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Anchor Bay's Wim Wenders Collection

The Scarlet Letter (December 9/06)

Based on the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter follows scorned adultress Hester Prynne (Senta Berger) as she attempts to forge some kind of a life for herself in 17th century Salem - a task which proves virtually impossible due to the ceaseless scorn of the puritanical villagers. Director Wim Wenders imbues The Scarlet Letter with all the style of a filmed play, emphasizing flat visuals and exceedingly low-budget production values. The film's various problems are exacerbated by the overwrought and heavy-handed vibe, as Wenders offers up a series of characters that are far from complex (something that's reflected in the uniformly over-the-top performances). There's consequently very little that actually works here, and one can't help but marvel at Wenders' consistently wrong-headed directorial choices (that he's essentially disowned the film in the years since its release doesn't come as much of a surprise).

out of

Wrong Move (December 11/06)

Pointless and interminable, Wrong Move follows would-be writer Wilhelm (Rüdiger Vogler) as he leaves home and embarks on a journey that brings him face-to-face with several quirky characters - including a mute acrobat (Nastassja Kinski) and a struggling actress (Hanna Schygulla). Filled to the brim with dialogue and voice-over narration that generally comes off as laughable (ie "people with restricted professions reminded her of dried-up snails"), Wrong Move possesses all the elements one generally associates with a stereotypically self-indulgent foreign flick - with the film's ridiculously deliberate pace and uniformly emotionless performances the most obvious examples of this. Director Wim Wenders' far-from-compelling visual style is exacerbated by the almost total lack of character development, something that's particularly noticeable in terms of the film's central character (to call him detached would be an understatement of epic proportions). But the bottom line is that Wrong Move, virtually from start to finish, is just dull, and there's little doubt that even the most patient fan of Wenders' films will find their will tested by this exasperating piece of work.

out of

The American Friend (December 12/06)

Before it completely falls apart in its third act, The American Friend is a slow-moving yet occasionally thrilling adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley's Game - the third installment in her five-part Tom Ripley series. The story follows German picture framer Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) as he encounters a mysterious art dealer named Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper), and subsequently winds up embroiled in a scheme to knock off two underworld types. While the film is never as effective as Liliana Cavani's recent adaptation of Highsmith's book, The American Friend does benefit from Ganz's subtle, thoroughly compelling performance (which is occasionally the only thing holding the viewer's interest). Hopper doesn't fare quite as well, however, although this is primarily due to the vagueness with which writer/director Wim Wenders' has painted his character (that he remains an inscrutable figure is perhaps the point, admittedly). And although there are at least two genuinely tense sequences contained within The American Friend's overlong running time, there's simply no overlooking the virtually disastrous final half hour (to say that the movie fizzles out is a wild understatement).

out of

Lightning Over Water (December 14/06)

Unquestionably the worst movie of Wim Wenders' career and indeed one of the worst movies ever made, Lightning Over Water is a frustrating, utterly interminable pseudo-documentary revolving around the last days of director Nicholas Ray. Wenders initially offers up a fictionalized account of his relationship with Ray, though the filmmaker does start to include "real" footage as the movie progresses (primarily out of necessity, as Ray becomes too ill to proceed with the scripted elements). While there are a few genuinely poignant moments contained within Lightning Over Water's disastrously overlong running time, the film is generally dominated by Wenders' incredibly intrusive stylistic choices - a problem that's exacerbated by the tinny, hollow sound that renders much of the dialogue unintelligible (Ray's slurred speech certainly doesn't help matters). The complete lack of authenticity - coupled with Wenders' almost laughably pretentious narration - ultimately cements Lightning Over Water's status as a needless and thoroughly ill-advised swan song for famed director Ray.

no stars out of

Room 666 (December 17/06)

Only Wim Wenders could successfully assemble some of the top directors in cinematic history and still emerge with a stunningly dull piece of work. The filmmaker, during the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, directed fellow movie makers such as Steven Spielberg, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Jean-Luc Godard to an empty hotel room, where a camera recorded their respective responses to one question: "What is the future of cinema?" Given that their responses are either laughably pompous (as is certainly the case with Godard's incoherent 10-minute soliloquy) or strangely uninteresting (Monte Hellman expounds on his penchant for taping televised movies), there's exceedingly little here to hold the interest of even the most die-hard cinephile (if nothing else, however, one should be grateful for the mercifully short running time).

out of

Tokyo-Ga (December 18/06)

With Tokyo-Ga, Wim Wenders' stunning incompetence is made clear right from the get-go as the filmmaker offers up an opening voice-over that's drowned out by the score from an old Yasujiro Ozu movie (then again, judging by the expectedly nonsensical narration that follows, this may not necessarily be a bad thing). Tokyo-Ga follows Wenders as he travels to Japan out of respect for Ozu's work, although much of the film consists of utterly pointless visits to various attractions within the Tokyo area (ie an indoor golf course, a company that produces fake food, etc). Despite the inclusion of an admittedly interesting interview with Ozu's longtime cameraman (which, of course, goes on far longer than one would've liked), Tokyo-Ga remains an unusually interminable experience throughout the entirety of its running time. The DVD's failure to include English subtitles certainly doesn't help matters, as a German-language interview with Werner Herzog - presumably the highlight of the film - is rendered unintelligible for the majority of North American viewers.

out of

Notebook on Cities and Clothes (December 20/06)

Notebook on Cities and Clothes essentially cements the feeling that Wim Wenders should be kept far, far away from the documentary format, as the filmmaker's refusal to eschew his avant-garde tendencies even temporarily results in a truly and thoroughly maddening experience. Ostensibly a portrait of Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, the film is instead a platform for Wenders to ramble on and on about nonsensical things (his typically baffling narration is laughably pompous; ie "we live in the cities, the cities live in us"). Wenders' experimental use of video - ie he'll often film a tiny image against a bigger one - becomes increasingly infuriating as the movie progresses, with the end result a movie that's just about as aesthetically-unpleasing as one could possibly fathom. Far more egregious, however, is the short shrift the filmmaker gives to his subject; Yamamoto certainly seems like an interesting guy, but one would never know thanks to Wenders' heavy-handed and intrusive agenda.

no stars out of

A Trick of Light (December 21/06)

A Trick of Light is a silly yet sporadically entertaining pseudo-documentary in which filmmaker Wim Wenders, along with the help of several film school students, tells the story of the Skladanowsky brothers - Max, Eugen, and Emil. In the late 1800s, the trio invented a method for projecting moving images which they called a Bioscope; unfortunately for the siblings, Auguste and Louis Lumière also emerged at around the same time with a similar - yet vastly superior - device called the Cinematographe. Wenders alternates between re-enacted footage of the brothers' misadventures and an interview with Max's 91-year-old daughter, with the former shot entirely on a vintage, hand-cranked camera (lending such sequences the feel of an authentic silent movie). It's all very cute and watchable, though one can't help but lament Wenders' ill-advised decision to weave fictional elements into the interview footage (ie Max's elderly daughter is interesting enough to ensure that such shenanigans ultimately come off as distracting and superfluous). Add to that the utterly interminable end credits (which go on for 20 minutes!), and you've got a film that's admittedly not as bad as some of Wenders other efforts but disappointing nevertheless.

out of

About the DVDs: Anchor Bay Entertainment presents each of these eight films in their proper aspect ratios (which, in some cases, means full-frame transfers), along with commentary tracks for all and other assorted bonus features for some.
© David Nusair