FastScans: Top Foreign & Indie Picks | November 15, 2013

By Jeff T. Dick, Davenport, IA

Europa Report. color. 90+ min. Magnolia. 2013. DVD UPC 876964006002. $26.98; Blu-ray UPC 876964006019. $29.98.

About a space mission to uncover potential life on Jupiter’s moon Europa, director Sebastián Cordero’s sf thriller starring Sharlto Copley, Embeth Davidtz, Michael Nyqvist, and others works up a high level of suspense despite its talky narrative. Among the most effective entries in the found-footage genre engendered by The Blair Witch Project, Europa employs its low budget and restrictive point of view to smart advantage, forgoing pricey special effects in lieu of the power of suggestion. For fans of realistic sf.

Seconds. b/w. 107+ min. Criterion Collection. 1966. DVD ISBN 9781604657586. $29.95; Blu-ray ISBN 9781604657579. $39.95.

A frumpy middle-aged banker tired of his life undergoes a transformation to give him a new one. With a radically altered face and changed identity, Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson) starts to fulfill his early aborted promise as an artist but finds embracing a free-spirited lifestyle clashes with his internal makeup. While technically not an indie film, John Frankenheimer’s chilling sf/horror drama has the makings of one—avant-garde and decidedly noncommercial—which helped draw a cult following and a much-deserved second chance.

The Stranger. b/w. 94+ min. Kino Lorber. 1946. DVD UPC 738329120221. $29.95; Blu-ray UPC 738329120320. $34.95.

Five years removed from his auspicious debut with Citizen Kane, Orson Welles directs himself as a Nazi official taking refuge as a small-town prep school professor, trailed by a war crimes investigator (Edward G. Robinson) determined to bring him to justice. Suspenseful, if melodramatic, this classic thriller has primarily been available via low-quality public domain versions. Kino’s edition offers much higher resolution but doesn’t apply restoration to deal with picture and audio deficiencies. Still, a welcome Stranger.

Two Men in Manhattan. b/w. 89+ min. In French w/English subtitles. Cohen Media Group. 1959. DVD UPC 741952756293. $29.98; Blu-ray UPC 741952756392. $39.98.

A weary newspaper reporter (Jean-Pierre Melville, who also directs) teams up with a boozy magazine photographer (Pierre Grasset) to find a missing French delegate to the United Nations. On the assumption une femme may be involved, the pair track down an actress, a singer, and a club dancer for clues in an after-hours Manhattan inhabited by jazz, neon, cocktails, and a car with an unseen driver trailing them everywhere. Crime-movie maestro Melville offers a lustrous homage to film noir for avid genre aficionados.

War Witch. color. 90+ min. In French & Lingala w/English subtitles. Tribeca Film, dist. by Cinedigm. 2012. DVD UPC 767685294468. $26.95.

Kidnapped by African rebels and forced to battle alongside them, 12-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza, a real find making her acting debut) is dubbed a “war witch” for her fighting, which would include shooting innocents when so ordered. Komona’s voice-over to her unborn child, the result of a rape, opens the story on a devastating note: “I don’t know if God will give me the strength to love you.” Kim Nguyen’s lyrically made albeit downbeat film, which garnered an Oscar nod, leavens its sadness with a love story for which viewers will be grateful.