Indie of the Month:
There’s a whole subgenre of documentaries that could be called “What Is ‘Truth,’ Anyway?” movies; they pull you into a situation, and then stop and show you how films can manipulate viewers. The “objective” documentarian doesn’t exist; no matter what, you’re being told the story the filmmaker wants to tell you. And that apparent contradiction in nonfiction cinema is at the heart of Stories We Tell (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), the third film from actor-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley.
Polley’s career behind the camera has been fascinating to watch, from the haunting and gut-wrenching Away from Her to the wistfully tragicomic Take This Waltz (a movie that found dramatic roles for Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman), and now Polley turns the camera on herself and on her family in a way that’s provocative, funny and strange. It’s an exploration of family secrets but also, as the title suggests, of how people can describe themselves and the world in ways that often contradict each other. It’s a captivating piece of work.
Also available: There’s some shameless schmaltz in Unfinished Song (Anchor Bay Entertainment), but if you can keep dry eyes while Vanessa Redgrave (as a woman dying of cancer) sings “True Colors” to Terence Stamp (as her husband), you’re made of sterner stuff than I; The English Teacher (Cinedigm) is a little too in love with its own cleverness, but a cast that includes Julianne Moore, Nathan Lane, Greg Kinnear, Michael Angarano and Lily Collins can be tough to resist.
If you wondered what the exploitation-flick version of Gerry or Old Joy might look like, check out Scenic Route (Vertical Entertainment), starring Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler; same-sex marriage inches closer to reality in this country, but dramas like festival fave I Do (Breaking Glass Pictures) remind us of how far we have yet to go; the ubiquitous but never tiresome Nick Offerman anchors the quirky comedy Somebody Up There Likes Me (Cinedigm/Tribeca Film); and before there was Maury Povich and Jerry Springer, there was another motormouthed, troublemaking talk-show host explored with compassion in the documentary Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie (Magnolia Home Entertainment).
Import of the Month:
True love runs particularly nonsmoothly in the Belgian drama Beyond the Walls (Strand Releasing Home Video), about two sexy and charismatic musicians who fall in love with each other but face challenges from the law (pesky immigration issues rear their ugly head) and themselves in trying to make the relationship work. Writer-director David Lambert compellingly throws us into this romance, making us hope that it has a future even as we know that it’s pretty much doomed.
Also available: Venerable French novel War of the Buttons (Anchor Bay Entertainment) gets another movie version, this time from the director of The Chorus; first-time director Alice Winocour tells the real-life romance between Freud’s mentor and one of his patients in the dark and sexy Augustine (Music Box Films Home Entertainment); Russian partisans face tough moral decisions and the horrors of war as they repel Nazi invaders in In the Fog (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment), from writer-director Sergei Loznitsa (My Joy).
Grindhouse of the Month:
John Carpenter’s Halloween (Anchor Bay Entertainment) wasn’t the first slasher movie (Psycho, Peeping Tom) or even the first holiday-themed one (Black Christmas), but it’s a horror classic that not only launched the 1980s' dead-teenager genre but also continues to influence filmmakers and share the bejeesus out of audiences. This handsome 35th anniversary edition Blu-ray features a brand-new HD transfer supervised by cinematographer Dean Cundey and a new commentary track featuring Carpenter and leading lady Jamie Lee Curtis. With October 31 around the corner, who can resist?
Also available: Speaking of John Carpenter, fans can also pick up new collector’s edition Blu-ray of his Prince of Darkness (Shout Factory), a don’t-open-that-evil-jar chiller whose cast includes Donald Pleasance (Halloween), Alice Cooper and TV vet Jameson Parker; and speaking of Psycho, that classic’s sequels get the Blu-ray treatment as well, with new editions of Psycho II and Psycho III (both Shout Factory), featuring new interviews and commentaries. You can even pick up William Castle’s stylish Psycho rip-off Homicidal (Sony Pictures Choice Collection) on demand to round out the series.
