There’s a whole subcategory of the Teen Movie genre that we could call the prom-com, in which everything leads up to the big dance that’s the defining moment of so many students’ senior year. One of my new favorites of this ilk would be the wonderfully off-kilter Date and Switch (Lionsgate), a comedy that takes the adolescent bromance into gay territory without missing a comic beat.
Best pals Michael (Nicholas Braun) and Matty (Hunter Cope — skinny on the DVD cover, adorably schlubby enough in the movie to be playing the Seth Rogen/Jonah Hill role) decide they’ve just got to lose their respective virginities before prom; so far, so typical. But when Matty comes out as “a gay dude” to Michael, complications ensue, not the least of which is Michael getting involved with Matty’s sexy ex (Dakota Johnson, soon to be seen in 50 Shades of Grey). Witty banter and outrageous humor balance out to a charming surprise that you may well have missed during its brief theatrical/VOD window.
Also available: Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde have a pharmaceutically charged affair that leads to chaos in the comedy Better Living Through Chemistry (Universal Studios Home Entertainment), which also features Michelle Monaghan, Ray Liotta and Jane Fonda; Möbius (Lionsgate) puts Tim Roth, Jean Dujardin and Cécile De France at odds in a tricky game of international espionage; the lovely chemistry between Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga props up the brief-encounter comedy At Middleton (Anchor Bay).
Director Ron Maxwell (Gettysburg, Gods & Generals) caps off his Civil War trilogy with the pacifism drama Copperhead (Warner Home Video); Black Nativity (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) features a stunning cast (including Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson) in a musical adaptation of the play by Langston Hughes; you’ve heard the buzz, now check out the notorious Sundance hit Escape from Tomorrow (Cinedigm/Random Media), much of which was shot on the sly at the Happiest Place on Earth; Scott Speedman and Evan Rachel Wood are unlikely lovers in Barefoot (Lionsgate), from director Andrew Fleming (Hamlet 2, Dick); Interior. Leather Bar. (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) uses the censored footage from Cruising as a jumping-off point for a study of images of gay sexuality in the media from directors Travis Mathews (I Want Your Love) and James Franco.
One of the most provocative and mind-blowing films of recent vintage was the Chinese import A Touch of Sin (Kino Lorber), a movie that is so damning of the 1% that you wonder how it got by the censors in what is still a repressive country. Writer-director Jia Zhangke tells four stories of laborers (including a receptionist at a massage parlor and an assembly-line worker at a computer factory) who are forced to violence after being crushed by the system.
Suspenseful, humane and heartbreaking, A Touch of Sin is unforgettable storytelling that also happens to pack a social punch. Essential viewing for people who care about cinema, not to mention the world in which we all live.
Also available: Paulina Garcia gives a knockout performance as a middle-aged unmarried woman ready to take a chance again in Gloria (Lionsgate); Aussie Oscar entry The Rocket (Kino Lorber) tells a terrific coming-of-age tale about some kids in Laos.
Probably no musical combo ever deserved the title “the only band that matters,” but The Rise and Fall of the Clash (Shout Factory) illustrates why this British punk group had such an impact on so many people. Loaded with previously unseen backstage footage, Danny Garcia’s documentary examines not only the importance of the Clash but also the internal struggles that pulled them apart just when they were beginning to make it big in America. New interviews and archival footage make this a must for fans.
Also available: The legendary pinup model is not who you think, as you’ll learn when Bettie Page Reveals All! (Music Box Films); gay porn mogul Michael Lucas digs into Putin’s anti-LGBT policies in Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda (Breaking Glass Pictures).
Whatever they wind up thinking of Hollywood’s latest attempt to make a Godzilla movie, fans of kaiju (monster) movies will love the wave of reissues the new would-be blockbuster is leaving in its wake. First up is Gamera Volume 1, Gamera Volume 2 and Gamera Legacy Collection 1965-1999 (Mill Creek Entertainment), which offers up all the fire-breathing flying turtle’s adventures. The first two sets include beautiful Blu-ray versions of the original wave of Gamera flicks from 1965-1980, while the Legacy Collection DVD offers the eight old-school movies plus the souped-up 1990s trilogy.
Gamera never quite hit Godzilla-level stardom in the U.S. — despite being heavily featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 — but if you like watching giant creatures crush cardboard cities while Japanese extras flee in a panic, these entertaining movies deliver the goods. (And the 1990s movies provide a way better update for their leading man than the wretched 1998 Godzilla did for its.)
Also available: Bud Cort (Harold and Maude) bends his mind, Italian-style, in the trippy Mafia movie Hallucination Strip (Raro Video); The Lost Empire and Gila! (both from MVD Entertainment) offer up legendary exploitation director Jim Wynorski working squarely in his comfort zone, with beasts and busty babes offered up in a plentiful array; Big Bad Wolves (Magnolia Home Entertainment) scored an endorsement from none other than Quentin Tarantino, who called this Israeli serial-killer thriller his favorite film of 2013; atmospheric thriller The Black Torment (Kino Lorber) borrows from both Hammer horror and Rebecca to chilling effect; the alien-zombie tale Dead Shadows (Scream Factory) has already racked up a global cult following, and now Americans can see what all the screaming is about; legendary horror master Jess Franco checks “sexy nuns” and “sexy witches” off his list in just one movie with The Demons (Kino Lorber).
