“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
~ James Gray
By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
The DVD Wrapup: 1911, Higher Ground, There Be Dragons, Man From London, Night and Day, An Idiot Abroad, Australia After Dark …
1911: Collector’s Edition: Revolution: Blu-ray
This epic historical drama about the creation of the first Chinese republic marks Jackie Chan’s 100th film. Given the length and breadth of the nation’s history, it’s possible that no other actor in the world has represented so many different periods and worn the costumes associated with as many rulers. For most of that time, all American audiences knew about the Hong Kong-born actor was his work in the occasional martial-arts export and such Hollywood buddy pictures as “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Noon.” (In his American debut, in “The Cannonball Run,” he was miffed to learn his character was Japanese.) The easy availability of DVDs from China has put a new spin on Chan’s movie career, which began when he was 8. It’s unlikely that Western audiences will be overwhelmed with “1911” or his presence in it, however. By Hollywood standards, the story of the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty feels mechanical and overly dependent on explosions and machine-gun fire, although there is one brief exchange of kung-fu fury.
It’s easier to enjoy the movie, which Chan co-directed with cinematographer Zhang Li, if one thinks of it as an addendum to Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor,” as certain characters and events overlap. Even if most of the action is set outside the Forbidden City, though, some of the most interesting scenes take place as the Empress Dowager Longyu (Joan Chen) is counseled by politicians, generals and European bankers, while simultaneously being fitted for exquisite gowns. Meanwhile, her toddler son and heir to the dynasty, Henry Pu-yi, plays with his toys and enjoys the adoration of Longyu’s loyalists. Chan plays rebel commander Huang Xing (Jackie Chan), whose education in modern-warfare techniques serves him well in battles to come with troops aligned with the Empress Dowager. The other third of the drama is set in the United States and Europe, where nationalist leader Sun Yat-Sen (Winston Chao) attempts to raise funds and diplomatic support for the cause. Other actors who might be familiar to American audiences are Bing Bing Li and Jackie’s son, Jaycee. The Blu-ray adds an unstructured making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka
Higher Ground: Blu-ray
There Be Dragons: Blu-ray
When Vera Farmiga agreed to make her directorial debut with “Higher Ground,” she must have known how difficult it would be to make a movie that took its characters’ faith in Jesus Christ at face value, even as their fundamentalist beliefs make them seem as tolerant and worldly as Taliban. Ever since Ronald Reagan allowed televangelists from the Christian Right to hijack the Republican Party, there’s been no more polarizing a force in American politics than religion. It’s fitting, then, that “Higher Ground” – based on the memoirs of Carolyn S. Briggs – is set in the 1960s and ’70s, when hippie “Jesus freaks” and other disaffected Christians took separate paths to the same beatific destination. Farmiga and her 17-year-old sister, Taissa, play the young woman, Corrine, whose conversion to a fundamentalist lifestyle is described here. Corrine came to Christianity in the usual way for a girl living in a rural community: through her parents’ attendance at church, bible camp and other church activities. While in high school, however, she falls in love with an aspiring rock musician and becomes pregnant in the usual way for impetuous teens: unprotected sex. After their infant is rescued from near-certain death in a tour-bus accident, both Corrine and her husband dedicate themselves to Christ. The congregation to which Corrine and her husband belong isn’t overtly evangelistic and the members’ conservative dress is the only thing that separates them from other residents of the Upstate New York town. They take the bible literally and entertain themselves by singing songs so bland they might have lulled Satan to sleep. Corrine experiences a crisis in faith after her best friend survives surgery for cancer but is left in a vegetative state. When her husband demands that Corrine snap out of her doldrums and get right with Jesus, she decides to see what life is like outside the confines of their closed circle of friends and pastors. Here, too, Farmiga allows the characters to retain their dignity while addressing their doubts and defending their faith. As such, “Higher Ground” is as impressive for its restraint and humanity, as it is for the performances of a fine cast of highly credible actors, including Donna Murphy, Nina Arianda, John Hawkes, Dagmara Dominczyk, Bill Irwin and Joshua Leonard. The bonus material includes a making-of featurette that focuses on Farmiga’s turn in the director’s chair.
