One of the most sophisticated, intelligent, and gorgeous-looking of all the Academy Award–nominated films of the past year just became available for home viewing. Yes, I know, you already watched Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m talking about Carol (Anchor Bay/Weinstein), the latest journey into the interior lives of women from Todd Haynes. Cate Blanchett is astounding as a well-to-do housewife in the 1950s whose affair with young, naïve shopgirl Therèse (Rooney Mara) threatens to destroy everything else she values. You won’t find a more precisely made, deeply emotional love story this month than this one. And for production design fanatics, the period colors and settings are impeccable. It’s the kind of world you might want to live in yourself, minus all that vintage repression and unhappiness.
Also available: More of last year’s Oscar nominees are here, so you can finally catch up and see what that fuss was about: Eddie Redmayne plays pioneering transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment); homesick Saoirse Ronan will make you cry like a baby in the mid-century romance Brooklyn (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment); meanwhile, Oscar winner Brie Larson fights for her son’s life in the claustrophobia-making Room (Lionsgate Home Entertainment).
The Oscars ignored the sweetly moving friendship drama Miss You Already (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), which stars Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette dealing with the effects of the latter’s breast cancer diagnosis; father-son team Donald and Kiefer Sutherland join up with Demi Moore in the underrated western Forsaken (Momentum Picture); Robert Pattinson and Dane DeHaan star as photographer Dennis Stock and screen legend James Dean, respectively, in acclaimed director Anton Corbijn’s latest, Life (Cinedigm).
For a dose of low-brow awesomeness, there’s Dudes & Dragons (Momentum), a comedy-fantasy epic about the two things in its it title; You’re Killing Me (Wolfe Video) features more dudes, in this witty gay slasher comedy about friends who ignore the fact that the hot guy in their midst is a serial killer.
Okay, this one is from Canada, but filmmaker Guy Maddin is so outside the mainstream of English-language cinema that his films may seem beamed in from another planet, much less another country. And that’s what makes them incredible. Borrowing from film history and jolting the past to present life with wild imagination, he’s like no one else working in movies today. His latest (with co-director Evan Johnson), The Forbidden Room (Kino Lorber), is what happens when doomed sailors on a submarine eat pancakes to survive (they have air pockets, see), when lumberjacks team up for a rescue mission, when a psychiatrist and her uncontrollable patient embark on a journey by train, when a gang of female skeletons commits the crimes of kidnapping and insurance fraud, and when mustaches come to loving life. Sorry if reading that plot synopsis doesn’t make sense. Just watch the film, starring Udo Kier, Charlotte Rampling, Mathieu Amalric, and Geraldine Chaplin, and it’ll all become dazzlingly clear. Or not. Either way, you’re never going to forget it.
Also available: The controversial Ukranian hit The Tribe (Drafthouse Films) from director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, follows a group of violent, deaf teenagers in a boarding school that serves as a microcosm of a world at war; supernatural Thai drama The Blue Hour (Strand Releasing) tells the story of two teenage boys whose romance blooms at a haunted swimming pool; Spain’s entry to the 2015 Academy Awards is the Basque-language Flowers (Music Box Films), Jon Garaña and Jose Mari Goenaga’s moving drama about a woman who receives mysterious bouquets from a secret admirer; Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (Kino Lorber) is the latest from Iran’s most famous dissident filmmaker who mounts a camera to the dashboard of a cab and drives it around, picking up real people and actors, as they discuss life, film, and the trouble of trying to create meaningful examples of both.
One complaint about She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (Music Box Films): it’s too short. At 90 minutes, this information-packed documentary from Mary Dore is still a complete experience, a look at the women’s movement in the 1960s and early ’70s. And yet the sheer number of brave women who fill every frame – some well known, others not, all of them fascinating – really demand a really deep dive into the subject, of the 10-part miniseries variety, the kind Ken Burns is allowed to do for subjects like baseball and jazz music. As it stands, though, this is a totally entertaining, sometimes shocking look (plenty of archival footage of vintage misogyny in action) at a story that’s still unfolding 50 years later. If it leaves the history-hungry wanting more of everything, then that just means more films on the subject are in order.
Also available: Because there aren’t enough movies about this guy, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (Magnolia Home Entertainment) gives you Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney’s take on the Apple co-founder; the Steve Jobs of food (ok, maybe nobody calls him that, but whatever) is chef Rene Redzepi, the man behind NOMA, the Copenhagen-based dining establishment named “The Best Restaurant in the World” in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014, and in NOMA: My Perfect Storm (Magnolia Home Entertainment), you get to watch him forage for stylish ingredients, and it will make you very, very hungry.
