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

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

Jan 12, 2017

New Indie

High on my list of “Great 2016 Movies You May Well Have Missed” is the sparkling Southside with You (Lionsgate/Miramax), a film that’s right up there in my book with Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy when it comes to great walking-and-talking romances. While the film’s hook – Barack Obama and Michelle Robertson go on a first date – is no doubt what helped it get made, this is by no means a movie that relies solely upon its gimmick.

Ultimately, it’s the story of two sexy, intelligent people getting to know one another, dancing around each other a bit, and eventually realizing that they’re made for each other. Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers give effervescent performances as Michelle and Barack, touching upon little blips of impersonation but mainly focusing on the ambition, the drive and the charisma of these two young lawyers. Whatever your feeling about the real Obama’s politics, this is a smart love story you’ll find hard to resist.

Also available: On the heels of Love is Strange, director Ira Sachs returns with Little Men (Magnolia Home Entertainment), another poignant, prickly and funny tale of New York real estate, this time affecting the friendship of two teen boys whose parents are battling over a building; The Great Gilly Hopkins (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) isn’t a big-screen jaunt for Kristen Wiig’s SNL character, but rather a coming-of-age tale co-starring Kathy Bates, Glenn Close and Octavia Spencer; Heart of a Dog (The Criterion Collection) is Laurie Anderson’s powerful examination of grief, as seen via the loss of her husband (Lou Reed) and her beloved hound.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), but the film popped up on a lot of Top 10 lists and features undeniably powerful supporting turns by Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough; Don’t Think Twice (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) tracks what happens to an improv group when one of them becomes famous; John Krasinski’s The Hollars (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) is the kind of Sundance movie you’ve seen a million times, but it does boast a knockout performance by Margo Martindale as a dying matriarch.

Speaking of Sundance, festival hit Spa Night (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) featured two major breakout debuts: director Andrew Ahn and leading man Joe Seo, playing a young man dealing with his conflicted sexuality against the backdrop of L.A.’s Koreatown; Thomas Haden Church stars as a homeless man driven to violence to make a living in the drama Cardboard Boxer (Well Go USA Entertainment); in Kicks (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment), three Oakland teens set out on a quest to retrieve a pair of stolen sneakers.

He stole scenes in Warcraft and Snowden, but British actor Ben Schnetzer was a commanding presence in the lead role of Goat (Paramount Home Media), as a college freshman enduring fraternity initiation; Alfre Woodard and Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Wire) star in the powerful drama Knucklehead (RLJ Entertainment); Chris Cooper is J.D. Salinger and Alex Wolff is a young writer determined to find him in Coming Through the Rye (Paramount/Samuel Goldwyn); director Paul Schrader’s outrageously violent mob saga Dog Eat Dog (RLJ Entertainment) stars Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe as two thugs dangerously out of their depth.


New Foreign

New Zealand filmmaker Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof) made a welcome return to the movies with The Dressmaker (Broad Green Pictures), a stylish tale of revenge and redemption starring Kate Winslet and Judy Davis. Winslet’s character returns to her tiny Kiwi town in the 1950s after achieving success abroad as a chic couturier. But she’s not back to make glamorous frocks, she’s home to settle old scores. Featuring Liam Hemsworth and Hugo Weaving, this is a tale that delivers both laughs and shocks with steady frequency.

Also available: Sweden’s acclaimed Oscar entry A Man Called Ove (Music Box Films) tells the story of a cranky widower whose life changes after he gets new neighbors; Girls Lost (Wolfe Video) features a trio of best pals who find a mysterious plant that temporarily turns them into boys – complications, as they say ensue; Isabella Rossellini providing the voice of the hamster is just the beginning of the wonderful oddities in the Canadian import Closet Monster (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment).

The sequel Klown Forever (MVD Visual) brings the craziness to the United States, but our Danish heroes remain as hilariously inappropriate as ever; a Russian girl flees an arranged marriage and sets off to find her missing grandfather in the acclaimed animated adventure Long Way North (Shout Kids); in the Cannes-award-winning Land and Shade (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment), a Colombian father returns home to his long-estranged family; a lesbian couple encounters some rocky times on vacation in the Italian import Me, Myself and Her (Wolfe Video).


New Doc

One of the first celebrity deaths of 2017 was John Berger, the influential art critic (Ways of Seeing) and screenwriter (Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000). So what better time to explore his life and work in the anthology film The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger (Icarus Films). Tilda Swinton appears in the film (and directs one of the segments), and the four pieces together delve into the mind of one of this generation’s most fascinating thinkers.

Also available: Alex Gibney’s Zero Days (Magnolia Home Entertainment) take a chilling look into cyberwarfare, a topic that just keeps getting more and more timely; filmmaker Andrew Leavold sets out to find the 2’9” star of Filipino epics like For Your Height Only in the documentary The Search for Weng Weng; the food we consume – and waste – is at the center of Just Eat It (Icarus Films).