Faith also is the core issue in Roland Joffe’s “There Be Dragons.” Set largely during the Spanish Civil War, it deals with several weighty issues still relevant today, including the roots of the Roman Catholic organization, Opus Dei, which was demonized by the media in the controversies surrounding Mel Gibson and his father. If that alone weren’t a sufficiently dramatic subject, “There Be Dragons” also uses flash-forwards to describe a son’s coming to grips with the behavior of his estranged father and his role in the war. Dougray Scott plays a reporter investigating the background of Father Josemaria Escriva (Charlie Cox) in anticipation of his canonization in 2002. Conveniently, several of the trails lead back to his father (Wes Bentley), who was a childhood friend of the priest and, for a brief time, studied for the priesthood, himself. It’s here that Joffe’s attempt to make sense of the complexities of the civil war turns history into melodrama, with facts distorted to fit the dramatization. After leaving the seminary, the reporter’s father, Manolo, volunteers to join the Republican forces as a spy. Meanwhile, Escriva is in constant fear of death by anti-clericalists among the loyalists and is finally persuaded to flee to the safety of Andorra. For good measure, Joffe even conceives a twisted love story involving the spy. Even at 122 minutes, “There Be Dragons” sags under the weight of the storylines. Neither does it benefit from the decision to play down the controversies surrounding Opus Dei and horrors associated with the monarchists and fascists. (Republican atrocities are duly noted.) “There Be Dragons” isn’t difficult to watch as a war story, but viewers with a knowledge of the period will surely be disappointed by the short cuts taken to further the narrative. The bonus package includes making-of features and interviews. – Gary Dretzka
The Man From London
Night and Day
It’s far simpler to characterize the work of Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr as “arthouse” than to expand on what distinguishes it from other highbrow fare or compare it to a painting that hangs on the wall of museum and is easier to admire than enjoy. Even when Tarr’s pictures are exhibited here, they tend not to be shown at the local theater specializing in indie, documentary and foreign titles. Instead, they mostly end up in festivals, on campus or boutique theaters attached to institutions. Today, of course, it’s no longer difficult to locate the movies of an obscure artist on DVD, thanks to such purveyors as Netflix, Facets and Movies Unlimited. Even so, one has to be made aware of the existence of a particular title or director before the search can begin, and you don’t find profiles of people like Tarr in the local newspaper or on “Entertainment Tonight.” The same applies for the more ambitious directors and directors from emerging cinemas, such as those in Asia, South America and Africa. I guess that’s what columns like this are supposed to do.
By comparison to other Tarr efforts, “The Man From London” is simplicity itself. It was adapted in 2007 from a story by Georges Simenon and stars, among other lesser-known actors, the great Tilda Swinton. It concerns the existential dilemma faced by a railroad switchman on the graveyard shift who witnesses a murder and stands to benefit from the recovery of a suitcase loaded with stolen British pound notes. From his perch high above the port and tracks leading into the city – presumably in France – Maloin (Miroslav Krobot) is able to survey the entire area, without anyone knowing he’s there. It’s a lonely job and, judging from the spare furnishings in his apartment, Maloin probably doesn’t make a lot of money. A suitcase full of money would go a long way toward making his life and that of his family easier. It isn’t until a police inspector from London begins making inquiries about the crime in the working-class pub Maloin frequents that he begins to experience the one and only existential crisis he’s likely to face in his lifetime. It isn’t clear if the circumstances surrounding the crime trigger something buried in his conscience or if he’s, at heart, an honorable man buried under a mountain of shit. No matter, as Tarr and collaborators Agnes Hranitzky and Lazlo Krasznahorhai afford Maloin several opportunities to share the fruits of instant wealth with his family or reject the bounty as the devil’s handiwork.
What’s amazing in “The Man From London” is the vibrancy of the black-and-white cinematography – rivaling that of the noir masters – and the directors’ patience in describing so precisely the minute details of the ship carrying the thief, the pier on which the altercation takes place and grim working-class neighborhood a short walk from the harbor. So slowly does time seem to pass as Maloin surveys the port and switching yard that it’s fair to assume that it’s the blue-collar equivalent of the Chinese Water Torture. As they say in the critics’ dodge, “The Man From London” isn’t for everyone. Fans of splendid camera work and challenging subject matter should find plenty here to admire, though. (Swinton’s participation is limited to a key supporting role – Maloin’s beleaguered wife – but, once again, it demonstrates her range and willingness to support outré artists.)
