For months now, I’ve been tunneling deeper and deeper into the week’s Blu-Ray and DVD releases — and consuming more and more airtime. Now that our website’s been resurrected, here’s my first attempt at providing a weekly on-line reference that will serve as your very own rabbit-hole. You will find a range of categories: Anime, (New to) Blu-Ray, Criterion, Documentary, Fantastic Fest, Foreign, Genre, Indie & TV. Please click on our Amazon link for any purchases you may make — (many of these releases are also available now on Amazon Instant Video) — and send some coin our way!
Justin Simien’s satire about college campus race relations, “Dear White People”, won a Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at Sundance Film Festival 2014. The film had a highly successful Indiegogo campaign, where Simien spoke of his desire to launch a new wave of “Black Art-House” cinema, last seen in the heyday of Spike Lee and John Singleton. He succeeded wildly when “Dear White People” earned a record box office take for a crowdfunded film — dethroning Zach Braff’s “Wish I Was Here”.
“The Retrieval” — This stunning-looking period piece played too few theaters. Set in 1864, it is the story of Will, an orphan in the employ of white bounty hunters, who’s sent to retrieve a wanted freedman or face death. Director Chris Eske’s interview with Filmmaker Magazine contains many insights into the casting, costuming and CGI efforts required to recreate the period.
In Starred Up, a young offender (Jack O’Connell) gets transferred to the same jailhouse where his father (Ben Mendelsohn) is held. O’Connell’s intensely physical character work anchors this acclaimed film (Rotten Tomato fresh ranking: 99%) and showcases the qualities that made him one of 2014’s breakout stars. (He also played Louis Zamperini in “Unbroken.”) Directed by David Mackenzie.
Alexandra Essoe’s role in Starry Eyes is another breakout performance — one that breaks skin and bone and spills a lot of blood depicting the travails of a striving Hollywood actor who promises to do anything for a truly transformative part.
The Disappearance of Elanor Rigby, starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, is an ambitious triptych depicting a marriage under strain from different viewpoints — similar in theme to Showtime’s series, The Affair. It was originally released as two films, Him and Her, then re-edited at the behest of Harvey Weinstein into a single film: Them. The multiple variations may have proved daunting to track down in cinemas, but should prove a worthwhile undertaking in the home theater.
Boys (Jongens) A Dutch coming-out story that subverts the traditional arc by making the main protagonist, Sieger, the one who tries to quash his inclinations. The story succeeds most in its depiction of Sieger’s misbegotten romance with a young woman, Jessica.
Once Upon A Time, Veronica This sensual sleeper film from Brazil, about a female mental health therapist who begins questioning the meaning of her own life, was inspired by the works of Ingmar Bergman and Mike Leigh. Filmed in the port city of Recife, it features an acclaimed performance by Hermila Guedes as Veronica, along with award-winning cinematography and score.
Coppelion (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo) Anime series about three genetically engineered teenage girls who enter into a post-holocaust Tokyo to rescue those who were left behind.
Three Studio Ghibli/Disney combo Blu-Ray/DVD releases include works from recently ‘retired’ master animators, Isao Takahata (whose The Tale of Princess Kaguya is nominated for Best Animated Film) and Hayao Miyazaki.
Takahata’s Pom Poko (1994) has a community of shape-shifting tanuki (raccoon dogs) fighting to protect their forest homes from encroaching suburban development. Note: tanuki are not raccoons. They are adorable raccoon dogs that have bulging pouches (where they store their nuts). They also make for adorable sake and tea sets.
Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso (1992) tells of a porcine ex-WWI fighter pilot who fights sky pirates during the rise of Fascism. It features many of Miyazaki’s dazzling aerial sequences.
Finally, Tales from Earthsea (2006), the debut directorial undertaking of Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro, makes its Blu-Ray debut. Adapted from Ursula K. LeGuin’s series.
I also recommend The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness for insight into Studio Ghibli’s history, workings and uncertain future…
ABCs of Death 2: A series of short films featuring shocking methods of death that progress alphabetically. The first film quickly evolved into a parlour game for gore-hounds. Each film gets its title ‘post-mortem’, as it were — allowing viewers the opportunity to guess the method of dispatch. I felt ABCs 2 was an improvement upon the original when I saw it at Fantastic Fest (but see the first for Xavier Gens’ ‘XXL’!)
