By Aaron Hillis | The Playlist June 28, 2013 at 2:15PM
1984, dir. Sam Firstenberg
(Shout! Factory, available on BD+DVD combo)
If we can all agree that "guilty pleasures" are ultimately just pleasures that nobody should feel shame for, then isn't this newfangled film-critic buzzphrase "vulgar auteurism" simply auteurism, along with a pompous justification to glorify trash populism? It's a non-starter, whereas the "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" director's second unrelated sequel to "Enter the Ninja" and his own "Revenge of the Ninja" starts like gangbusters, with a ludicrously entertaining, extended fight sequence between an evil, pajama-clad, shuriken-and-blowdart-armed warrior and an Arizona golf course full of yuppies and cops. Goofy as sin but never boring, 'Ninja III' is a nostalgic high-kick of '80s Cannon schlock, in which Lucinda Dickey stars as a telephone line-worker and part-time aerobics instructor who becomes possessed by the spirit of the aforementioned, now-deceased ninja to then avenge his foes. In a long-lost world of genre filmmaking before CGI and wire-fu cheapened the resourceful ingenuity of stuntmen and practical effects, this camp classic is still best appreciated with a six-pack of beer among friends.
The Skinny: What, that gonzo premise alone didn't grab you? How about a triple assassination in a hot tub, an arcade game that smokes with demon possession, and a bit of foreplay in which our horny heroine pours V8 down her shirt for her lover, more "Hot Shots: Part Deux" than "9½ Weeks"?
Bonus Round: Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert share a chilled-out commentary track, remembering how the success of "Revenge of the Ninja"—plus the distributor's request for a female hero and a major plot twist (the supernatural element was lifted from then-recent hit "Poltergeist")—steered the production launch. The team actually shot inside a Phoenix police station because they weren't as busy on Sundays, and Firstenberg describes his moviemaking formula as "a lot of explosions, two good chase scenes, five good fight scenes, and two tremendous action sequences"
Makes a "WTF '80s Action" Triple Feature with: "Miami Connection," "Death Wish 3"
2011, dir. Victor Kossakovsky
(Docurama, available on DVD)
This crazy lil' globe of ours being largely water, there aren't very many "antipodes," or populations that are settled at the exact opposite poles from one another. Shanghai's antipode is in Entre Ríos, while Russia shares one with the Patagonia region of Chile, Spain connects diametrically to New Zealand, Hawaii to Botswana. With no dramatic rules in place beyond a lavishly poetic sense of momentum, juxtaposition, light and space, Kossakovsky's global snapshot—sometimes filmed upside down to magically bridge lands, then cut together as if in real time—is represented by a truly eccentric cast of contemplative Argentinian farmers, a bustling throng of Chinese commuters, even a beached whale. The resulting viewing experience is cosmically funny and intimately melancholic, the Russian-born filmmaker's talent so sharp that it could make Terrence Malick lie awake at night, desperate to tinker more with his 'Tree of Life' footage. Perhaps due to its commercially off-putting Spanish title and uneasy-to-digest premise, this kaleidoscope of cinematic wonderment never received a proper theatrical release, and still arrives now on DVD with little fanfare. That's shameful, as it's one of the most unforgettable doc experiments in years.
The Skinny: Just how few places are there on Earth with a land mass on the other end of the axis? See for yourself.
Bonus Round: Cinedigm's Docurama Films thankfully released the film after two acclaim-generating years on the fest circuit, but why in the world (or its antipode) couldn't they have also dropped a film this visually enchanting on Blu-ray?
Makes an "Arthouse Travelogue" Triple Feature with: "Koyaanisqatsi," "Baraka"
"American Mary" (Xlrator Media, on BD, DVD) - Canadian indie horror's "Twisted Twins" Jen and Sylvia Soska channel the new-flesh fiendishness of fellow countryman David Cronenberg in this wicked, femme-centric gorefest, about a med-school undergrad (Katherine Isabelle) paying her tuition by performing abnormal surgical mutilations on willing Betty Boop and Barbie-smooth fetishists.
"Brooklyn Castle" (Millennium Entertainment, on DVD) - Who'd have thought the highest ranked junior-high chess team in the U.S. comes from a Williamsburg public institution where the majority lives under the poverty level? With higher emotional stakes than "Spellbound," good luck trying to resist this inspiring, affecting doc.
"Clip" (Artsploitation, on DVD) – Like a Serbian cross between "Turn Me On, Dammit!" and "Kids," Maja Milos' sexually explicit debut might seem like a familiar if troubling teen coming-of-age set in the post-Facebook age, but its passionate storytelling shares the rebellious intensity of punk rock itself. Parents, lock up your daughters.
"The Happy Poet" (Cinema Libre, on DVD) - Austin-based filmmaker Paul Gordon brings a sly deadpan charm to his SXSW-vetted slacker comedy as the eponymous and hapless entrepreneur, whose plan to launch an all-organic food cart is thwarted by freeloaders, economic realities, and other mildly absurd speed bumps.
"In the Family" (self-distributed, on BD, DVD) – Overt sentimentality might've derailed Patrick Wang's shattering familial drama, about a gay man's struggle for custody of his child (prior to the DOMA overturning, naturally), but the writer/director/star's beautifully humanistic sense of restraint rings loud and true.
"Lifeforce" (Shout! Factory, on BD/DVD combo) – Tobe Hooper's lurid 1985 sci-fi/horror oddity, co-adapted by "Alien" writer Dan O'Bannon from the novel "The Space Vampires," plays like a gothic Hammer film in the outer cosmos, with Steve Railsback and a cast of British crew members being hunted by a nude vampiress.
"No" (Sony Pictures Classics, on BD, DVD) – Chilean auteur Pablo Larrain ("Tony Manero") rigs the election in this darkly funny, slyly fictionalized, Oscar-nominated period drama, about how the Pinochet regime was toppled with the help of a crafty adman (Gael Garcia Bernal), the skateboarding hipster analogue to Don Draper.
"Of Human Bondage" (Kino Lorber, on BD, DVD) – In this original 1934 adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's masterwork, Leslie Howard falls hopelessly in love with cruel-hearted Bette Davis, but then so did the rest of America. Gorgeously restored, the film has been released alongside "Hell's House," another pre-Code Davis classic.
"The Source Family" (Drag City, on DVD) – The cult of personality turns disturbingly literal in this engrossing doc about controversial spiritual guru, health-food restaurateur, and suspected bank robber Father Yod, who lived communally in the Hollywood Hills with his small army of followers during the early '70s.
"Wrong" (Drafthouse Films, on BD, DVD) – Just when you thought the director of the killer-tire freakout "Rubber" couldn't get more surreal, Quentin Dupieux bends minds again in this playfully chaotic tale of a man (Jack Plotnick), a lost dog, a pet detective, an oversexed pizza delivery girl, and more suburban wackadoos.