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.
His Girl Friday (Criterion)
Maybe only a handful of movies deserve to be called perfect, but 1940’s His Girl Friday is undoubtedly one of them. When Howard Hawks set out to make his own version of The Front Page, Ben Hecht and George Kaufman’s hit 1928 play about Chicago tabloid reporters working on the eve of a convicted murderer’s execution, he understood he had to put his own stamp on the material. The play had already been enjoyed by many — and it’s since proven venerable enough that a revival starring Nathan Lane, John Slattery, and John Goodman is running on Broadway right now — but Hawks was never one to coast on others’ material. So, thanks to enjoying the way the dialogue of ace reporter Hildy Johnson sounded when a woman read it, Hawks made a tweak that changed everything around it, and a great black comedy became the romantic comedy to all other romantic comedies aspire to be. Then he quickened the original material’s already machine gun-like pace, and found the perfect leads: Rosalind Russell as Johnson, the ink-in-the-blood reporter trying to leave the profession and get married and Cary Grant as Walter Burns, her ex-husband and former editor who wants her back in more ways than one.
It’s a film in which everything just works: the cast, the dialogue, the pacing, the cutting, Hawks’ obvious love for the newspaper world and the sometimes awful people who work in it. It’s also one that rewards repeat viewings: The funny lines fly so fast and sometimes overlap one another that it’s impossible to catch everything the first time though. And though it’s often been imitated, it’s never been matched. (That Hawks has at least three comedies that rival it in greatness is a testament of how good he was at his job.)
His Girl Friday has been in the public domain for a long time, often turning up on TV, home video, and online in inferior versions. The Criterion edition gets it right and, as usual, brings in some nice extras, including a fine walkthrough from academic David Bordwell, who’s taught the film for years. Best of all, it includes Lewis Milestone’s 1931 version of The Front Page, starring Adolph Menjou and Pat O’Brien. It’s a great movie in its own right, one directed with a lot of technical brio and willing to plunge into the darker corners of the original play that Hawks’ take sometimes avoids. Its only problem: It’s not His Girl Friday. But, then again, what is?
Train To Busan (Well Go)
Zombies are such an effective, pliable horror metaphor it’s no wonder they’ve been thick on the ground since George Romero invented the modern zombie with Night of the Living Dead. But maybe it’s time to move on? There’s just so much zombie entertainment right now that it’s hard to stand out and, beyond that, zombies have largely lost their power to shock now that they’ve become the central element of one of the most-watched shows on television. Then again, maybe it’s best just to think of zombie entertainment as its own established sub-genre with its own rules and judge new entries less on their ability to do something new with the material than play familiar notes well.
By that standard, zombie fans would do well to check out Train to Busan, a Korean film which became a huge hit in Asia last year but only had a small run in North American theaters. Director Yeon Sang-Ho began in animation, and the best parts of the film bring some novel visuals to the story of a neglectful father’s eventful train ride from Seoul to Busan as he tries to get his daughter to safety in the midst of a zombie outbreak. The undead here are rampage-happy zombies of the 28 Days Later / World War Z variety, and Yeon’s film is at its best when it pushes the images of the afflicted monsters toward the surreal. Zombie soldiers break formation and attack. Some fall from the sky after clinging to a helicopter. The later scenes, which lean hard on the pathos, try too hard, but it’s great fun for awhile.
Something Wild (Criterion)
Some movies aren’t lost so much as they’re rejected. Released in 1961, Something Wild turned off most American critics and frustrated the few filmgoers who showed up to see it. Then it largely disappeared. But some movies are also ahead of their time, and in recent years Something Wild has enjoyed something of a revival thanks to champions like critic Kim Morgan (who’s all over the special features of this fine new Blu-ray edition) and TCM, which brought it a new audience a few years ago. Directed by Jack Garfein, an Actor’s Studio fixture who came to America after surviving the Holocaust, and starring Carroll Baker and Ralph Beeker, it’s a stunningly frank film in which Baker’s character, a college student, is raped and, in the aftermath, walks away from her life. Taking up residence in a flophouse, she takes a job at a five-and-dime and lives much of her life in a daze. When she attempts to commit suicide, she’s saved by a mechanic (Meeker), who then imprisons her.
The beautifully shot film mixes cramped interiors with striking images of early-’60s New York, but it’s the difficult psychology of the movie — and the performances realizing it — that make it stand out. In some of the film’s best scenes, Baker’s character struggles with PTSD before there was even a name for it. She recoils at the touch of others. A subway trip becomes a nightmare. The second half — which foreshadows Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down — doesn’t offer an easy resolution. As others have noted, it pairs well with Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, another film comfortable portraying a complex character attempting to find her way through an impossible situation. If it looked ill-suited to 1961, it looks right in time now.
Ali: Commemorative Edition (Sony)
Michael Mann has a Ridley Scott-like habit of tinkering with his movies. This is the third version of Ali he’s released, after the theatrical cut and a director’s cut. But now, after Muhammad Ali’s death, is as good as time as any to return to the movie, which features a towering Will Smith performance and treats the boxer’s life like the American epic it is.
The Accountant (Warner Bros.)
Ben Affleck plays an accountant with more than a few special skills. Our own Vince Mancini called it “the year’s best supererhero movie.”
Deepwater Horizon (Summit)
Patriots Day director Peter Berg’s other movie about a national tragedy also stars Mark Wahlberg. Uproxx‘s Mike Ryan liked it and noted it doubled as a reminder that “We should still be angry” about the environmental catastrophe.
xXx: 15th Anniversary Edition (Sony)
To coincide with the sequel, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, here’s a new version of the original. It’s still pretty dopey and, in its own dumb way, pretty fun.