The Paris people fall in love with in the movies isn’t the one we see in Hong Sang-soo’s low-key romantic dramedy, “Night and Day.” This Paris is a city at work and play, where students from around the world arrive each day to immerse themselves in art and culture, and occasionally create some of their own. The skies are rarely sunny; the corner stores can’t keep up with the demand for cigarettes; the streets are littered with dog poop; and four-star meals are few and far between, if at all. There’s plenty of romance to be found, but it can be as complicated and frustrated as it is anywhere on Earth. As such, “Night and Day” is about as removed from Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” as it can be and still be set in the City of Light. In his first venture outside Korea, it’s easy to see why Sang-soo is considered to be the Eric Rohmer of his country.
Sung-nam Kim is a 40ish painter of some renown in Korea. He panics after being busted for possession of marijuana and immediately seeks refuge in Paris. Not being wealthy, Sung-nam is unable to afford the trappings of fame and must settle for sharing space in a crowded hostel run by a Korean man. Despite the fact that he’s married and calls his wife every night, Sung-nam finds himself growing close to young art students and a former lover whose contributions to his life he, at first, can barely remember. One of the most interesting things about “Night and Day” is the easy rapport the Korean students and ex-pats have with each other. Their conversations are so disarmingly naturalistic, it’s easy for viewers to see themselves in the characters. Once a couple of the young women get over the age gap, Sung-nam’s hang-dog demeanor and his marital status, their companionship makes way for love. Before we can feel good about it, though, Sang-soo pulls a final prank on his audience. At 144 minutes, “Night and Day” overstays its welcome by 20 minutes, at least. Sung-nam isn’t nearly as much fun to spend time with as the younger Korean characters that still are brightly optimistic and inquisitive about life. Still, what’s most compelling here is Sang-soo’s light touch and ability to find something interesting to say about everyday people. – Gary Dretzka
Sinners And Saints: Blu-ray
William Kaufman’s high-octane crime thriller is so far over the top, it could only be set in a city as dangerous as New Orleans and be credible. In his first role in nearly a decade, Johnny Strong plays a trigger-happy cop, Sean Riley, assigned to investigate the torture killings of several of the Crescent City’s least reputable citizens. Acutely attuned to what’s happening in the streets, Riley gradually is able to find a link between the murders and re-appearance of an old Special Forces buddy. In “Sinners and Saints,” Kaufman introduces us to members of the murderous gang early on in the picture, without specifically revealing why they’re targeting lower-echelon meth dealers and street-gang soldiers. It involves a recording of atrocities committed in Afghanistan and a reporter’s willingness to pursue the cover-up, but the logic is so flaky it’s clear that Kaufman’s using the recovery of the tape as an excuse to unleash violence of biblical proportions. Even though they’re outgunned and lack the support of city officials, Strong and his new African-American partner prove to be formidable foes for the platoon of mercenaries who descend on New Orleans, which never seems to be populated when the shooting and explosions start. It’s to Kaufman’s credit that the violence is choreographed in such a way that viewers never have to worry about “Saints and Sinners” making any logical sense. The cast also includes Sean Patrick Flanery, Kevin Phillips, Costas Mandylor, Clifford ”Method Man” Smith, Jolene Blalock, Jürgen Prochnow, MMA fighter Bas Rutten and Tom Berenger. – Gary Dretzka
Diary of a Single Mom
The first season of Robert Townsend’s 26-episode Internet series, “Diary of a Single Mom,” has been cobbled together to fit the none-too-rigid requirements of a DVD movie. Any resemblance between it and such previous Townsend credits as “Hollywood Shuffle,” “The Five Heartbeats” and “B*A*P*S” is merely coincidental. Indeed, it owes more to Tyler Perry’s domestic dramas than any of his previous work. It is, however, representative of his efforts to create television programming for the Black Family Channel and other Internet services. “Diary of a Single Mom” chronicles the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Ocean (Monica Calhoun), a 27-year old mother of two who’s agrees to manage a three-story apartment building. It may not be much to look at, but, for Ocean, the place might as well be the Ritz. No sooner does she move into the building than Ocean discovers that she’ll also be called upon to administer to the needs of the other tenants and their kids. The problems of the ethnically diverse characters include quarrelsome boyfriends, lack of money and medical calamities. It’s a bit off-putting to watch former leading men Richard Roundtree and Billy Dee Williams playing geezers suffering through the problems associated with old age, but a gig’s a gig. Diane Carroll makes several appearances in the second season. – Gary Dretzka
