Movies

This Week’s Home Video Picks Include The Controversial ‘Chi-Raq’ And The Remarkable ‘The Assassin’

Pick of the Week:
Chi-Raq (Lionsgate)
Part provocation, part prayer, and filled with righteous anger at all players contributing to inner-city violence in America and Chicago in particular, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq rubbed a lot of people the wrong way when it appeared late last year. (Our own Keith Reid-Cleveland weighed in with a piece about why it bothered him as a longtime resident of Chicago’s south side.) It’s an extremely odd film, a transplant of Lysistrata performed in rhyme that mixes broad comedy and pleas for change. But it’s done with a lot of verve and guided by Lee’s unmistakable sensibility. It’s not one of the director’s very best films, but it’s not a film that could ever be mistaken for anyone else’s work and there’s an urgency and energy to it that helps pave over the rough patches.

Also new:
The Assassin (Well Go USA)
In some ways Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin is a film defined by what it’s not. It’s a wuxia, but one that defies the genre’s conventions. Confrontations get set up only never to happen. Martial arts battles unfold at the edges of the frame while the camera maintains a respectful distance. Yet the film’s too beautiful to be frustrating and the central performance from Shu Qi as the conflicted assassin of the title is a marvel. Hou has a reputation as one of the world’s great directors, though his films aren’t always easy to find in the States. This is as good a place to start correcting that as any.

Goosebumps (Sony)
Jack Black plays R.L. Stine, peevishly, in a film that finds a bunch of kids doing battle with the horror author’s creation when they’re accidentally brought to life.

The Ice Pirates (Warner Archive)
A fairly awful movie that’s proven strangely enduring, The Ice Pirates is a silly send-up of all things science fiction, circa 1984. It looks cheap and there’s no joke too low for it, especially if it involves castration. Yet it’s kind of endearingly odd anyway and it just looks stranger all these years later. Yes that’s Ron Perlman and Anjelica Huston in supporting roles. Yes, the bad guys appear to be wearing armor left over from Monty Python And The Holy Grail. It’s The Ice Pirates and there’s nothing else quite like it.

Jack’s Back (Shout! Factory)
Another ’80s film that picked up a cult following, albeit a smaller one, Jack’s Back cast James Spader in an early starring role as identical twins drawn to some familiar-looking serial killings in L.A. The film earned two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert but it would take another year for writer/director Rowdy Herrington to make his greatest contribution to film: Road House.

The New Girlfriend (Cohen)
The latest from prolific French director Francois Ozon strikes a curious balance. It feels like a thriller but never turns into one, even as a woman learns secrets about her late best friend’s husband she never could have suspected. That tension helps give the drama an added charge, and Romain Duris excels in a (sort of) dual role.

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