First-time filmmaker makes a sensitive coming-of-age tale… are your eyes glazing over yet? Well, unglaze them — Oscar-winning screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (perhaps better known to TV audiences from, respectively, Ben and Kate and Community) make a standout directorial debut with The Way Way Back (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), a hilarious tale that gets the prickly-to-sweet balance just right.
Duncan (Liam James) gets dragged to a seaside community for the summer with his mom Pam (Toni Collette) and her smarmy new boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carrell), but his world opens up when he takes a job at the local waterslide, run by the outgoing Owen (Sam Rockwell, totally channeling Bill Murray from Meatballs). It’s a pretty basic hook upon which to hang a movie, but with dialogue this sharp and a supporting cast (which includes Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph and AnnaSophia Robb, plus the hilarious Faxon and Rash) this terrific, it’s all you need for a breezy, memorable comedy.
Also available: Expect to see Before Midnight (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) on a lot of top-10 lists at the end of the year, thanks to the incisive dialogue and dead-on performances in this third collaboration between director Richard Linklater and his stars/cowriters Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy; I admire the impulse behind The Avengers director Joss Whedon adapting Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) more than I do the finished results, but his black-and-white take on the Bard’s battle of the sexes won praise beyond the director’s hard-core cult.
The acclaimed documentary Shepard & Dark (Music Box Films Home Entertainment) delves into the four-decades-long friendship between playwright and actor Sam Shepard and his writer pal Johnny Dark; a Middle Eastern immigrant arrives in New York on September 10, 2001 and sees the whole world change in the incisive drama The Citizen (Monterey Media); they’ve each made their share of flops of late, but the collaboration of Nicolas Cage and John Cusack in The Frozen Ground (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) is more powerful than you might expect; British gangsters execute a tricky heist in the suspenseful Berlin Job (Cinedigm); fans of understated and thought-provoking sci-fi won’t want to miss the buzzed-about Europa Report (Magnolia Home Entertainment); and with the recent debates about healthcare in this country, the hit documentary The Waiting Room (Cinedigm) couldn’t be more timely.
Director Johnnie To makes some of the most exciting action movies anywhere in the world, and his latest, Drug War (Well Go USA Entertainment), has earned him some of the strongest reviews of his celebrated career. A drug lord has been captured and the police expect his to testify against his criminal comrades if he wants to avoid execution; over the course of 72 violent hours, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will survive and who can be trusted. Dynamic and intense, Drug War is an exhilarating crime thriller.
Also available: A hit at festivals around the world, Michael Mayer’s Out in the Dark (Breaking Glass Pictures) shows love being put to the test when two men — one Israeli, one Palestinian — start a relationship that draws fire from all sides; Paradise: Faith (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) continues Ulrich Seidl’s trilogy, this time focusing on a Catholic missionary whose life is rocked by the unexpected return of her Muslim husband; Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan provokes again with his controversial drama Laurence Anyways (Breaking Glass Pictures), featuring a vivid performance by Melvil Poupaud as a celebrated author of transitioning gender; an unnamed woman finds herself trapped behind The Wall (Music Box Films Home Entertainment) in this haunting adaptation of Marlen Haushofer’s science-fiction novel.
Orson Welles notoriously took on acting and directing gigs in studio movies to help underwrite his more personal projects, but some of those money jobs actually resulted in memorable additions to his oeuvre. Case in point: The Stranger (Kino Classics), Welles’ suspenseful drama in which he stars as a fugitive Nazi hiding in plain sight in a small Connecticut town as a schoolteacher married to the daughter (Loretta Young) of a judge.
Edward G. Robinson stars as the U.S. government Nazi hunter, and The Stranger includes what is considered to be the first footage of concentration camps in a mainstream film. (Those clips came from the short film Death Mills, which is included on the Blu-ray, alongside four of Welles’ wartime radio broadcasts and other goodies.) Because the film is in the public domain, there are a lot of crappy versions of The Stranger floating around, so it’s great to see a sharp new high-def edition of this American classic.
Also available: Well before Bell, Book and Candle and Bewitched, Veronica Lake enchanted mere mortal Fredric March in René Clair’s daffy and romantic I Married a Witch (The Criterion Collection) — don’t miss the appreciative essay by director Guy Maddin; and before Innerspace, shrunken scientists (including Raquel Welch and Stephen Boyd) took a Fantastic Voyage (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) through a human body in a teeny-tiny sub; one of very few female directors working in Hollywood pre-1970 (not that the numbers are all that great now), Ida Lupino specialized in tough, gritty noir tales like The Hitch-Hiker (Kino Classics).
Celebrate the 60th anniversary of From Here to Eternity (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) with a stunning new Blu-ray that features new interviews and other informative source material about this legendary wartime romance; there’s more WWII action to be found in The Eagle Has Landed (Shout Factory), which has The Great Escape’s John Sturges directing Michael Caine, Robert Duvall and Donald Sutherland; before the glamour of the jet age, stewardessing was a much tougher job, as captured in the pre-Code treat Air Hostess (Sony Pictures Choice Collection); speaking of rough travel, the hilarious The Big Bus (Warner Archive Collection) hilariously skewers the all-star disaster movies of the ’70s with an all-star cast of its own.