The Japanese teens-in-jeopardy thriller “Gurozuka” recalls horror films, such as “The Ring,” that scared audiences around the world and were re-made to serve the purposes of subtitle-averse foreigners. Apparently, there’s been a scarcity of such movies lately. Here, a group of teenage girls spends the weekend in an isolated cabin in the woods. Their plan is to rehearse for a production sponsored by their school’s movie club. Even before they’ve left home, however, a video tape is found, showing the murder of a student several years earlier by a woman wearing a Noh mask. This, of course, leads the girls to believe that a repeat performance could be imminent. It isn’t long before crazy things do begin to happen in and around the cabin. “Gurozuka” isn’t nearly as frightening as it could be, had we not been made aware of the bogeywoman in the forest ahead of time. Even so, it’s a competently made movie and the young actors are pretty game. Teenagers should enjoy it a lot more than seasoned horror buffs. It comes with a making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka
The Summer of Massacre
It’s almost impossible to adequately describe how incredibly disgusting is “The Summer of Massacre,” a horror anthology that wallows in the blood shed by its many now-deceased characters and revels in the grotesquery of its special makeup effects. Writer/director Joe Castro made his bones creating effects for some of the genre’s leading practitioners of gore and gratuitous everything, and “The Summer of Massacre” occasionally resembles a greatest-hits compilation. It dramatizes the exploits of eight different depraved killers in five separate tales. In the first episode, a jogger is viciously mugged by a trio if hoodlums. When a young woman attempts to revive the nearly lifeless man, whose head is split it two, he attacks and kills her. This sets off a rampage bloody rampage – completely without rhyme or reason – until he finally avenges the beating. That’s just for starters, though. Apparently, the 155 murders broke one world record or another. Buffs won’t mind the hideousness of the crimes, but everyone else might want to think twice before entering herein. The DVD arrives with commentary, a director’s diary, interviews, cast auditions and Castro’s “Childhood Massacre” short film.
In Brooks Hunter’s “Kenneyville,” pretty young women are easy targets for demented hicks who either are protecting the mad scientists on the outskirts of town or are too stupid to realize that evil is being perpetrated by the mad scientists on the outskirts of town. Either way, they’re definitely disappearing and presumably being experimented upon by someone attempting to turn highly sexualized robots into assassins. Private investigators Patrick and Megan pose as tourists in an effort to locate an Ontario lassie, Kim. It doesn’t take long before they’re lured into the den of perverted siblings in the employ of Dr. Adrian Black, a specialist in hallucinatory drugs and needles. “Kenneyville” could have stood to be a bit sexier, but who needs gratuitous sex when you have gratuitous violence? – Gary Dretzka
Australia After Dark
The ABCs of Love and Sex
According to Mark Hartley’s highly entertaining documentary, “Not Quite Hollywood,” there’s no exploitation like Ozploitation, whether it be action, violence, horror or sex. Here are a couple of good examples of that. Made in 1975, “Australia After Dark” is goofy travelogue clearly inspired by such Italian shockumentaries as “Mondo Cane,” “Africa Addio” and “La Donna Nel Mondo.” Those films introduced western audiences to the rituals, sexual proclivities, red-light districts and violent pastimes of cultures not yet overexposed by cable television networks. “Australia After Dark” is heavy on gratuitously naked men and women, the activities along Sydney’s infamous King’s Cross district and among fetishists, drunk aborigines, bikini designers and the crazy ways people in the Outback amuse themselves. None of it is terribly shocking today, but the narration and choice of curiosities is entertaining in a campy sort of way. In a side note, young people today might also be amazed to see what women looked like before they began shaving, waxing and sculpting their nether regions. It’s truly hairy down under.
