New Indie and Animation:
While it was an easy shorthand to describe Obvious Child (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) as the “abortion comedy,” there’s a whole lot more going on in this intelligent, hilarious, and fearless movie. Saturday Night Live alum Jenny Slate gives a star-making performance as Donna, an aspiring stand-up comic who’s as bold and blatant onstage as she is relationship-impaired off. (This is one of the rare movies about a comedian where the stand-up sequences actually inspire laughter.) When she winds up pregnant after a one-night stand with nice-guy Max (Jake Lacy, The Office), it’s time to make some big decisions.
Writer-director Gillian Robespierre’s feature debut is a wonder, set in a very recognizable New York City and surrounding Donna with a group of friends, rivals, and parents who all come off as genuine and organic characters. (It helps that they’re played by the likes of Gaby Hoffman, Polly Draper, Richard Kind, Gabe Liedman, and David Cross.) If you missed this one, or avoided it because you worried it would be too issue-heavy, here’s a chance to catch up on one of the real gems of 2014.
Also available: James Franco doesn’t tone down the bleak tone of Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God (Well Go USA Entertainment) in this screen adaptation, and the lead performance by Scott Haze is memorably disconcerting; Life After Beth (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) gives Aubrey Plaza the chance to find new levels of deadpan, as she plays the zombie girlfriend of still-living Dane DeHaan; the ever-growing sub-genre of foodie movies gets a savory addition with Tasting Menu (Magnolia Home Entertainment).
Jennifer Aniston and Will Forte get their Elmore Leonard on in the sleeper comedy Life of Crime (Lionsgate Home Entertainment); white-collar crooks must make the big score or die in the action-comedy Plastic (Arc Entertainment); The Scribbler (XLrator Media) boasts a cool cast that includes Katie Cassidy, Garret Dillahunt, Michelle Trachtenberg, Michael Imperioli, Gina Gershon, Eliza Dushku, and Billy Campbell; Monty Python sidekick Carol Cleveland stars in the droll British comedy The Search for Simon (MVD Entertainment) about an obsessed man’s lifelong hunt for his brother.
New animated releases include the French musical fairy tale Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (Shout Factory), the whimsical ghost story A Letter to Momo (Cinedigm/GKids), and the dark, apocalyptic comic adaptation From Inside (MVD Visual), the latter featuring a score by Gary Numan and Ade Fenton.
The hit German comedy A Coffee in Berlin (Music Box Films) follows young law student Niko through a really cruddy day, one that would be so much better if he could just get his hands on the titular beverage. A witty and absurdist look at Millennial life in the EU, the film swept the German Film Awards and drew critical raves around the globe. The DVD extras include a conversation between director Jan Ole Gerster and former PBS film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.
Also available: The Mystery of Happiness (Strand Releasing Home Video) sees a middle-aged man go missing, setting his wife and business partner on a hunt for him in this sweetly comic examination of mid-life discontent; in film fest fave Floating Skyscrapers (Canteen Outlaws) a Polish swimming champion casts everything aside when he comes out and falls in love with another man; acclaimed Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell returns with The Last Sentence (Music Box Films), about a brave journalist who stood up to Hitler; the pansexual You and the Night (Strand Releasing Home Video) plays like a polymorphously perverse orgy unfolding in the middle of The Breakfast Club.
You’ve never seen a movie about the movies quite like Thom Andersen’s extraordinary Los Angeles Plays Itself (Cinema Guild), a movie that explores how the City of Angels has been used as a backdrop, a commentary, a paradise, a hell on Earth, and even a character in more than a century’s worth of feature filmmaking. A breathless tour of every genre imaginable, this is the kind of documentary that makes you look at films in a whole new way.
Also available: Mike Myers makes his directorial debut with Supermench: The Legend of Shep Gordon (Anchor Bay Entertainment/Radius), a look at the fascinating show-biz insider who managed the likes of Alice Cooper, Raquel Welch, Luther Vandross, and Blondie; Hugh Hefner (MVD Entertainmen Group) ruffled feathers when it aired on British TV in 1973, but now it’s a fascinating look at the sexual revolution made while that whirlwind was still underway.
One of the most fascinating true-crime stories in recent years gets its due in the compelling and acclaimed Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger (Magnolia Home Entertainment); meet the Mothers of Invention 2.0 in Frank Zappa: Freak Jazz, Movie Madness & Another Mothers (MVD Visual), a look at a controversial period in the musician and performance artist’s career; a rock legend lives again in the exhaustively researched Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders (MVD Entertainment Group).
Scream Factory has done an extraordinary job of bringing back cult horror classics on Blu-ray (see below), but with Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut, fans of Clive Barker finally have the opportunity to see the original version of this mis-edited and subsequently misunderstood movie. Barker himself worked directly on this restoration of his 1990 film, resulting in a work that’s 20 minutes longer than the original theatrical cut but which contains some 40 minutes of new and altered footage. If you think you’ve seen Nightbreed, get ready for a whole new experience. (For those who like to compare and contrast, the three-disc limited edition Blu-ray also features a new transfer of the original studio edit as well.)
Also available: The slithery, slimy Squirm (Scream Factory) lives again in a new Collector’s Edition (fun fact: star Don Scardino went on to direct lots of episodes of 30 Rock); Peter Stormare stars in the violent revenge thriller Autumn Blood (Arc Entertainment); The Last Supper (Cinedigm/Random Media) recounts the violent birth of the Han Dynasty, with no shortage of martial-arts action; Donnie Yen stars as a Ming warrior in suspended animation who’s got lots of ass to kick when he’s defrosted after 400 years in Iceman (Well Go USA Entertainment).
