A weekly guide to what’s new on DVD and Blu-ray
Pick of the Week: Mulholland Dr. (Criterion)
You don’t have to look that hard to find guides to untangling David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. Theories started piling up pretty much when it first screened in 2001, expounding on everything from the identity of the man behind Winkie’s to the meaning of the blue key. (Or, more accurately, the two blue keys.) What in the movie is real? What is illusion?
But really, the film answers any questions in one scene. Past the midway point, Mulholland Dr.’s two protagonists — the fresh-faced Betty (Naomi Watts), a new arrival in L.A. after winning a jitterbug contest in Canada, and Rita (Laura Elena Harring), an amnesiac with the looks of a femme fatale, but the helplessness of a child — visit the mysterious Club Silencio. They’re immediately told by the club’s MC that everything they’re about to experience is an illusion, which he then demonstrates by showing that the trumpet player who’s joined him on stage isn’t playing the trumpet at all, just accompanying a recording. He’s immediately followed by a singer who launches into an a cappella, Spanish-language rendition of the Roy Orbison hit. As the emotion of the performance rises, Rita and Betty begin crying. It’s a moving performance that seems to speak directly to their own recent experiences — the peril they’ve faced while searching for the mystery behind Rita’s condition, the rawness of their own emotions after making love for the first time. It’s hard not to cry along with them, even after the singer collapses and the music goes on. It was all an illusion after all.
But what does that matter? The moment’s an illusion that itself seems to be part of an illusion once the preceding action is revealed to be, it would seem, part of a dream or hallucination conjured by Betty’s alter ego. At any rate, it’s an illusion within a larger illusion, that of the movie itself — which is itself an illusion made up of the stuff of earlier movies, Lynch’s childhood memories, and a Hollywood system in the business of creating illusions. In Mulholland Dr., more than in most movies, the rabbit hole has no bottom.
That it turned out so well — that it even exists at all — is half-miraculous. The film was born of a TV pilot Lynch shot for ABC in the late ’90s, the network that aired Twin Peaks earlier in the decade. The show, much like Twin Peaks, was designed as an open-ended mystery. When the project got scuttled, Lynch decided to turn it into a feature. This shouldn’t have worked. Lynch has previously attempted to square the circle by turning his Twin Peaks pilot into a feature via an ending that resolved its mystery. That didn’t work. Mulholland Dr. could hardly work better, thanks to dream logic, Lynch’s command of the uncanny, a brilliant sound design, and performance — particularly Watts’ star-making turn — that move in time with the material’s strange rhythms.
To work too hard putting the clues together is to miss much of the pleasure of this Möbius strip of a movie. Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition, however, makes it easy to get lost in the world of the film, thanks to interviews with Lynch and the cast — the best being the extended Lynch interview from Chris Rodley’s Lynch on Lynch included in the booklet. Lynch is, as ever, evasive about explaining his art. Maybe there’s a reason for that.
Army of Darkness (Scream Factory)
With each successive entry in his Evil Dead series, Sam Raimi pushed the balance between horror and comedy steadily toward comedy. Army of Darkness, the final film in the trilogy — though it was followed by a remake and the forthcoming Ash vs. Evil Dead series on Starz — isn’t particularly scary, but it is a lot of fun, sending Bruce Campbell’s quippy hero back to the middle ages to battle the demonic forces that previously plagued him in that cabin in the wood. Army of Darkness went through several different iterations on its way to theaters in 1992, and it’s appeared on home video in many different formats. Typically, this Scream Factory release does a fine job gathering up every possible version of the film — the theatrical cut, the director’s cut, the international cut, and the TV cut — and filling it all out with a generous selection of extras, including a new making-of doc, deleted scenes, an audio commentary and more. Hail to the king, baby.
Phase IV (Olive Films)
Graphic artist Saul Bass’ career includes everything from famous corporate logos to some of the most famous title sequences ever put to film, including a long run working for Alfred Hitchcock. Bass directed only one feature film, this 1973 movie about super-intelligent ants. Dismissed at the time, and long hard to find, its cult has steadily, and rightfully, grown over the years. It’s a hypnotic film filled with bizarre, unforgettable imagery, much of it via close-up photography of the ants themselves. Playing it straight, a cast that includes Michael Murphy, Nigel Davenport, and Lynne Frederick lends it a sense of gravity. It’s a one-off that’s also one of a kind, and it’s nice to see it surface on Blu-ray, even if this bare-bones edition doesn’t restore the film’s super-bonkers lost ending.
The Gift (Universal)
Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut is a tense thriller about haves and have-nots in Los Angeles that confirms his talents extend beyond the camera and provides a showcase for fine acting from Edgerton, Rebecca Hall and, especially, Jason Bateman, who brings out the shading beneath his nice-guy persona.
Southpaw (Anchor Bay)
Written by Kurt Sutter and directed by Antoine Fuqua, this boxing film has the blunt force of an old-fashioned melodrama. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done many times before, but Jake Gyllenhaal and Forest Whitaker make it worth a look.
No one wanted to see Adam Sandler battle old video games, for some reason.
Mandingo (Olive Films)
Roger Ebert dismissed this 1975 film about the affairs between slaves and their owners in antebellum South as “racist trash.” Quentin Tarantino cited it as a major influence on Django Unchained. Which is it? Here’s the chance to see for yourself.
The Human Centipede: The Complete Sequence (Scream Factory)
It’s all three Human Centipede films in one box. Perfect for the sicko in your life.