed by Yasujiro Ozu, Japan
Acclaimed director Yasujiro Ozu explores the flipside of the traditional mother-daughter bond in this touching family comedy set in postwar Japan. Reluctant to marry and leave her widowed mother (Setsuko Hara) all alone, a dutiful daughter (Yôko Tsukasa) resists selecting a suitor. But her late father's friends, who are eager to see both women happy, insist on stepping in to play matchmaker.

Reincarnation, 2006, directed by Takashi Shimizu, Japan
A Japanese actress (Yûka) comes face to face with a slew of restless spirits when she signs on to star in a horror film -- the true story of a crazed professor's murderous rampage that left 11 victims, including his young daughter, in its wake -- being shot at the very site where the grisly killings took place. J-horror master Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge) directs this darkly mesmerizing tale of crime, punishment and redemption.