Sunshine Superman (Magnolia Home Entertainment) introduces us to legendary skydiver Carl Boenish, a pioneer of BASE jumping and all things extreme; Censored Voices: The Six Day War, Uncut (Music Box Films) provides a rare glimpse of the testimonies of soldiers returning from that pivotal event in modern Israeli history, and it’s not exactly what you might be expecting; We Come as Friends (BBC Worldwide North America) explores the terrifying, heartbreaking world of fractured Sudan, as the battle for that nation’s population and resources tears everything to pieces.
Rhythm ’n Bayous: A Road Map to Louisiana Music (MVD Visual) is the kind of movie they invented the word “rollicking” to describe, a joyful, satisfying celebration of regional music by its most dedicated practitioners; the wild style of Children of the Stars (MVD Entertainment) involves a group of UFO contactees who tell the stories of their lives on other planets by making their own sci-fi films, which is almost as far-out as the work of contemporary artist Matthew Barney, he of the car-crashing, Masonic Temple-referencing, petroleum jelly-filled Cremaster cycle. In Matthew Barney: No Restraint (Kino Lorber), we’re treated to a portrait of the enigmatic man as he follows his own private obsessions.
When we remember the late Brittany Murphy, we think of Clueless, of course, and Girl Interrupted, and Freeway. But Cherry Falls (Scream Factory), the little-seen horror freak-out that sat on the shelf for a long time, is a strange but welcome addition to her too-brief life and film career. Turning the sexual politics of most slasher films upside down, it’s the story of a town full of virgin teenagers who’re being killed off one by one. To survive, the only answer is to do “it” ASAP, so the kids in town plan a “Pop Your Cherry” party. But Miss Murphy has other plans to catch the killer. It’s a shocking, funny, sometimes troubling look at the way sex and sexuality is exploited in the horror genre, and if you’ve ignored it until now, this new Blu-ray offers a chance to lose your innocence.
Also available: You’ll bask in the vintage power and glory of Pam Grier as she escapes from women’s prison shackled to another inmate in Black Mama, White Mama (MVD Visual); Sho Kosugi keeps it full-tilt ninja in 1987’s Rage of Honor (MVD Visual); the evil downside of legalizing all drugs (corporations ruin everything cool, duh) is fully exploited in the sci-fi thriller Narcopolis (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory).
It’s a Natasha Henstridge-palooza when Scream Factory breaks out Species II as well as Species III & Species: The Awakening; don’t get too confused by The Boy (Scream Factory) even though it shares a title with the 2016 film about a murderous doll – this one is about a murderous flesh-and-blood kid; Kill or Be Killed (RLJ Entertainment), the spaghetti western with lots of murder, arrives just in time to capitalizes on any and all residual goodwill you might feel for Hateful 8.
It’s vintage American International Pictures double-feature time with the two-fer of Edgar Allen Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror (Scream Factory); long before Chuck Norris became an infomercial spokesman for exercise equipment and celebrity endorser of weird Republican candidates, he killed lots of bad guys in very cool ways in 80s schlock like Invasion U.S.A. and Braddock: Missing in Action III (both from Shout Factory); and long before Katie Holmes married and divorced Tom Cruise, she appeared in the oh-so-’90s teen thriller Disturbing Behavior (Scream Factory), which makes her just as much an American hero as Chuck Norris.
Early 1970s giallo films Death Walks in High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight get the box set treatment with Death Walks Twice: Two Films by Luciano Ercoli (MVD Visual); the double-feature disc of Private Resort & Hardbodies (Mill Creek Entertainment) has a lot of ’80s nudity, and at least one of those movies has Johnny Depp, before he became a live-action cartoon character; All Hell Breaks Loose (Wild Eye Releasing), which feels like the ’80s but isn’t, involves bikers and Satanism and lots of gore.
Acclaimed French New Wave filmmaker Jacques Rivette spent the early part of his career as a film critic. During that time he spent three years making 1960’s Paris Belongs to Us (The Criterion Collection), one of the most important films of that moment. It’s a mystery of sorts, about a group of actors rehearsing a Shakespeare play for performance that never materializes. But most importantly, it’s a formally innovative look into the post-WWII disillusionment of France’s young, creative population as they begin shaking up the 1960s, and features cameos from Rivette’s peers Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Demy. Your nouvelle vague history lesson begins right here.
Also available: Bogie and Bacall leave indelible noir impressions in Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep (Warner Archive Collection), and this new Blu-ray contains an alternate cut; The Sicilian (Shout Factory) delivers a hi-def edition of acclaimed director Michael Cimino’s 1987 biopic of Italian bandit Salvatore Giuliano (Christopher Lambert); Ray Milland stars in the atomic bomb–themed, Cold War nightmare Panic in Year Zero (Kino Lorber), making its Blu-ray debut.
