If you haven’t seen Under the Skin (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), you’re missing one of the year’s most provocative movies, in every sense of the word: It’s sexy, it’s narratively demanding, and it’s a movie that requires active viewership as you unravel its mysteries and explore just what, exactly, is going on.
Director Jonathan Glazer (Birth, Sexy Beast) casts Scarlett Johansson as an alien who falls to Earth to pursue a sinister agenda, only to have her plans go awry, sending her character (and the film itself) into new and unpredictable directions. Turn out the lights, shut off your phone, give this movie your full attention, and get ready to have long, heated discussions about it with friends. It’s that much of a mind scrambler.
Also available: Funny ladies Kate Flannery (The Office) and Jennifer Elise Cox (The Brady Bunch Movie) add zest to the gay relationship comedy Love or Whatever (Canteen Outlaws); an adolescent girl explores her nascent sexuality in the Sundance hit It Felt Like Love (Kino-Lorber); Lullaby (ARC Entertainment) boasts an impressive ensemble — including Garret Hedlund, Maddie Corman, Richard Jenkins and Amy Adams — in a tale of a family trying to tie up loose ends; a young performer comes of age in NYC in the beautiful Five Dances (Wolfe Video).
Michael Peña gives an extraordinary performance as labor-rights legend Cesar Chavez (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) in an impressive directorial debut from actor Diego Luna; Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams) directs Robin Williams as The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) in a sprightly dark comedy; a dorky teen becomes a drug kingpin in the comedy Kid Cannabis (Well Go USA Entertainment).
Lars von Trier didn’t mean to turn you on with Nymphomaniac: Volume I and II (Magnolia Home Entertainment) — but really, when does he ever? Sex is never sexy in the Danish auteur’s work; it’s about power and relationships and subjugation and liberation and gender politics and countless other subjects. And it’s front and center in this epic that was chopped into two titles for U.S. release.
Looking at it as two films, Volume I — which introduces us to sexual adventuress Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), the man to whom she relates her life story — is the more effective chapter, but you really need to watch both to get the full story and to follow it to its culmination. It’s a challenging, daring piece of work, but if you’ve found von Trier’s previous explorations of humanity’s darker aspects to be fascinating, this one will be right up your (snowy, garbage-strewn) alley.
Also available: A married hustler and a soccer-playing mob collector become unlikely lovers in the Cuban import The Last Match (Canteen Outlaws); the acclaimed Spanish animated feature Wrinkles (Cinedigm/GKids) has a trio of pensioners breaking out of the old folk’s home for a series of adventures; Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent are a frustrated couple hoping to fix their marriage by going to Paris for Le Week-End (Music Box Films).
Hospital roommates form unlikely friendship and family ties in the Mexican dramedy The Amazing Catfish (Strand Releasing); a retired spy goes to work for a powerful corporation and finds himself The Suspect (Well Go USA Entertainment) when the CEO is murdered in this Korean thriller; a Dutch kid bitten by a bug becomes not Spider-Man but Antboy (Cinedigm) in this family-friendly tale; the British comedy Vinyl (Shout Factory) takes on ageism in the music industry.
Whether it’s a documentary or very clever satire, Propaganda (MVD Visual) provides an interesting window into politics and power in North Korea; The Class of ’92: Extended Edition (Universal Studios Home Entertainment) celebrates David Beckham and five other talented players who came up through Manchester United; you might not think of Ron Howard as a go-to director for a hip-hop concert film, but Made in America (Phase 4 Films) celebrates Jay-Z’s music festival, featuring many of contemporary music’s brightest stars.
Are you an action-movie fan who didn’t go see the extraordinary The Raid 2 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) in theaters because you don’t like subtitles? Well, 1) you’re what’s wrong with American movie audiences, and 2) you’re in luck, because this new DVD and Blu-ray features English- and Spanish-language dubbed soundtracks.
Not that this is a movie about the words nearly as much as it’s about the breathtaking, nonstop action. While this movie stops to breathe a little more than its predecessor (mostly because the action isn’t limited to one building), it keeps upping the ante with more stunts and more thrills. Director Gareth Evans and leading man (and fight choreographer) Iko Uwais reteam for a movie that’s so damn exciting it’s flabbergasting, like an MGM musical where the singing and dancing is replaced by ass kicking and a brother-sister pair of maulers. (He’s got a baseball bat; she uses two claw hammers.)
Also available: Motel Hell (Scream Factory) takes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s “kidnap tourists and turn them into sausage” subplot and plays it for both laughs and chills in this ’80s classic; feminist coming-of-age metaphors run smack into werewolf frenzy in Canadian fave Ginger Snaps (Scream Factory); a high school outsider learns the hard way that All Cheerleaders Die (RLJ/Image Entertainment), but they’re even worse when they come back to life.
It’s international superstars Sharlto Copley and Thomas Kretschmann versus zombies in Open Grave (Cinedigm/Tribeca Film); if you ever wondered what the baby of Camp and Sleepaway Camp would look like, check out Stage Fright (Magnolia Home Entertainment); not to be confused with a similarly titled Cameron Diaz movie, SX_Tape (Well Go USA Entertainment) is a creepy look at an art project gone very, very wrong, from director Bernard Rose (Candyman, Paperhouse); if rats freak you out, then maybe Deadly Eyes (Scream Factory) is one you’ll want to watch with at least one eye covered.
