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Stop Making Sense (25th Anniversary Blu-ray)
As soon as you wrap your head around the fact it has been a quarter-century since Jonathan Demme and David Byrne teamed up to create Stop Making Sense, you may settle into another realization: Despite the intervening years bestowing a sort of classic-rock status upon the band's hits, the Talking Heads were always an amazingly weird band. After all, what other band would spend nearly the first third of a concert film simply getting all of its equipment and personnel onto the stage? From the opening scenes which find David Byrne plunking out "Psycho Killer" with no other accompaniment other than an acoustic guitar and a boom box, Stop Making Sense slowly builds into an art-rock concert par excellence, and always — amazingly — keeps the focus on the music. Even with Byrne bopping around in his big-ass suit, demanding that everyone acknowledge the concert as An Art Event, the smiles of Tina Weymouth and, more notably, P-Funkateer Bernie Worrell, are far more captivating. This Blu-ray edition offers superb fidelity and a miraculously clean transfer — so clean, in fact, that the film grain is noticeable throughout — but also a wealth of bonus material, including a hilarious Byrne self-interview, two songs ("Cities" and a medley of "Big Business" and "I Zimbra") that were inexplicably cut from the original version, plus, you get the choice of either the feature film's audio mix or a studio mix of the material. —Jason Ferguson
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Diamond Edition Blu-ray
One of the greatest animated movies ever made finally hits Blu-ray in a stunning three-disc set packed with games, documentaries and incisive commentary for cartoon buffs. The 1937 film still ranks as one of the genre's all-time best — aside from the painstaking, hand-drawn animation — with a classic villain and seven little guys who've influenced toon sidekicks for decades. Heigh-ho! —Michael Gallucci
If you don't learn something when you see a movie by Mira Nair, then you're not paying attention. An educator as much as she is an entertainer, the Indian filmmaker makes important message movies bursting with truth and effervescence — ethnographic journalism with a slick Hollywood sheen.
A textbook case for proponents of the auteur theory, Nair's oeuvre is a never-ending cycle of recurring themes charting the relationships between classes, between genders, between India and the West.
Criterion's new Monsoon Wedding two-disc reissue is the best place to begin imbibing Nair's motley world, where fiction and documentary lucidly commingle. The film itself, well worth its acclaim as a culture-clashing, world-colliding groundbreaker, is like a Rosetta stone for understanding life in India at the dawn of the millennium, in all its embraced contradictions of globalization and nativism.
But the real key to a deep understanding of Nair lies in the compendium of seven short films included on the second disc, six of them new to DVD. The shorts date all the way back to her early documentary work, completed years prior to her award-winning feature debut Salaam Bombay!
From 1982, the hour-long So Far From India features, like many characters from her forthcoming fiction work, an Indian emigrant forging a life in the United States, and the cultural displacement that ensues. He leaves behind a cloistered family life and an arranged marriage — organized two weeks before his emigration, ostensibly so he wouldn't troll around for women in the States — for a life of being lost in America. Commenting on our country's lack of filial community, he says, "You forget everyone in America. Who's your uncle? Who's your brother? Your life is your own there."
The film also spotlights gender double-standards in a patriarchal culture where women are repressed, a theme elucidated further in 1985's India Cabaret. In this short, also clocking at about an hour, Nair explores the world of not-so-exotic dancers who take their clothes off and awkwardly waddle around in small, sleazy, luridly lit nightclubs while dumpy, inebriated, half-asleep men gaze at the strippers' layers of flesh before returning home to their wives. Removing all the associated titillation from the strip-club documentary, it's a probing look at the hypocrisy surrounding upper-class prudishness toward cabarets, and an exposé of the constant shame and disrespect the dancers face.
In Nair's similarly message-driven narrative shorts, she films with the heart of her documentary roots, fictionalizing real traumas. It doesn't always work: The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat (1993) is a stilted mix of vérité realism and film-school stylization, with the honorable goal of depicting a composite white family's exile from South Africa following the assassination of Communist Party president Chris Hani. Nair's 11-minute contribution to the September 11 omnibus film — her only short previously available on DVD — fares better as it sorts through the emotional and racial shrapnel of the 9/11 attacks with the story of a Muslim man missing on that fateful day.
The messages continue to hit home, unforgettably in 2007's "Migration," a cautionary tale about the indiscriminate scourge of AIDS as it infects all of India's income brackets, and in the brief "How Can it Be?" (2008), involving the simple act of a woman asserting her independence and leaving her husband and child (the astonishing incredulity of the act is expressed well in the short's title).
Finally, after all of this intensity, we're asked to sit back and laugh. As the short that has the least connection to any of the others, The Laughing Club of India explores the phenomenon of laughing clubs, which began in Bombay and have since spread across the globe. Nair's straightforward documentary could just have easily appeared on PBS or 60 Minutes, showing that laughter can share the same meditative qualities of yoga and can provide both therapy and community to those in need. You'll be astonished at all the muscular, difficult and downright bizarre variations of laughing, and if you're anything like me, you'll rush to Google the laughing clubs in your area. As I said, in every Mira Nair film, you learn something. —John Thomason
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Clone Commandos
Prepping for the upcoming box featuring the entire first season of Cartoon Network's hit animated show, this four-episode sample includes one of the series' best story arcs. Most of the action takes place on a rocky planet, setting up some cool battles — which make up 95 percent of The Clone Wars' greatest scenes. —Michael Gallucci