DVD Obscura: The New Indie and International Movies You Need to Watch

DVD Obscura: The New Indie and International Movies You Need to Watch

Dec 10, 2014

New Indie:

Daniel Radcliffe has had to overcome the double burden of being a child actor who grew up in front of our eyes and an actor linked indelibly to an iconic character. With his interesting and eclectic choices of stage and screen roles in recent years, however, he’s doing a bang-up job of showing audiences that he’s more than just the Boy Who Lived. Continuing that winning streak is What If (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), an endearing rom-com that’s smart and fresh enough to make you forget you’re watching a rom-com.

It helps to have Michael Dowse, the man behind the great and underseen Goon in the director’s chair, but the film mainly glides along the potent chemistry between Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. Radcliffe plays a med school dropout still smarting over having been dumped; when he meets Kazan’s character at a party, he’s convinced he’s found Ms. Right — until he learns she’s taken and just wants to be friends. The situation might be familiar, but the dialogue is witty and unpredictable, as is Radcliffe’s performance.

Also available: After phoning it in with Madea’s Witness Protection, The Lady is back in prime not-having-your-sass mode in A Madea Christmas (Lionsgate Home Entertainment); What is legendary French actress Nathalie Baye doing in a movie about lady wrestlers? Find out in the WWE-produced comedy Queens of the Ring (Image Entertainment); Tru Love (Wolfe Video) sees a 37-year-old lesbian Lothario (Lotharia?) gobsmacked by her attraction to a 60-year-old lady.

Three sisters rethink their mutual vow of putting career before romance in the comedy Love the One You’re With (RLJ Entertainment/UMC); A Free Bird (MVD Visual) has nothing to do with Lynyrd Skynyrd and everything to do with incompetent crooks trying to hold up a steakhouse; auto racer Thomas Jane becomes the reluctant getaway driver for crook John Cusack in Drive Hard (Image Entertainment), cowritten and directed by Oz-sploitation master Brian Trenchard-Smith (Stunt Rock).


New Foreign:

If you’re one of those people who likes to be up to speed when the top-10 lists come out at the end of the year, here’s one you won’t want to miss: French troublemaker Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl, Anatomy of Hell) returns with the autobiographical and no less provocative Abuse of Weakness (Strand Releasing Home Video), starring Isabelle Huppert as a filmmaker recovering from a stroke, who begins meeting with a man who fleeces celebrities for a living. She plans to make a film about him, but the more time they spend together, the further she’s drawn into his destructive manipulations.

Also available: A gay couple invites a younger man into their bed, and a great time is had by all, in The Third One (TLA Releasing); in Touch of the Light (Well Go USA Entertainment), a blind pianist encourages a young dancer to reach for the stars; the title says it all in the acclaimed adventure Brazilian Western (Shout Factory); staying at the world’s greatest hotels as a travel critic has its perks, but the heroine of A Five Star Life (Music Box Films) wants true love even more than a great continental breakfast.

The GKIDS label presents new Blu-rays of three animated favorites, the Japanese Patema Inverted and Welcome to the Space Show, and Spanish import Nocturna; the Brazilian hit Astral City: A Spiritual Journey (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) contemplates life after death, which apparently includes a soundtrack by Philip Glass; a man’s discovery of love letters to his girlfriend brings him to term with his own unresolved sexual issues in the Israeli drama Snails in the Rain (TLA Releasing).


New Documentaries:

One of the great American documentarians gets his due in the stunning new collection Les Blank: Always for Pleasure (The Criterion Collection). If you know Blank only as the man behind Burden of Dreams, the making-of movie about Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, you’re missing out on some of the most poetic, humane and witty docs of the last few decades. (If you can watch Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers without feeling starved for spicy food, you’re made of stronger stuff than I.)

This Criterion box includes new 2K digital restorations of 14 Blank films (including Garlic) as well as new interviews with family members, friends, subjects and collaborators, plus outtakes, shorts, an essay and other essentials.

Also available: I Am Ali (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) digs in deep about one of the world’s greatest athletes; the sweet but wrenching Sundance award winner Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory (MVD Entertainment) examines the power of music to invigorate the minds of those suffering from dementia; learn the nutty true story that inspired Dog Day Afternoon in the award-winning The Dog (Drafthouse Films/Docurama).

Two great films from the legendary Shirley Clarke — Portrait of Jason and Ornette: Made in America (both from Milestone Films) — get the Blu-ray restorations they richly deserve; the extraordinary story of a trans woman who used to be a Navy SEAL is told powerfully and memorably in the moving Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story (Wolfe Video); modern-day hobos take to the backroads and train tracks of America in Freeload (MVD Visual).


New Grindhouse:

There would be such a thing as 1980s horror without director Stuart Gordon, but it’s just too depressing to contemplate a decade without Re-Animator or From Beyond or the latest to get the Collectors Edition treatment from Scream Factory, Dolls. A perverse take on the Pinocchio story, this chilling tale sees a motley group of innocents stuck inside a mansion owned by a couple of terrifying toymakers. A nifty blend of Agatha Christie old-dark-house murders crossed with demonic toys (oh wait, that’s a different franchise), Dolls delivers the kind of intelligently subversive fun for which Gordon is famous.

