Movies

New On Home Video: The Recently Revived Epics ‘The New World’ And ‘A Touch Of Zen’

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.

Must Sees

The New World (Criterion)
This isn’t the easiest time to be a Terrence Malick admirer. While the reclusive director has been more prolific than ever of late, with many projects in the works at once, his most recent films have felt both minor and underdeveloped. To the Wonder and Knight of Cups both have much to recommend them, but both play like for-fans-only exercises, at times notable mostly for the novelty of seeing Malick’s extraordinary eye trained at unexpected subjects, like a Midwestern superstore and an abandoned parking lot behind a Las Vegas casino.

At his best, however, Malick’s gift for imagery is only part of what makes his films extraordinary. He ties it beautifully to an almost instinctive sense of editing, telling stories as much through impressions and emotions as narrative. For as far-reaching as his influence has been, no one makes films like Malick.

Released in 2005, The New World makes a story best known from history books — the founding of Jamestown and the relationship between English explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) — feel both present and alive. The opening scene, in which the colonists first glimpse the shores of their new home as the Native Americans get their first look at Europeans, and European technology, is both beautiful and charged with tension. Malick works that tension throughout the film, exploring the perils faced by both sides, the possibilities suggested by Smith’s relationship with Pocahontas, the unfortunate end of that relationship, and beyond.

It’s a major work from a major director that didn’t quite get its due in 2005, perhaps in part because it wasn’t even clear if Malick would finish in time for a release that year. Critics saw one cut of the film. Audiences saw another. Still another cut, the longest, appeared on home video a few years later. This Criterion edition compiles all three alongside a nice assortment of extras, and while that might seem like overkill, it’s fitting. Malick makes the sort of films in which it’s easy to get lost.

A Touch of Zen (Criterion)
Watching the supplements on this new edition of A Touch of Zen, King Hu’s landmark 1971 wuxia film, it seems like it might be impossible to overstate Hu’s influence. All the interview subjects divide Chinese filmmaking into two phases: pre-Hu and post-Hu. The actor-turned-filmmaker helped bring an attention to detail and a sense of artfulness and pure filmmaking skill — he has a way with camera movements that rivals any director — that hadn’t really been there before. Part of that came from the time he took. Hu films were years-long productions, the work of a perfectionist who knew exactly what we wanted.

That’s apparent in every frame of A Touch of Zen, a film filled with some of the most rousing, beautifully choreographed, and precisely edited action scenes you’ll ever see… eventually. The three-hour film lets nearly an hour pass before the first action sequence, first establishing the daily routines of Ku (Shih Chun), an unambitious Ming-era artist and scholar who becomes wrapped up in the intrigue of Yang (Hsu Feng), a noblewoman who’s hiding out from the authorities. The slow start is part of the design of the film, however, which has ambitions beyond mere sensation, exploring themes of honor, loyalty, and spirituality as Ku feels compelled to enter the fray.

Ang Lee frequently cites the film as a major influence on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and it’s easy to see why. There’s a lyricism to the violence and a sense of yearning and melancholy balances out the thrills. It plays like the work of a director who knows he’s creating a new tradition and who’s intent on getting it right.

A Brothers Quay Festival (streaming at Mubi)
The unsettling stop-motion animation of the Brothers Quay has been inspiring filmmakers for years. Christopher Nolan made a documentary about the identical twin filmmakers. Anomalisa co-director Duke Johnson provides an introduction to this mini-festival currently streaming on Mubi that includes the signature short films “Rehearsals For Extinct Anatomies,” “The Comb,” “Anamorphosis,” and “In Absentia.”

Also new and notable:

The Boss (Universal)
Melissa McCarthy stars in a comedy directed by husband Ben Falcone about a self-made millionaire who has to pick herself up after a humbling, financially ruinous prison stint. Like McCarthy and Falcone’s previous team-up, Tammy, it’s uneven, but it also has a lot of character and more than a few funny moments. And any film that features McCarthy making out with Peter Dinklage can’t be all bad, right?

The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (Scream Factory)

Hardcore Henry (Universal)

The Invitation (Drafthouse)
Speaking of second chances, Girlfight director Karyn Kusama had mixed experiences in Hollywood after making her beloved indie. But this recent thriller unnerved audiences and critics alike.

Sing Street (Anchor Bay)
Once director John Carney’s latest wowed festival audiences, but barely seemed to make it to theaters. It’s the sort of film for which second chances were made.

To Have and Have Not (Warner Archive)

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