The Final Terror (Scream Factory) doesn’t always get its due as an early slasher, but it’s directed by Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) and has an eclectic cast that includes Daryl Hannah, Adrian Zmed, Rachel Ward, Mark Metcalf, Lewis Smith (Buckaroo Banzai) and Akosua Busia (The Color Purple); ghosts and vampires run wild in a public tenement in the creepy and atmospheric Rigor Mortis (Well Go USA Entertainment); killer crocs invade Lake Placid (Scream Factory) and only Bridget Fonda and Bill Pullman can stop them in this beloved horror comedy; Dragonwolf (Well Go USA Entertainment) sees a beautiful woman come between two deadly brothers.
It’s a given that anyone who puts in the time and effort to become a director loves the movies, but a true appreciation and adoration of the cinema is apparent in every second of The Essential Jacques Demy (The Criterion Collection), a new box set that features just some of the highlights from the career of this French New Wave legend. Start with the legendary The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, but then take in Lola, Bay of Angels, Donkey Skin and Une Chambre en Ville, each exquisite and moving and powerful in their own way.
The extras here are staggering: I was most excited to finally have an English-subtitled version of Agnès Varda’s documentary The Young Girls Turn 25, but each disc has a wealth of material. (Varda, Demy’s widow and a distinguished filmmaker in her own right, has tirelessly archived and celebrated her late husband’s work, and much of her effort can be found in this impeccable set.) Belongs on every film obsessive’s shelf.
Also available: One of the films that marked Johnny Depp’s transition from teen idol to reputable actor is the riveting crime drama Donnie Brasco (Mill Creek Entertainment), costarring Al Pacino; before Oldboy, writer-director Park-Chan Wook elicited Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Palisades Tartan Video) in this cult fave; Billy Wilder + Agatha Christie = Witness for the Prosecution (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), a classic courtroom drama/whodunit/black comedy starring Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power and Elsa Lanchester.
Well before L’avventura, Michelangelo Antonioni was exploring ennui and amorality among the rich and young in his anthology film I Vinti (The Vanquished) (Raro Video); Helen Slater’s Saint Joan haircut anchors The Legend of Billie Jean (Mill Creek Entertainment), a 1980s teen-revolt drama that continues to resonate; it’s still not the elusive director’s cut, but even the studio edit of Billy Wilder’s mold-breaking The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) merits a look.
If you don’t know Detour (Film Chest Media Group), you don’t know the history of film noir or American B movies — period; a septet of great Italian filmmakers (including Antonioni, Fellini and Dino Risi) explore L’Amore in Cittá (Love in the City) (Raro Video) in this 1953 collection; now that the bloated budget is old news, it’s easier to enjoy the meta charms of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Last Action Hero (Mill Creek Entertainment).
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis kick off their impressive film careers, together and apart, in the hilarious At War with the Army (Film Chest Media Group); a group of National Guardsman find themselves on the wrong side of the bayou in Walter Hill’s chilling Southern Comfort (Shout Factory); Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music (Warner Home Video) features legendary rock acts and editing by some guy named Martin Scorsese — whatever happened to him?
Never say die, even when there’s murder afoot: Clue: A Movie Mystery Adventure (Shout Factory) ditches the premise of both the board game and the 1985 movie, telling a story instead about a group of young people who get ensnared in a conspiracy and find themselves up to their necks in mysteries that involve colors, weapons and rooms that fans will find familiar. Part kids' TV, part second season of Twin Peaks, this is a wonderfully odd amalgam that will, with any luck, engender a sequel.
Also available: From the “You Forgot It Existed” file, the Saturday morning cartoon Gilligan’s Planet: The Complete Series (Warner Archive Collection) which sent the castaways into outer space (no doubt familiar territory for Bob Denver, having already been one of the Far Out Space Nuts); Groucho, Harpo and Chico made plenty of small-screen appearances in the early days of the medium, collected for the first time in the essential The Marx Brothers TV Collection (Shout Factory); fans of Waiting to Exhale won’t want to miss the latest Terry McMillan adaptation, Lifetime’s A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lionsgate Home Entertainment); wedding photographer Joe Namath (!) strings together three tales of togetherness in the TV movie Marriage Is Alive and Well (Warner Archive Collection).
Hard to believe we’re up to 30 of these, but Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXX (Shout Factory) keeps the laughs coming with brilliant riffing of vintage stinkers The Black Scorpion, Outlaw, The Projected Man and It Lives By Night; skip the new live-action movie and stick with the animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Classics (Lionsgate Home Entertainment); Ian McShane plays a very different kind of lawman in Lovejoy: Series 1 (RLJ/Acorn) than his more profanity-packed turn on Deadwood.
Before there was Homeland, there was Prisoners of War: Season One (Shout Factory), an Israeli TV series from creator Gideon Raff that spawned the Emmy-winning Showtime hit; Black Dynamite: Season One (Warner Home Video) is a bad mother of an animated take on the hilarious big-screen blaxploitation spoof; which doctors do you trust less, the gene splicers on Helix: The Complete First Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) or the inept pediatricians of Childrens Hospital: The Complete Fifth Season (Warner Archive Collection)? Take them both home and decide for yourself.
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