Whats great about DVD and Home Video is the staggering availability of titles you never saw; if you even heard about them. Although theres nothing like seeing a movie in a theater, seeing a movie at home doesnt have to be second best, especially if the film is worthwhile and hard-to-find.
The four movies in question are from Great Britain, Thailand, South Africa, and Israel. Their themes are varied and the quality of the filmmaking in all cases is solid. These are not cheesy straight-to-video efforts, but examples of national cinemas that have huge followings in their home countries.
New Years Day is from the United Kingdom and it focuses on two teenagers who have to reassess everything thats important in their lives. On a school ski trip, an avalanche kills a teacher and a group of students, leaving two 16-year old boys as distraught sole survivors. The two are beset with guilt, a pressing survivors guilt that shrouds them with despair and angry feelings theyve never before experienced. Hostility overtakes them; then remorse, and soon their young lives become a rollercoaster of emotions. If things dont improve, they want to die and make a pact to commit suicide on the next New Years Day. This is a tough movie, honest and resolutely open about communication and dread. A popular hit at the Sundance Film Festival, the feature was a huge success in its native U.K. The very well-acted picture stars Andrew Lee Potts, Bobby Barry, and two powerhouse women of the movies: Marianne Jean-Baptiste and the legendary Jacqueline Bissett. Its directed by Suri Krishnamma from a screenplay by Ralph Brown, most noted as one of the actors in Withnail And I, the comic hit from 1987. New Years Day is well worth tracking down.
You dont have to have seen The Iron Ladies to have some fun watching The Iron Ladies II. This is the high-energy sequel to the colorful saga of an almost exclusively gay/transgendered team of social misfits who have taken on legendary status in both the world of sports and in the gender wars. Call it Bad News Bears Meets Club Marcella. Incorporating fabulism, hilarious comedy, and defiant queer sweat, the talented Ladies rose to prominence winning the national volleyball championship of Thailand. The gist of the new movie is that the hunkiest player on the Ladies team yes, drag queens can be hunks, abandons the club to start a rival team. So the Ladies go on a whirlwind adventure to China to woo out of retirement a former player who is now a fabulous cabaret star. This really is one of those movies you have to see to believe. But trust me on this one, its so well-made and so cleverly directed that it works on a number of levels including, sexual politics, sportsmanship, and the value of loyalty and friendship. The enjoyable movie is written and directed by Yongyoot Thongkongtoon and is in Thai with English subtitles. Its a hoot.
From South Africa comes a true story and a thrilling one at that. Proteus was an official selection at both the Toronto and Berlin International Film Festivals. The tough-as-nails movie offers a highly combustible combination of sex, race, and politics. And you know what politics was like in South Africa in the 1700s. It wasnt pretty. Among the inmates in a notorious South African prison are two men. One of the men is Claas Blank, an intelligent black soul whose people have been enslaved by colonial rule. Hes been unjustly imprisoned for stealing cattle. The other man is a mysterious and withdrawn Dutch sailor, Rijkhaart Jacobz, who is in jail for the crime of being homosexual. In eighteenth century South Africa the idea that these two men would begin a sexual affair in a Cape Town penal colony is tantamount to drawing a death sentence, but they do. The movie proceeds with power and quite a few jolts to the psyche. Proteus stars Rouxnet Brown as Claas and Neil Sandilands as the Dutchman. Both deliver solid performances. The rest of the cast is up to the task of this very strong little movie. Its co-written and co-directed by superstar Canadian filmmakers John Greyson (Lillies and Zero Patience) and Jack Lewis. Be careful when seeking this out. There are other movies called Proteus, but look for this one from 2003. The movie is in English and in Afrikaans and Nama (the native languages are subtitled).
Neglected children often make for interesting central characters in foreign films. From Israel comes Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi, a terrific drama about a teenage boy who has a secret that eventually comes out. The lad has hidden smarts, but hes so introspective that no one knows, not even his family. Shlomi lives with his overly excitable and essentially useless mother and a very ill grandfather. He has an offbeat musician brother who provides little support. Shlomi also has a sister who has twin children and is married to a sex-obsessed guy who cant stay off the internet. Although hes not doing well in school, Shlomi is a truly gifted cook and takes care of virtually all of the household chores. He is the primary and wondrously loving caregiver - for the elderly grandpa. One day, the schools principal discovers that Shlomi might actually be a math prodigy, even a genius, and tries to get him into a more suitable curriculum. However, Shlomi is more interested in taking care of his family because thats the safe and secure life he knows. Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi is written and directed by acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Shemi Zarhin. The movies in Hebrew with English subtitles, and it offers a sublime performance by Oshri Cohen as the teenager who needs to take responsibility for the kind of person he is and the kind of life he is going to lead. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
Before the onslaught of holiday movies begins, you might want to search out unusual fare at your local rental shop if the unusual fare is available. And if your gift giving is more often than not problematic, especially for the person who has all the clothes they need but loves interesting movies, you can always buy something thats truly completely different, even if you have to go online to do it. And renting films online is now a booming business, as well.