New: Banjos, Skateboards and Kitchen Shenanigans
If you love music but can’t stand the crowds, the heat and the potential sunstroke of summer musical festivals, there are new DVDs in all three categories that can carry a tune.
The road-trip concert documentary Big Easy Express (iTunes exclusive starting June 26; DVD/Blu-Ray from S2BN Films July 24) is a soaring delight, even if you don’t think you like roots music. Following Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show on their coast-to-coast train ride, director Emmett Malloy crafts a loving valentine to music that’s both pared-down and richly dense, as well as an ode to the open road and our nation’s vast spaces. It’s a real treat.
And you don’t have to be a bluegrass fan to enjoy Give Me the Banjo (Docurama Films; now available), an examination of the uniquely American musical instrument (which was actually brought to our shores via enslaved Africans). Narrated by skilled player Steve Martin and featuring interviews with the likes of Pete Seeger and Béla Fleck, it’s a rousing mix of great performances and musical and cultural scholarship.
Two very different looks at food this month: The documentary A Matter of Taste (First Run Features; available June 19) serves up a decade in the life of culinary wunderkind Paul Liebrandt and examines the culture of the celebrity chef, while the retro-flavored drama The Casserole Club (Breaking Glass Pictures; available July 3) turns a gaggle of boozy suburban housewives into swingers in a story that’s both sexy and poignant.
Canada has given us two of the year’s most entertaining movies so far, the outrageous hockey comedy Goon (Magnet; now available), which features a sweetly goofball performance by Seann William Scott as a brutal “enforcer” with a heart of gold, and Guy Maddin’s surreal and aggressively eccentric Keyhole (Monterey Media; available June 19) starring Jason Patric as a mobster hiding out — or is he? — and Isabella Rossellini as his unhappy wife.
New documentaries include SXSW award-winner Dragonslayer (First Run Features; now available), a portrait of suburban skateboarders plying their craft in an economic downturn, and Something’s Gonna Live (Docurama Films; now available), featuring six legendary “below the line” artists — cinematographers Conrad Hall and Haskell Wexler, art directors Robert Boyle, Henry Bumstead and Albert Nozaki, and storyboard illustrator Harold Michelson — about their contributions to some of the greatest films of American cinema.
Classic: Bergman and Blue Meanies
The musical thread continues with the long-awaited release of Yellow Submarine (Capitol; now available) on Blu-Ray. More than 40 years later, this trippy psychedelic fantasia for all ages remains a joy to look at and listen to, and this new home video edition features storyboarded sequences that weren’t used in the final film, pencil drawings, interviews, and many more delights.
If you prefer your grindhouse movies in the comfort of your home theater, check out Jess Franco’s Countess Perverse (Mondo Macabro; now available); it’s sort of like a much sleazier The Hunger Games, about two decadent aristocrats who like to stalk and kill their guests before cooking and feeding the meat to their next victims. This DVD comes equipped with interviews, an introduction and a new anamorphic transfer, but no recipes, alas.
The folks at Criterion somehow missed out on Countess Perverse, but they more than make up for it with Summer with Monika and Harold and Maude (both now available). The former is a black-and-white Ingmar Bergman from the 1950s that was sexy enough to be (mis-)marketed as an exploitation film in the U.S., while the latter is an American gem, the wonderfully odd tale of a death-obsessed young man whose life is turned around by the life-embracing septuagenarian who takes him under her wing. Like pretty much everything Criterion releases, these are essentials for your collection.
TV: Sarah Silverman and Matt LeBlanc as “Themselves”
OK, if we want to keep this musical thread going, there’s the third and final season of Jem and the Holograms (Shout Factory; available July 10). If, you know, you like that sort of thing.
Two of TV’s best comedies of recent years, featuring stars who play bratty, obnoxious versions of themselves, are both hitting DVD. Episodes: The First Season (Showtime/CBS; now available) stars the hilarious Tamsin Greig (Tamara Drew) and Stephen Mangan as hapless UK television writers whose hit show gets brought across the pond and ground to bits in the Hollywood machine, complete with Matt LeBlanc (as himself) taking over the lead role.
And then there’s The Sarah Silverman Program: The Complete Series (Shout Factory; available June 19); this legendary anti-sitcom stars the comic as a moochy, selfish and frequently despicable version of herself, sponging off her sister Laura (Laura Silverman) and getting into hi-jinks with her stoner, super-bro gay neighbors (Steve Agee and Brian Posehn). It’s one of the best things that anyone’s come up with in the last decade or so, and now it’s all in one handy box.
One of TV’s all-time giants gets his due with the documentary Johnny Carson: King of Late Night (PBS Home Video; available July 17), an American Masters film that delves into the guarded personal life of one of America’s most public figures, with lots of interviews with the comedians and celebrities that helped make The Tonight Show a pop culture fixture.
And don’t miss Civilization: The West and the Rest with Niall Ferguson (BBC Home Entertainment; now available), in which the author and historian makes the heretical (in some circles) claim that the West’s influence over the rest of the world is very much in decline. Both a history of the last 500 years and a speculation on what lies ahead, it’s a provocative and thought-provoking piece that will engender interesting discussion.