Indie meets creepy in the horror trilogy Morris County (MVD Visual); demons meet co-eds in Grace: The Possession (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment); Kundo: Age of the Rampant (Well Go USA Entertainment) spotlights the swashbuckling adventures of Asia’s own 19th century Robin Hood; the elevator is the unstoppable killer in the thriller Free Fall (Anchor Bay Entertainment), featuring D.B. Sweeney, Sarah Butler, Ian Gomez, Jayson Blair, and the legendary Malcolm McDowell; soldiers uncover a terrifying secret at a seemingly abandoned military base in The Squad (Scream Factory).
Silent comedy didn’t die with the advent of talkies and the retirement of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. In France, the great tradition of visual wit and outrageous slapstick remained alive in classics like M. Hulot’s Holiday, Mon Oncle, and the visionary masterpiece Playtime, and those are just three of the features captured in the exhaustive collection The Complete Jacques Tati (The Criterion Collection).
Tati’s shorts, features, alternate versions, you name it – they’re all lovingly restored and packaged with introductions (by Terry Jones of Monty Python), interviews, documentaries, the works. Like many a visionary before him, Tati bankrupted himself on some of his bigger productions, but time has been kind to his oeuvre, and his films from the 1940s through the 1970s feel as contemporary and smart and observant as ever. Not to mention gut-bustingly funny. If you’ve got movie-lovers on your list, smart Santas will start with this impressive box set.
Also available: Writer-director-actor Charles Lane never got the breakout success due him after the acclaim for his 1989 Cannes prize-winner Sidewalk Stories (Carlotta Films/Kino Lorber), but now the Chaplin-inspired film has made it to Blu-ray after a beautiful 4K restoration; one of the first animated features produced in the anamorphic widescreen process, Sleeping Beauty (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment) retains its beauty and majesty – whatever you felt about the revisionist Maleficent; children of the 1970s will want to relive the Adventures of the Wilderness Family (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) with their own kids, assuming they can tear them away from their dang screens.
James Cagney is best remembered for his tough-guy gangster roles, but new releases from Warner Archive Collection pay tribute to his song-and-dance skills (a beautiful new Blu-ray of Yankee Doodle Dandy, the movie that won Cagney his Oscar) and comedy chops (the rat-a-tat Hollywood satire Boy Meets Girl); The Vincent Price Collection II (Scream Factory) gathers together some of the legendary actor’s great horror classics, including the Blu-ray debuts of The House on Haunted Hill, The Raven, The Tomb of Ligeia, The Last Man on Earth (based on the same source material as I Am Legend and The Omega Man), and more.
Olivia de Havilland is the wartime Government Girl (Warner Archive Collection), and Sonny Tufts wants to win her; and a Hollywood legend gets a new reissue with the spiffy Gone with the Wind 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner Home Video), a set that so laden with extras and goodies that it resembles a Rhett Butler wedding present.
One of the great 1970s workplace comedies finally gets its due on home video with the release of WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete Series (Shout Factory). The interplay remains fast and funny, the Carter-era fashions remain eye-boggling, and this time around the DVDs include almost all of the original background music from the show (which was, after all, set at a rock-and-roll radio station), featuring artists like the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, The Doors, Chic, Elvis Costello, Otis Redding, and The Police, to name just a few.
Also available: Fans of vintage TV westerns have some great binge opportunities ahead of them – Annie Oakley: Complete TV Collection (Cinedigm) stars Gail Davis as the Wild West legend, with all three seasons captured on 11 discs, and if you ever wondered why every little boy in the 1950s just had to have a raccoon-skin cap, you clearly need to catch up with the iconic Daniel Boone: The Complete Series (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment).
Maggie Gyllenhaal is The Honorable Woman (BBC Home Entertainment), an arms manufacturer caught in the middle of the Israel-Palestine conflict in this acclaimed new series; get ready to say farewell to Don Draper with Mad Men: The Final Season, Part 1 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment); Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash are anything but a typical preacher and wife in The Soul Man: The Complete Second Season (Shout Factory).
Action figures go wild in the outrageous Robot Chicken DC Comics Special II: Villains in Paradise (Warner Home Video); a legendary comic hits Broadway in the acclaimed Billy Crystal: 700 Sundays (HBO Home Entertainment); catch up on one of TV’s spookiest and sexiest new shows with Penny Dreadful: Season One (Showtime/CBS/Paramount).
NBC recently announced plans for Neil Patrick Harris to host a variety show; he might want to prep by catching up with the old masters in new collections like The Best of the Danny Kaye Show (MVD Entertainment) and The Red Skelton Show: The Early Years, 1951-1955 (Timeless Media Group).
Rick and Morty: The Complete First Season (Warner Home Video) makes its weird and wonderful and did-I-mention-weird way to DVD and Blu-ray; Adrien Brody plays the legendary Houdini (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) in an extended edition that goes beyond what aired on History; narrator Rod Serling takes you In Search of Ancient Mysteries (Film Chest Media Group) in this hit vintage documentary that spawned the series In Search Of…; turn out the lights for the scary Hemlock Grove: The Complete First Season (Scream Factory), then put on your backpack and explore Adventure Time: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner Home Video).