AMARCORD (1973). La Dolce Vita and 8-1/2 are the acknowledged masterpieces in the Federico Fellini canon, but Amarcord will always hold a special place in my mind. Decades ago, it was one of the first films that introduced me to international cinema, in effect opening my eyes to a whole new world. In fashioning his childhood memories as a surrealistic jaunt through the circus of life, Fellini offered sights and sensations the likes of which I had never experienced before. At once sentimental, crude, sexy, comical and romantic, Amarcord (translated as "I remember") sets its scope on a provincial town in 1930s Italy. To try to break this down in a narrative sense is a pointless exercise, since the film skips between numerous townspeople, some (like the Fellini surrogate, a teenage boy played by Bruno Zanin) popping up at regular intervals and others (such as the town nymph, essayed by Josiane Tanzilli) disappearing completely from the picture after a pair of brief interludes. Nino Rota's score is exquisite, while Giuseppe Rotunno's camerawork captures images not easily forgotten, from the majestic (the peacock blooming in the snow) to the monstrous (a parade showcasing an enormous Mussolini head). Amarcord deservedly earned the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, with Fellini receiving nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (shared with Tonino Guerra). Extras in the two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke, a deleted scene, a documentary on Fellini and his hometown, Fellini's sketches of the film's characters, a gallery of international posters and stills, and a 64-page booklet featuring two essays (one by Fellini).
LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD (2006). Looking for comedy is fine, but it would have helped matters immeasurably if Albert Brooks had gone looking for balance in his latest undertaking. Fans of the self-effacing comic will find many moments to cherish here, but overall, Brooks never has a clear handle on the material and as a result the movie slips away from him. Playing himself, Brooks finds that he's been chosen (only because more popular comedians weren't available) by the US government to go to India and return with a 500-page report on what makes Muslims laugh. Assisted by two low-level bureaucrats (John Carroll Lynch and Jon Tenney) and a bright Indian student (lovely Sheetal Sheth), he hits the streets of Delhi, puts on a concert and even illegally sneaks across the border into Pakistan to interview some aspiring comedians. Even taking into account its sizable Muslim population, India proves to be a curious setting for a film that should logically take place in the Middle East, but a similar half-baked attitude plagues the entire production, which contains several choice moments but never builds any momentum as it heads toward its soggy conclusion. Despite a few soft jabs at topical issues -- for instance, how the mere suggestion of an American presence on foreign soil might create an international incident -- the movie is ultimately more about Brooks' attempts to gauge his own waning popularity than to provide any insights into the Muslim world. DVD extras include four deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.
TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975). Whether it's Dennis Weaver being menaced by a monster truck in Steven Spielberg's Duel or Kim Darby being dragged away by the little people at the end of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, there's something about the terror-tinged TV movies from the early-to-mid-1970s that have left an indelible mark on those viewers who caught them back in the day. Arguably heading the list is Trilogy of Terror, an ABC anthology film showcasing three yarns written by the prolific Richard Matheson (The Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker) and starring 70s mainstay Karen Black. Barely anyone who saw this can recall what happens in the first two vignettes, but mention the Zuni fetish doll and watch the sweat break out! "Julie" finds Black playing a repressed college professor who finds herself being sexually blackmailed by one of her students (Robert Burton); a twist ending adds some pop to this installment. "Millicent and Therese" casts Black as twin sisters -- one a spinster, the other a tart -- but the surprise ending here can be sniffed out right from the opening minutes. And "Amelia," which Matheson based on his own story "Prey," stars Black as an apartment dweller who discovers that the Zuni fetish doll she bought for her boyfriend has come alive and is out for her blood. Today's jaded, seen-it-all audiences need not apply, but nostalgists who come to the final episode with an open mind will enjoy Black's excellent performance, director Dan Curtis' imaginative staging, and that genuinely freaky doll. DVD extras include audio commentary by Black and co-scripter William F. Nolan and new interviews with Black and Matheson.