Also available: Collies in fangs — or rather, The Killer Shrews (Film Chest Media Group) — must be destroyed in this classic camp stinker; As the Light Goes Out (Well Go USA Entertainment) sees Hong Kong firefighters tackling a deadly blaze on Christmas Eve; the first line of George A. Romero’s eventual obituary will no doubt mention zombies, but the horror master has made plenty of favorites that don’t have “of the Dead” in their titles, including Monkey Shines and The Dark Half (both Scream Factory), making their Blu-ray debuts.

Fans of Italian giallo will dig the French-language homage The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (Strand Releasing Home Video); house arrest plus haunted house equals spooky trouble in Housebound (XLrator Media); old gourd noggin is back for more mayhem in Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (Scream Factory).


New Classics:

I’ve tried to make the case for years, even in my holiday movie guide, that Eyes Wide Shut is a Christmas movie. Seriously, watch it again, and keep an eye out for all the twinkly lights and wrapping paper and decorated tree. Whether or not you’re on my side in this one, rest assured that the movie lover in your life will be delighted to find Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection (Warner Home Video) under his or her tree.

This handsome set focuses on the latter portion of Kubrick’s career — starting at Lolita and moving onward through Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and his final masterpiece, Eyes Wide Shut — all remastered on gorgeous Blu-rays. The box also includes five documentaries, one brand-new, one new to U.S. release and one new to Blu-ray.

Also available: One of the great screwball comedies — and the first to sweep the big five Oscar categories — Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (The Criterion Collection) gets a swellegant new Blu-ray; Angela Lansbury and film historian Steve Haberman provide commentary to a Blu-ray release of one of the actress’ earliest screen appearances, the sumptuous 1945 The Picture of Dorian Gray (Warner Archive Collection); Timothy Dalton and Jonathan Pryce star in the darkly funny grave-robbing tale The Doctor and the Devils (Scream Factory).

Bernardo Bertolucci’s gorgeous classic The Conformist (Raro Video) comes to Blu-ray in a handsome new restoration overseen by Bertolucci and legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro; also restored (in 4K) is the silent classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Kino Lorber Home Video), which should be forced viewing for anyone who thinks Tim Burton invented Expressionism.

Three animated masterpieces from the great Hayao Miyazaki — Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service and last year’s Oscar-nominated The Wind Rises — make their Blu-ray debuts from Walt Disney Home Entertainment; Joan Crawford is a woman Possessed (Warner Archive Collection) by her love for Van Heflin in one of the diva’s greatest performances; when people talk about the many Hollywood classics of 1939, they often give short shrift to Howard Hawks’ great Only Angels Have Wings (TCM/Columbia Pictures), featuring top-notch performances by Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and a young Rita Hayworth.

Fans of the great “Weird Al” Yankovic get an embarrassment of riches with the release of UHF: 25th Anniversary Edition as well as the mockumentary The Compleat Al (both Shout Factory); and return to those days of innocently naughty American movies as Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 8 (Warner Archive Collection) presents a quartet of racy, pre–Production Code faves: Blonde Crazy, Strangers May Kiss, Nellie and Dark Hazard.


New TV:

One of the most ambitious projects in the history of television recently came to an end as actor David Suchet portrayed legendary sleuth Hercule Poirot for the final time, having starred in adaptations of every single one of Agatha Christie’s Poirot adventures over the last 25 years. And now there’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Complete Collection (Acorn), an impressive box set that contains the entire run of these thrilling, witty, atmospheric whodunnits.

With a who’s who of guest stars — including Emily Blunt, Michael Fassbender, Jessica Chastain, Peter Capaldi, Damian Lewis, among many others — sumptuous production values, and Suchet’s masterful portrayal of the brilliant but eccentric Poirot, this series of mysteries has kept audiences worldwide glued to their sets, and now you can give the gift of binge watching (or indulge in it yourself) from start to finish.

Also available: The Poirot set is hardly the only TV series collection making its way into the world in time for holiday gift giving: don’t miss out on an array of eras and genres for every taste, including Borgen: The Complete Series (MHZ Networks), Mister Ed: The Complete Series (Shout Factory; available December 9), Secret Agent: The Complete Series (Timeless Media Group; available December 9), Sgt. Bilko/The Phil Silvers Show — The Complete Series (Shout Factory), Reno 911!: The Complete Series (Paramount Home Video), True Blood: The Complete Series (HBO Home Entertainment), The Jeffersons: The Complete Series (Shout Factory; available December 9), and Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in Jeeves & Wooster Complete Collection (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn).

You may have gotten all the Thanksgsiving leftovers out of your fridge, but you’ll savor Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Turkey Day Collection (Shout Factory) all year long, from its hilarious host segments to its gloriously cheesy movies (this time around, Squirm, The Screaming Skull, Jungle Goddess and The Painted Hills); as we savor the final six (only six!) episodes, enjoy a look back at The Newsroom: The Complete Second Season (HBO Home Entertainment); Lifetime’s nonfiction movies ride that line between “inept” and “wait, are they doing this on purpose?” and such is the case with the ridiculous but thoroughly watchable The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story (Lionsgate Home Entertainment).

If you just can’t stop watching that Episode VII trailer online, maybe you can wean yourself away with Star Wars: The Clone Wars — The Lost Missions, or maybe even Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars (both Walt Disney Home Entertainment); get a boozy education from Comedy Central’s hysterical Drunk History: Seasons 1 & 2 (Paramount Home Video); and before everyone was being all CSI and NCIS and The Flash, TV’s hottest forensic specialist was the no-nonsense Jack Klugman, as seen on Quincy, M.E.: Season Seven (Shout Factory).




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