Going Deep: Blu-Ray/DVD Releases for 2/10 & 2/17/2015

With the Academy Awards approaching, many of the nominated films — and one foreign film that deservedly expected a nomination — are making their way onto the home market.  But, hey!  There’s also The Interview and Dumb and Dumber To!

Nightcrawler  (Nominated for Best Original Screenplay)  In the dark fringes of Los Angeles, people are always striving to catch a break, to earn a dollar, to make a name.  Jake Gyllenhaal gives a magnificently feral performance as Louis Bloom, a thief willing to sell others’ souls for his gain.

Lou’s the type of talentless chum whose grand ambitions and self-help mantras should land him at the bottom rung of a pyramid scheme — but he instead stumbles upon an old alchemical formula: blood + camera footage = money.

It’s the blackest of comedies that also contains some of the best-staged and lensed practical action sequences of 2014.

Riggan Thompson discovered that cartoon blood + camera footage + latex cowls = lots of money.  Due to his success, his own ego has been supplanted by that of his superhero character, Birdman.

Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) explores Riggan’s attempts to reshape his legacy while grappling with numerous unreliable elements — his mind, his daughter and his finances — during final rehearsals for his Broadway stage debut.

A propulsive jazz score, fluid camerawork, fire-cracker comic performances (and a lovely, grounded turn by Emma Stone) make this movie soar.

Michael Keaton’s biggest competition in the Best Actor category is undoubtedly Eddie Redmayne, nominated for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.  The film’s success is equally due to Felicity Jones’ nominated performance as Jane Hawking.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, vying for Best Animated Feature, is exquisitely hand-drawn by legendary animator and Studio Ghibli co-founder, Isao Takahata.  This quietly entrancing fable’s simple style belies a rich critique of patriarchal systems and fairy tale tropes.  The odd, dream-like finale is magical.

Lastly, the ‘snubs’.  For Best Foreign Film:

Force Majeure [Blu-ray]

A devastatingly funny destruction of family and gender roles, this comedy of manners plays like a Larry David script lensed by Michael Haneke.  I saw it at Fantastic Fest 2014 and went back to the theater with friends when it arrived locally.  It’s best to see with an audience — or with someone you think you love…

For Best Documentary:

Life Itself
This biographical film about Roger Ebert, inspired by his memoir, is a remarkable testament to Ebert’s adage that movies are ‘…the most powerful empathy machine in all of the arts’.  The film fits its title.


Roger Ebert’s list of Great Movies includes Nicolas Roeg’s psychological horror masterpiece, Don’t Look Now [Blu-ray], (based on a ghost story by Daphne du Maurier.)  Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are a married couple haunted by a family tragedy while taking a sabbatical in Venice.  The film’s cinematography, editing and score are legendary.  You will never forget the little red jacket…

Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack is the best home viewing experience available.    The Blu-Ray includes interviews with Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh discussing Roeg’s influence.

Criterion also releases Yasujiro Ozu’s elegiac last film, An Autumn Afternoon and A Day in the Country, a short film from Jean Renoir.


More films will be found below, but this week’s TV releases are terrific.

If you follow this year’s Groundhog’s Day either more Winter is Coming (in PA) or Blood Will Be Shed (WI).  In either case, what better way to celebrate large rodents and frigid temperatures than Game of Thrones: Season 4 !!!

And — if you like warriors defending Earth from evil hordes, don’t miss out on the original series that gave rise to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  Finally, Super Sentai Zyuranger: The Complete Series debuts in North America.  Uncover the true origins behind all the (same) action scenes you watched (repeatedly) in MMPR!  Plus: Find out who Bandora is, and discover the secret to her longevity.  (She’s over 170 million years old!)  Don’t wait!  Buy now!

If you like genteel time-travelers saving the world from evil hordes, it’s never too late to celebrate Last Christmas (Blu-ray) with the citizens of Dr. Who-ville!!!

The award-winning HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge stars Frances McDormand (as the title character), Richard Jenkins and Bill Murray.  Directed by Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids are All Right).  It’s been called a masterpiece.  Many proclaim McDormand’s performance to be the best of her career.

Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons: The Complete Series  The year is 2068.  Earth’s greatest defense team, Spectrum, must protect Earth from a sinister race of Martians called the Mysterons.  These evil aliens can assume the likeness of any person or thing they destroy.  Only the indestructible Captain Scarlet and his red hot car can combat the invasion.

