5 April DVD Titles You Should Know About, Including 'Chinatown,' 'A Trip To The Moon' & 'Girl On A Motorcycle'

Features
by Drew Taylor
April 4, 2012 2:05 PM
8 Comments
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While the future of home entertainment may be rapidly moving towards a digital streaming-led future, we can't be the only movie nerds who still love owning a physical copy of something. Sure, BluRay and DVD might be scratchable, easily lost and adorned by terrible box art, but there's something about the feeling of finding an undiscovered gem in the depths of a store, or getting a rarity in the post, that doesn't quite compare to clicking and watching something on Netflix. 

As such, starting with this column, every month we're going to pick out five BluRays or DVDs new to the market that no self-respecting cinephile's shelves could do without. Some are shiny new versions of stone-cold classics, some are obscurities, some might even be brand new releases (although less often: those are covered pretty well elsewhere). Read on for more.

"Chinatown" (1974)
Why You Should Care: Simply put, it's one of the best film noirs of all time. The Roman Polanski-directed, Robert Towne-scripted mystery, which stars Jack Nicholson as skuzzy private eye Jack Giddes who uncovers a conspiracy involving a femme fatale (Faye Dunaway), a wealthy tycoon (John Huston), and the Los Angeles water supply, was nominated for 11 Academy Awards (winning one for its twisty-turny script), and holds the #2 position on the American Film Institute's list of all-time greatest mysteries. The film was first proposed after producer Robert Evans offered Towne a tidy sum to write an adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" -- the writer instead insisted he be paid a far lower amount for an original film of his own invention. That film turned out to be "Chinatown," the first part of a proposed trilogy involving corruption and natural resources in Los Angeles county. (The sequel, "The Two Jakes," which centered around oil, was released in 1990 but was plagued by creative difficulties and is mostly forgotten.) Polanski was hired for his stylistic vision and European sensibilities, which resulted in a contentious tug-of-war over the film's bleak ending. Polanski, returning to Los Angeles for the first time since his wife Sharon Tate's murder by the Manson family, maintained that the downbeat ending must stay (it, along with jettisoning lengthy, Raymond Chandler-esque narration, was one of the few changes Polanski made to the script). Its tragic ending makes "Chinatown" even more profound and compulsively rewatchable. It's also fun viewing the film after the Oscar-winning "Rango," which lifted whole sections of plot and dialogue (Huston's monologue about "the future" appears verbatim), but refashions it for family-friendly viewing and anthropomorphic creatures.
What's On It: The new BluRay includes all of the special features from previous editions, including the highlight: a feature-length commentary featuring Robert Towne and David Fincher (who, on the extras for his own "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," cites "Chinatown" as being a chief inspiration). It is a must-listen.
Release Date: Out now, via Paramount

"Conversation Piece" (1974)
Why You Should Care: Director Luchino Visconti's answer to Fellini's "La Dolce Vita," "Conversation Piece" concerns a retired professor and art collector (Burt Lancaster, more than a decade after their opulent epic "The Leopard") whose Italian palazzo is besieged by an outspoken Italian noblewoman (Silvana Mangano), her lover (Helmut Berger), her feisty daughter (Claudia Marsan), and her daughter's boyfriend (Stefano Patrizi). Things, somewhat predictably, fall apart after that. A forgotten film even for the regularly underrated Visconti, his penultimate work was heavily censored in Spain for its sexual content and deemed politically subversive due to multiple mentions of fascist dictator Francisco Franco's daughter and son-in-law. (In Britain, its original theatrical run removed the word "cunt" from the film; a subsequent 1983 theatrical release and later home video releases restored it.) This is the first time the film is being released on home video in America – and what's more, on BluRay, a detail-oriented format perfect for Visconti's lush visuals.
What's On It: The disc includes the original theatrical trailer, an interview with film critic and screenwriter Alessandro Bencivenni, the original English-language track (all of the actors provide their own voices), and a fully illustrated booklet by Mark Reynolds.
Release Date: April 10th via RaroVideo

"Roadracers" (1994)
Why You Should Care: Originally part of an almost-completely-forgotten 1990s Showtime series called "Rebel Highway," which amazingly, included made-for-television films directed by John McNaughton, Mary Lambert, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante, John Milius, William Friedkin, Ralph Bakshi and Jonathan Kaplan, the idea was to either remake old exploitation films of the 1950s, or make new films approximating that spirit. (This was during an incredibly active period of original filmmaking on Showtime, which also included a bumper crop of Roger Corman remakes and above-average sequels to Alfred Hitchcock classics.) Rodriguez's entry, "Roadracers," was an original, notable for being his second feature (after "El Mariachi") and the only film in the series directed by a young filmmaker (the project was put together by American International Pictures co-founder Samuel Z. Arkoff). Shot in thirteen days, it concerns a hooligan named Dude Delaney (David Arquette) who has aspirations to become a rockabilly star, but is sidelined in his quest by a feud involving the sheriff (William Sadler) and his son (Jason Wiles). Salma Hayek, making her American debut and in the first of a series of collaboarations with Rodriguez, plays the Dude's saucy girlfriend Donna. The film's infamously contentious production (Rodriguez's strong will and unwillingness to compromise were in full effect) was chronicled in the now out-of-print book "Roadracers: The Making of a Degenerate Hot Rod Flick."
What's On It: More than five years ago Rodriguez was quoted as having put together a new digital color-corrected restoration (with a new 5.1 soundtrack), a ten-minute film school, and recorded a new commentary track, all of which are (finally) included here.
Release Date: April 17th via EchoBridge (via Miramax)

