The current wave of screen musicals – from Moulin Rouge! and Chicago to Les Misérables and Into the Woods — favors the grand and the splashy, but there’s no rule that says the genre has to include towering sets and hundreds of backup dancers. For a more stripped-down but still potent musical, check out the bittersweet romance The Last Five Years (Anchor Bay/Radius-TWC), starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan as our guides through the beginning, middle and end of a relationship.
The movie’s showiest gimmick is its timeline – actress Cathy (Kendrick) begins the movie after the breakup, and then in the next scene, author Jamie (Jordan) has just fallen in love with Cathy. She moves through the film backward and he forward, until they meet in the middle, when they decide to get married. The two lead performances, plus a strong set of songs by composer Jason Robert Brown (Parade) and empathetic direction by Richard LaGravenese, make this a musical that even people who think they don’t like musicals might enjoy.
Also available: Appropriate Behavior (Kino Lorber) heralds the arrival of writer-director-star Desiree Akhavan (Girls) as new talent to watch; Forest Whitaker and Harvey Keitel are Two Men in Town (Cohen Media Group) who are at deadly odds with each other; director Michael Almereyda retams with his Hamlet star Ethan Hawke for another contemporary Shakespeare adaptation, Cymbeline (Lionsgate Home Entertainment); in Amira & Sam (Drafthouse Films/Cinedigm), Martin Starr plays an Iraq war vet finding himself in a romance with an illegal Iraqi immigrant played by Dina Shihabi.
Adam Sandler’s attempt to shore up his arthouse bona fides with The Cobbler (RLJ/Image) didn’t quite pay off, despite the best efforts of director Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent, Win Win); WWII airmen Garret Dillahunt, Tom Felton and Jake Abel must right to survive in Against the Sun (Anchor Bay/Amplify); August Strindberg’s Miss Julie (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) gets another go-round with the legendary Liv Ullmann directing the high-powered ensemble of Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton; Sarah Hyland (Modern Family) plays a young woman whose dysfunctional family must come together following her brother’s death in the dramedy See You in Valhalla (Arc Entertainment).
The Palme d’Or winner at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Winter Sleep (Adopt Films) drew acclaim worldwide for its powerful examination of societal divides through the prism of contemporary Turkey. One seemingly minor incident (a child throws a rock at a car window) snowballs and escalates, reflecting the wealth distinctions, iniquities and resentments in a small community, and director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) deftly weaves together his characters and their problems into hard-hitting drama.
Also available: A Brazilian lifeguard upends his life after he falls for a German tourist in Futuro Beach (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment); Beloved Sisters (Music Box Films) relates the true story of two sisters who both fell in love with German poet Friedrich Schiller; Girlhood (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) examines the lives of teenage girls striving to make their own way in contemporary Paris.
Celebrate the Orson Welles centenary with Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (Cohen Media Group), a look at the extraordinary life of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating artists. After making Citizen Kane – still generally acknowledged as one of if not the greatest movie of all time – as a 25-year-old boy wonder, Welles struggled to work within the studio system and constantly struggled to get the budgets to fulfill his cinematic visions. This documentary includes footage from almost every film he ever made, including several that were never completed.
Also available: Pop a cork for A Year in Champagne (First Run Features), a fizzy look at the vineyards, big and small, that make the world’s most revered sparkling wine; Antarctica: A Year on Ice (Music Box Films) provides a rare glimpse at what it’s like to live for a full year in the coldest place on earth; Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth is the basis for the fascinating documentary Concerning Violence (Kino Lorber), a look at the struggle for Third World liberation from the director of The Black Power Mixtape;
Ballet 422 (Magnolia Home Entertainment) follows young choreographer Justin Peck through the arduous process of assembling a season of the New York City Ballet.
Now that you’ve thundered down Fury Road, go back to where the saga started with Mad Max: Collector’s Edition (Shout Factory), a stunning new Blu-ray that celebrates George Miller’s original car-chase symphony, a movie that elevated the level of Oz-sploitation to exhilarating art. Among the many great extras is the inclusion of the original Australian soundtrack; when producer Sam Arkoff acquired the film for U.S. release, he didn’t think Stateside audiences could decipher the Down Under accents, so for years the movie was available in this country only in an “American” dub version.
Also available: Ray Milland is X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (Kino Classics) in this wonderfully schlocky genre classic; Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette plays an atheist suddenly stricken with Stigmata (Scream Factory) in this religious thriller, also starring Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce and Portia de Rossi; Mario Bava’s Evil Eye (Kino Classics) sees a crime novelist becoming embroiled with a real-life serial killer, and this new Blu-ray also includes the U.S. version, known as The Girl Who Knew Too Much; Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke make strides for bikers and for product placement in the cult action favorite Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (Shout Factory).
Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman) plays a small-town cop beset by the presence of a mysterious prisoner (Liam Cunningham, Game of Thrones) in the thriller Let Us Prey (Dark Sky Films); the fine folks at Scream Factory serve up two fun and trashy Blu-ray double features of animals run amuck: The Food of the Gods/Frogs and Empire of the Ants/Jaws of Satan; who will survive the Island of Death (MVD Entertainment), and what will become of them?; a cabin in the woods and a deadly Extraterrestrial (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory) equals lots of horror; The Drownsman (Anchor Bay Entertainment) is stalking a group of friends and he won’t quit until they’ve all stopped breathing in this festival fave.
It’s probably one of the most quoted movies of our era (both verbally and visually), but 25 years later, the impact of GoodFellas (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) remains powerful. This gorgeous new 4K Blu-ray captures the Martin Scorsese classic in all its vivid vitality, and a quarter-century’s worth of people doing the “What do you mean, funny?” bit don’t make that scene any less intense and unsettling. If you’re keeping a shelf of classics at home, this one absolutely needs to be on it.
Also available: Rainer Werner Fassbinder upped his game with the powerful The Merchant of Four Seasons (The Criterion Collection), and world cinema would never again be the same; we don’t always remember how solid a director Burt Reynolds was, but Sharky’s Machine (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) features some of the screen icon’s best work on both sides of the camera; John Frankenheimer’s The Train (Kino Classics) still ranks among the greatest, and tensest, heist pictures ever made.
Doris Day: The Essential Collection (Warner Bros./TCM) provides a bumper crop of this legend’s greatest work, from comedies to dramas to musicals; Farrah Fawcett finally got her props as an actress for playing victimized women in the TV-movie The Burning Bed and then on stage and screen in the lacerating rape-revenge drama Extremities (Olive Films); Mahogany: The Couture Edition (Paramount Home Media Distribution) has some fun photos included with the DVD, but I’m still holding out for a Blu-ray (and as long as I’m wishing, I’d like a commentary track featuring RuPaul and me); “Kill the wabbit!” and other great operatic moments are captures in the hilarious compilation Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment); dig into some Alfred Hitchcock deep cuts with Jamaica Inn (Cohen Film Collection), one of his three adaptations of Daphne du Maurier (who also provided the source material for Rebecca and The Birds).
Roger Moore is my no means my favorite big-screen 007, but I’ve always enjoyed his small-screen exploits as international man of mystery Simon Templar, so I’m thrilled about the release of The Saint: The Complete Series (ITV/Timeless Media Group). This box set of cool, pulpy espionage adventures features a bumper crop of guest appearances by great stars of the era (Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Oliver Reed and several future Bond girls) plus nine episodes with commentary tracks (six of which feature Moore). Slap a halo on that stick figure, and get to watching.
Also available: Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty: The Plantagenets (RLJ/Athena) examines the ambitious real-life power brokers that make the Game of Thrones gang look like pikers; and speaking of Dynasties, the spin-off of the hit nighttime soap gets its due in The Colbys: The Complete Series (Shout Factory), featuring catfights galore as well as the Old Hollywood glamour of Barbara Stanwyck, Charlton Heston and Ricardo Montalbán; also getting the big-box treatment are the tongue-in-cheek escapades of The Wild Wild West: The Complete Series (CBS/Paramount) and Fran Drescher’s Noo Yawk stories in The Nanny: The Complete Series (Shout Factory), not to mention the HBO favorites Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Series and Hello Ladies: The Complete Series & The Movie (both HBO Home Entertainment).
The Broadway version got raves and Tony nominations but it was the TV miniseries of Wolf Hall (PBS) that had audiences nationwide glued to the tube on Sunday nights; get ready for the next set of behind-bars outrageousness by catching up with Orange is the New Black: Season Two (Lionsgate Home Entertainment); the acclaimed Masters of Sex: Season Two (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) saw its lead characters taking their research to a personal level while also responding to the civil rights movement going on around them.
Halt and Catch Fire: The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay Entertainment) has enthralled audiences with its look at corporate skullduggery in the dawning days of the personal computer; if you like romance involving a Canadian Mountie — and really, who doesn’t? — then the Hallmark love story When Calls the Heart: Trials of the Heart (Shout Factory) will be right up your alley, eh; and get your fix of classic TV with three new collections from the folks at Shout Factory: Mister Ed: The Final Season, Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Third Season and Hill Street Blues: Season Five.
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