“The ABCs of Love and Sex (Australia Style)” was directed by John Lamond, the same man responsible for “Australia After Dark.” He was spending time in Sweden, doing post-production on that film, when he decided that the country’s liberal attitude approach to pornography could work to his favor back home. I didn’t see much Australia-specific material in the film, which essentially is a sex-education primer at 24 frames per second (“A is for anatomy, B is for babies, etc.”). The models and scenery all appear to be Nordic and Lamond also elected to include the testimony of a decidedly homely representative of the Swedish Institute for Sexual Research. Even by the standards of the day – 1978, well after the release of “Deep Throat” – the vignettes feel forced and primitive. But that isn’t at all the point of the DVD release from Intervision, which specializes in cultish fare. Otherwise, the bonus package might not have included the commentary of Lamond and Hartley. – Gary Dretzka
Sid & Nancy: 25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact the Sex Pistols had on pop culture in England and the United States. Pop rock had existed prior to the release of “God Save the Queen” and “Never Mind the Bollocks” – Detroit’s MC5 and Stooges, the Ramones and New York Dolls all preceded the Sex Pistols – but it was easily ignored by the mainstream media. Among the non-musical contributions of the Pistols were such cultural atrocities as safety-pin accessorizing, puke-green hair, the pogo dance, indecipherable lyrics and interviews, undisguised contempt for the status quo and pop iconography, and a tendency to spit on their fans. Their first American tour – through the Deep South, of all places – more closely resembled Wrestlemania than the third wave of the British invasion. Sid Vicious’ heroin addiction only added to the contempt shown the band by the press and fascination of fans bored by the leftover attractions of the ’60s, progressive rock, glam rockers and the weasels that controlled the radio and record industries. Alex Cox’s anti-romance, “Sid & Nancy,” describes not only the disintegration of the relationship between Vicious and the schizophrenic groupie, Nancy Spungen, but the prevailing hopelessness among independent and underground artists. Cox didn’t attempt to sugarcoat any of the unappetizing material in his loud, nasty and utterly brilliant 1986 chronicle of the couple’s downward spiral toward death. Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb portray Sid and Nancy as parasites feeding off each other’s strength and weaknesses. As such, it isn’t an easy movie to watch, even for those viewers aware of the context of the times and the methodology of the director whose previous credit had been “Repo Man.” The anniversary Blu-ray includes a pair of featurettes, “For the Love of Punk” and “Junk Love.” I encourage anyone interested in pursuing the subject to pick up the 2010 documentary, “Who Killed Nancy?,” which is critical of the NYPD’s investigation of Spungen’s death and offers an alternative scenario of the events that led to it. – Gary Dretzka
An Idiot Abroad
Primeval: Volume Three
Anyone who’s enjoyed HBO’s animated comedy, “The Ricky Gervais Show,” knows who Karl Pilkington is and Gervais’ dismissal of him as a “bald-headed Manc twat.” (“Manc” refers to his Manchester background.) In the often hilarious show – itself, an extension of a radio and Internet series — Gervais and longtime collaborator Stephen Merchant discuss all sorts of crazy things, but are at their best whenever they invite Pilkington to add his deadpan commentary. As something of a trailer-park Everyman, Pilkington’s observations span the spectrum from ignorant to strangely logical. In “An Idiot Abroad,” Gervais and Merchant delight in shipping Pilkington off to places most travelers pay huge sums of money to experience first-hand – the Taj Mahal, Chichen Itza, Petra, the Dead Sea, Machu Picchu, Rio de Janeiro and the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Unlike most tourists, though, Pilkington’s itinerary is the handiwork of a true sadist. His lodgings are below sub-par, his meals can only charitably be described as exotic, his transportation is primitive and he’s surrounded by people who don’t speak or understand English. In some destinations, Pilkington’s primary goal is to locate modern plumbing facilities. Imagine “Without Reservations” crossed with “Fear Factor” and you’ll have a pretty good idea what “An Idiot Abroad” is like. It’s easy to empathize with Pilkington, who is game for almost anything here, except another eight-hour trek through the desert on a recalcitrant camel and dining on toads. The series can be found in the U.S. on the Science Channel.
The BBC American hit series, “Primeval,” is all about anomalies. Somehow, a wrinkle in the space/time continuum allows creatures from the long-ago past and unforeseeable future to exist in present-day England. It is up to a team of scientists led by Professor Nick Cutter to investigate the temporal anomalies (“earthquakes in time”) and deal with the invaders. They also hope to come up with a way to predict the arrivals. “Volume Three” is comprised of 13 episodes from the fourth and fifth seasons of the series, when new members of the team are introduced, alongside ever-more-evolved threats to humanity. It also includes several background and making-of bonus features.