"Girl on a Motorcycle" (1968)
Why You Should Care: Directed and shot by legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff (towards the end of his charmingly oddball directorial career), "Girl on a Motorcycle" is a psychedelic '60s road movie that is equal parts exploitative and empowering. Based on Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues' novella "La Motorcyclette," it concerns a bookseller's daughter named Rebecca (Marianne Faithfull) who leaves her husband on her beloved motorcycle, embarking on an erotic and existential journey of self-discovery. The international cast also features Alain Delon (as the professor who aids in her liberation), Marius Goring, Catherine Jourdan and Jacques Marin and features British Grand Prix motorcycle road racer Billy Ivy standing in for Faithfull in shots that are far enough away to be appropriately indecipherable. The film is probably most remembered for Faithfull's full-body leather motorcycle suit, which she zips into naked (the film's alternate title was "Naked Under Leather"), but remains a singularly weird and intoxicating experience, at least for anyone interested in motorcycle movies or '60s strangeness.
What's On It: A glitzy BluRay re-release of the Redemption DVD from a few years ago (updated with staggeringly awful new "groovy" cover art), it includes the original theatrical trailer.
Release Date: April 24th from Kino Video (via Redemption)

"Trip to the Moon" (1902)            
Why You Should Care: Although this release may have been spurred on by the film's inclusion in Martin Scorsese's recent Oscar-nominated kids' movie "Hugo," the 14-minute-long French black-and-white silent film from Georges Méliès remains a visionary masterpiece. Based in part on both Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" and H.G. Wells' "First Men on the Moon" (clearly copyright laws were somewhat more lax back then), it's seen as a groundbreaking work for a number of reasons (it boldly combined animation and special effects for a series of unforgettable images, most notably the spaceship being lodged in the moon's eye) and largely considered one of the greatest films of all time. Last year the film was screened with a brand new (and entirely intoxicating) score from French electronic duo Air. That score is included here, along with the original hand-coloring of the film (cells were literally painted), along with a black-and-white option with more traditional musical choices (the Air version may be seen as the Giorgio Mororder-does-"Metropolis" take). Whichever version you watch, "Trip to the Moon" still soars.
What's On It: A 65-minute-long documentary called "The Extraordinary Voyage," which features interviews with Scorsese, Michel Gondry, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Costa-Gavras, Tom Hanks, and recent Oscar winner Michel Hazanavicius; an interview with Air; two additional Méliès shorts ("The Astronomer's Dream" and "Courtship of the Sun and Moon"); along with an informative 25-page booklet.
Release Date: April 10th via Flicker Alley

There are some additional noteworthy releases in April: Paddy Considine's admirable, emotionally raw directorial debut "Tyrannosaur" (out now); the wonderful Madonna documentary "Madonna: Truth or Dare," which hasn't aged all that well but still features Warren Beatty hilariously squirming when the camera turns on him (out now); Werner Herzog's harrowing death row documentary "Into the Abyss" (April 10th); the third season of the underrated Rod Serling-hosted "Night Gallery" (April 10th); influential illegal immigration drama "Alambrista!," which won the inaugural Camera d'Or at Cannes in 1978 (April 17th); "Incredibles" director Brad Bird's brilliantly hellzapoppin' leap to live action "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol" (April 17th); Shout Factory's "Roger Corman's Cult Classics: The Nurses Collection" includes four films ("Candy Stripe Nurses," "Private Duty Nurses," "Night Call Nurses," and "Young Nurses") and untold bare breasts (April 17th); the underrated urban drama "Pariah," which was ten times better than "Precious" and got one-tenth the exposure (April 24th); Ti West's spooky/goofy lark "The Innkeepers," which features a brief cameo by "Girls" sensation Lena Dunham (April 24th); and while we haven't seen it yet we do admit to a certain amount of morbid curiosity about the Halle Berry basically-direct-to-video shark thriller "Dark Tide" (April 24th).  

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8 Comments

  • Googie | April 7, 2012 11:45 PMReply

    The "staggeringly awful new "groovy" cover art"...is the ORIGINAL artwork featured on the one-sheet. You might wanna use Google image search before posting.

  • Benjamin | April 4, 2012 3:19 PMReply

    I really like all these lists and stuff you guys have been doing. I felt a little spoiled when you guys wrote all those Malick articles that were perfect toilet reading when The Tree of Life was released. More articles like that and this, please? I tend to go to the bathroom a lot.

  • Kevin Klawitter | April 4, 2012 2:27 PMReply

    The third part of the "Chinatown" trilogy was meant to be based around the highway system. Of course, it was never made, but it wasn't a total loss...the story was eventually used as the basis for the screenplay to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit".

  • James | April 4, 2012 2:18 PMReply

    It's inaccurate to say that Polanski only dropped the voiceover and had the ending changed. As Polanski and Towne describe in a featurette on the DVD/BD, they spent weeks sitting across a table from each other revising the script because it was far too long and complicated as originally written. Together they gradually, painfully winnowed it down to its current form.

  • Bill | April 4, 2012 2:14 PMReply

    No mention of Steve McQueen's SHAME? Wtf?

  • Nadine | April 8, 2012 10:04 AM

    I was also confused by that...

  • Tyrannosaurus Max | April 4, 2012 6:33 PM

    yeah I get the idea, and I sincerely appreciate the concept and this article a whole lot, but I at least expected to see Shame in that section at the bottom which includes Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol...

  • The Playlist | April 4, 2012 2:29 PM

    The idea -- which is still being refined as you can see -- is to focus on off-the-beaten-path DVDs and not releases that most users are very aware of.

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