Thanks to Quentin Tarantino and other well-placed fans of the genre, the low-budget Italian spaghetti Westerns of yore are getting long overdue respect, including the Sergio Leone–produced My Name Is Nobody (Image Entertainment) getting a loving 40th anniversary Blu-ray reissue; one of the great creature-features of the Red Scare period, I Married a Monster from Outer Space (Warner Archive Collection), features memorable turns from Gloria Talbott (Girls Town, We’re No Angels) and Tom Tryon, who would go on to become a best-selling author; speaking of best sellers, Harold Robbin’s trashy airport saga The Adventurers (Warner Archive Collection) got an appropriately lavish and sudsy 1969 movie adaptation, now finally on DVD; and Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney get to work both their slapstick and dramatic chops in Carl Reiner’s The Comic (Sony Pictures Choice Collection), which examines the darker side of the silent comedy era.
October is the plum (or perhaps pumpkin) time of year for vintage horror, and what could be spookier than The Vincent Price Collection (Shout Factory), featuring six extraordinary chillers the actor made for American International Pictures in the 1960s? The stylish and scary classics featured here, all Blu-ray debuts, include four legendary Edgar Allan Poe adaptations (Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, The Haunted Palace), one Poe by title only (the exceedingly dark Witchfinder General, originally released in the U.S. as The Conqueror Worm) and the freaky and funny The Abominable Dr. Phibes. A Halloween treat you’ll enjoy all year round.
Also available: AIP fans can pick up some of the studio’s other favorites with Roger Corman’s Horror Classics: Vol. 1 (Film Chest Media Group), featuring A Bucket of Blood, Dementia 13 and The Terror; the horror anthology Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear (Shout Factory) assigns a scary story to scent, vision, touch, taste and hearing; this year’s 100 Bloody Acres (Doppelgänger Releasing) drew raves for its deft mix of humor and gut-bucket scares; Shout Factory has your B movie insomnia needs met in two new collections, All-Night Horror Marathon (The Vagrant, The Godsend, The Outing and the wildly entertaining What’s the Matter with Helen?) and Action-Packed Movie Marathon, Volume Two (Bulletproof, Trackdown, Bamboo Gods & Iron Men and the unforgettable Connie Stevens vehicle Scorchy); and if you haven’t gotten your fill of every realtor’s worst nightmare, there’s The Amityville Horror Trilogy Deluxe Collector’s Edition (Shout Factory).
New TV for Grown-ups
The Brady Bunch gets most of the glory when people look back at their favorite TV broods of the Nixon era, but let’s not forget the lip-synching musical family that shared their hour on Friday nights. Relive the magic with The Partridge Family: The Complete Series (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), which compiles the complete run of Shirley (Shirley Jones), Keith (David Cassidy), Laurie (Susan Dey), Danny (Danny Bonaduce), manager Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden) and all the rest in their various, hilarious misadventures.
Also available: Let us light a candle for the end of one of the new millennium’s greatest sitcoms, captured forever in Happy Endings: The Complete Third Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), which managed to juggle absurdity, rapid-fire banter and consistently recognizable characters; get your “eek!” on with the thoroughly creepy and unsettling American Horror Story: Asylum (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment); Family Tree: The Complete First Season (HBO Home Entertainment) sees a meeting of two comedic geniuses, star Chris O’Dowd and creator Christopher Guest.
Glee: The Complete Fourth Season (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) sees its older kids leaving Ohio for Broadway (and offers up the final season to feature the gone-too-soon Cory Monteith); the hijinks continue on MadTV: Season Four (Shout Factory); it’s a hilarious nerd riot on The Guild Complete Megaset (Cinedigm), starring Felicia Day; see comedy legends like Billy Crystal and Sandra Bernhard in hairdos they’d probably not remember in the four-disc The Best of the Original An Evening at the Improv (Somerville House) box set.
Now that U.K. actor Jamie Dornan has landed Fifty Shades of Grey, all the more reason to watch him as a serial killer matching wits with detective Gillian Anderson in The Fall, Series 1 (Acorn); Alexandra Pelosi’s Fall to Grace (HBO Home Entertainment) documents former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevy’s path from disgrace to redemption; and learn something new from rabble-rouser Oliver Stone in his uninhibited The Untold History of the United States (Warner Home Video).
New TV for Kids
I am, admittedly, not the target audience for Digimon Collection Seasons 1-4 (Flatiron Film Company). If you or someone you know does hit that sweet spot, however, this is a box set you’re going to want to have in your collection (or to wrap up at holiday gift-giving time). The early 2000s hit animated series is collected here on 32 DVDs featuring all 205 episodes, with a poster, character guide booklets and galleries tossed in for good measure.
Also available: Speaking of the upcoming holidays, here are two rather different takes that should appeal to one or more kids in your life: My Little Pony: A Very Minty Christmas (Shout Factory) and Power Rangers Super Samurai: A Christmas Wish (Lionsgate Home Entertainment). Because who says fluffy horses and robo-superheroes can’t get in on the Yuletide jollies?
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