Jane B. par Agnès V. & Kung-Fu Master! (Cinelicious Pics/Cine-Tamaris) package together two idiosyncratic films by French New Wave director Agnes Varda, both of which feature ’60s icon Jane Birkin; The Decline of Western Civilization and The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (both Shout Factory) are essential documents, with Decline focusing its stare on early 80s Los Angeles punk rock, featuring bands like Black Flag and X, while Decline II covers the hedonistic, mid-80s, Sunset Strip metal scene; the late Hong Kong star Leslie Cheung stars in 1994’s Victor/Victoria–esque rom-com He’s a Woman, She’s a Man (Warner Archive Collection).
The Red House (The Film Detective) is psych-noir at its darkest and stars Edward G. Robinson; familial estrangement becomes a challenge to survival in David Gordon Green’s underrated rural drama, Undertow (Olive Films), starring Jamie Bell and Josh Lucas; Chantal Akerman: Four Films (Icarus Films) packages a handful of the late art film director’s works -- From the East, South, From the Other Side, Down There – all of which were fairly difficult to locate before as well as a bonus doc, Chantal Akerman, From Here; fans of the bizarrely erratic, Chuck Barris–created talent competition series of the mid-’70s will finally get a chance to witness the evidence that somebody in Hollywood thought it would be a good idea to turn it into a theatrical experience, birthing 1980’s The Gong Show Movie (Shout Factory) for better or… okay, worse.
The Unauthorized Collection 4-Film Set (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) features a quartet of highly-rated, made-for-Lifetime movies: The Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story, The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story, The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story, The Unauthorized Full House Story. Sure, they’re nonsense, possibly irresponsible, but utterly addictive, the TV movie equivalent of eating four big bags of store-brand potato chips. And you’re not above that, either, are you? Take a dive into the Uncanny Valley.
Also available: Another MST3K box set means you’re probably going to need to go to IKEA and just get more shelving. You know who you are. This one, Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXXV (Shout Factory), packages Teenage Cave Man, Being from Another Planet, 12 to the Moon, and Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (PBS) can be boiled down to, essentially, the following, in Michael Pollan’s own words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Of course, there’s more to it than that, which is why you’ll want to watch it; hey, fans of Humans (RLJ/Acorn), this here is the uncut UK edition with extra footage; and hey, fans of swinging anti-hero Bob Crane and the saddening biopic Auto Focus, here’s Hogan’s Heroes (CBS/Paramount). ALL OF IT AT ONCE. You’re welcome.
The blunt instrument that is Strike Back delivers Season 4 (HBO Home Entertainment); Soviet espionage cult favorite The Americans: The Complete Season Three (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) keeps the Reagan-era thrills coming, while Archer: The Complete Season Six (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/FX) takes a much sillier look at spycraft; Community: The Complete Sixth Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), Drunk History: Season 3 (Comedy Central Home Entertainment), and the fourth season of Maude (Shout Factory) are all spiritually compatible if you think about it, and should appeal to pretty much the same audience.
Vintage TV drama enthusiasts of a certain age will remember Death Valley Days, which ran from 1952 until 1970, and 1969’s The Bold Ones: The New Doctors. Shout Factory releases the complete series of the latter, and Season 1 of the former (with, presumably, 17 more installments to follow). Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan and Hannibal’s Gillian Anderson’s acclaimed UK series, The Fall, returns with Series 2 (RLJ/Acorn); American slavery drama The North Star (RLJ Entertainment), an original Urban Movie Channel film, makes it physical media debut.
In case you missed The Spoils of Babylon (Anchor Bay Entertainment), it’s not a Bible story, but rather a parody of 1980s mini-series, starring Kristen Wiig; if you want Bible stories, check out Shout Factory’s The Bible Stories, including In the Beginning, Abraham, and Moses with stars like Ben Kingsley, Sean Bean, and Christopher Lee; The Nanny: The Final Season (Shout Factory) promises to imprint Fran Drescher’s one-of-a-kind voice into your consciousness forever; Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay) is a “Special Edition” with bonus content and commentaries; featuring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini and scads of other before-they-were-famous actors, Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series (Shout Factory) makes it Blu-ray bow on Shout Factory with an elaborate box set that includes a staggering amount of bonus footage and commentary; When Calls the Heart: It Begins with Heart (Shout Factory) is about… hang on… well, I’m not sure what it’s about, but it was on the Hallmark Channel… and so… okay, yes, got it, it’s about love. And that’s lovely.