DVD Obscura: The Indie and International Movies You Should Watch This Month

DVD Obscura: The Indie and International Movies You Should Watch This Month

Apr 01, 2014

New Indie:

After the bloated, all-star adaptation of On the Road, you’d be forgiven for wanting to steer clear of another movie about the adventures of the Beat Generation. But don’t let that skittishness keep you from enjoying Kill Your Darlings (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), a sexy, crackling look at a real-life murder that involved a close friend of not-yet-famous writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

Daniel Radcliffe boldly moves beyond Hogwarts with his portrayal of college freshman Ginsberg, whose world gets rocked when he meets Columbia University classmate Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), who broadened his literary and sexual horizons. It’s a fascinating portrait of youthful enthusiasm and literary rebellion from first-time director John Krokidas (who cowrote with Austin Bunn), bolstered by riveting performances by Radcliffe, DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster (as Burroughs) and David Cross.

Also available: The late Paul Walker got a chance to prove his acting chops in Hours (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), practically a one-man show in which he plays a new dad desperate to keep his newborn daughter alive in an abandoned hospital just hours after Hurricane Katrina strikes; the popular YA novel Geography Club (Breaking Glass Pictures) makes a notable transition to the screen in an ensemble comedy drama about two popular high school boys trying to keep their romance a secret; strong performances by Idris Elba and Naomie Harris bring South Africa’s history to life in the powerful Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Anchor Bay Entertainment).

Marc Maron, Howie Mandel, Gilbert Gottfried and Shecky Green are just some of the comedy legends who trace the rise of American Hebraic hilarity in the documentary When Jews Were Funny (First Run Features); in the stylish Last Days on Mars (Magnolia Home Entertainment), Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams and Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey) try to survive a deadly mission on the red planet; Girl Rising (Cinedigm) looks at extraordinary young women from around the globe, with stories voiced by Meryl Streep, Salma Hayek and Cate Blanchett, among others.

Anton Yelchin sees dead people in Odd Thomas (RLJ/Image Entertainment), director Stephen Sommers’ adaptation of the Dean Koontz best seller; the acclaimed documentary Let the Fire Burn (Zeitgeist Films) recalls a controversial showdown between Philadelphia police and urban activists; Jessica Biel moves into a new apartment and sets her neighbor on a hallucinatory spiral in the Sundance hit The Truth About Emanuel (Well Go USA Entertainment), also starring Alfred Molina and Frances O’Connor.


New Foreign:

Breathtaking and gorgeous, The Great Beauty (The Criterion Collection) may owe a thematic debt to the work of Federico Fellini, but it stands on its own as a captivating look at life and love in the eternal city of Rome. Toni Servillo (who previously teamed with director Paolo Sorrentino on Il Divo) stars as a writer who squandered his early promise and now writes celebrity puff pieces from his beautiful apartment overlooking the Colisseum.

From its dizzying opening party sequence through its voyage through decadence, regret and, yes, beauty, this is one of those movies that’s not particularly heavy on plot and yet winds up being about a whole lot of things. Winner of this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, The Great Beauty improves and deepens with each successive viewing.

Also available: Juliette Binoche gives a gut-wrenching performance as Rodin’s mistress, trying to keep her wits about her as she is imprisoned in an insane asylum, in the powerful Camille Claudel 1915 (Kino Lorber); a macho police cadet falls for a fellow male cop in training, despite his relationship with the woman carrying his child, in the sexy and poignant German drama Free Fall (Wolfe Video).


New Grindhouse:

You may never again want to take a leisurely drive in the middle of nowhere after In Fear (Anchor Bay Films). Iain De Caestecker (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures) find themselves driving for their lives as they get caught in a labyrinth of country roads as someone (or something) pursues them in real time. The film also stars Allen Leech, better known as Downton Abbey’s chauffeur-turned-estate-manager Tom Branson.

Also available: Takeshi Kitano’s mob boss is back, and violent as ever, in the sequel Beyond Outrage (Magnolia Home Entertainment); Jonny Weston (Chasing Mavericks) knows full well that there’s a monster Under the Bed (XLrator Media); The Slumber Party Massacre (Scream Factory), boasting a screenplay by legendary lesbian feminist author Rita Mae Brown (Rubyfruit Jungle), gets a Blu-ray debut featuring a commentary with director Amy Holden Jones; Bloodlust (Film Chest Media Group) features Brady Bunch dad Robert Reed running for his life in a spin on the Most Dangerous Game.

High schoolers, a lake and a monster swimming just below the surface spell terror in Larry Fessenden’s Beneath (Scream Factory); zombies attack Greece and only Billy Zane can save us in Evil in the Time of Heroes (Doppelgänger Releasing); Elke Sommer and Martin Balsam star in the 1976 Italian crime classic Meet Him and Die (Raro Video); and there’s no keeping the shlock meisters at Troma down, as Lloyd Kaufman returns to the director’s chair with Return to Nuke ’Em High, Vol. 1 (Anchor Bay Films).


