New: A Documentary That Freed Three Innocent Men
The Criterion Collection is known and revered for its exquisitely crafted DVD and Blu-ray editions of cherished classics, but that’s not to say they don’t feature new movies as well. One of 2011’s most acclaimed films that you might have missed at the theater, Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre (now available), makes its U.S. home video debut on the Criterion label.
A charming tale about a grizzled Frenchman and his friendship with a young African refugee, Kaurismaki avoids the usual trite pitfalls of the “old white guy and cute kid of color” genre while also writing his own love letter to classic French cinema. The Criterion release comes loaded with interviews, essays and musical performances. And speaking of great contemporary films from Criterion, don’t miss Andrew Haigh’s sexy and moving Weekend (available now).
The Oscar-nominated Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Docurama Films, now available) caps off Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s trilogy of films that helped prove the innocence of the “West Memphis Three,” a trio of heavy metal-loving teenagers who were blamed for a series of brutal murders in 1993. Like its predecessors, Purgatory is a testament to the power of cinema to change the world, and it makes a riveting climax to a tragic and painful true story.
Also seeking to make a change in the way we live is author Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), who collaborated with director Jennifer Baichwal (Manufactured Landscapes) on Payback (Zeitgeist Films, available now), a look at debt and global interconnectivity that weaves together various disparate stories, from blood feuds in Albania to BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Another doc worth checking out is The Beat Hotel (First Run Features, now available), which examines the years that Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and other Beat-generation writers and artists spent in self-imposed exile in Paris in the 1950s.
Want to impress a cineaste? Drop the phrase “Chilean New Wave” into conversation. Lots of exciting new films and filmmakers are coming out of this South American country of late, and many people in the know are keeping an eye out to see who’s going to be the first to break big. And if you haven’t gotten a chance to catch up with what’s coming out of Chile, start with Bonsái (Strand Releasing, available now), about a young novelist plumbing his own life for material.
One of my favorite films from the 2011 South by Southwest film festival was Hide Away (Flatiron Film Company, available now), an understated and mournful little tale about a broken man (played by Josh Lucas) who hides from the world on a beat-up boat, and the year he spends repairing it, and himself. With a cast that includes Ayelet Zurer, James Cromwell and Jon Tenney, it’s a sweet movie that fell between the cracks but will hopefully find an audience on DVD.
Also out this month: Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes tell tales out of school in the comedy concert film Jay and Silent Bob Get Old (Industrial Entertainment, now available), filmed in the United Kingdom; horror movie goddesses Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer and Linnea Quigley have their own stories to relate in Screaming in High Heels: The Rise and Fall of the Scream Queen Era (Breaking Glass Pictures, available August 28); the extraordinary Margo Martindale scores a rare lead role in the thriller Scalene (Breaking Glass Pictures, now available); and the Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar (Music Box Films Home Entertainment, available August 28), about a very special schoolteacher.
Classic: The Sun’s in My Heart, and I’m Ready for Love
It somehow didn’t make the most recent Sight & Sound Top 10 list, but is there any doubt that Singin’ in the Rain, now available in a 60th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Warner Home Video), is one of the greatest movies ever made? If you don’t want to spring for the big box set (complete with lobby cards, a hardcover book and a souvenir umbrella), even the regular two-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets feature a terrific new documentary, Singin’ in the Rain: Raining on a New Generation.
Contemporary dance icons from Usher to Paula Abdul to Harry Shum, Jr. wax rhapsodic about the film’s impact, and directors like Adam Shankman, Rob Marshall and Baz Luhrmann pinpoint the little moments that make the movie so amazing. (They also bemoan the fact that contemporary movies don’t get the rehearsal time that Gene Kelly and company once did, which allowed for fewer cuts once the dances were committed to film.)
I’ll admit to feeling old about the 25th anniversary edition of Adventures in Babysitting, but that’s just one of several vintage ’80s and ’90s teen flicks making their Blu-ray debuts from Touchstone Home Entertainment; joining that teen classic in high-def are High Fidelity, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and Grosse Pointe Blank (all now available). Another quarter-century celebration on Blu-ray comes with Spaceballs: The 25th Anniversary Edition (MGM/Fox, now available), featuring a singularly Mel Brooks–ian take on the Star Wars saga.
Lionsgate offers two very different new Blu-rays — both now available — from the sublime (Jean Renoir’s timeless anti-war classic La Grande Illusion) to the semi-ridiculous (Total Recall, a movie that suddenly looks a lot better after the recent lackluster remake). And a new Blu-ray digibook of Stanley Kubrick’s epic Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket (Warner Home Video, now available) comes packaged in a 40-page hardcover book and features a new documentary about Kubrick as well as photos taken on the set by actor Matthew Modine.
If you thought the cinematic legacy of the Who began and ended with Tommy, two new DVDs will show you otherwise. After Tommy, director Ken Russell reteamed with lead singer Roger Daltrey on Lisztomania (Warner Archive, now available), a uniquely bizarre film biography on 19th century composer Franz Lizst, who the film posits was the “original rock star,” complete with groupies and bacchanalian excess. It’s a legendary freakout finally getting the home video release it deserves. More universally acclaimed is Quadrophenia (The Criterion Collection, available August 28), which uses the Who’s music to underscore a stirring tale of youthful rebellion. (Keep an eye out for a baby-faced Ray Winstone and Sting.) The Criterion release features lots of extras both about the film itself and also about the mods-vs.-rockers scene of the 1960s, when the film was set.
And finally, the Blu-ray to buy if you’re only buying one this month would have to be Jaws (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, now available), which comes loaded with a whopping four hours of extras. You’ll scare yourself out of the ocean all over again.
TV: British Super-Teens, French Cuisine
Getting itchy for the return of Downton Abbey? Get your fix of period family drama with The Forsyte Saga Collection (Acorn Media, now available). Based on the novel by John Galsworthy (which had been previously adapted for television in the 1960s), this new version from 2002-2003 serves up the intrigue and the passion in this look at one clan surviving the changes from the Victorian era to the 1920s. With a cast that includes Gina McKee and Ioan Gruffudd and more than 20 minutes that never aired in the U.S. version, this five-disc set is a must for fans of British TV.
Imagine the metahumans of Heroes filtered through the sexy hooligans of Skins and you’ll begin to get the feel of Misfits: Season One (BBC Home Video, now available). Other goodies from the “telly” across the pond include Young James Herriot (Acorn Media, available September 4), about the early years of the veterinarian who would go on to write All Creatures Great and Small, and Holy Flying Circus (Acorn Media, available September 4), a look behind the scenes of the making of the controversial comedy classic Monty Python’s Life of Brian. (Yes, there are six actors pretending to be the Pythons. On the other hand, Stephen Fry plays God.)
And finally, if you’ve worn out your copy of Julie & Julia and you’re ready for the real thing, check out The French Chef: Julia Child’s French Classics (PBS, now available), a collection of six vintage black-and-white episodes from the 1960s where the kitchen legend will walk you through everything from Coq au Vin to Crêpes Suzette.