Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
It would be difficult to name a more essentially Canadian film than Zacharias Kunuk’s Inuit epic Atanarjuat, but it’s just as hard to imagine a more foreign cinema experience, regardless of where you come from.
Based on an ancient Inuit legend about two brothers and a curse that nearly destroys a village, Kunuk’s film would be considered remarkable just for its mode of production - filmed on digital video in the achingly stark far north, with a sensibility and rhythm particular to Inuit culture. Like most legends in their most primal form, it’s rich in imagery but so peculiar to the culture that produced it that an outsider needs as much help as possible to get a mental purchase on what they’re seeing.
Helpfully, the double-disc release of the film includes a graphic summary of the legend, a family tree of the principal characters, and a “fact track” that runs along with the subtitles, full of helpful notes and production details. A brave person could try to go it alone, without the DVD’s menu of viewing aids - what they’d see is a film set in a stark and unforgiving world that nonetheless produces grim poetry with almost every new scene. A remarkable achievement, beautifully presented.
Stuart Little 2
The unassailable sweetness of the Stuart Little films - refined to an almost cloying extreme from the E. B. White stories - make for easy-to-recommend family entertainment. Michael J. Fox’s Stuart is a winsome creation, doubly so in the sequel, where he’s recently been displaced as the Little’s youngest child. Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis once again pour a lot of goodwill into their roles as a young child’s dream parents, and guest voices Melanie Griffiths and James Woods round out the cast as a duplicitous but unhappy canary and a sinister falcon.
Since digital/live-action hybrids like the Stuart Little films are unlikely to disappear, the DVD package includes documentaries on the filmmaking process, including a “show and tell” feature clickable off of the film itself. Extra features include game previews, weblinks, and a read-along storybook. A great deal, even in a crowded market of family DVD packages.
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Alfonso Cuaron’s coming-of-age film, about two teen buddies on a road trip with a sexy older woman, might be the raunchiest addition to the genre in years. It’s certainly one of the most intimate portraits of life among Mexico City’s middle class every put onscreen.
Tenoch, the son of a wealthy, corrupt politician, and Julio, his poorer best friend, head for the coast with Tenoch’s cousin’s wife Luisa, who’s just left her husband and, for reasons known only to her, wants to wrench her life into a new direction. The boys are willing collaborators and convenient tools, so eager for a sexual adventure to redeem an aimless summer that they’re unaware of how Luisa is demolishing their lives.
Cuaron and his actors do an incredible job with a story that could have been just another pretentious soft-core road movie. The boys in particular are almost painful to watch, eager and arrogant and unguarded. By the end, when Luisa and the summer have sewn real doubt and insecurity in their minds, it almost seems like a gift, a necessary brutalization that might help them survive the real trials of adulthood.
What To Do In Case of Fire
A slick political comedy about a group of former anarchist punks brought back together when one of their old “projects” belatedly destroys an abandoned Berlin villa. Gregor Schnitzler’s film is a kind of Big Chill for the now-nearly-fortysomething revolutionaries who lived in squats and talked about smashing the state as if they actually knew what to replace it with.
Except for two die-hards, the old crowd have moved on to bourgeois lives, not surprisingly. Schnitzler has a lot of sympathy for these battered idealists, and it would be easier to share it if their idealism, when it’s occasionally articulated, wasn’t so cavalier about who gets hurt by random bombs and ill-considered acts of rebellion.