Favorite of the Month: Planet Earth (2006)

For those of you who, like me, completely missed this series when it aired on The Discovery Channel, it is now available in a five-disc package narrated by the stalwart British traveler Sir David Attenborough. Simply put, these episodes will astound you with their incomparable nature photography set in exotic and remote locations. The sheer diversity of life on display is humbling and awe-inspiring, and I found myself moved by the instinctual will of the wildlife to adapt and survive. These creatures make us humans look awfully irrelevant.

New Release of the Month: If… (1968)

This irreverent British classic from director Lindsay Anderson has finally been reissued for the first time on DVD. Starring a pre-A Clockwork Orange Malcolm McDowell as a student in a draconian upper-crust boarding school, this absurdist gem coolly conflates post-Colonialism and chic Che rebelliousness into a movie that now, nearly 40 years later, offers both nostalgic indulgence for the baby boomer and an anarchic touchstone for Generations X, Y and Z. The movie seems at times to be nothing more than a naive bauble, but its subversive streak is a reminder that films–even films with silly moments like a priest popping up out of a drawer–used to really matter in the world.

Classic of the Month: A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Director Elia Kazan’s biting commentary on the corrosiveness of celebrity seems more prescient than ever.  Although Budd Schulberg’s script eventually hammers the point home one too many times, this movie–about a homespun hobo plucked from the county jail who ends up preaching a cornpone philosophy to millions on his own TV show–paints a picture of a media ruled by advertisers and ratings, a public willing to be bamboozled and the implicit corruption of money and power. Andy Griffith is mesmerizing in the role of Lonesome Larry Rhodes, a grifter in the guise of a hayseed, and Patricia Neal is, as always, brilliant as the reporter who discovers, first to her delight and then to her horror, who and what Lonesome Rhodes really is.

Documentary of the month: The Bridge (2006)

You will never look at the Golden Gate Bridge the same way again after watching this unsettling documentary about some of the men and women who have committed suicide by jumping off it. Director Eric Steel hired several camera crews to shoot various people on the bridge over several months and then, after one of them jumped, he followed up with interviews of willing friends and family members who talked about the deceased. It sounds ghoulish and voyeuristic, but Steel and his crew would call the police whenever they spotted someone crawling over the railing, and the actual footage of jumpers is kept to a minimum. What could have been a sick YouTube feature is instead a sensitive and brave exploration of mental illness and a candid testimonial from loved ones that, for some people, living is harder than dying.

Under-the-Radar: Following Sean (2006)

Director Ralph Arlyck made a short film in 1969 about Sean, the four-year old who lived above his apartment in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. The kid smoked pot, roamed the streets and watched the hippies come and go from his parents’ crash pad. Thirty years later, Arlyck looked Sean up and found a thoughtful young man who had somehow turned out okay. It doesn’t sound like the premise for a gripping documentary, and it’s not, but by weaving footage from Sean’s extended family into film of Arlyck’s own life, he creates a subtly textured observation of the twists, turns, births and deaths that make up normal life. It’s a refreshing, non-prurient, unsensationalized, poignant, affecting, well-written and well-shot documentary… a rare thing for the genre nowadays.

Give This a Miss: The Fountain (2006)

If they ever give out an award for “Best Performance By an Actor in a Gelatinous Puddle of Howling Mush,” then it would certainly go to Hugh Jackman in The Fountain. Jackman and, in a smaller role, Rachel Weisz, somehow retain their dignity in this New Age nuttiness from director Darren Aronofsky, who must have smoked a Ramtha-sized doobie before committing this time travel travesty to film. Jackman displays talents he kept buried under the whiskers in those wretched X-Men movies, and it was truly painful to watch him suffocate in the fumes of this hooey-filled hookah of a picture.