New: Isn’t It Good?
We’re not even halfway through 2012, but one of my favorite films of the year thus far is already making it onto DVD. The breathlessly romantic Norwegian Wood (Flatiron Film Company; now available) brings Haruki Murakami’s international best-seller to the big screen under the exacting eye of master filmmaker Tran Anh Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya, Cyclô).
Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi is best known in the U.S. for films where she doesn’t speak (Babel, The Brothers Bloom), but she turns out to be great with dialogue as well, as she and Kenichi Matsuyama star as collegiate lovers whose late-1960s affair is tinged with loss and sadness. Whether you’re in the market for a tear-jerker or a cuddle-on-the-couch movie, you should absolutely check this one out.
With Gay Pride coming up in June, a trio of terrific documentaries offers a variety of views on the subject. The powerful We Were Here (Docurama Films; now available) talks to survivors of the first deadly wave of the AIDS epidemic to hit San Francisco, and how their lives as lovers, friends and caregivers were irrevocably changed. This Is What Love in Action Looks Like (TLA Releasing; now available) follows the journey of teen Zack Stark, whose online posts about being sent to an “ex-gay” facility by his parents started an internet revolution. And then there’s Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston (New Video; available May 29), a look at the iconic 1970s designer that features interviews with the likes of Liza Minnelli, Billy Joel, Diane von Furstenberg, Anjelica Huston and André Leon Talley.
Two musical legends also get the spotlight this month: Sing Your Song (Docurama Films; available May 29) examines the life of Harry Belafonte through both his singing and his political activism, while Diana Ross: Live in Central Park (Shout Factory; now available) makes its DVD debut, featuring the highlights of the Motown diva’s legendary two-night, rain-soaked Manhattan gig from 1983.
And if you’ve been waiting for someone to give martial arts movies the That’s Entertainment! treatment, check out Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Movie (Phase 4; now available), which features scenes from over 200 movies, starring icons like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chuck Norris.
Classic: Not the Kind You Smoke
Legendary cult horror flick Ganja & Hess (Kino; now available) gets a handsome Blu-Ray release of its recent restoration — think of it as the arthouse version of Blacula, with Night of the Living Dead star Duane Jones as an anthropologist converted into an immortal bloodsucker after an accidental brush with a ceremonial knife. (If you don’t have a BD-ROM drive, however, you’ll miss out on some of the extras.)
Disney’s release of the gorgeous new Studio Ghibli feature The Secret World of Arrietty comes into stores accompanied by the Blu-Ray debuts of two of Ghibli’s earlier classics, the sweet Whisper of the Heart and the breathtaking Castle in the Sky. All three titles will be available in Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs on May 22.
While younger audiences may know him strictly as Iron Man’s dad, Robert Downey Sr. was one of the more prankish members of the 1960s underground, bringing a subversive wit to his unique movies. The Criterion Collection’s Eclipse line presents Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr. (available May 22) featuring five of the director’s most outrageous satires, including his most famous film, the blistering Madison Avenue comedy Putney Swope.
There’s not much connecting Traveller and Telling Lies in America, outside of being two understated and compelling 1990s dramas that merit a second look, but the two of them are available on a new double-feature Blu-Ray release (Shout Factory; available May 29). The former teams Bill Paxton and Mark Wahlberg as modern-day Roma con artists, while the latter stars the late Brad Renfro as a teen in 1960s Cleveland dazzled by a local rock and roll disc jockey (Kevin Bacon).
The second season of Sherlock (BBC Home Entertainment; available May 22) features more adventures with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as a modern-day Holmes and Watson. It’s one of the snappiest, savviest shows on TV anywhere in the world right now, and if you aren’t already a Cumberbatch fanatic, it’s time to hop on that train before he takes the screen as the villain in the next Star Trek movie.
And speaking of the latest iteration of Trek, J.J. Abrams made a rare venture into non-genre drama with the acclaimed series Felicity in the 1990s. Season One and Season Two (Lionsgate; now available) are worth a look if you missed it the first time; Keri Russell leads a really terrific ensemble, and you can judge for yourself if her infamous haircut sank the show or not.
Vintage sitcom fans will dig the new compilation Love is On the Air (Shout Factory; now available), featuring love-themed episodes from seven classic shows, including Leave It to Beaver, Hazel and That Girl. And if you like your sitcoms more recent — and/or you need a Christina Applegate fix while waiting for the new season of Up All Night — check out the screwball fizz of Samantha Who? (Lionsgate; now available).
The latter half of the 1970s was all about political intrigue in our nation’s capitol, and post-Watergate TV viewers lapped up Washington: Behind Closed Doors (Acorn Media; available June 5), based on the novel by Nixon advisor John Erlichman. The president (Jason Robards) and CIA chief (Cliff Robertson) butt heads as war rages in Southeast Asia, and there’s no telling what anyone will do in their quest for power. Also starring Robert Vaughn, John Houseman, Stefanie Powers and Andy Griffith, this rousing six-episode mini-series was ABC’s 1977 follow-up to its landmark Roots.
Finally, whether you’re buying it for Father’s Day or for your own collection, check out Route 66: The Complete Series (Shout Factory; available May 22). This 24-DVD set features all of the show’s 116 episodes plus a trunkload of extras, including a 1990 Paley Festival panel and vintage TV spots. It’s a valentine to the open road and a prime example of television writing and acting (not to mention theme songs) at their best.