History: King Arthur and Medieval Britain
History: Frozen World: The Story of the Ice Age
Nova: Iceman Murder Mystery
Nova: Finding Life Beyond Earth: Blu-ray
Nature: The Animal House
Nova: Deadliest Volcanoes
Frontline: Lost in Detention: The Hidden Legacy of 9/11
I don’t think it was the intention of the History Channel to completely deflate several centuries’ worth of legends and lore involving King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but someone had to do it, I suppose. Fortunately, the producers of “King Arthur and Medieval Britain” had the decency to fill the vacuum with lots more mystery, conjecture and provocative history. It dates back to the arrival of the Romans, building of Hadrian’s Wall and the invasions of various hordes. Allusions to Arthurian figures and events that may have contributed to the myth can be found almost everywhere in ancient texts and other passed-along material. Pinning down a particular 6th Century warlord, however, proves difficult. The story is told through dramatizations and archival images. The series also deals with the origins of Lancelot, Guinevere, Merlin and Excalibur; the history of arms and armor and the quest for the Holy Grail.
History’s similarly exhaustive “Frozen World” and Nova’s fascinating “Iceman Murder Mystery” take viewers back to a period in Earth’s history when global warming was something to be welcomed, not feared. The changes wrought by the thick blanket of ice continue to shape how we live today. The great thing is that evidence of the changes surrounds us and can be seen without the employment of either a telescope or microscope. That we can still be surprised by the evidence, though, is just part of the appeal of “Iceman Murder Mystery.” For the past 20 years, scientists of several different stripes have been investigating the cause of death for a Copper Age man who was buried under ice for more than 5,000 years in the Italian Alps. The autopsy reveals clues that could keep the characters on “CSI” guessing for an entire season, including the contents of his stomach and presence of a bow and arrow.
“Finding Life Beyond Earth” revives the question that’s been perplexing mankind for as long as humans could ask questions: where can I find a trustworthy mechanic? No, it’s “Are we alone in the universe?” and some scientists believe we may be getting close to an answer. We meet some of them in this DVD and Blu-ray. Another persistent question is, “Where do animals go when it rains?” Why do some animals build structures and others don t? Most of know where beavers live and how their houses get made, but where do less busy critters go? As far as I know, most of the animals featured in “The Animal House” have yet to earn a degree in architecture.
Of all the horrific ways people can be killed in natural disasters, being devoured by a lava flow may be the coolest. Buried in ash, not so much. The “Nova” episode, “Deadliest Volcanoes” tackles the endlessly fascinating study of volcanology and how the eruptions have changed not only the landscape, but also the way people live in their shadow.
Republican candidates for president enjoy beating up President Obama for not being tougher on illegal immigrants than he already is. “Frontline: Lost in Detention: The Hidden Legacy of 9/11” argues that Democrats don’t have to take a backseat to anyone on deportations and crappy treatment of our unwanted guests. The show examines Obama’s enforcement strategies, who is being detained and what is happening to them. – Gary Dretzka
Astral City: A Spiritual Journey
This Brazilian export combines key aspects of “Heaven Can Wait” and “Defending Your Life,” in the interest of a story about reincarnation. It was adapted by Wagner de Assis from a novel said to have been written by the spirit, Andre Luiz, through the Brazilian medium, Francisco Candido Xavier. Or, something like that. Here, the self-centered Dr. Luiz dies and awakes in the limbo-like realm of “Umbral.” It resembles a swamp, teeming with zombies instead of alligators. At some point, the doctor is snatched from the mud flats and brought to the spiritual city of “Nosso Lar” (“Our Home”), which could have been inspired by the Albert Brooks comedy. It’s here that Luiz is introduced to people working to improve and perfect the reincarnation process, which apparently needs fixing. The doctor probably could have used a bit more time in purgatory, as he routinely gave in to temptations of the seven deadly sins. He has other things to offer the community, though, than his personal redemption. “Astral City” reportedly was the most expensive movie to make in Brazilian history. The visual effects probably won’t impress most American audiences, as the backgrounds look as if they were lifted from a storybook. It’s intended, I think, for the kind of viewers who would like to see crystals and talismans sold at concession stands, alongside the popcorn. – Gary Dretzka