DVD Obscura: The Indie and International Movies You Should Watch This Month

DVD Obscura: The Indie and International Movies You Should Watch This Month

Dec 31, 2013

New Indie

One of the year’s most wonderfully weird films got love on the festival circuit, but not tons of theatrical play, so DVD may well offer your first opportunity to see Animals (Artsploitation Films), a movie that drew comparisons to David Lynch and Donnie Darko but which stands as very much its own unique creation. In director Marçal Forés’ directorial debut, teenage Pol (Orial Pla) is teetering toward adulthood, but still unwilling to leave one aspect of childhood behind — his teddy bear Deerhoof, who talks to Pol (and accompanies him on the drums when Pol plays guitar).

This ain’t Ted, however. There’s an undercurrent of dread and danger throughout, with Pol’s burgeoning sexuality unfolding against a backdrop of missing teens and school mayhem. Featuring a cast of charismatic Spanish newcomers (and The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman as a sympathetic teacher at their English-language school), Animals is the kind of knockout first film that makes you eager to see what the director will come up with next.

Also available: While the title Last Love (RLJ Entertainment) might be a little on the nose, it gives Michael Caine another opportunity to sweep a young lady (played by Clémence Poésy of In Bruges and the Harry Potter series) off her feet, with a stunning supporting cast that includes Gillian Anderson, Justin Kirk and Jane Alexander; reformed prostitute January Jones and renegade sheriff Ed Harris seek vengeance against crazed preacher Jason Isaacs in the Sundance entry Sweetwater (Arc Entertainment); Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor at Cannes for his riveting performance in the suspenseful The Hunt (Magnolia Home Entertainment), this year’s Danish Oscar entry, directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration).

Prolific filmmaker Joe Swanberg crafted perhaps his richest and most humane film to date with the romantic comedy Drinking Buddies (Magnolia Home Entertainment), featuring a quartet of terrific performances from Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston; some of the biggest stars in French cinema team up with New Wave legend Alain Resnais to pay tribute to show folk in the theatrical drama You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Kino Lorber); while overshadowed by the bigger budgeted Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the similarly themed Winnie Mandela (RLJ/One Village Entertainment) features powerful performances by Jennifer Hudson (in the title role) and Terrence Howard (as Nelson Mandela); a young woman befriends an aging movie star (played by Rutger Hauer), but who’s using whom in The Future (Strand Releasing Home Video)?

 

New Documentaries

Finding an interesting subject for your documentary is half the battle, granted, but Dan Hunt’s Mr. Angel (Breaking Glass Pictures/QC Cinema) doesn’t just ride the coattails of its fascinating protagonist. Transgender activist and porn performer Buck Angel breaks a lot of the rules — he’s a muscular, tattooed, cigar-chomping daddy who was born a woman and doesn’t hide that fact in his adult-film work. Getting to where he’s gotten has been quite the journey, as you might expect, and this film tells his story with humor and compassion. There’s an emerging wave of docs about trans issues, and this ranks among the best ones out there.

Also available: It’s been a few decades since Rick Springfield was on the pop charts, but as the engaging new documentary An Affair of the Heart (Breaking Glass Pictures) reveals, his touring (and fan adulation) remains at full steam; Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Lindsay Lohan and Adrien Brody are just some of the performers who read from Miss Monroe’s private journals in the revealing Love, Marilyn (Cinedigm); one of contemporary pop culture’s strangest phenomena — grown men who love the rebooted My Little Pony cartoon — goes under the microscope in Bronies (MVD Entertainment).

Lovers of documentaries and gorgeous cinematography must own Bruce Weber: The Film Collection (Cinedigm), featuring three great docs by the photographer turned filmmaker (along with the extremely indulgent A Letter to True, but a .750 average ain’t bad at all) — Baker’s Let’s Get Lost is also newly available as a stand-alone; Armistead Maupin’s latest novel features a character who was conceived at the U.S. Festival without knowing what it was, and if you don’t either, ’83 US Festival, Days 1-3 (MVD Entertainment) features live performances from Steve Nicks, U2, Stray Cats, INXS, Judas Priest and other 1980s titans; there have been plenty of fictional movies about jewel thieves, but now there’s Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers (Doppelgänger Releasing) to tell a true story of some notorious bandits.

 

New Classic

Say what you will about the historical accuracy (or lack thereof) of the new movie Saving Mr. Banks, it’s nearly impossible to come out of that film without a hankering to rewatch Mary Poppins (Walt Disney Home Entertainment), newly released on Blu-ray in a gorgeous 50th anniversary edition. Richard Sherman, the surviving member of the songwriting Sherman Brothers, pops up in lots of extras, from a reunion with cast members Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke to a conversation with Jason Schwartzman (who plays Richard Sherman in Mr. Banks). Five decades later, this family musical remains a practically perfect delight.

