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

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

Apr 05, 2017

New Indie

If you missed Mike Mills’s powerful 20th Century Women (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) among the year-end awards movies, then get ready for another singular performance from Annette Bening, this time as a late-in-life single mother facing the challenges of raising a kid during the cultural turbulence of the 1970s. (If Beginners was Mills’s homage to his father, this time it’s his mom who gets the spotlight.)

Lucas Jade Zumann plays a teenager being raised by a household of women, including his mother Dorothea (Bening), his best friend and unrequited crush Julie (Elle Fanning) and punk-rock tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig), with occasional support from handyman William (Billy Crudup). It’s a powerful portrait of people trying to keep it together in a world of transitions; the acting is uniformly excellent, and Mills’s script and direction is humane and acutely observed.

Also available: The chilling Eyes of My Mother (Magnolia Home Entertainment) earned rave reviews at Sundance for its unsettling story, as well as a Spirit Award nomination for its moody cinematography; did Patrick Wilson commit A Kind of Murder (Magnolia Home Entertainment) in this Patricia Highsmith adaptation? Watch this twisty mystery and find out.


New Foreign

For my money, Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar is one of the cinema’s greatest living directors, and he’s firing on all cylinders with Julieta (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), an intense drama about how mothers and daughters and husbands and wives can give each other everything – or destroy each other. Loosely based on stories by Canadian author Alice Munro, the film follows its title character (played by Emma Suárez as a young woman, and then later by Adriana Ugarte) as she deals with loss, guilt and the possibility of redemption. With hints of both Hitchcock and Sirk, it’s nonetheless pure Almodóvar, and ranks among the auteur’s finest and most heartfelt work.

Also available: Another leading European filmmaker, André Téchiné, scored a triumph last year with the gay coming-of-age love story Being 17 (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment); Isabelle Huppert’s Oscar-nominated performance is just part of what makes Elle (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) such a powerfully off-kilter saga of sexual violence and intricate revenge; Ali and Nino (IFC Films) are star-crossed lovers – he’s Muslim, she’s Christian – whose relationship must weather the further complication of World War I.

Fans of The Man in the High Tower will want to check out Michael Sheen in Resistance (Omnibus Entertainment), featuring an alternate timeline in which Nazis occupy Great Britain; a British mother and son both find romance in France in the drama Departure (Wolfe Video); a woman entrances her new lover with tales of her past romantic exploits in the erotic and unpredictable Fragments of Love (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment).

Three stories intersect in the British ensemble drama 100 Streets (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), starring Idris Elba, Gemma Arterton and Tom Cullen; God is back and living in Brussels in Jaco Van Dormael’s acclaimed The Brand New Testament (Music Box Films); in Just a Sigh (Icarus Films), academic Gabriel Byrne and actress Emmanuelle Davos (A Christmas Tale) have a brief but unforgettable encounter.


New Doc

The animated documentary is a fairly new hybrid, but over the last few decades it’s given us some extraordinary films, including Drawn from Memory, Waltz with Bashir, and now Tower (Kino Lorber), a film that uses drawings to make recent history present and powerful in a way that footage never could. In telling the story of the University of Texas shooting of 1966, director Keith Maitland captures the stories of witnesses, bystanders and victims in a way that makes their experiences immediate and jarring. When the film later includes interviews with survivors (captured on film), it’s a seamless transition that makes you appreciate the movie’s audaciousness. It’s certain to be counted among the decade’s great docs.

Also available: If you’re interested in documentaries about documentaries themselves, start with To Tell the Truth (Icarus Films), featuring two films on the history of the medium, Working for Change: Documenting Hard Times (1929-1941) & The Strategy of Truth: Documentary Goes to War (1933-1945); the ever-growing library of Star Trek–related documentaries grows with the heartfelt For the Love of Spock (MVD Visual), featuring interviews with William Shatner, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Jim Parsons and George Takei; art-world gadfly Robert Cenedella recalls his conflicts with galleries and academia in Art Bastard (Concannon Productions).

The Oscar-nominated Fire at Sea (Kino Lorber) examines the journeys of African and Middle Eastern émigrés seeking a new life in Europe via the beaches of south Italy; The Creeping Garden (MVD Visual), featuring a score by Sonic Youth’s Jim O’Rourke, examines the mysteries of life inside the primordial slime; meet the man credited with inventing the documentary in A Boatload of Wild Irishmen: The Life of Robert Flaherty (Icarus Films).


New Grindhouse

Sometimes you just don’t have the patience for a whole movie, and you want to cut right to the good stuff. For two solid hours of bone-crunching, face-kicking good stuff, check out Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury (Severin), a new compilation of 35 martial-arts trailers from one the genre’s most fecund periods (1973-1984). Sure, there’s an audio commentary from historians and senseis, but for sheer oof-oof-aah bliss, these trailers will take you back to the days of grindhouse glories.

