New Indie DVD of the Month:
Don’t let the cast of Oscar winners (and nominees) and its posh setting in the world of classical music fool you: A Late Quartet (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) gets pretty soapy, but always in the best, most interesting way. Legendary cellist Christopher Walken faces retirement due to illness, and his imminent departure ripples through the other members of his string quartet (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir), bringing long-suppressed rivalries and passions to the surface. The A-list cast (which also includes Imogen Poots) keeps things restrained and witty, and the result is a crisp and engaging, if never particularly deep, drama.
Also out this month: Hoffman’s extraordinary, Oscar-nominated turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s powerful The Master (Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company) and the prickly family drama In Our Nature (Flatiron Film Company), featuring a strong ensemble led by Mad Men’s John Slattery.
New Foreign DVD of the Month:
American movies tend to handle sex and violence at arm’s length, but it’s so much more disturbing when a film brings us to its protagonist’s POV and doesn’t let us watch from a distance. Which brings us to Our Paradise (Notre Paradis) (QC Cinema/Breaking Glass Pictures), a sexy but harrowing new film from actor-turned-director Gaël Morel (Full Speed). Aging prostitute Vassili (Stéphane Rideau) takes an angelic young stranger (Dimitri Durdaine) under his wing, but they go from hustling to murder at a terrifyingly quick clip, with Vassili’s old girlfriend (played by Betty Blue star Béatrice Dalle) along for the ride.
Also out this month: The powerful The Kid with a Bike (The Criterion Collection) from the legendary Dardennes brothers; another Belgian import, North Sea Texas (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment), a sweet coming-of-age tale about two neighbor boys in the 1960s; and the acclaimed Russian film Bullet Collector (Artsploitation Films), a moody, black-and-white film that has drawn comparisons to The 400 Blows.
Grindhouse DVD of the Month:
I’ve always had a soft spot for Timerider (Shout Factory), part of ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith’s all-too-brief sojourn into producing in the 1980s. (Other films made under his auspices include cult classics Repo Man and Tapeheads.) Fred Ward as an off-road bike champion who winds up getting zapped backwards a century or so into the old West, where he has to contend with some pretty nasty hombres (including Peter Coyote, Ed Lauter, Richard Masur and L.Q. Jones) and a very slinky outlaw played memorably by Belinda Bauer. It’s a popcorn hoot, directed by William Dear, who cowrote with Nesmith and would later make Harry and the Hendersons.
Also out this month: Killer cockroach saga The Nest (Scream Factory); a “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray of Renny Harlin’s early film Prison (Scream Factory), starring Viggo Mortensen; and a double feature of TV-will-destroy-you horror faves TerrorVision and The Video Dead (Scream Factory).
Documentary DVD of the Month
It didn’t go home with the gold at this year’s Academy Awards, but Best Documentary nominee How to Survive a Plague (IFC Entertainment) was my personal pick of the five — and, in fact, my favorite film of 2012. A riveting look back at the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a group of men and women who were literally fighting for their lives in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, Plague charts how these upstarts educated themselves, got the attention of people in power and made a real difference that saved countless lives. It’s a passionate primer for people on any point of the political spectrum who want to learn about successfully agitating for change and a gripping portrayal of ordinary people fighting extraordinary odds.
Also out this month: Paul Williams: Still Alive (Virgil Films), a compelling look at the singer-songwriter-actor who was equally at home working with the Carpenters, Brian De Palma and the Muppets; Keanu Reeves narrates and produces Side by Side (Cinedigm/Tribeca Film), wherein several of the world’s leading directors discuss whether there’s any fighting the digital tide in modern moviemaking; and Jedi Junkies (Cinedigm/Docurama Films), sort of a Trekkies for that other really popular science-fiction franchise.
Classic DVD of the Month
Nearly 60 years after its debut, On the Waterfront (The Criterion Collection) still packs a punch, no matter your feelings about the political life of director Elia Kazan. Marlon Brando’s performance as dockworker Terry Malloy, who stands up to the mob, remains an iconic piece of acting, and he’s strongly supported by a dynamite cast that includes Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. And since this is from Criterion, the Blu-ray comes packed with great stuff, including new interviews with Saint and Martin Scorsese, a new making-of doc, commentary by authors and Kazan experts Richard Schickel and Jeff Young, a video essay on Leonard Bernstein’s powerful score, and much more.
Also out this month: The Disney classic Peter Pan (Walt Disney Studios) gets a gorgeous Blu-ray “Diamond Edition” release that includes deleted songs, scenes and a never-before-seen alternate ending; the gorgeous and moody noir classic Laura (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) finally gets a Blu-ray release, as does Michael Mann’s provocative The Insider (Buena Vista Home Entertainment); and ’80s cult favorite Bagdad Café (Shout Factory) resurfaces on home video with its charm and eccentricity (not to mention unforgettable turns by Marianne Sägebrecht, CCH Pounder and Jack Palance) intact.
Musical DVD of the Month
Warner Bros. continues to celebrate its 90th birthday with the Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Musicals (Warner Home Video) — and even though the box set reflects both the bounty of Warner and the studio’s canny acquisition of the MGM library, it’s a collection that belongs in the library of (or makes the perfect gift to) anyone with a love for the genre. This set goes back to the screen’s very first musical — the 1927 The Jazz Singer, most known as the first-ever talkie — and goes all the way up to John Waters’ delightful 1988 Hairspray, with stops along the way for Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Gene Kelly, Julie Andrews and Audrey II, the carnivorous plant in Little Shop of Horrors. You can’t go wrong with the 20 toe-tappers included herein.
Also out this month: if the big box isn’t enough for you, Warner Home Video also offers the Blu-ray debut of Garland and Fred Astaire’s only screen pairing in the delightful Easter Parade, just in time for the end of Lent; Barbra Streisand lets her freak flag fly in the rags-to-riches/riches-to-rags rock-and-roll saga A Star Is Born (Warner Home Video).
TV DVD of the Month
When people try to push new TV shows on me, they often bring up the much-talked-about series from HBO and AMC, but let me point you to two great Showtime shows you might be missing. The brilliantly funny Episodes: The Complete First and Second Seasons (Showtime/CBS/Paramount) follows U.K. television writers Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig, always brilliant) to Los Angeles, where their acclaimed British show gets completely stretched out of proportion in its U.S. remake, thanks at least partially to the contribution of its new star Matt LeBlanc (playing himself). A scathing satire of the entertainment industry and a hilarious workplace comedy, Episodes consistently jolts with delight. And if you still aren’t watching the acridly witty and occasionally heartbreaking Nurse Jackie (Lionsgate just released Season Four), you’ve really got to get on the stick, if only for Edie Falco’s genius portrayal of an R.N. trying desperately to juggle work, home and a walloping addiction to prescription drugs.
Also out this month: Nickelodeon fans of yore will be thrilled to know they can get their hands on Rocko’s Modern Life: The Complete Series (Shout Factory).