DVD Obscura: 'Elite Squad 2,' 'How to Die In Oregon,' 'Thunder Soul,' 'Downton Abbey,' and Many More

DVD Obscura: 'Elite Squad 2,' 'How to Die In Oregon,' 'Thunder Soul,' 'Downton Abbey,' and Many More

Feb 09, 2012

DVD Obscura is a monthly column written by Alonso Duralde, film critic and author of Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas, focusing on new DVD and Blu-ray releases, usually of the indie, international or just plain rare persuasion.

New: Unpack Your Subtitles

If DVD and movies on-demand have caused shrinkage in the theatrical life of indie film, foreign cinema becomes even harder to find outside of major metropolitan markets in the United States. (And even if you do live in a big city, lots of foreign films either don’t open at all or play for very short runs.)

Thankfully, there’s still a thriving home video market for movies from other lands, and this month yields another bumper crop. Nobody does “glamorous French sexual dysfunction” these days like Isabelle Huppert, and Special Treatment (First Run Features; now available) gives the legendary actress another great erotically charged character. She stars as Alice, a high-end sex worker with an elaborate repertoire of fantasy characters for her clientele, and when she meets up psychoanalyst Xavier (Bouli Lanners), the two discover that their career paths have more in common than they initially realized.

Also delving into the myriad paths of adult sexuality is one of my favorite films of 2011, 3 (Strand Releasing; now available), the latest from director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). When Hanna (Sophie Rois) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper) find their longtime relationship getting stale, each takes a lover. What they don’t know is that they’ve taken the same one, handsome young doctor Adam (David Striesow), who in turn has no idea that his new girlfriend and his new boyfriend even know each other. What could be the backdrop of either farce or hysterical moralism instead becomes a smart and very human drama.

Other foreign titles worth tracking down this month include a pair of Japanese imports from director Kôji Wakamatsu —United Red Army (Lorber Films; now available) and Caterpillar (Kino Lorber; now available) — and two acclaimed films from the Romanian New Wave — Summer Holiday and the anthology film Tales from the Golden Age (both from Zeitgeist Video/KimStim and available February 14). And don’t miss Brazilian action hit Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Flatiron Film Company; available February 14), Norway’s charming festival fave Happy, Happy (Magnolia Home Entertainment; now available), and the swan song of legendary director Raoul Ruiz, Mysteries of Lisbon (Music Box Films; now available).

Lest you think I’m turning my back on American narrative movies entirely, check out Bad Actress (Strand Releasing; available February 21), a dizzying show-biz farce from director Robert Lee King (Psycho Beach Party). And if it’s a bad actor you’re looking for, I find myself constantly riveted by the unending blankness of Cam Gigandet, who stars in this month’s 5 Star Day (Breaking Glass Pictures; now available).

If you’re a documentary fan, there are four notable new releases that are all terrific and which couldn’t be more different from one another. My favorite of the bunch is Thunder Soul (Lionsgate; now available), about a legendary Texas high-school band of the 1970s (who specialized in some of the funkiest beats you ever heard) and the group’s reunion three decades later to pay tribute to their legendary director.

The award-winning How to Die in Oregon (Docurama Films; available February 14) uses Oregon’s law that allows for physician-assisted suicide to examine larger issues about the right to death; the zippy Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story (Docurama Films; available February 14) takes a whimsical look at everybody’s favorite board game, from its history to the obsessives who can’t get enough of it; and foodies will definitely want to tuck into Eat This New York (First Run Features; now available), the saga of the ups and downs of two friends trying to open a restaurant in one of the culinary capitals of the world.


Classic: Good Things Come in Threes

A trio of new Blu-Ray releases offers some of the best movies created by three of the cinema’s greatest directors. MGM/Twentieth Century Fox has offered up hi-def releases of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious; if you’re building a Blu-Ray collection, these are all essentials — and even more so if you happen to be on a desert island, because all of these movies are on my list of when I find myself in that situation.

Meanwhile, over at MGM/Twentieth’s Limited Edition Collection, one of my personal favorites–slash–guilty pleasures has finally gotten a DVD release. What the heck took so long for 1984’s snobs vs. slobs comedy Up the Creek to finally get some digital love? It’s a supremely silly movie, yes, with lots of T&A, but the script is way smarter than you might suspect. (Plus, it’s got a theme song from Cheap Trick that will stick in your head for life.) Also recently released on this movies-on-demand label: Richard Lester’s outrageous, post-apocalyptic sketch comedy The Bed-Sitting Room, the sweet and veddy British coming-of-age tale Getting It Right (from veddy American director Randal Kleiser, of Grease fame), and Elliott Gould and Robert Blake as two bad-ass cops in Busting.

And while the afore-mentioned Isabelle Huppert may be the reigning queen of intellectual French sex-kittens, there’s no comparing her to the glory of Catherine Deneuve in Luis Buñuel’s brilliant Belle de Jour (Criterion Collection; now available). If you’ve never seen this absolutely essential classic, there’s nothing like a typically spot-on Criterion release to encourage you to take the plunge.

Also belonging on your radar: a 50th anniversary Blu-Ray of the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; now available); On the Bowery (Milestone Cinematheque; available February 21), a collection of films by Lionel Rogosin, whose work was recently named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry; and the campy Monsignor (Shout Factory; now available), starring Christopher Reeve as a double-crossing, bed-hopping Catholic priest.


TV: From “Downton Abbey” to the Final Frontier

PBS gets a bad rap from politicians obsessed with budget cutting (usually in an election year), but the network is consistently responsible for some of the best TV out there. And if you think they’re all broccoli, all the time, you’re not paying enough attention.

The American Masters Woody Allen: A Documentary (Docurama Films; available February 14), for instance, features an all-star cast of co-stars and collaborators talking about Allen’s career, from gag writer and stand-up comic to one of the world’s leading filmmakers. And if you think British TV is too stuffy to be entertaining, then you clearly haven’t tucked into the deliciously soapy Downton Abbey — and if you’re impatient with catching the show every week, the new Season 2 DVD (PBS; now available) gives you the whole shebang, in the uncut format that originally aired on the BBC.

And speaking of the BBC, they’ve got lots of goodies this month, including a re-promotion of The Hour (BBC Home Entertainment; now available), following its recent Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television win at the Golden Globes. There’s also the hilarity of Steve Coogan Live (BBC Home Entertainment; now available) and the moving The Song of Lunch (BBC Home Entertainment; now available), featuring the powerhouse duo of Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson.

If you prefer your British actors to be bald and commanding a starship, then you’ll want to check out the first taste of Star Trek: The Next Generation (CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount; now available) in Blu-Ray, on a disc called “The Next Level,” featuring three episodes in anticipation of the hi-def release of the show’s first season later this year.

And finally, there’s no need fear — the Underdog Complete Collector’s Edition (Shout Factory; available February 21) is here. This exhaustive nine-disc set has all 124 episodes, bonus cartoons, a featurette, commentaries…basically, everything but that goofy live-action movie from a few years ago. Fans of the “humble and lovable” Shoeshine Boy and his high-flying alter ego won’t want to miss this.


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