New Indie DVD of the Month
One of the most brutally honest and gritty films of recent years was writer-director Ira Sachs’ autobiographical Keep the Lights On (Music Box Films), a harrowing portrait of a relationship torn up not just by drugs but also a fundamental lack of communication. Nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (the extraordinary Thure Lindhardt), this festival favorite is a moving and powerful look at the highs and lows of love.
Also out this month: Fat Kid Rules the World (Arc Entertainment), about the unlikely friendship between a chubby high school outcast (Jacob Wysocki, “Terri”) and a charismatic punk rocker (Matt O’Leary).
New Foreign DVD of the Month
In his follow-up to the extraordinary 13 Assassins, director Takashi Miike tones things down a bit with Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (Tribeca Film). There’s swordplay and melodrama, to be sure, but this deft piece subtly examines class differences in feudal Japanese society in a period piece that nonetheless displays the director’s legendary visual sense. This remake of the 1962 classic isn’t offered in 3D on this Blu-ray release, even though that’s how the film screened theatrically, but even flat, it’s a visual treat.
Also out this month: Oddball Finnish comedy Lapland Odyssey (Artsploitation Films), the haunting animated feature Tales of the Night (GKids/Cinedigm) and the brutal Japanese gangster epic Hard Romantiker (Artsploitation Films).
Grindhouse DVD of the Month
They just don’t make Eurotrash exploitation the way they used to, but thank goodness for DVDs that keep the sleaze alive. The double feature of Black Cobra Woman and Super Bitch (Apprehensive Films) will fulfill your minimum daily requirement for busty dames, car chases, quasi-incoherent plotting and gunfights. Laura Gemser, perhaps best known for Black Emanuelle, stars as a sexy snake charmer who hooks up with a millionaire ophiophilist playboy (Jack Palance!) for skin-shedding adventures in the former, while Dynasty star Stephanie Beacham is, um, Super Bitch. (A much better title than the original Mafia Junction, no?)
Also out this month: Wes Craven’s creepy Deadly Blessing (Scream Factory).
Documentary DVD of the Month
You may not know the name Wayne White, but you know his work as a puppeteer and animator on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Beekman’s World and Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” video. Neil Berkeley’s compelling documentary Beauty Is Embarrassing: The Wayne White Story (Cinedigm/Docurama) takes us into the head of this designer, painter, sculptor and musician, and it’s a cool place to be. Fans like Paul Reubens, Matt Groening, Todd Oldham and Mark Mothersbaugh pop up to pay homage — plus you get to see footage of Pee-wee’s set being built!
Also out this month: The Sundance 2012 hit Detropia (Cinedigm/Docurama) about the rise and fall and potential rise of a great American city… and of America itself.
Arthouse Classic of the Month
Even though the movie itself didn’t set the U.S. box office on fire, The Duellists (Shout Factory) succeeded in putting a young director named Ridley Scott very firmly on the map. Based on a story by Joseph Conrad, the film focuses on the ongoing rivalry between two officers (played by Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine), whose continuing battles become the ruling passion of both men’s lives. Also starring Albert Finney, Edward Fox and Tom Conti, this utterly gorgeous film finally makes it to Blu-ray on this new edition, which also includes a new interview with Carradine and commentary tracks by Scott and composer Howard Blake.
American Classics of the Month
Funny coincidence: in digging through the vaults to make Blu-ray debuts for its Best Picture winners, Warner Home Video is offering two of the three honorees that managed to win the trophy without also getting a Best Director nomination. (See, Argo? There’s hope for you yet.) The soapy ensemble piece Grand Hotel (1932) still holds up, particularly thanks to the vivid performance by Greta Garbo, famously intoning “I want to be alone.” More recent, but perhaps more dated, is 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy — the acting is still great, but the film feels less enlightened about race than it thinks it is. (The other Warner Bros. Best Picture newly available on Blu-ray this month is the powerful 1942 wartime melodrama Mrs. Miniver, with an iconic performance by Greer Garson.)
Foreign Classic of the Month
It’s no easy feat to bring a surreal, erotic and politically satirical novel by Nobel Prize–winner Günter Grass to the big screen, but Volker Schlöndorff plunged ahead anyway with The Tin Drum (The Criterion Collection). The results won him the Palme d’Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival, a prize he shared with Apocalypse Now. It’s a devastating portrait of a terrifying moment in history, made at a time when Germany was only just starting to deal with the war years on the big screen, and with Schlöndorff (part of the New German Cinema generation of the 1960s and ’70s, alongside Fassbinder, Herzog and Wenders) serves us beautiful, haunting and sometimes revolting imagery that will stay with you.
Also out this month: That Obscure Object of Desire (Lionsgate), the final film by the legendary Luis Buñuel, and Shohei Imamura’s fascinating A Man Vanishes (Icarus Films Home Video).
TV DVD of the Month
Whether you loved it or hated it (or loved hating it, or hated loving it), it was hard to look away from Smash: Season One (Universal Studios Home Entertainment). An ambitious attempt to take viewers backstage at the mounting of a Broadway show, Smash often threw everything imaginable at the wall just to see what stuck. Whatever its flaws, however, the show was eminently watchable, from Katherine McPhee as a green kid trying to find her way through the mean streets behind the Great White Way to Anjelica Huston throwing drinks in her ex’s face with aplomb. The music’s pretty swell too, from the original compositions to (my personal favorite) Megan Hilty turning Carrie Underwood’s “Crazy Dreams” into a moving ballad.
Also out this month: More adventures with the hapless Karl Pilkington as Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send him around the world on An Idiot Abroad 2: The Bucket List (BBC Home Entertainment), and then indulge yourself with addictive, classy soapiness of Downton Abbey Season 3 (PBS Video).