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New on Disc: 'Rabbit Hole' and more …

18 Apr, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Rabbit Hole

Street 4/19
Lionsgate, Drama, B.O. $2.2 million, $29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for mature thematic material, some drug use and language.
Stars Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller, Giancarlo Esposito, Sandra Oh.
Just as this past December was wrapping up, two of the best movies in years about marriages in trouble opened 10 days apart: Blue Valentine and this adaptation of the David Lindsay-Abaire play that won a 2007 Tony. Each got its lead actress (respectively, Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman) merited Oscar nominations. Rabbit Hole is a strong ensemble work with an especially good role for Kidman, who’s had a tough go of it recent years after a spate of indifferent, or at least indifferently received, pictures. The couple that Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play recently have lost their son, who ran into the street chasing his dog and got hit by teen who wasn’t driving recklessly. In a tight 90-minute rendering that never gives much indication that it was ever a play, we see how both parties (friends and relatives, too) react to the situation. Dianne Wiest plays Kidman’s mother, who keeps on trying to equate the loss of her own 30-year-old son to heroin with a little boy who was chasing a pet. The script (which Lindsay-Abaire wrote) never wavers too far without injecting some humor, which is something viewers should know if they’re thinking of rejecting this subject matter out of hand.
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The Explosive Generation

Available via Amazon.com’s CreateSpace
MGM, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars William Shatner, Patty McCormack, Lee Kinsolving, Billy Gray.
“Bud” is bothered — or at least confused — by hormones. An almost grown-up Patty McCormack has graduated from The Bad Seed to the kind that, at least potentially, can leave you “with child” (as it used to be termed in Pearl Buck novels). And the high-school teacher who protects student rights when it comes to talking about sex is played by … Bill Shatner? Not to oversell the result, but in truth a drama that sounds as if it’s going to be pure exploitation along the lines of Teenage Doll or The Cool and the Crazy has to rank among the more prescient movies of its decade, or at least the early part of it. When the usual array of uptight parents try to put the clamps down on free expression here, their children organize a protest — just as this exact same generation would just a few years down the road. Generation goes a little soft at the end when the parents do the same, but the movie is fundamentally concerned about free speech. The school is full of familiar faces, even beyond McCormack’s. Billy Gray, who had recently wrapped up six seasons playing Bud on “Father Knows Best” is the car dealer’s son; wouldn’t it have been great seeing him ask TV dad Robert Young on that fabulous series for advice on the best brand of condoms?
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While the City Sleeps

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price, John Barrymore Jr.
Shrewdly marketed as the screen pursuit of a punk serial killer who’ll terrorize the entire Naked City if the New York Sentinel can trumpet his deeds enough, director Fritz Lang’s penultimate Hollywood feature actually is a sexually frank (for its day) look at old-school metropolitan journalism, especially in the after-hours. Take one look at Rhonda Fleming in a two-piece doing twist-and-turn exercises around the house in front of clueless husband Vincent Price (ill-coordinated shirt and shorts with dark socks). Even a 9-year-old would suspect that she’s getting naked in the city with someone else — and she is. Despite the large cast and keen use of widescreen throughout, this was a low-budget affair just as RKO and Lang’s Hollywood career were winding down in the same year — though Lang’s swan song (also with Andrews) would follow in three months. That was Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, which also is just out as a Warner on-demand release.
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Dogtooth (Blu-ray)

Kino Lorber, Drama, B.O. $0.1 million, $34.95 Blu-ray, NR.
In Greek with English subtitles.
Stars Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Hristos Passalis, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Christine Anna Kalaitzidou.

2010. When Greece’s recent foreign-language Oscar nominee also turns out to be something John Waters calls (on the box) “by far the most original film I’ve seen in a long time,” you’ve got my attention.

Judging solely from personal experience, cinematic works this twisted and “out there” tend to be products of Spanish-speaking countries, and IMDb.com, at least, claims that Dogtooth is a remake of a 1973 obscurity from Mexico called Castle of Purity that would be interesting to see for contrast. The original likely doesn’t have director/co-writer Giorgos Lanthimos’ disorienting framing of actors — not always but sometimes — that had me wondering at first if the aspect ratio setting on either my TV or Blu-ray player was out of whack. It’s disorienting because oftentimes the composition is clean and even formally pristine — which goes along with the story’s physically spic-and-span home (well-tended grass and a pool as well) that houses a father, mother, two growing-up daughters, one growing-up son … and another son who’s imaginary and supposedly dwells over the backyard wall.

No one except for dad has much grasp on reality, and dad is no open-and-shut case himself. Not unlike the punks in A Clockwork Orange, the family speaks its own language — though in this case, they misapply words known to all instead of making them up whole cloth the way they did in the Anthony Burgess novel and classic Stanley Kubrick film version. Dad keeps everyone in a household prison (though mom seems to be a conspirator), but he himself goes to work at a factory he either owns or manages. His one family concession to the outside world comes courtesy of a female security guard at the plant. He regularly blindfolds her (no fair knowing where we live) and takes her home to provide sexual release for the son. The real one, that is.

If the movie is trying to say anything (and here, all bets are off), it seems to be that if a fissure or two starts to appear in the supremely rigid existence you’ve established for yourself, the symbolic result is likely to be something akin to the climax to the World War II drama The Dam Busters when those initial cracks in the targeted dam’s cement gives way to massive flooding of the Ruhr Valley. The imported outsider starts communicating with the sisters, even partaking in mutual licking regimens — but that’s another story. Soon, the siblings (and these are kid who are not “all right”) are have grown more rebellious than dad would like.

This is one of those movies where you either go with the flow or incessantly ask, “How soon will it be over?” Dad has engendered a familial fear of cats, teaching his offspring to bark like dogs. In one scene, the son graphically kills a housecat with a pair of garden shears, a passage guaranteed to jettison the PETA moviegoer demographic in about one second. There’s also a scene where dad plays an LP of "Fly Me to the Moon," complete with the familiar Count Basie/Quincy Jones arrangement. He tells everyone the featured singer (who isn’t Frank Sinatra but someone doing a fairly good imitation) is grandfather calling — which almost makes you wonder if there’ll be follow-ups from Uncle Dean, Uncle Joey and Uncle Sammy. But the movie has set up such weird ground rules that one is never sure whether we’re getting a bogus Frank because someone didn’t want to pay the music rights — or because filmmaker Lanthimos is trying to make some arcane point.

It takes a certain mindset to accept these hijinks, which evolve into something lower when the story takes some genuinely disturbing turns. As a result, it wasn’t too difficult to toss Dogtooth onto my mind’s “reject” pile — until the next day, when I found myself thinking about it more than expected. In other words, it’s one of those naggers. To me, the most interesting thing about it is the fact that same Oscar voters who could award best picture to a movie as conventional as The King’s Speech could also find a way to even consider this one for the foreign-language designation. This has to be the final nail in the supposition that the academy votes in a homogenized mindset.

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