With so many movies hitting VOD, streaming services, Blu-ray, and DVD, it’s hard to know what to watch next. New On Home Video offers a bi-weekly guide to what’s worth seeking out, with an emphasis on what’s really worth watching, from recent theatrical releases to classics and long-lost gems.
Green Room (Lionsgate)
The death of Anton Yelchin adds an unexpected layer of poignancy to Green Room, a smart, grimy, first-rate thriller from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier. Yelchin plays the lead singer of a punk band that accidentally finds itself booked at a Pacific Northwest club run by a group of white supremacists led by a steely leader played by Patrick Stewart. Making matters worse: After witnessing a murder, they find their own lives in danger. The film confirms Jeremy Saulnier as one of the best directors of intensely focused suspense films around, wringing a lot of tension out of a simple set-up as the band attempts to first talk, then fight their way out of the club. He’s great at the big moments, but also at capturing the small details, like the hand-to-mouth existence led by a sub-indie group trying to make it on the road.
Then there’s Yelchin who, as usual, turns in an understated, empathetic performance as a protagonist who finds himself in way over his head. Yelchin always made interesting choices, both in the big movies in which he appeared (Star Trek, a largely overlooked Fright Night remake) and the small ones. Green Room provides another reminder of why he’ll be missed.
Everybody Wants Some!! (Parmount)
The idea of a spiritual sequel to Richard Linklater’s 1993 ’70s-high-life classic Dazed and Confused seemed like an easy sell. And yet when it finally arrived in theaters earlier this year, hardly anyone showed up. (The Awl even dedicated a piece to figuring out why.) It was moviegoers’ loss: Set in 1980 during the first weekend before the start of college, Everybody follows the bonding process of a group of college baseball players as they get to know each other and their new surroundings. Like its predecessor, it’s a terrific hang-out movie filled with memorable characters and a cast that will surely turn up in higher-profile projects over the next few years. And, also like its predecessor, maybe it’s just destined to find more fans at home than it did in theaters.
Only Yesterday (Universal)
Belladonna of Sadness (Cinelicious)
Each year, it seems to get a little easier for American fans of Japanese animation to explore their interests thanks to streaming services and Blu-ray and DVD releases. But that doesn’t mean that great films remain unreleased. This past year, for instance, has seen the belated arrival of two dramatically different animated classics, both of which recently arrived on home video.
First released in 1991, Only Yesterday became a huge hit in Japan. But its unavailability in the U.S. — apart from a subtitled airing on TCM a decade back — earned it a reputation as a lost classic. This newly dubbed version, with voiceover work from Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel, confirms that reputation. Directed by Grave of the Fireflies‘ Isao Takahata, who co-founded Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki, the film explores the quarter-life crisis of Taeko (Ridley), a 27-year-old Tokyo office worker who decides to spend a vacation working on an organic farm in the country. As the film progresses, Taeko reflects on her childhood in the 1960s, searching it for the roots of her current ennui.
Only Yesterday is a quiet, reflective film and, if nothing about it suggests it had to be told via animation, the film itself confirms it as the right choice. Takahata offers one lovely image up after another, whether it’s the gleaming surfaces of Tokyo skyscrapers or the wind gently rustling the crops. It’s unfailingly low-key, devoting long stretches to organic farming and the young Taeko’s first experience with menstruation, but that doesn’t make the drama low-stakes. It’s clear that nothing less than Taeko’s happiness is on the line, and the film keeps the suspense around that going through the closing credits.
First released in 1973, Belladonna of Sadness tells a different sort of female-centric story. It began as the third installment of the Animerama trilogy, a series of adult-oriented animated features initiated by no less than anime godfather Osamu Tezuka himself. Tezuka had departed from the Mushi Production animation house by the time Eiichi Yamamoto directed this film, inspired by a 19th-century non-fiction book called Satanism and Witchcraft. Fittingly, the animation looks to European art for inspiration as it spins the story of a virgin violated by a baron on her wedding night and the terrible, supernatural revenge she exacts over the course of decades.
Filled with still-shocking imagery — alongside some questionable sexual politics — Belladonna of Sadness is a trippy wonder of a movie. Much of the film uses limited animation and still images effectively, but it’s the set pieces that bring it to life, including a bizarre orgy sequence, an illustration of the black plague, and a flash-forward to the modern age. It’s a bleak, psychedelic wonder that raises the question (along with Only Yesterday) of what else is in the vaults waiting for contemporary audiences to discover.
Carnival of Souls (Criterion)
One of film history’s great one-offs, Carnival of Souls is the sole feature film by Herk Harvey, a Kansas-based filmmaker who otherwise made his living making industrial and instructional movies. He took time off from his day job to shoot this creepy feature in which a young woman named Mary (played with great intensity by Candace Hilligoss) survives a car accident and embarks on a new life in Utah only to find herself troubled by seemingly supernatural goings-on.
Harvey shot the film for virtually nothing and it’s all the more unsettling for the resourcefulness he had to employ. Mary wanders a world that’s not quite right. No one behaves quite as they should. At times, she seems to drop out of existence. It plays like a Twilight Zone episode that’s forgotten it needs to be a TV show and just keeps exploring weirder and weirder territory. But it’s also an unexpectedly moving depiction of alienation and what it means to be a lost soul. Harvey may have only had one film in him, but he made it count. Upgrading a previous DVD edition, this new Criterion version does right by an unusual classic with a wide variety of special features.
The In-Laws (Criterion)
Writer Andrew Bergman was a few years away from becoming a director when he penned the script to The In-Laws, a 1979 comedy about a dentist (Alan Arkin) who gets swept into a web of intrigue by his daughter’s father-in-law-to-be (Peter Falk), a rogue CIA agent. And while director Arthur Hiller isn’t the first filmmaker most would turn to for stylistic flourish, he does right by the strong material with help from great comic performances from the perpetually put-upon Arkin and Falk, who beautifully underplays the part of a man of danger. It’s the rare comedy that just gets funnier as it goes along, too, finding another gear when the unlikely pair arrive in a nation overseen by an insane dictator played by Richard Libertini.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (KL Studio Classics)
The ultimate New York-in-the-’70s movie — well, maybe after Taxi Driver — this beautifully grimy thriller pits a gruff New York transit cop (Walter Matthau) against some clever thieves led by Robert Shaw after they kidnap a subway car. What starts as a shocking heist becomes a citywide incident as the film, directed by never-better Joseph Sargent, expands to become a portrait of a barely functioning metropolis. If you’ve only seen the Tony Scott remake, be sure not to miss this version, especially via this new Blu-ray edition which features an audio commentary from actor Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills) and his film scholar brother Jim Healy.
Also new and notable:
By The Sea
The Family Fang
I Saw the Light
House of Cards: The Complete Fourth Season
The Swinging Cheerleaders
Boy & The World
iZombie: The Complete Second Season
In two weeks: A classic kung-fu epic, a Terrence Malick masterpiece, and more.