Also available: A bullied high school teacher teaches his violent students The Lesson (Scream Factory) they’ll never forget; Bloodrunners (Speakeasy/Impulse-FX) pits vampire Ice-T against Prohibition-era bootleggers; 1970s slasher epic Drive-In Massacre (Severin) makes its Blu-ray debut in a remastered edition with multiple interviews and a commentary track; unsuspecting lovers in a cabin in the woods risk being “404-Not Found” in Slasher.com (ITN).


New Classic

The rapid death of the recent live-action remake has only burnished the reputation of Ghost in the Shell (Anchor Bay) as an anime classic. Looking back on this 1995 animated feature, it’s easy to see the impact it had on the next two decades’ worth of pop culture, especially The Matrix. (Right down to the use of bright green letters and numbers to represent a data stream.) Its questions about the nature of identity and the soul in an era in which mechanization is replacing human beings continue to be asked (just check out HBO’s recent Westworld series), and the film’s visuals remain as eye-popping as ever. This new Blu-ray edition boasts Mondo artwork in a limited-run steelbook package.

Also available: Before Holy Motors, director Léos Carax and actor Denis Lavant made wonderfully weird magic in The Lovers on the Bridge (Kino Classics) – with Juliette Binoche as an added bonus; fun old-school monster movie hi-jinx (and stop-motion animation) in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and The Valley of Gwangi (both Warner Archive Collection); with a TV-obsessed idiot rising to power in real life, there’s no better time to revisit the brilliantly satirical Being There (The Criterion Collection).

Decades before his 1970s breakthrough, a young Robert Altman made his directorial debut in1957 with The Delinquents (Olive Films); long before Swoon, the Leopold/Loeb murder case got a more realistic handling with the gritty Compulsion (Kino Lorber); the Wolverines are back, in hi-def, with the Red Dawn Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray (Shout Factory); an all-star cast of yesteryear returns for the outrageous Tinseltown satire Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (Olive Films).

John Waters’s long-unavailable feature debut Multiple Maniacs (The Criterion Collection) finally makes its Blu-ray debut, and time has not diminished its delectable shock value; and while it sounds like a Waters title, Flamingo Road (Warner Archive Collection) features Joan Crawford in one of her trademark tough-and-tender roles; Alfred Hitchcock gave Broadway legend Tallulah Bankhead her best screen part in the tensely claustrophobic wartime adventure Lifeboat (Kino Lorber Studio Classics).

Young Drew Barrymore sets the screen ablaze, literally, in Firestarter (Scream Factory); Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay express anguish with restraint in Andrew Haigh’s powerful 45 Years (The Criterion Collection); Blake Edward’s S.O.B. (Warner Archive Collection) lets the auteur give Hollywood a very pronounced middle-finger salute; Dennis Hopper directs Robert Duvall and Sean Penn as beleaguered L.A. cops in Colors (Shout Factory).

Francis Ford Coppola takes a pre-Godfather stab at musicals with the delightful Finian’s Rainbow (Warner Archive Collection), starring Fred Astaire and Petula Clark; Scream Factory gives the sequels RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3 the hi-def treatment in two new Blu-ray releases; Burl Ives as P.T. Barnum oversees competing teams of daring young men heading to the moon in fantastic flying machines in the steampunk comedy Blast-Off (Olive Films); Julie Christie gets impregnated by a sinister artificial intelligence in the terrifying Demon Seed (Warner Archive Collection).


New TV

Joel Hodgson brings his brilliant skewering of bad movies back to Netflix, but Mike Nelson has the helm in Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXXVIII (Shout Factory). This new collection features four great episodes across various genres, including depressing adolescent crime saga High School Big Shot, swords-and-sorcery extravaganza Colossus and the Headhunters, Cold War paranoia epic Invasion USA, and of course Track of the Moon Beast, the monster movie that gave us “the band that sang ‘California Lady.’” These episodes (plus an interview with Mike, by Joel) make for great watching while you’re counting down to the revival.

Also available: Planet Earth II (BBC) is the first natural-history TV doc to be released in the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format, and the exquisite photography takes full advantage of the improved resolution; the Mama’s Family: The Mama’s Family Favorites Collection (Time-Life) features 37 episodes from the long-running sitcom; booze and facts continue to make strange (and hilarious) bedfellows in Drunk History: Season 4 (Comedy Central/Paramount).

More murders in the Outback in the chilling Wolf Creek: Season One (Lionsgate Home Entertainment); the Tanners are back in Fuller House: The Complete First Season (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment), and the complications all continue under the same roof; our friends at RLJ/Acorn continue to bring the best TV from around the world to our shores, including The Brokenwood Mysteries, Series 3; Wentworth, Season 2; Suspects, Series 5; and Jack Taylor, Set 3.

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