Catching Up With New Video Releases at the Knox County Public Library

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Schneider vs. Bax (2015)
Like so many things Dutch, this dark comedy is sleek and stylish and defiant of convention. Ramon Bax (Alex van Warmerdam, who also directed) is sequestered at a waterside bungalow, pecking away at his novel and enjoying the company of a female friend. Unexpected and undesired guests—mostly family—begin arriving at about the same time as the apparently expected but still unwelcome news that an assassin, Schneider (Tom Dewispelaere), is en route. Bax proves to be more than capable of self-defense as the two men engage in a cat-and-mouse farce. The marshy nature preserve surrounding the cottage, with all of its noisy, living, shimmering camouflage, provides a beautiful yet uncomfortable setting for watching two likable enough fellows stalk each other with high-tech weapons and unclear motivations. Under some stress, Bax self-medicates. Cinematographer Tom Erisman gingerly throttles the light passing through his lens, washing out white interiors and expanding swampish and claustrophobic hiding places so that we can better empathize with our drugged hero. The ending is, alas, neither surprising nor satisfying nor complete. But the overlapping stories that unfold in these scenes, given the limitations of landscape and genre, are rich and surprising.

Ghostbusters (2016)
The moral of this: Don’t hate on the ladies or the ’80s. The primary disappointment here is to learn that all of the intemperate so-called debate over this movie turns out to have been industry-generated poof intended to bait summer audiences into theaters. It’s not feminism. And it adheres too rigorously to the 1984 original to be considered remotely irreverent. It’s a pretty good remake without much to add to what was a slight story all along. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones are cast in slightly modified pseudoscientist roles first fleshed out by Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson. The women have great chemistry—Wiig and McCarthy are restrained, and their characters are scripted to seem thoughtful and bright instead of belligerent. If nothing else, use this new release as just cause to revisit the original Ghostbusters and its sequel. Those films make a great time capsule of a pretty disposable period, and it’s a treat to see a not-yet-jaded Bill Murray improvising shrugs, smirks, and general dumbfoundedness to enlarge himself, by gradations, from one scene to the next.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Imagine hard-boiled kingpins like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett mixing with golden-age animators Tex Avery and Chuck Jones and the voice talent who supported them, maybe all sharing a limo to a midnight screening of Chinatown. No doubt this noir mash-up was considered overly ambitious, building an entire feature out of interacting animated and live-action characters and sets. But the puppet characters of Star Wars and Sesame Street had braced us for that juxtaposition. When you combine Blu-ray detail with the fact that this animation is largely hand-drawn and colored on cels, predating CGI, the residents of Toontown often seem more human than much of our current young A-list talent. And casting fireplug Bob Hoskins as private eye Eddie Valiant was genius. He’s about a Barney Rubble anyway, and he does a great job of treading the line between fantasy and, well, fantasy—the real world here is 1940s Hollywood, after all. In view of the fact that it’s a family film, the pacing is pretty lively and the plot never turns corny or too juvenile.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)
In the same vein as the original Ghostbusters, John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London combined a script that swung between horror and comedy with a romantic subplot, incorporating cutting-edge-for-the-time special effects. Released the same year, Wolfen and The Howling also featured grisly transitions from human to monster made realistic by stop-motion filming and sculpted latex stretched over armature prosthetics. Werewolf also made hay of a rock soundtrack that placed familiar songs incongruously into pivotal scenes. (Landis had a bigger hit two years later when he did all of the above in short form, with the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”) The plot: Two American college students (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) are bumming around England when a werewolf kills one and wounds the other. The decomposing corpse of the former taunts the cursed latter as he recovers with werewolf lore and introductions to his undead victims, who must idle among the ether until the werewolf is killed. It’s dated in ways that only help defend its cult status, and on Blu-ray the clueless, cheerful Yanks, old-school frame composition, and boggy/foggy locations push all the right buttons.

Shelf Life explores new and timely entries from the Knox County Public Library’s collection of movies and music.

Chris Barrett's Shelf Life alerts readers to new arrivals at the Lawson McGhee Library's stellar Sights and Sounds collection, along with recommendations and reminders of staples worthy of revisiting. He is a former Metro Pulse staff writer who’s now a senior assistant at the Knox County Public Library.

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