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.
The Squid And The Whale (Criterion)
Noah Baumbach emerged as one sort of director in the ’90s– the maker of witty, wordy, Whit Stillman-inspired comedies of manners like Kicking and Screaming and Mr. Jealousy — then kind of disappeared. He returned in 2005 with The Squid and the Whale, an autobiographical tale of divorce in New York in the 1980s that cut deeper and went darker than any film he’d made before. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney play the divorcing parents, both tortured intellectuals who aren’t always always aware of the collateral damage their split has exacted on their children (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline). It’s a short, sharp, assured piece of filmmaking that remains Baumbach’s most moving film.
Black Christmas (Scream Factory)
Released in 1974, the Bob Clark-directed Canadian horror movie Black Christmas is notable for several reasons. Historically, it’s important as one the earliest slasher films, an obvious inspiration for John Carpenter’s Halloween. It also features one of the oddest casts ever assembled for any sort of movie, featuring Romeo and Juliet star Olivia Hussey, 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Keir Dullea, future SCTV star Andrea Martin, B-movie fixture John Saxon and Margot Kidder. The plot is nearly as weird as the cast and, most important of all, it’s a great tonic for horror fans who don’t want to overdose on Christmas cheer this time of year. Oh, and one more bit of trivia: Clark could dish out the cheer, too. He directed A Christmas Story. This edition features a nice new transfer and a wealth of older features from previous home video releases, including a commentary from the late Clark.
The BFG (Disney)
Pete’s Dragon (Disney)
Kubo and the Two Strings (Focus)
With Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and Moana all appearing this year, it’s been a good year for Disney both critically and at the box office. But a few films didn’t quite get the reception the deserved. Critics rightly embraced David Lowery’s lovely remake / reinvention of Pete’s Dragon but crowds failed flock to it. Steven Spielberg’s Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG flopped at the box office and earned a lot of middling-to-negative reviews. Both deserve second chances, however. Spielberg commits to Dahl’s vision and draws a wonderful motion capture performance from Mark Rylance as titular big, friendly giant. Lowery, meanwhile, channels a bit of the old Spielberg feeling for his tale of a boy found in the wild, his readjustment to civilized life, and his subsequent quest to save the dragon who raised him. Or, moving beyond Disney, Kubo and the Two Strings, the latest stop-motion effort from Laika, is both the studio’s most technically ambitious and one of its most emotionally rich efforts. There’s been an abundance of great kids’ movies this year, but that doesn’t mean we should let ones as strong as these fall through the cracks.
It’s Always Fair Weather (Warner Archive)
The embrace of La La Land suggests there’s a hunger out there for movie musicals that hasn’t been met in a long time. It’s way too soon to talk about a comeback for musicals, of course, but it’s never a bad time to remember how flexible the genre can be. There are many types of stories a musical can tell, not all of them happy. Released in 1955, It’s Always Fair Weather reunited Gene Kelly, co-director Stanley Donen, and the songwriting team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green — the team behind On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain — for a tale of war buddies who reunite 10 years after the end of World War II and discover they have little in common and that post-war life has been, in many ways, a string of disappointments. Any movie that features Kelly dancing on roller skates isn’t without high spirits, but It’s Always Fair Weather gets to its joyousness the hard way, casting a jaundiced eye at everything from television to suburban life along the way.
Coffee and Cigarettes (Olive Films)
The new movie Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s latest, is among the best films the director has ever made. But for a concentrated dose of what defines his aesthetic, look no further than Coffee and Cigarettes, a long-in-the-works collection of short films united by just those two elements: coffee and cigarettes. Highlights include a diner visit featuring GZA, RZA and Bill Murray and a meeting between Cate Blanchett and her identical cousin, Shelly (Cate Blanchett).
The Asphalt Jungle (Criterion)
John Huston’s unsparing 1950 crime drama The Asphalt Jungle features a gripping plot and an extraordinary performance from Sterling Hayden as a no-luck Midwestern criminal who gets roped into a heist in an attempt to recover his family’s financial footing. The film helped make Marilyn Monroe a star and influenced virtually every crime film that followed, in one way or another. It’s, in other words, about as essential as it gets.
Phantasm (Well Go)
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (Dark Sky)
Two very different sorts of horror classics, Phantasm and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer took different routes to become cult classics. Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm became a video store staple in the ’80s, a much passed-around bit of weirdness involving a murderous undertaker (Angus Scrimm), dwarves from another planet (maybe?), and a floating metal ball. It uses its low budget to its advantage, creating an unsettling death-haunted atmosphere between scary setpieces. (The film became a franchise, too, and the latest installment Phantasm: Ravager, is being released at the same time.) John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer shocked festival audiences in 1986 then sat on the shelf for years as it struggled to find a release. When it did make it to theaters, four years later, its matter-of-fact portrayal of a serial killer (played by Walking Dead and Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Michael Rooker) earned it an X-rating and attracted controversy. But it’s that same matter-of-factness that still makes it singularly chilling all these years later, and that’s made it enduring after more sensational horror movies have been forgotten.
Don’t Breathe (Sony)
And here’s one that’s destined to be revisited over the years. Fede Alvarez directed a so-so remake of Evil Dead a couple of years ago, but after stepping out of the shadow of one horror classic he’s made a classic of his own. Set in a deep-in-decline Detroit neighborhood, it’s a timely story of a group of have-nots who conspire to rob the home of a man who seems to have more money than he requires. But part of the movie’s cleverness is the way it keeps shifting sympathies. Turns out their victim is a blind man still mourning the death of his daughter. But he’s also a murderous badass (played by Avatar‘s Stephen Lang) who turns his handicap to his advantage as he picks off his home invaders. It’s a tricky, scary, and at moments repellant film that’s tense from its first scene to its last.
Time After Time (Warner Archive)
A charming, one-of-a-kind oddity, this 1979 Nicholas Meyer film stars Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells, who uses his real-life time machine to track Jack the Ripper to modern San Francisco.
To Live And Die In L.A. (Shout! Factory)
William Friedkin’s stylish ’80s cop movie doesn’t get as much love as The French Connection, but it’s picked up an appreciative audience over the decades, hence this deluxe new reissue.
Heart of a Dog (Criterion)
Performance artist Laurie Anderson returned to film last year with this well-liked meditation on death and pet ownership.
Sudden Fear (Cohen Media Group)
You can count Francois Truffaut among the die hard fans of this long-overlooked noir film starring Joan Crawford and Jack Palance
Fellini fans fall into two categories: Those who feel he lost it after a certain point and those on board through every excess. Like Satyricon, this will help you figure out which camp you fall into.
Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.)
Please watch any of the above movies before watching this one. It’s not good.