Also available: It’s no exaggeration to call Robert Altman’s Nashville (The Criterion Collection) one of the greatest films of all time, and the new Criterion package gives the film its due, with a lots of new extras as well as a vintage commentary by the late director; Andrei Tarkovsky’s acclaimed Nostalghia (Kino Lorber), made when the filmmaker was in exile from his native Russia, gets a gorgeous HD remastering for its Blu-ray debut; also getting its first Blu-ray release, thanks to online voting, is the hilarious and romantic Desk Set (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), featuring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as two geniuses in their own fields going toe-to-toe in the early age of computerization; one of the most understated classics of the 1990s, Searching for Bobby Fischer (Warner Archive Collection) tells a coming-of-age story with a powerhouse cast (that includes Mamet vets Joe Mantegna and William H. Macy) and gorgeous cinematography by the great Conrad Hall; The Blue Angel (Kino Lorber), featuring Marlene Dietrich in her signature role of nightclub temptress Lola-Lola, gets a two-disc “Ultimate Edition” with the German-language and English-language versions of the film plus even more extras.

Leading French filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Claude Lelouch and William Klein spoke out boldly against American foreign policy with 1967’s Far from Vietnam (Icarus Films Home Video), a film now considered to rank among the great protest documentaries; the hilarious Jack Benny got one of his few big-screen leading roles in director Raoul Walsh’s daffy and unpredictable The Horn Blows at Midnight (Warner Archive Collection), in which he plays a musician who dreams he’s an angel being sent down to destroy the Earth; it’s unclear who thought it was a good idea to have the legendary Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain, Charade) direct Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett and Harvey Keitel (the latter being overdubbed in post) in a sexy and violent Star Wars rip-off called Saturn 3 (Shout Factory), but it’s worth watching the movie just as a prelude to reading Money, screenwriter Martin Amis’ satirical novel about the whole process; Tom Hanks is having a big year with Captain Phillips and the aforementioned Saving Mr. Banks, but his transition to “that guy on Bosom Buddies” to reputable movie star began with Big (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), now available in a 25th anniversary Blu-ray; Hollywood’s best treatment of Philip Roth’s writing remains 1969’s charmingly funny Goodbye, Columbus (Warner Home Archive).

 

New Grindhouse

The Big Gundown (Grindhouse Releasing), now available in a “Deluxe Edition,” has pretty much everything you’d want from a spaghetti Western, from leading men Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian to a score by Ennio Morricone. This four-disc set is a must for any fan of the genre, as it contains a digital restoration of the English-language version, a Blu-ray of the director’s cut (La Resa dei Conti), a soundtrack CD and much more.

Also available: The holidays may be behind us, but anytime of year is good for a scare, whether you’re checking out the bizarre Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas (MVD Entertainment), featuring cult stars Linnea Quigley and Robert Z’dar or the newly remastered 1970s chiller Silent Night, Bloody Night (Film Chest Media Group), starring Mary Woronov and Patrick O’Neal; classic 1980s horror gets served up as a honeymoon-night encounter with an alien leads Bibi Besch and Ronny Cox to parent The Beast Within (Shout Factory); All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Anchor Bay/Radius-TWC), from director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies, The Wackness) makes its long-awaited home video debut after years in legal limbo; if Klaus Kinski is your landlord, you’re just asking for trouble, or at least that’s the impression given by Crawlspace (Shout Factory); the crazed midnight movies keep coming from Shout Factory, which offers up a Cult Movie Marathon in Volumes One (with four movies, including Invasion of the Bee Girls and Unholy Rollers) and Two (offering The Naked Cage, Chatterbox and two more titles).

 

New Television

Not a lot of landmark TV series aired five times a week, so it’s no wonder that Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: The Complete Series (Shout Factory) was such an elaborate undertaking, with 38 discs needed to capture this crackpot soaps parody/cultural satire in its entirety. Louise Lasser stars in the title role as a put-upon housewife forced to cope with everything from infidelity to addiction to the scourge of waxy yellow buildup. The impressive box set comes loaded with goodies, from new essays and featurettes to 10 episodes of the equally hilarious spin-off, the Fernwood 2Night talk show starring Martin Mull and Fred Willard. Essential viewing for anyone trying to comprehend the Me Decade.

Also available: The Simpsons: The Sixteenth Season (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) will thrill fans of the long-running animated comedy with commentary tracks for each individual episode and lots of other fun extras, including a “live” performance; if you’re still Netflix resistant, you can enjoy the first of their original series with the DVD release of Lilyhammer (Cinedigm), starring Sopranos alum Steven Van Zandt as an American mobster hiding out in the home of the 1994 Winter Olympics; anime buffs won’t want to miss the Zatch Bell Megaset (Cinedigm), featuring the show’s complete two-season run on 12 discs.

 

 

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