This is another classic British SUPERMARIONATION! series from Gerry Anderson (Thunderbirds; Space: 1999; Stingray).  The 4-disc set includes all 32 episodes of the original run.  Check it out now, and keep your eye out for WETA Workshop’s Thunderbirds Are Go! reboot, premiering later this year.

Earth: A New Wild  This look at our wild planet visits five continents, exploring plains, forests and bodies of water.  But it is much more than eye candy.  The series explores the wild kingdom as it really is — with humans in the picture.  Dr. M. Sanjayan journeys to the frontiers of where man and animal meet to discover the scientists, engineers and fishermen working to preserve and enrich our planet.

Finally, Season One of Starz’ directorial face-off series, The Chair, arrives along with the DVD release of Shane Dawson’s winning film, Not Cool!  (For Zachary Quinto, the movie apparently lived up to its name, as he took his name off the end product.)  I imagine Hollidaysburg is sipping piña coladas on some tropical beach, and will come to home theaters when it’s good and ready.



V/H/S: Viral is the third installment of the anthology horror series.  Beware generational loss.

Sub Rosa Studios is one of the boutique labels keeping straight-to-video horror alive with limited-edition clamshell-encased V/H/S releases.  (Also, DVD & Blu-Ray.)  Their latest release is Massage Parlor Of Death…where there are NO HAPPY ENDINGS!

Shout Factory brings an overlooked 1989 version of The Phantom Of The Opera to Blu-Ray.  Starring Robert Englund, it is considered by many horror fans to be one of the best (and bloodiest) film versions of Gaston Leroux’s chilling tale.


If you love Fifty Shades of Gray, you might want to (re-)visit some of the soft-core classics directed by French auteur, Just Jaeckin  and starring Sylvia Kristel.  It’s not Emmanuelle, but Olive Films has released a new Blu-Ray transfer of Jaeckin’s take of the D.H. Lawrence classic, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
More nudity in this one, folks!

If you want your titillation served with lots of energy but more demure clothing choices, Olive is also releasing Beach Blanket Bingo and Muscle Beach Party (starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello) on Blu-Ray.  Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles and Peter Lorre (!) appear amidst the bikinis and beefcake.

Want to see the beach get destroyed by bikers?  Watch Wild Angels [Blu-ray].  Directed by B-movie king Roger Corman and featuring Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra and Bruce Dern, it was the first movie to feature the Hell’s Angels and inaugurated the ‘youth-in-revolt’ genre.  Behind the scenes crew members included soon-to-be-legendary filmmakers Monte Hellman and Peter Bogdanovich.

F.I.S.T [Blu-ray] was Sylvester Stallone’s first follow-up film to Rocky.  He plays Johnny Kovak (loosely based on Jimmy Hoffa), a blue-collar worker who becomes involved in the labor union leadership of the Federation of Inter-State Truckers (F.I.S.T.)  He compromises his principles, making illegal deals to help expand the union’s influence.  The superlative supporting cast includes Rod Steiger, Peter Boyle and Brian Dennehy.  This Blu-Ray release includes interviews with director Norman Jewison and co-screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.



Festival favorite Lilting stars Ben Whishaw (aka 007’s Q) as Richard, a man who reaches out to his deceased partner’s mother — a Cambodian refugee living in London.  This attentive film shows their attempts to bridge divides — age, culture, sexuality and language — after losing the man they both loved.


The Homesman  Tommy Lee Jones directed and stars in this Western about a man traveling east with a wagon-ful of ‘mad women.’

In Your Eyes  A telepathic love story written by Joss Whedon and directed by Brian Hill.



Stray Dogs [Blu-ray]

Tsia Ming-liang announced his retirement from filmmaking upon winning the Venice Film Festival’s Grand Jury prize for this film.  His use of long takes immerses viewers in the story of a man and his two young children struggling to survive on the streets of Taipei.  The Blu-Ray also includes a short film, Journey to the West, a conversation with Tsai Ming-Liang about filmmaking, and an essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Le Pont du Nord [Blu-ray] (Rivette)
From Jacques Rivette, this cinematic puzzle features two women playing a cabalistic game, following a map that brings them to perilous points of time and space throughout Paris’ arrondissements.


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