Editor’s Note:The Wonder Years: The Complete Fourth Season, IndiePix Mix 10 Volume 2, Love Finds You in Charm and Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser will be released in their respective formats on January 12, 2016. The American Friend will be available from The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray and a two-disc DVD version, also on January 12, 2016.
The American Friend
The American Friend (The Criterion Collection), directed by Wim Wenders, is an homage to Hollywood film noir, adapted from Ripley’s Game, the third Tom Ripley novel by Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train). Hamburg picture framer and paint restorer Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) meets Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper), a shadowy American. Zimmermann insults him, knowing Ripley is involved in selling art forgeries in Germany. In retaliation, Ripley passes Zimmermann’s name to Raoul Minot (Gerard Blain), a French mobster seeking a hitman. Minot and Ripley use faked medical tests to convince Zimmermann that he’s dying of a rare blood disease, and promise a substantial sum of money for his family when he dies if he agrees to become Minot’s hitman. He does.
The American Friend works as both thriller and character study. Ripley is an entirely self-serving, cold-hearted crook who uses intimidation and whatever else it takes to get his way. A classic manipulator with an oily charm, he has made a career of deception and dishonesty, winning the confidence of his marks, then homing in for the kill. Ripley is potentially lethal, and anticipating what he will do next comprises the major suspense element of the film.
Ganz is especially effective as a man involuntarily enmeshed in a situation he cannot control. This is familiar Hitchcock territory, but Wenders isn’t as deft with it. Despite the falsified medical records, Zimmermann seems too willing to commit murder. After all, he is hardly a killer by trade. Once the plot is established, however, several well written scenes between Zimmermann and Ripley establish each man’s shaky moral compass.
Bonus extras on the new, restored digital transfer Blu-ray edition include audio commentary from 2002 featuring director Wim Wenders and actor Dennis Hopper; new interview with Wenders; new interview with actor Bruno Ganz; deleted scenes with commentary by Wenders; a trailer; and a critical essay. The film is in English, French, and German, with English subtitles.
IndiePix Mix 10, Volume 2
“IndiePix Mix 10, Volume 2” (IndiePix) is a collection of ten award-winning independent films from around the world. It features Ondi Timoner’s 2009 Sundance Grand Jury-winning documentary, We Live in Public, which examines the loss of privacy in the Internet age.
Other documentaries include Bhopali, which details how a 1984 Union Carbide groundwater contamination disaster has affected a second generation, and Disarmed, an evocative, visually striking film that spans a dozen countries to look at how millions of antipersonnel mines continue to claim victims daily around the world. Noaz Deshe’s White Shadow, details the murder of albinos in Tanzania by gangs of men who hack off arms, legs, genitals — believed to bring good fortune, prosperity and the ability to cure any illness — and sell them to witch doctors for thousands of dollars.
That Girl in Yellow Boots is a voyeuristic drama following one woman’s quest to find her missing father, the last remaining link to her broken family. In the sprawling chaos of Mumbai, Ruth (Kalki Koechlin) survives by serving men’s desires at an unlicensed massage parlor and clinging to the hope of one day finding a good man. Director Anurag Kashyap shot the film with HD hand-held cameras.
Soldate Jeannette is a comedy about two women from opposite ends of the social spectrum. Fanni (Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg), a member of the Vietnamese bourgeoisie, tires of her life of leisure and sets off on an alpine expedition where she camps in the mountains and burns her money. She finds herself on a livestock farm and befriends Anna (Christina Reichsthaler), a rebellious farm girl eager to move on from her agrarian life.
So Bright Is the View, a Romanian drama, is the feature-length debut of filmmaking brothers Michael and Joel Fluorescu. Estera (Bianca Valea), a middle class Jewish girl in modern-day Bucharest, is at a crossroads, forced to choose between pursuing a job in Atlanta working for a nouveau riche business thug or joining her mother in Israel.
Satellite is about lovers Kevin (Karl Geary) and Ro (Stephanie Szostak) who challenge each other to find meaning in their lives by daring one another to do the things they’re most afraid of. They quit their jobs, sell their possessions, and steal to make ends meet. The dares, which at first brought them together, threaten to destroy their relationship.
