New: Almodóvar at His Darkest
The wonderfully twisted The Skin I Live In (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; now available) sees brilliant Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar working in a darker vein than usual with this bizarre tale of a plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) and his beautiful, imprisoned creation (Elena Anaya). But the auteur is still working at full power, eliciting Banderas’ best live-action performance in ages and giving us the gorgeous art direction (and another great Alberto Iglesias score) we’ve come to expect.
The DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack features a seven-part “making of” doc, and only the Blu-Ray also includes a lecture and Q&A that Almodóvar gave at USC last year. He’s one of the more articulate filmmakers out there when it comes to talking about why and how he does what he does, so fans and aspiring directors alike should check it out.
A couple of must-sees for music fans: While Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (Music Box Film Home Entertainment; available March 20) assumes you come in already knowing the life of composer-singer-filmmaker Serge Gainsbourg — probably an easier assumption to make in the movie’s native France than it is in the U.S. — the film still nails the period detail, mixes live-action with animation in an interesting way, and features a knockout performance by Eric Elmosnino as the much-loved and often-reviled Gainsbourg. DVD extras include a documentary about Gainsbourg director Joann Sfar by actor Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum of Solace).
Moving from biopic to actual documentary, this month also gives us The Swell Season (Docurama Films; available March 13), about the band of the same name — although you may know them better as Once stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. In Once, they fell in love with each other over the course of making a movie, and this time, we see their relationship unravel over the course of a two-year world tour. It’s heartbreaking but fascinating, and their music remains as lovely as ever.
Another documentary that many consider one of 2011’s best (although, apparently, not enough of those people are members of the Oscar voting bloc, who didn’t even shortlist it) was The Interrupters (PBS Home Video; now available) from director Steve James (Hoop Dreams), about former gang members in Chicago who now intervene and “interrupt” gang violence before it happens. Also worth checking out is Bag It (Docurama Films; available March 13), a look at the environmental toll of all those plastic bags they give you at the grocery store.
And finally, while it’s in no way “Obscura,” I would feel remiss in not reminding folks that the hilarious, charming and (ahem) Academy Award–winning The Muppets (Walt Disney; available March 20) is coming to home video in various formats, including a 3-disc “Wocka-Wocka Value Pack.” Don’t pretend like you’re not excited.
Classic: Chekhov and the Knights Who Say “Ni”
You know how you’ll see a certain actor in a certain movie, and maybe you’ve seen him or her before or maybe not, but it’s that specific performance that makes you sit up and take notice and make sure you remember the performer’s name? I had that experience with Julianne Moore in Vanya on 42nd Street (The Criterion Collection; now available), a wonderfully stripped-down staging of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya that represents a reunion of the My Dinner with Andre crew: Wallace Shawn co-stars, Andre Gregory directed the original stage version, and Louis Malle (making what would be his final film) helmed the movie. And it’s one of the greatest stage-on-film experiences ever captured.
You don’t need coconuts or knowledge of sparrows to enjoy the Blu-Ray debut of the legendary Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; now available). And even if you know every last line by heart, you’ll want to check out 30 minutes of special features that are exclusive to this latest release, including never-before-seen Terry Gilliam animations.
MGM’s Limited Edition Collection (distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Entertainment) unearths some more cool titles for its movies-on-demand collection, including the Frankie Avalon vehicle Sergeant Deadhead; Daphne Zuniga, Cynthia Gibb, and Virginia Madsen are totally ’80s ladies gone wild in Modern Girls; Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz of the Beastie Boys tackles a dramatic role in Lost Angels while comedian Freddie Prinze makes a rare film appearance in The Million-Dollar Rip-Off; and Sho Kosugi kicks ass and may or may not take names in Pray for Death.
TV: Earth, and Other Worlds
Nobody does nature docs like the BBC, and if you’re a fan of watching volcanoes and gazelles and sperm whales while David Attenborough reassuringly explains everything, then you’re not going to want to miss The BBC Natural History Collection (BBC Home Entertainment; available March 27), which features a special edition of the acclaimed Planet Earth mini-series. This box has 18 discs covering four different series, and the Blu-Ray is just the sort of thing to really show off your snazzy home theater during dinner parties.
If you don’t want to take the big plunge, you can always dip into the aquatic nature series Ocean Giants (BBC Home Entertainment; now available), which is sold separately. Whales and dolphins!
Those who prefer to explore worlds definitely not our own have plenty of options as well. That onyx obelisk also known as Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season (HBO Home Video; now available) will be dragon-nip to fans of the fantasy series with lots of background material on the making of the show and the lands where it all takes place (with additional extras on the Blu-Ray). Should your brand of fantasy run more to robots and inter-dimensional phone booths than swords and sorcery, BBC Home Entertainment offers four extras-laden collections of vintage Doctor Who (all available March 13): The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Face of Evil, The Robots of Death and The Three Doctors.
It’s a somewhat recent development for American filmmakers to do interesting work for television, but European directors like Ingmar Bergman were doing it back in the 1970s. As was legendary German bad-boy Reiner Werner Fassbinder, whose wonderfully weird sci-fi mini-series World on a Wire (The Criterion Collection; now available) comes to American DVD with a typically well-curated Criterion release.
And speaking of great directors, the two-part American Masters film Woody Allen: A Documentary (PBS Home Video; now available) comes to DVD with new bonus material atop the treasure trove of interviews and film clips.
Two very distinct brands of vintage TV surface this month: There’s the 35th anniversary edition of I, Claudius (Acorn Media; available March 27), one of the great TV events of all time and a fascinating exploration of the intrigues and decadence of ancient Rome, and CBS Home Entertainment’s “Fan Favorite” series of DVDs (now available), featuring fan-picked collections of the seven greatest episodes of shows like Cheers, Frasier, The Odd Couple, Hogan’s Heroes, MacGyver, Happy Days, and The Honeymooners. (I was thrilled that the “Password” episode of The Odd Couple made the cut.)
Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans should rejoice that box set XXIII (Shout Factor; available March 27) features the legendary Last of the Wild Horses — the episode where Mike and the ‘bots trade places with the Mad Scientists, inspired by Star Trek’s “Mirror, Mirror” episode — alongside favorites like King Dinosaur, The Castle of Fu Manchu (“Harry Alan TOWERS!”), and Code Name: Diamond Head.
Finally, for animation fans, there’s Young Justice: Season One, Volume Three (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment; now available), an inventive and entertaining series revolving around the junior superheroes of the DC Universe, and The Adventures of Tintin: Season Two (Shout Factory; available March 20), which will either help get the bad taste of the Spielberg Tintin out of your mouth or give you more adventures of the boy detective you loved in the Spielberg movie, depending.
And last but certainly not least is Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales: The Complete Collection (Shout Factory; available March 13); if you’re a fan of a certain age, you’ll have fond recollections of the fast-talking penguin (voiced by Get Smart’s Don Adams) and his adventures with slow-witted walrus Chumley and brainy Professor Phineas J. Whoopee. If, like me, you’ve spent decades saying, “Duhh, OK, Tennessee” in a walrus voice, only to get blank stares, vindication has finally come.