DVD Obscura: Ethan Hawke Shines in 'First Reformed,' Plus More Essentials for Home Video Fans

DVD Obscura: Ethan Hawke Shines in 'First Reformed,' Plus More Essentials for Home Video Fans

Sep 18, 2018

First Reformed

We've gathered together a wide array of recent titles for home video fans, divided into areas of interest: indie, foreign, documentary, grindhouse, classics and television. Feast on the buffet below!

New Indie 

First Reformed (A24/Lionsgate) definitely sees writer-director Paul Schrader tipping his hat to one of his major influences – Robert Bresson’s minimalist classic Diary of a Country Priest – but it’s no empty homage. Ethan Hawke gives one of the best performances in his storied career as a conflicted, alcoholic cleric who starts asking hard questions about himself and his commitment to his community when he gets close to a troubled woman (played by Amanda Seyfried) in his parish. Schrader also gets a terrific supporting performance from Cedric the Entertainer – billed here as Cedric Antonio Kyles – in the same way that the director once saw the dramatic potential in comedian Richard Pryor way back in Blue Collar. It's one of 2018’s most essential films.

Also available: Director Chloe Zhao’s multiple Spirit Award nominee The Rider (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) uses real-life rodeo cowboys to tell a poignant tale of a young man forced to redefine his life following career-ending injuries; two teen girls fall in love one summer in Canada in the LGBT festival fave Porcupine Lake (Breaking Glass Pictures); Asa Butterfield breaks out of the shelter of The House of Tomorrow (Shout Factory) in an acclaimed indie drama that also stars Ellen Burstyn and Nick Offerman.

Anya Taylor-Joy keeps her siblings together after their mother’s death in Marrowbone (Magnolia), but they might not be alone in their big old manor house; Snapshots (Gravitas Ventures) stars Piper Laurie and Brooke Adams in a drama about a lake weekend with friends that becomes a time of revelation; Evan Peters (Pose) leads a posse of unlikely art heist-ers in the energetic, based-on-a-true-story American Animals (Lionsgate); a trans woman discovers that she is the biological father of a 14-year-old in the charming Venus (Wolfe Video).


New Foreign 

In Lucrecia Martel’s darkly comic Zama (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment), an officer of the Spanish Crown in 17th century South America waits for a letter from the King granting him a transfer from the town in which he is stagnating, to a better place. And waits. And waits. And once Zama realizes that all is lost, he joins a party of soldiers in pursuit of a dangerous bandit. A hit at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, this languorously funny tale cements Martel’s reputation as one of this generation’s sharpest cinematic storytellers.

Also available: Portuguese director João Nicolau’s John From (Altered Innocence) tells the story of a 15-year-old girl smitten by an older photographer who also happens to be her neighbor; Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run) leads a group of holocaust survivors who go into business to raise the funds to get out of Germany and go to the U.S. in Bye Bye Germany (Film Movement), which one critic calls the “best German-language film the Coen Brothers never made."

Overlapping characters and their intersecting narratives make Razzia (First Run Features) the Moroccan Magnolia; live-action meets animation in The Suffering of Ninko (Indiepix Films), the fantastical tale of a Buddhist monk whose unique challenge is that he inspires fervent desire in everyone he meets; the more traditionally animated Big Fish & Begonia (Shout Factory), set in ancient China, tells the story of an undersea race of beings that control the tide and change the seasons.


New Documentary

You may well have never heard of Strange Victory, but a new restoration from Milestone Video (from the original nitrate) hopes to change that. Director Leo Hurwitz’s stylistically bold 1948 non-fiction film mixes documentary footage with dramatic reenactments to examine post-WWII American Fascism, cold-war paranoia and political repression, black soldiers returning home to racism and Jim Crow laws, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and xenophobia. In the repressive political climate of the time, the film was branded pro-Communist, and Hurwitz was blacklisted for more than a decade. Virgil Richardson, a former Tuskegee Airman who portrays a black veteran in the film, chose to leave the U.S. to escape its racist laws. This essential release also features six additional films from Hurwitz’s years as a member of the Worker’s Film and Photo League.

