Many alums of Saturday Night Live have made the leap to the big screen, sometimes with grace and other times with a resounding belly flop. Sticking the landing are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the title characters of The Skeleton Twins (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), a brother and sister both dealing with disastrous personal lives and finding strength in each other (and in power-ballad lip-synching) to get themselves back on track.
Hader’s struggling actor wakes up in the hospital after an attempted suicide; when she gets the call about what happened, dental hygienist Wiig is on the verge of swallowing a handful of pills. And it’s a comedy: a smart, sad and ultimately uplifting story about the one person who knows you better than anyone else and still likes you anyway. This Sundance hit offers great performances not just from the two leads but also from Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell and Joanna Gleason.
Also available: A visit from an Armenian relative makes a family on a reality TV show go even more topsy-turvy in My Uncle Rafael (MVD Visual); Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) makes an unsettling visitor in The Guest (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment), one of 2014’s most acclaimed horror films; Field of Lost Shoes (Arc Entertainment) sees teen soldiers called upon to fight in the Civil War, with Tom Skerritt as Ulysses S. Grant and David Arquette as Captain Henry DuPont.
The only thing stranger than the experimental music in Frank (Magnolia Home Entertainment) is the band leader (played by Michael Fassbender) who insists on wearing a huge papier-maché head; Gayby director and costar Jonathan Lisecki plays a non-gym-going guy who finds Big Gay Love (Canteen Outlaws) in the arms of a handsome stud (Nicolas Brendon of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer); Kevin Smith takes walrus horror to new heights in the twisted Tusk (Lionsgate Home Entertainment).
The Best Picture nominee at this year’s Golden Globes that you very likely never saw – or maybe even ever heard of – was the British comedy Pride (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), a true story about politics creating unlikely bedfellows. In 1980s England, a group of London-based LGBT activists realized they shared common enemies with the striking coal miners: namely, Margaret Thatcher, the police and the right-wing press. Those activists started raising money for the miners and their families, and thus an unlikely coalition was born.
Director Matthew Warchus tries to cram in a few too many characters and subplots – just because they really happened doesn’t mean they don’t overburden the film – but Pride winds up as scrappy and engaging as the people whose story it celebrates. Lots of great performances, from vets like Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and Paddy Considine alongside up-and-comers like Ben Schnetzer, make this charmer a fun watch. (Boo to whoever it was who decided to take all references to queer activism off of the DVD cover, though.)
Also available: Actor-turned-director Daniel Auteuil’s celebration of French novelist Marcel Pagnol continues — he starred in Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, then adapted The Well-Digger’s Daughter, and now he’s given us two more: Marius & Fanny (Kino Lorber), both offered together on one disc; the biopic Cantinflas (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) celebrates the legendary Mexican comic actor, best known in the U.S. for costarring in the Oscar-winning Around the World in 80 Days.
One of the better, underseen films of recent months was Get on Up, and one of that biopic’s most thrilling sequences came when the Godfather of Soul performed the day after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. That real-life concert is thrillingly documented in James Brown: Live at Boston Garden, April 5, 1968 (Shout Factory).
Broadcast live to the city of Boston on a day when public officials feared riots, this stunning concert film includes missing footage and performances that have been unseen for decades, resulting in an extended edition that’s the most complete version of this show ever released. One of those electrifying examples of culture and pop culture overlapping, this is a one-of-a-kind document of a moment, and an artist, whose like we may never see again.
Also available: Two fascinating looks at very different artists, from flamboyant and reclusive Persian painter Bahman Mohasses in Fifi Howls from Happiness (Music Box Films) to Michael Heizer’s stunning, 340-ton granite boulder in Levitated Mass (First Run Features).
The legendary horror titles from EC Comics (which would later inspire Creepshow) are the basis of two British horror classics making their way to Blu-ray for the first time in a single collection: Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror (Scream Factory). Tales (not to be confused with the later HBO series of the same name, although both adapted some of the same EC stories) features Peter Cushing, Sir Ralph Richardson and an unforgettable Joan Collins, the latter hiding from a psychotic, Santa Claus-clad killer outside.