Buy ABCs of Death 2 [Blu-ray]
Check out the NSFW trailer:
John Wick: This Keanu Reeves action flick made a great impression at its Fantastic Fest premiere. Directed by Reeves’ former stunt double, it features cleanly choreographed action sequences and a fantastically realized world where hitmen are their own caste. This film bests ‘The Raid 2’ for efficient, yet colorful, kick-ass martial arts action.
Buy John Wick [Blu-ray]
And if you’re looking for great pulp noir heroes, I still cannot recommend Charlie Huston’s Hank Thompson
and Joe Pitt book series highly enough!
Exists Eduardo Sanchez co-directed ‘The Blair Witch Project’, basically creating the ‘found-footage’ horror genre. This well-reviewed film marks his return to, well, footage found in the woods — this time with Bigfoot!
Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage: OMG, this looks so bad = awesome = really, really bad. But maybe super awesome!? Stiff acting, stop motion animation and CGI combine to tell the story of ‘Sanbad’s’ fifth voyage. You know — two before the one documented by Ray Harryhausen. Giant Flick’s film features voice work from Patrick Stewart, and it was filmed in ‘Super Animotion’!
The Demon’s Rook Director James Sizemore demonstrates that one needs no more than a fog machine, a woodsy backyard, some spooky synth work, and brilliant latex practical effects to make all hell break loose in this neon-lit homage to 80s Italian giallo. Also check out ‘Goat Witch‘.
Every Man for Himself (Directed by Jean-Luc Godard; Starring Jacques Dutronc, Isabelle Huppert & Nathalie Baye)
Jean-Luc Godard continues to re-shape modern cinema, as evidenced by the National Society of Film Critics’ selection of his 3-D film essay, Goodbye To Language as 2014’s best film. Criterion presents one of his earlier ‘returns’ to narrative-based cinema — a movie about ‘sex, work and the stunted promise of the sixties.’ Richard Linklater presented a screening of “Every Man” at the Austin Film Society. Vincent Canby of the New York Times decreed it “a tonic…a single seamless endeavor, a stunning, original work…(that) will outlive us all.”
The Case Against 8 A Sundance and SXSW festival winner, this HBO Documentary presents the behind-the-scenes story of two couples’ battle to overturn California’s Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court. Direct access to their unlikely legal team of Ted Olson and David Boies (opposing sides in the Supreme Court’s infamous Bush v. Gore recount case) provides an interesting angle.
Buy The Case Against 8
The Overnighters (Drafthouse): Another heralded Sundance winner (for Intuitive Filmmaking!) Migratory workers hunting for fracking jobs in a small North Dakota town find a place of refuge in the local Lutheran church. But the pastor’s attempt at outreach brings cries of outrage from his embattled congregation and community. Director Jesse Moss’ ’embedded’ approach brings an intimate touch to a deeply American story of religion, economics and environment. The film reportedly culminates in a stunning surprise ending. Released by Drafthouse Films.
Buy The Overnighters on Amazon
Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic A briskly-paced BBC Four/Showtime biographical documentary about Richard Pryor. Directed by Marina Zenovich (‘Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired’)
Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic [Blu-ray]
Black Omnibus: James Earl Jones hosted this 1973 public television series, filmed in Los Angeles during the same period as the Wattstax music festival. It features an eclectic range of interviews and performances with prominent African-American musicians, comedians and other cultural figures, including the afore-mentioned Richard Pryor, as well as Alex Haley, Rufus Thomas, Taj Mahal, and many more. (Four discs, 13 episodes.)
Get Black Omnibus on Amazon
The Wonder Years: Season 2: Rewatch the series and add your own nostalgic monologue!
Get Wonder Years Season 2 (4DVD)
About Schmidt (Jack Nicholson; Directed by Alexander Payne)
An American Tail(Fievel!)
Diner (You ever get the feeling there’s something going on that we don’t know about? Watch this movie and learn how it changed pop culture!)
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story [Blu-ray](Jason Scott Lee)
Kull the Conqueror(Kevin Sorbo)
Love & Basketball [Blu-ray] (Omar Epps & Sanaa Lathan; Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood; “Beyond the Lights”
Lust For Life (Kirk Douglas; Directed by Vicente Minnelli)