Also available: In Grace Jones Bloodlight and Bami (Kino Lorber), director Sophie Fiennes captures the musical legend at home, on tour and on TV; everyone remembers Live Aid, but the other big concert of the Reagan era was The US Festival: 1982 The US Generation (MVD Visual), featuring The Police, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, The B-52s and The Cars, among many others; the first film from a new group known as the Holocaust Film Foundation, To Auschwitz and Back: The Joe Engel Story (Anchor Media Group) follows its 90-year-old subject, who was sent to Birkenau and Auschwitz at 14, before escaping at 17 to work covertly in the resistance until 1945.

The moving No Dress Code Necessary (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment) follows two Mexican fiancés who deal with everything from bureaucracy to bomb threats on their way to legal marriage; Alone on the Island of the Blue Dolphins (First Run) tells the story of Scott O’Dell’s classic young-readers novel and the true tale that inspired it; we’re getting a Felicity Jones biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg later this year, but there’s no way it’s going to tell the story of the “notorious” Supreme Court judge as well as the acclaimed doc RBG (Magnolia Pictures Home Entertainment).


New Grindhouse 

The fully-stocked, extras-packed, fan-friendly Blu-ray is becoming ever more an endangered species, so horror fans should be extra-grateful that the folks at Scream Factory put such love and care into titles like Return of The Living Dead Part II, which other labels would reissue with little attention or effort. This Collector’s Edition Blu-ray has it all, from commentaries to archival stuff to trailers and TV spots, not to mention behind-the-scenes looks at the crafting of the film’s elaborate zombie makeup.

Also available: Jackie Chan mixes sci-fi with his action in Bleeding Steel (Lionsgate) as a police inspector investigating biochemical warfare; a young woman (Bel Powley of White Boy Rick) becomes a teenage werewolf in Wildling (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory); in the ’90s cult classic Brainscan (Scream Factory), Edward Furlong plays a video game that turns him into a murderer; Lowlife (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory) sees a fallen luchador, an ex-con, and a recovering junkie who needs a kidney get mixed up in a organ harvesting operation; horror-comedy Dead Shack (Shudder) reminds us that teens will always go to a cabin in the woods, even if there are zombies.

Kids, don’t even joke around with putting death curses on your mom because you might just summon Pyewacket (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory), a murder-entity that will take you seriously; lady-vengeance meets spaghetti Western and gangster noir in the genre mash-up

Pickings (PickingsFilm.com); Brooke Adams is carrying a genetic mutation implanted in her by a mad scientist in The Unborn (Scream Factory); What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (MVD Visual) is the 1974 sequel to Italian giallo director Massimo Dallamano’s cult classic What Have You Done to Solange?, so, y’know, there will be meat cleavers.


New Classic 

Maybe you’ve already bought your Halloween costume, but your spooky October celebrations won’t be complete without Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment), a staggering box set featuring Blu-rays of this legendary studio’s classic creature features. All the Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Invisible Man movies, plus the Abbott & Costello cross-overs and the extraordinary Spanish-language Dracula, in glorious hi-def. Throw in a 48-page book, 13 expert commentaries, scads of docs and extra footage, and you’ve got scary-movie nirvana.

Also available: One of this year’s most important archival releases is Arthur J. Bressan’s 1983 drama Buddies (Vinegar Syndrome), the first narrative film about AIDS, available on a new Blu-ray that features interviews with film historian Thomas Waugh and co-star David Schachter; before Desperately Seeking Susan, director Susan Seidelman burst onto the scene with Smithereens (Criterion Collection), the first American independent film to compete for the Palme d’Or, about a downtown punk rock scrounger (Susan Berman) on a mission to get famous; kick it old-school (with the latest technology) with the 4K of the original (and still the greatest) Predator (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment); the hilarious 1972 caper comedy The Hot Rock (Twilight Time) stars Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Leibman and Paul Sand as not the world’s most competent jewel thieves.

The 1968 Memories of Underdevelopment (Criterion Collection) is the most famous work in the history of Cuban cinema and one that winds up on greatest films of all time lists with some frequency; the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking and provocative – not to mention witty and super-sexy -- Bound (Olive Signature) makes it to Blu-ray with all sorts of new extras, essays and commentaries; Mohsen Makhmalbaf: The Poetic Trilogy (MVD Visual) spotlights one of the modern masters of Iranian cinema in an extras-laden box set; in the 2004 cult anime hit Mind Game (Shout Factory/GKids), a guy who gets killed by yakuza goes on a trip to psychedelic heaven.