Most movie nerds will admit that there are classics that he or she has yet to see, but we generally think we at least know the list of what’s in the canon. Ah, but that list is ever-expanding: take Il Sorpasso (The Criterion Collection), an Italian road comedy from 1962 that wasn’t all that well known in this country but that is now getting a new boost thanks to this Criterion edition.
European superstars Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant play mismatched buddies on a spree from Rome to Tuscany who discover the pleasures and pitfalls of la dolce vita in a comedy by Dino Risi that’s cited as a favorite of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Alexander Payne. (The latter has acknowledged this film’s influence on Sideways.) In other words, your need-to-see list just grew by one.
Also available: Mick Jagger’s deliciously decadent acting breakthrough in Performance (Warner Archive) looks better than ever on Blu-ray; Norma Rae (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) couldn’t be more politically timely, and it’s a potent reminder of why we still really like Sally Field; speaking of indelible, Oscar-winning performances, Meryl Streep’s knockout turn in the powerful Sophie’s Choice (Shout Factory) still earns superlatives; if you’re likin’ that new TV show, you might wanna take another look at the original Fargo (MGM Home Entertainment), dont’cha know.
Forget Tim Burton — for a truly visionary screen adaptation of Lewis Carroll, prepare to have your mind blown by Jan Svankmajer’s wonderfully disturbing Alice (First Run Features); disaster-movie completists and fans of disappointing sequels will feel compelled to go Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (Warner Archive); decades before Orange Is the New Black, Caged (Warner Archive) memorably took us behind bars in a women’s prison; The Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection (1949-1959) (Shout Factory) reminds us that the nearsighted everyman had a big-screen life before hitting TV; if you can’t imagine Passion of Joan of Arc director Karl Theodor Dreyer trying his hand at domestic drama, check out the sharply funny Master of the House (The Criterion Collection); Lars von Trier jumps through hoops in the name of art in the fascinating The Five Obstructions (Kino Lorber).
Obsessive fans, it must be noted, become completists, even when it takes them outside their sphere of interest; I still remember the Comic-Con where X-Men enthusiasts were eagerly snapping up a video of Hugh Jackman singing onstage in the West End production of Oklahoma! So if you’re a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and/or Torchwood, you might want to check out the British comedy You, Me & Them, Series 1 (Acorn), which stars Anthony Head and Eve Myles as a couple of opposites who find themselves strongly attracted to each other.
Ed (Head) is a divorced grandfather and Lauren (Myles) a free spirit, but they find happiness in each other’s arms. Less thrilled with the arrangement are her parents (who are Ed’s age) and his loony ex-wife (played by Lindsay Duncan); the latter moves into the house next door with the intention of winning her man back. If you only know the leads from their popular genre work, you’ll have fun watching them flex their romantic comedy muscles.
Also available: It’s the last from the Federation’s most recent show in Star Trek: Enterprise—Season Four (CBS/Paramount); go, go all you fans of Power Rangers: Seasons 13-17 (Shout Factory), with another big box of what you crave; The Dick Van Dyke Show: Classic Mary Tyler Moore Episodes (Image Entertainment) spotlights the classic sitcom’s secret weapon, the one in the capri pants.
The Bletchley Circle: Season 2 (PBS) gives the female retired WWII code breakers more crimes to solve in 1950s England; there’s an undeniable campiness to the new adaptation of Flowers in the Attic (Lionsgate), but Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) is such a terrific actress that you can’t dismiss this one entirely; more hilarious New England shenanigans in Newhart: The Complete Third Season (Shout Factory).
CBS/Paramount offers up the Blu-ray debuts of three legendary TV comedies with I Love Lucy—Ultimate Season One, The Andy Griffith Show—Season One, and The Honeymooners—“Classic 39” Episodes; documentarian Ken Burns celebrates the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s memorable speech at Gettysburg with the fascinating The Address (PBS); dig out your shoulder pads, it’s Dynasty: The Eighth Season, Volumes One and Two (CBS/Paramount), featuring the second Fallon (Emma Samms) and the second Steven (Jack Coleman).
London in the 1890s is no easy time to be a homicide detective, as we learn in Ripper Street: Season Two (BBC); one wonders about the entrance exam to be accepted into Shuriken School: The Ninja’s Secret (Zinkia/Cinedigm/Xilam); Godzilla: The Series (Mill Creek Entertainment) serves up the 1990s animated adventures of the beloved irradiated dinosaur; and Shirley takes a powder early on in Laverne & Shirley: The Eighth and Final Season (CBS/Paramount), but Penny Marshall soldiers on through the end.
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