Road to the Big Leagues, is about young Dominican men who embark on the competitive road to a professional baseball career. The Nine Lives of Marion Barry, the story of the controversial one-time mayor of Washington, D.C., explores race, power, sex, and drugs in relation to politics.
The 10-DVD set contains bonus features on most of the titles.
The Wonder Years: The Complete Fourth Season
“The Wonder Years: The Complete Fourth Season” (Time Life) captures the trials and tribulations of growing up in suburban middle-class America in the late 1960s, as seen through the eyes of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage). The show aired from 1988 to 1993 on ABC, achieved a spot in the Nielsen Top 30 for four of its six seasons, was named by TV Guide one of the 20 best shows of the 1980s, and won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1988.
In Season 4, Kevin is entering his last year at Kennedy Junior High. Things aren’t going as smoothly as he had hoped. Though he and Winnie (Danica McKellar) are in love and starting ninth grade, they’re at different schools. The Arnolds’ family life is changing, too, with mother Norma (Alley Mills) taking a new job at Kevin’s school, father Jack (Dan Lauria) getting a promotion, elder brother Wayne (Jason Hervey) buying a car, and Karen (Olivia d’Abo) starting college. Kevin gets his first job as a caddy, is guilted into escorting Paul’s little sister to Cotillion, and tries to crash a tenth grader’s slumber party (with beer). He also finds Coach Cutlip (Robert Picardo) moonlighting as the mall Santa after subjecting the gym class to Death Ball and the President’s All-American Physical Fitness Challenge. Kevin’s best friend Paul (Josh Saviano) announces that he’ll be going to prep school in the fall.
The 4-disc DVD set contains all 23 episodes of the 1991-1992 season in their original broadcast versions. Bonus extras include the featurette “ABC: Teachers That Made a Difference” and interviews with Fred Savage, Ben Stein (Mr. Cantwell), Robert Picardo (Coach Cutlip), and Wendel Meldrum (Miss White/Mrs. Heimer). The soundtrack includes songs by The Monkees; Joan Baez; Hank Williams; The Four Aces; Nat King Cole; The Ventures; Aretha Franklin; The Surfaris; Bobby Lewis; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Sam & Dave; Bob Seger; The Byrds; The Who; Judy Collins; and other performers of the time.
Love Finds You in Charm
Love Finds You in Charm (Anchor Bay) is a TV movie about a young Amish woman who reads Jane Austen and dreams of seeing the world. Beautiful Emma Miller (Danielle Chuchran) has a loving family and a marriage offer from the community’s most eligible young man. Her future seems assured. Yet she yearns for adventure and romance. Asked to help her widowed cousin in Ohio run her business, she jumps at the chance to see what else the world has to offer.
Settling into life on her cousin’s farm, Emma befriends local librarian Kelly Bennett (Tiffany Dupont) and gets to know Noah (Trevor Donovan), a striking, well-read young Amish man who helps work the farm. When Emma’s popular homemade cheese attracts the attention of handsome wine-and-cheese blog editor Andy (Drew Fuller), she finds herself pulled between two men and two worlds.
Borrowing heavily from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Love Finds You in Charm is a pleasant movie about wanting more, weighing choices, staying with what is comfortable or moving into unknown territory, and the importance of pursuing a path of one’s own choosing. Ms. Chuchran is an appealing actress who conveys sweetness as well as a thirst for independence. In this respect, her Emma is a modern woman despite her old-fashioned upbringing.
There are no bonus features on the DVD release.
Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser
Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser (Sony Home Entertainment) is a sequel to 2001’s Joe Dirt, about a down-on-his-luck, mullet-sporting redneck janitor. In the sequel, Joe (David Spade) has won the heart of Brandy (Brittany Daniel) years ago and become the father of triplets, overwhelmed by the responsibility and worried that his immature, dopey ways will influence his kids. With little time to contemplate his future, Joe is swept up in a tornado that deposits him back in 1965 to a kind of alternative universe.
The filmmakers struggle to make this loopy premise and sub-par writing work. The actors try their best to make unfunny jokes sparkle but, unable to overcome the lackluster material, they reminded me of seals desperately flapping their flippers to collect a sardine. Spade is a funny guy, as his work on “Saturday Night Live” attests, but he has hit bottom with this dreary flick. He shares writing credit with Fred Wolf.
The Blu-ray edition contains a never-before-seen extended cut. A digital HD copy is included.