Even if your living-room sofa doesn’t zap you like the “Percepto” theater seats of the original theatrical release, The Tingler (Scream Factory) is a fun little creature feature from Vincent Price and director William Castle; Lynn Redgrave and Rita Tushingham, in the words of the film’s tagline, “Go Stark Raving Mod!” in the deliciously silly Carnaby Street musical spoof Smashing Time (Kino Lorber); Repo Man director Alex Cox pokes fun at spaghetti Westerns in the silly, underrated Straight To Hell (Kino Lorber) featuring Sy Richardson, Joe Strummer, Dick Rude, Courtney Love, The Pogues, Elvis Costello, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, and Jim Jarmusch; Terry Gilliam calls his film Tideland (MVD Visual) "Alice in Wonderland meets Psycho through the eyes of Amélie."

Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Chris Pine – so many Jack Ryans, and they’re all in the Jack Ryan 5-Film Collection (Paramount); John Carpenter’s cult classic In the Mouth of Madness (Scream Factory) chronicles an author’s novel that drives people insane; Jeff Bridges stars as a visionary car manufacturer in Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream (Lionsgate); accept no substitutes: Gena Rowlands takes no prisoners as a mob moll protecting a young boy in John Cassavetes’ brilliant Gloria (Twilight Time).


New TV

With the recent tragic passing of playwright Neil Simon, it’s the perfect time to dig into Sid Caesar: The Works (Shout Factory), a five-DVD set that features hours and hours of classic Caesar TV, along with an informative book. Witness the birth of not only TV sketch comedy but also the careers of Simon, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, and many others. (Brooks would later produce the comedy classic My Favorite Year, set behind the scenes of a 1950s comedy show with Joseph Bologna as Caesarean host.)

Also available: The reruns live on, but pay tribute to one of the greatest sitcoms of the contemporary era with Happy Endings: The Complete Series (Mill Creek Entertainment); the heroism and the bow-flexing continues on Arrow: The Complete Sixth Season (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment); hearken back to the bad old days (to which we could return at any second) with Masters of Sex, The Complete Series (Mill Creek Entertainment); the hilarious Documentary Now! Seasons 1 & 2 (Mill Creek Entertainment) features Fred Armisen and Bill Hader satirizing our favorite non-fiction films.

Two hours of bonus content, and countless abs, can be found in Riverdale: The Complete Second Season (Warner Bros); in The Terror: The Complete First Season (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), a Royal Naval expedition is sent to the Arctic’s Northwest Passage but instead discovers a monster that stalks the ships; enjoy Bruce Campbell’s chin one more time with Ash vs Evil Dead: Season 3 (Starz/Lionsgate), featuring the final season of the hilarious horror comedy; on NCIS: New Orleans, The Fourth Season (CBS/Paramount), Scott Bakula, Lucas Black, Vanessa Ferlito, and CCH Pounder solve all the crimes and Jimmy Buffett shows up; the latest in Al Pacino’s series of HBO movies where he plays controversial/widely-loathed figures, Paterno (HBO Home Entertainment) is the harrowing story of the sexual abuse coverup at Penn State.

More great TV movies like Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (Shout Factory), a romantic drama about ballroom dancing starring Maureen Stapleton and Charles Durning, need to find their way to physical media; if you want to watch an openly gay superhero punch Nazis – and who doesn’t – then pick up Freedom Fighters: The Ray (DC); S.W.A.T.: Season 1 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) sees Shemar Moore get tactical in L.A.; plucky orphans meet a mysterious stranger in The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island (Shout Kids).

A critical and audience hit in the UK., No Offence, Series 1 (Acorn TV) stars Joanna Scanlan in a funny and irreverent take on the police procedural genre; Alan Ball’s Here and Now (HBO) stars Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter in a drama about what happens when an upscale politically progressive family begins to show cracks; The Walking Dead: The Complete Eighth Season (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) is calling itself "All. Out. War," and this is where the storylines of Fear the Walking Dead finally cross over into this landscape; Steven Universe: The Heart of the Crystal Gems (Cartoon Network) collects the acclaimed animated series’ ten-episode storyline – and apparently there is tie-in merch, such as socks, which you totally need.

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