Three very eclectic choices for fans of music documentary: 50 Years with Peter, Paul and Mary (MVD Visual) explores the history of the influential folk combo; follow a superstar on a spangle-bedecked world tour in Jennifer Lopez: Dance Again (Anchor Bay/Weinstein Company); and in Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy (MVD Visual), we get a new glimpse at the tragic end of punk icon Sid Vicious and girlfriend Nancy Spungen.


New Grindhouse

Still groundbreaking and chilling after three decades, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (Dark Sky Films) returns with a new 30th anniversary restoration that makes John McNaughton’s influential horror story sharper and more intense than ever. A bleakly unblinking exploration into a very twisted psyche, Henry would forever change the way the movie looked at murderers, and it remains, after all this time, a film with few peers in the horror genre. If you haven’t seen it lately, you’ll be surprised at how much of a punch it still packs.

Also available: Cross Inception with Fantastic Voyage and you get the supremely entertaining B-movie Dreamscape (Scream Factory); The Stewardesses in 3D (Salvation/Jezebel) are busting out of Blu-ray, especially if you’ve got a 3D TV at home; a young journalist finds himself in way over his head in the paranoid thriller If There’s a Hell Below (Dark Sky Films).

Three vintage horror classics get a whole new level of spit and polish – Phantasm: Remastered makes those razor-balls looks shinier than ever (pick is up alongside the saga’s latest entry, Phantasm: Ravager, both from Well Go USA Entertainment); Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Limited Edition Trilogy (MVD Visual) is a four-disc celebration (complete with 200-page booklet) of all things Pinhead; and a 4K restoration of Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer (MVD Visual) features plenty of new extras, including an interview with the director and a never-before-seen pre-release version.

Never Open the Door (Maltauro Entertainment) pays tribute to vintage TV chillers like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits with its cabin-in-the-woods tale; Southern Gothic chills aplenty in the creepy The Devil’s Dolls (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory); in his latest horror epic 31 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), director Rob Zombie has many different flavors of horror in mind.


New Classic

Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim has promised for some time now that his next musical will be an adaptation of the classic Luis Buñuel dark comedy The Exterminating Angel (The Criterion Collection), so what better time to check out this cinematic landmark? A group of bourgeois hypocrites gather in a respectable home, only to find themselves trapped inside of it. (Why sheep can manage to wander through is the subject of more than one doctoral thesis, to be sure.) It doesn’t take much for them all to revert to the worst versions of themselves in this hilariously bleak farce. (Buñuel so liked the idea of depriving the elites of dinner that he reworked the theme in another of his greatest films, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.)

Also available: Bernardo Bertolucci’s still-controversial Luna (Kino Lorber) features a great performance by the late Jill Clayburgh; rock out with some of the greatest live musical jams of the 1960s with the legendary The T.A.M.I. Show/The Big T.N.T. Show (Shout Factory); 1980s Mexican arthouse hit Man Facing Southeast (Kino Lorber) considers the possibility of extraterrestrials among us; the Oscar-winning 1975 doc The Man Who Skied Down Everest (The Film Detective) is more breathtaking than ever in its Blu-ray debut; and Michael York sets out to seduce and destroy an entire household (including grande dame Angela Lansbury) in the delightfully kinky Something for Everyone (Kino Lorber).


New TV

Even gay audiences were divided over HBO’s Looking; the show’s pacing and specificity weren’t to all tastes, and the show’s conflicted lead character was no one’s idea of a role model. Still, I was always a fan, and Looking: The Complete Series and Movie (HBO Home Entertainment) allows new viewers (and binge-ers) the opportunity to make up their own minds. The show features a strong ensemble cast, believable situations, and characters that engaged the hearts and minds of many – although not enough, obviously, to keep the show alive for more than two seasons and a feature. Great, underrated series television; let’s hope its relatively short life doesn’t scare cable networks from other forays into LGBT storytelling.

Also available: Even if you’ve given up on (or never watched) the show from which it spun off, Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete Second Series (Anchor Bay/AMC) creates rich characters and situations amidst the zombie apocalypse, as our ragged extended family of survivors make their way south; Scream Queens: The Complete First Season (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) serves up the scares with tongue firmly lodged in cheek; Greenleaf: Season One (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) lifts up the veil on a megachurch to reveal a powerful family riddled with scandal and secrets.

Bowlers meet bowdlerization in the TV-friendly The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), featuring an Extended Cut for those so inclined; Miraculous!: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir (Zag Heroez/Shout Kids) is an animated French frolic for kids; also animated but totally not for kids is Family Guy: Season 14 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment).

And if you like your TV British (or Australian), RLJ Entertainment and Acorn have the goodies for you, whether you’re looking for comedy, cops or documentary. Among their recent offerings: Close to the Enemy, The Secret Agent, Jericho of Scotland Yard, 19-2: Season Three, 800 Words: Season One, and Britain’s Bloody Crown.

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