Sometimes the title says it all, like when you call your movie Cockneys vs. Zombies (Shout Factory); if you want to knowledgeably complain about the eventual remake of Hidden in the Woods (Artsploitation Films), check out the creepy Chilean original first; since Eli Roth keeps dragging his feet on making the Thanksgiving movie he produced as a fake trailer for Grindhouse, the void is filled with Thankskilling 3 (MVD Visual), a violent lark featuring puppets and a talking pumpkin pie, but no part two, since it’s a direct sequel to 2009’s Thankskilling; it never got the praise of Night or Dawn, but George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (Shout Factory) gets its HD moment in a new edition; and fans of horror anthologies won’t want to miss V/H/S/2 (Magnolia Home Entertainment), featuring vignettes from some of today’s leading scare meisters.
Classic of the Month:
It was a real meeting of the titans when the Bergmans — actress Ingrid and director Ingmar — worked together for the first and only time in Autumn Sonata (The Criterion Collection), but the result would be one of the best films to emerge from two very brilliant careers. Ingrid Bergman stars as a legendary concert pianist whose strained relationship with her daughter (played by Liv Ullmann, matching her older costar every step of the way) unravels over the course of a day together.
It’s a powerful and unforgettable movie, and the Criterion release features a making-of documentary that’s more than twice the length of the film itself, along with interviews, essays and (if you want to show the film to any hard-core subtitle haters) an optional English-language soundtrack.
Also available: If you’re a fan of the TV show who thought that Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (Shout Factory) seemed to reflect a lot of studio interference, a revealing documentary on the new Blu-ray confirms your suspicions. Still, this new Blu-ray is worth picking up, both for the extras (including deleted sketches and scenes) and for the movie itself, flawed but still very funny.
Barbara Stanwyck as one of American film’s first out lesbians, and young Jane Fonda as a girl who goes to work in Stanwyck’s New Orleans brothel are just two of the reasons to check out the campy but sleek Walk on the Wild Side (Sony Pictures Choice Collection); The Andy Hardy Film Collection, Volumes 1 and 2 (Warner Archive Collection) bring together all of Mickey Rooney’s adventures,16 films in all, as the popular teen everyman.
In Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s brilliant A Letter to Three Wives (20th Century Fox Studio Classics), making its Blu-ray debut, a trio of women are left to wonder which one has been abandoned by her husband; Olivia de Havilland fights off intruders (including James Caan, in one of his first films) while being stuck in an elevator in the fun and often over-the-top Lady in a Cage (Warner Archive Collection); and Boris Karloff makes a memorable farewell, starring in Peter Bogdanovich’s debut feature Targets (Warner Archive Collection), still one of the most chilling and provocative examinations of this country’s gun culture.
Television of the Month:
One would hope that its near sweep at the Emmys would bring pain to the hearts of all the movie studio executives that turned down Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra (HBO Home Entertainment) for the big screen, but since when do execs have hearts? While it’s criminal that this brilliant biopic of Liberace got shuttled off to TV, it’s still one of 2013’s best films.
Michael Douglas disappears into the role of the flamboyant, closeted pianist, and Matt Damon brings wit and pathos to the role of Scott Thorson, who was swept into — and then out of — the showman’s orbit, even having plastic surgery to make him look more like his famous older lover. Smart, sad, funny and sexy, Behind the Candelabra takes a witty look at love and fame; it also offers Rob Lowe, as a plastic surgeon/plastic surgery victim, one of the most wonderfully weird characters he’ll ever get to play.
Also available: And if you’re keeping up with Emmy winners, you’ll also want Modern Family: The Complete Fourth Season (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), a sitcom that shows no signs of slowing down in the laughs department; for sex, suds and steel guitar, check out the dueling divas of Nashville: The Complete First Season (Lionsgate/ABC Studios); I’ve never liked sports, but that doesn’t stopping me from adoring every second of the twisted and hilarious The League: The Complete Season Four (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment).
Acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard wrote the powerful Parade’s End (HBO Home Entertainment), a WWI story with plum roles for rising stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall; combine Halloween with one of the loopiest and most fun cartoons on TV with Regular Show: Fright Pack (Cartoon Network/Warner Bros.); if you haven’t already binge-watched Homeland: The Complete Second Season (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), what the heck are you waiting for? And finally, the perfect gift that a Trek fan can give to the newbie in his or her life is Star Trek: The Original Series — Origins (CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment), featuring a quintet of essential episodes from the 1.0 version of this beloved franchise.
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