New Classic:

While he was blessed with leading-man looks and charisma, Burt Lancaster excelled at playing more complicated character roles — just think of his venomous gossip columnist in Sweet Smell of Success or the paranoid general in Seven Days in May. One of his greatest antiheroes came courtesy of The Swimmer (Grindhouse Releasing), based on the short story by John Cheever.

Lancaster stars as Ned, a seemingly happy suburbanite who decides to swim home one day via all the pools in his upscale neighborhood. As his journey continues, we get more of a glimpse into Ned’s life and see the fractured soul underneath the glib façade. The 1960s were packed with portraits of upper-middle-class anomie, but this unsettling drama from Frank Perry (with an adapted screenplay by his wife Eleanor) hasn’t always gotten its due as one of the decade’s more powerful ones. Keep an eye peeled for young Joan Rivers in her screen debut.

Also available: If you’ve been reading Victoria Wilson’s riveting new biography of Barbara Stanwyck, Sony Pictures Choice Collection offers two of the actress’ most fascinating early films, both directed by Frank Capra: The Miracle Woman, in which she plays an Aimee Semple McPherson–esque faith healer, and The Bitter Tea of General Yen, which sees missionary Stanwyck catching the eye of a Chinese warlord (played by the very not-Chinese Nils Asther); director James Whale is best known as the “father of Frankenstein,” but if you haven’t seen his original version of the musical Show Boat (Warner Archive Collection), you’re missing out on a classic.

Harold Lloyd plays a nerdy college student who winds up becoming a football hero in one of the silent comedy legend’s masterpieces, The Freshman (The Criterion Collection); Mysterious Skin (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) saw queer enfant terrible director Gregg Araki maturing into a more serious filmmaker, and it also provided a big boost for former TV child star Joseph Gordon-Levitt; we’re less terrified of the prospect of nuclear war these days, but Testament (Warner Archive Collection) retains its quiet power as we see Armageddon through the eyes of one struggling family (led by Jane Alexander, who received a well-deserved Oscar nomination).

Any classic film library should contain The Best of Bogart Collection (Warner Home Video), featuring favorites like Casablanca, The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; Ida Lupino (who also directed) and Joan Fontaine discover they’re both married to The Bigamist (Film Chest Media Group) in this classic noir film; George Washington (The Criterion Collection) heralded the arrival of David Gordon Green as a major American filmmaker, and the film remains one of the new century’s most powerful indies.

Decades before Victor/Victoria, Julie Andrews and James Garner fell in on-screen love in the Paddy Chayefsky–scripted wartime satire The Americanization of Emily (Warner Archive Collection), now making its Blu-ray debut; producer William Castle didn’t need “Percepto” or “Emergo” to sell the cult horror fave Strait-Jacket (Sony Pictures Choice Collection) — his gimmick was Joan Crawford in the starring role and a poster that shrieked, “Warning! Strait-Jacket Vividly Depicts Ax Murders!”; while Joseph Andrews (Warner Archive Collection) doesn’t get the attention given to Tom Jones, director Tony Richardson’s previous adaptation of a Henry Fielding novel, it has its own eccentric charms, not to mention a memorable performance by Ann-Margret.


New TV:

Folks of a certain age will find themselves gob-smacked that the release of Little House on the Prairie: Season One Deluxe Remastered Edition (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) marks the 40th anniversary of the premiere of the landmark TV show. Based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s still-popular series of memoirs of life in frontier America, Little House became one of the decade’s most iconic TV hits.

This new box set features the 96-minute pilot film, all 24 episodes of the first season and tons of additional content, including screen tests and a new documentary.

Also available: Hal Jordan may have whiffed it on the big screen, but Green Lantern: The Animated Series (Warner Home Video) delivers the goods for comics fans; The Practice: The Final Season (Shout Factory) sees the arrival of James Spader as Alan Shore, thus setting the stage for the show’s transition into Boston Legal; the pungent political laughs keep coming in the blisteringly brilliant Veep: The Complete Second Season (HBO Home Entertainment); the brothers get older and the adventures get nuttier in The Venture Bros. Season Five (Warner Home Video).

I heartily endorse the DVD release of TV movies from the golden age of the 1970s and ’80s, so three cheers for The Horror at 37,000 Feet (CBS/Paramount), starring William Shatner, Buddy Ebsen and Chuck Connors as airline passengers trapped in an aircraft with something terrifying; Devious Maids: The Complete First Season (ABC Studios) follows the lives and loves of the people who know the most intimate secrets of the rich and famous; everybody’s favorite gender-bending anime Ranma ½ (Viz Media) gets a snappy three-disc set featuring the first 22 episodes; and last but certainly not least, it’s another great collection of terrible movies and hilarious commentary with Mystery Science Theatre 3000: Vol. XXIX (Shout Factory), featuring Untamed Youth, The Thing That Couldn’t Die, Hercules vs. the Captive Women and personal favorite The Pumaman.




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