October Home Video Releases You Need To Watch

Spirited Away (GKIDS / Shout! Factory)
Howl’s Moving Castle (GKIDS / Shout! Factory)
Ponyo (GKIDS / Shout! Factory)
Only Yesterday (GKIDS / Shout! Factory)
Kiki’s Delivery Service  (GKIDS / Shout! Factory)
My Neighbor Totoro  (GKIDS / Shout! Factory)
Princess Mononoke  (GKIDS / Shout! Factory)

Under the leadership of Hayao Miyazaki, Japan’s Studio Ghibli has helped redefine the possibilities of animation since its founding in 1985. And though it took a little time for the films to find an audience in the West, a push in the ’90s that coincided with the release of the fantasy epic Princess Mononoke helped bring the studio’s remarkable work into the mainstream. Studio Ghibli’s films haven’t been particularly hard to track down since then, thanks to distribution deals first with Disney and now with GKIDS, but any excuse to celebrate the work of Miyazaki and his proteges is a good one. This summer and fall saw a few Studio Ghibli films return to theaters and this first batch of Blu-rays continues their revival.

For newcomers, there’s no bad place to start. (Well, maybe the excellent but uncharacteristic coming of age story Only Yesterday.) Fantasy fans might want to begin with Princess MononokeMy Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo will beguile younger viewers. But anyone can jump in with Spirited Away, one of the greatest animated films ever made, and one that beautifully captures Miyazaki’s recurring themes, beautiful visuals, and unhurried rhythms.

Samurai Jack: Season 5 (Warner Bros.)
Samurai Jack: The Complete Series (Warner Bros.)

Or, for a faster-paced piece of animation that looks to different corners of anime as an influence — though there’s doubtlessly some Miyazaki in there too — you could shift over to Genndy Tartakovsky beloved genre mash-up, which recently returned for a fifth season. The Blu-ray set collects that season in all its high-def glory, but superfans will want to spring for the Complete Series box set, which gathers together the whole run in an attractive package.

The Hidden (Warner Archive)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Criterion)

The return of Twin Peaks earlier this year served as a reminder that, given some space, Kyle MacLachlan can own the screen. For further evidence, don’t sleep on the 1987 film The Hidden, which takes advantage of MacLachlan’s just slightly otherworldly presence by casting him as an alien who takes human form in pursuit of an intergalactic serial killer. Or, if it’s Peaks you want, the Criterion edition offers an extras-packed chance to revisit Lynch’s feature film follow-up to the original series. Little loved at the time, it’s since been embraced and looks much different in light of where Twin Peaks: The Return took the story.

Lost Horizon (Sony)
Othello (Criterion)
Superman: Extended Cut & Special Edition
(Warner Archive)

One thing physical media continues to do better than streaming: present alternate versions of movies that exist in multiple incarnations. Take Orson Welles’ Othello. The troubled production, shot off-and-on over several years, appeared in different versions in Europe and the U.S. Until recently, the only version available came from a much-criticized 1992 restoration. A new Criterion Blu-ray ignores that, instead going back to the sources by placing the two cuts on the same disc and filling it out with material explaining how the mess happened in the first place.

There’s only one version of Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon on the new Blu-ray version, but it requires some explaining too. Thanks to some cuts after its initial release, whose scenes were once thought lost forever. (Never mind that the movie was one of the biggest hits of the day.) S0me detective work restored some of them while reconstructing others via stills set to the original soundtrack. In many ways, this tale of a magical land that’s found peace apart from the world is not one of Capra’s best, but its ambition carries it through some dry patches.

Finally, fans of Superman now get not one but two versions of Richard Donner’s 1978 film. One’s a director’s cut put together in 2000, but the real find here is a re-edit of the three-hour version shown over two nights on television when it had its small-screen premiere.

Vampyr (Criterion)
Old Dark House (Cohen Media)
The Green Slime (Warner Archive)
Land of the Dead / Dawn of the Dead (Scream Factory)
The Lure (Criterion)

October’s almost over as this column runs, but November’s a fine month for watching any of the horror re-releases you might have missed. These include two highly influential classics, Carl Dreyer’s hypnotic, nightmarish Vampyr from 1932 and Frankenstein director James Whale’s fun The Old Dark House, starring Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart, and Melvin Douglas.

Is space your thing? Chances are you haven’t seen the semi-obscure The Green Slime, a 1968 monster movie made by a Japanese crew with an American cast. (But you know who has seen it? Michael Bay. Armageddon borrows liberally from its plot, even if it doesn’t feature green slime.

George Romero’s recent passing only highlighted how hard it is to see some of his best films. Land of the Dead, a 2005 return to the world of zombies, isn’t one of those, but its much better than its reputation, at least up until a so-so final act. (Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, also getting re-released, has the opposite problem: it begins brilliantly then gets dull.) Finally, the well-liked Polish horror film The Lure offers a different sort of mermaid story than most are used to seeing.

A Ghost Story (Lionsgate)
The Beguiled (Lionsgate)
Personal Shopper (Criterion)

It’s been a good year for lower-key unsettling stories, too. There’s nothing scary about David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, but it spins an inspired, moving film out of a seemingly dopey idea: What if we followed a ghost (played by Casey Affleck) who looked like a stereotypical figure in a white sheet as he observes as life moves on without him?

There might or not be a ghost in Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper, but it makes equally great use of the supernatural as a metaphor for what we can’t leave behind. There are no ghosts at all in Sofia Coppola’s remake of The Beguiled but it is quite unsettling anyway, watching as the arrival of Yankee soldier upsets the delicate balance of an all-girls school in the Civil War South.

Baby Driver (Lionsgate)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (Sony)
War for the Planet of the Apes (Fox)

Finally, it’s been a pretty great year for smart blockbusters, if you know where to look. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver features one brilliantly choreographed action scene after another but sets itself apart by marrying them to a story with real heart. And that’s the winning element of both the funny Spider-Man: Homecoming — which returns Spider-Man to his roots as an awkward teen who can’t seem to catch a break — and War for the Planet of the Apes, which concludes a revival of the Planet of the Apes movies with its most ambitious entry, one that largely pushes humanity to the margins and makes its ape characters the stars — and the most sympathetic presences.