Vault is available in both its uncut version (offered for the very first time on home video) and the PG edit, featuring another great cast that features Tom Baker (of Doctor Who fame) and Denholm Elliott. Both these anthologies are tons of fun – and after you’ve watched them, go find the creepy comic books that originally told these joltingly creepy tales of terror.
Also available: 1973 cult classic Don’t Look in the Basement (Film Chest Media Group) gets a digital restoration, all the better to enjoy this tale of a sexy nurse who finds herself trapped in a terrifying asylum; martial arts legend Pei-Pei Cheng showcases her lethal moves in Kung Fu Girl and Whiplash (Shout Factory), available together on one double-feature disc; Ever After (Reloaded) (MVD Visual) doesn’t give us Drew Barrymore and Angelica Huston having a shootout, but it does offer up Tae Kwon Do and mob violence in abundant proportions; after restoring the director’s cut of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, Scream Factory gives the horror master an extra helping of special treatment with the new Lord of Illusions: Collector’s Edition.
With Julianne Moore looking like a front-runner in this year’s Oscar race for her turn as a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, what better time to revisit another of her best performances, playing a character dealing with another set of health issues? In Todd Haynes’s brilliant Safe (The Criterion Collection), Moore stars as a woman made sicker and sicker by the environment around her, until her urban life becomes so toxic that she must flee to the desert.
What keeps the film from being a disease-of-the-week TV movie is that Haynes (as he did in Poison) treats the illness like a metaphor: Is she really being poisoned by the chemicals that surround her, or is her body really reacting to her powerlessness and lack of identity as a woman dominated by everyone in her life? There’s an ever-present hum and chill to the film that recalls Polanski, but this is Haynes’ movie through and through, disturbing and provocative and chilling and unforgettable.
Also available: Steve Martin is a brilliant surgeon torn between a shrewish wife (Kathleen Turner) and a cerebrum in a jar (voiced by Sissy Spacek) in the outlandish and hilarious The Man with Two Brains (Warner Archive Collection); Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) makes its Blu-ray debut in a collectible edition that’s a must for fans of the Frank Capra classic; did you know that the powerful drama Running on Empty (Warner Archive Collection) was written by Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s mom?
One of my favorite 1980s buddy-cop movies, Running Scared (Kino Lorber), features the unlikely yet thoroughly entertaining pairing of Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as Chicago cops trying to stay alive long enough to enjoy their early retirement; The Green Mile: 15th Anniversary Edition (Warner Home Video) offers an extra-packed edition of this popular Stephen King adaptation.
The new movie version of the classic Sondheim musical is quite terrific, but for the real Into the Woods (RLJ/Image Entertainment), pick up the new Blu-ray of the PBS presentation of the original Broadway show. The songs are all there, the too-sophisticated-for-Disney jokes and plot twists remain extant, and Joanna Gleason and Bernadette Peters give even Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep a run for their money as, respectively, the Baker’s Wife and the Witch. Whether or not you’ve seen the new movie, this is one of the best video presentations of a stage musical ever shot.
Also available: Even though Christmas is over, it’s always the right season to spend time with a legendary American entertainer in Bing Crosby Rediscovered (PBS); for those keeping track at home, Happy Days: The Sixth Season (CBS/Paramount) offers the 1978-’79 episodes, with Ron Howard still in the cast and many people still sitting on it; see Captain Picard reach the end of his voyages (on TV, anyway) in Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Seven (CBS/Paramount).
Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Series (BBC) sees Peter Capaldi step into the TARDIS as the doctor’s latest incarnation, and he brings a wonderfully grumpy wit to the role; Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers continue their glamorous Nick-and-Nora routine on Hart to Hart: The Complete Third Season (Shout Factory); Barney Miller: Season Six (Shout Factory) follows the further adventures of the NYPD’s wryest cops.
Get caught up for the latest episodes with the exciting and unpredictable Banshee: The Complete Second Season (HBO Home Entertainment); Extant: The First Season (CBS/Paramount) sees the combined sta -power of Steven Spielberg and Halle Berry in a chilling exploration of the future, as an astronaut returns home to find that things on Earth aren’t exactly as she left them.
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