Julie Dash's brilliant, poetic 1991 breakthrough film
Daughters of the Dust
may have inspired more African American women to try their hand at directing - and more film execs to trust their vision, not to mention their skill - but sadly, their numbers have hardly swelled.
Let's hope actor-turned-writer-director Jada Pinkett Smith can turn things around with her daring, complex feature debut, The Human Contract, due on DVD from Sony on June 30 (www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/; $24.96; rated R).
So far, the signs haven't been too encouraging: Although the film did well when it premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival in November, it wasn't picked up theatrically despite Smith's Hollywood mojo as half of the power couple anchored by Will Smith.
Smith's straight-to-DVD feature is far better than half the first-run fare at the neighborhood multiplex.
Part classic Hollywood high melodrama, part Euro-Art Film, Contract is a complex, character-driven psychosexual thriller about corporate exec Julian Wright, played by Jason Clarke from Showtime's Brotherhood, whose life takes a strange, erotic, liberating, if potentially dangerous, turn when he meets Michael Reed (Paz Vega in a smoldering turn), a sexually liberated woman whose willpower and brains more than match his own.
It helps that Smith peopled her supporting cast with some great actors, including Joanna Cassidy, T.J. Thyne, and two Brits, the Scotland-born Steven Brand and the sadly underappreciated Idris Elba.
Dakota Fanning's sister Elle turns in a strong performance in
Phoebe in Wonderland
, due Tuesday from Image Entertainment (
; $27.98; PG-13). Costarring Felicity Huffman, Patricia Clarkson, and Bill Pullman, it's about a girl with Tourette's syndrome who uses her imagination and fascination with
Alice in Wonderland
to escape her harsh reality.
New German Cinema auteur Doris Dörrie follows up How to Cook Your Life, her documentary about Zen chef Ed Brown, with Cherry Blossoms from Strand Releasing (www.strandreleasing.com; $24.99; not rated). It's a beautifully shot, intense drama about a long-married German couple who are about to be separated forever.
When Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) learns that her husband Rudi (Elmar Wepper), is terminally ill, she decides not to tell him, instead urging him to visit their son in Tokyo. Rudi's trip, which includes a momentous pilgrimage to Mount Fuji, turns into a Zen-inspired journey of enlightenment perfectly captured by the film in a sequence shot during the cherry blossom festival.
American filmmaker Hal Ashby already had amassed an impressive body of work - including Shampoo, The Last Detail, Harold and Maude, and Being There - by the time he died at 59 of cancer in 1988. Lookin' to Get Out: Director's Cut, due June 30 from Warner (www.warnerbros.com or www.wbshop.com; $19.98; not rated), is a restored and expanded edition of Ashby's 1982 comedy. The DVD features 15 minutes of never-seen footage. The buddy comedy stars Burt Young and a shockingly young Jon Voight as two gamblers already in the hole who go to Las Vegas in hopes of winning back money they owe their bookies. Watch Voight's then-6-year-old daughter Angelina Jolie in her very first role.