A weekly guide to what’s new on DVD and Blu-ray
Pick of the Week: Roar (Olive Films)
In describing the 1981 film Roar, it’s easiest to start with the back story because its insanity directly correlates to the insanity that made it into the film. In the late 1960s, actress Tippi Hedren and her husband, producer Bob Marshall, fell in love with the big cats of Africa while shooting a film there. How in love? So in love that they adopted a lion. And then other lions. And then other big cats, eventually living on what would eventually become the (still-active) Shambala Preserve in California, and sharing space with lions and tigers as other families do with housecats. Marshall decided to make a film inspired by his family’s love of the animals, a family that included a teenaged Melanie Griffith. The resulting film, Roar, barely saw release at the time, but had a behind-the-scenes reputation as an act of madness, one that led to multiple injuries to a cast and crew who were largely just thrown in with the big cats. (Director of photography, and future Speed director Jan De Bont was nearly scalped.)
All this translates into a baffling, strangely thrilling, one-of-a-kind movie in which it’s never quite clear how much of the on-screen action is motivated by real terror. You can see, for instance, Marshall — who co-stars in the film in addition to writing and directing it — start bleeding when an interaction goes wrong. The plot involves the family of Marshall’s character (Hedren, Griffith, and Marshall’s sons John and Jerry) traveling to an Africa research station and essentially running around hiding as they’re pursued by cats and other animals. (An elephant gets a memorable scene, too.) It’s chaotic, dangerous-looking, and hard to watch without wondering what you’ve just seen. Though motivated by a love of animals, it mostly makes nature look terrifying. Yet, however misguided, it has to be seen to be believed, so it makes sense that it’s found a second life thanks to the repackaging of Drafthouse Films, which played it in limited runs this past year. It really shouldn’t exist at all, but because it does, why not appreciate its one-of-a-kindness? (The Olive Films Blu-ray adds an audio commentary and other bonus features.)
Inside Out (Buena Vista)
There was no shortage of concern leading up to Inside Out that Pixar might need to try a little harder. Since Up in 2009, the studio had released one great sequel (Toy Story 3), one not-so-great (Cars 2), a so-so prequel (Monsters University), and an original film that most felt didn’t live up to its usual standards (Brave). Then handily Inside Out put the “Has Pixar lost it?” question to rest. Directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up), it takes a neat concept and runs with it to the stratosphere. Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, and Bill Hader play, respectively, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear, the emotions in the head of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a girl uprooted from Minnesota to San Francisco. It’s a clever idea — one grounded in actual science — but Docter and company turn aren’t content just to depend on its cleverness. Beneath the appealing characters and eye-catching production design, there’s a rich exploration of what it means to grow up and what’s gained and lost along the way — one that will play differently to audiences of different ages. (The new Blu-ray includes a commentary, making-of features, the not-so-warmly-received short “Lava,” and the fun, short sequel “Riley’s First Date?” which features considerably more AC/DC music than the original film.)
End of the Tour (Lionsgate)
In 1996, Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky followed David Foster Wallace on his Infinite Jest book your. Lipsky eventually turned the experience, and the tapes of their conversations, into the 2010 book Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which then became this film by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now). End of the Tour created its share of controversy. Wallace’s estate opposed it, and others suggested it’s the last thing Wallace would have wanted. Yet the film plays like anything but a cheap exploitation of Wallace thanks to its careful pace, emphasis on conversation, and fine performances from Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky and Jason Segel, who plays Wallace as a man driven in equal parts by intellectual inquisitiveness and his fears about the world and his responsibilities within in it.
Best of Enemies (Magnolia)
Or, for an entirely different set of clashing intellects, check out this documentary about a series of televised public debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal, two men who did not like each other and whose animosity sometimes overwhelmed their political points.
Vacation (Warner Bros.)
This new take on the Vacation series at least prompted some healthy discussion about when is a film a remake, a reboot, or a reimagining? It certainly didn’t inspire much else.
Sherlock Holmes (Flicker Alley)
William Gillette is no longer a household name, but that wasn’t the case 100 years ago. One of the most-famous actors, playwrights, and innovators of the late-19th century American stage, Gillette counted as one of his great successes the play Sherlock Holmes, his own adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective. Gillette also played the starring role in more than 1,300 appearances.
All of which are, of course, lost to time. So was Gillette’s one film appearance as Holmes until 2014, when this film turned up in the archives of La Cinémathéque Française. Gillette had been playing Holmes for more than a decade when he shot the film for Chicago’s Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, which had just lost its biggest star: Charlie Chaplin, who had appeared alongside Gillette in a production of the play as a young man. The film merged together Gillette’s touring company and the Essanay regulars. It was a hit, but the studio died anyway, which no doubt contributed to its semi-lost status.
Flicker Alley, which has done fine restoration work on films like This is Cinerama in the past, has gone all out with this combination Blu-ray and DVD version of the film, packaging it with a nice selection of related extras, including the 1900 film “Sherlock Holmes Baffled,” the earliest known Holmes movie, and “A Canine Sherlock,” a 1912 film in which a dog plays detective. Actually, we might be burying the lede with all the Gillette talk: There’s a silent short about a dog detective in this package.