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.
Dirty Dancing (Lionsgate)
Thirty years after its release in the sleepy last days of the summer of 1987, while Stakeout and Adventures in Babysitting still lingered in theaters, it’s easier to see why Dirty Dancing became a massive hit and just as easy to see why few could have seen that success coming. The (still) rare coming-of-age story to focus on a female character, it married MTV-inspired dance sequences to a soundtrack of time-tested oldies and offered a story of adolescent rebellion told from the safe distance of a few decades. But it’s still an odd and, in many ways, daring film to catch on with a wide audience, one in which abortion and the terrible consequences of keeping it illegal make up a major sub-plot and which takes a frank and positive approach to sexuality.
Jennifer Grey plays Baby, a 17-year-old whose 1963 summer at a Catskills resort takes an eventful turn when she takes up with Johnny (Patrick Swayze), a dancer who introduces her to his working class world, and to a style of dancing he can’t teach to the nice resort patrons alongside the samba. Their romance plays out on the sly, and coincides with Baby’s growing awareness of some of the hypocrisy and double standards baked into her sheltered existence as an upper-middle-class Jewish girl. (In one perhaps too-on-the-nose scene, the film’s villain whips out a copy of The Fountainhead “Some people count and some people don’t.”)
The film became a hit with legs, getting a second life as a sleepover favorite, and it still works as a dewy, nostalgic romance grounded in the details of screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein’s own experiences. The end, however, remains bizarre, an all-feet-on-the-floor dance scene set to the could-not-be-more-’80s song “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life,” that lets any drama evaporate into thin air. Not that fans have ever minded, and this new Blu-ray edition should more than satisfy the film’s many admirers, piling on a bunch a new features on top of holdovers from the film’s many previous DVD incarnations, including a commentary track from Bergstein.
A film largely made up from the outtakes of other films doesn’t sound that promising, but Kristen Johnson makes brilliant use of scraps collected form her long career as a documentary cinematographer in this self-describer “memoir” from 2016. Johnson’s career dates back to the ’90s and has taken her all over the globe, from a Golden Gloves match in Brooklyn to the war-torn Balkans, in the service of projects for documentary directors like Kirby Dick, Laura Poitras, and Michael Moore. Her film begins as a quick primer in how her job works. She can be heard off-camera discussing what belongs in a frame, what doesn’t, and gasping at the extraordinary luck at catching a violent bolt of lightning in a shot. From there it builds a rhythm all its own, moving from year to year and place to place as she films everyone from Bosnian Muslims returning to their home after the war to a Nigerian nurse caring for a newborn baby in desperate need of oxygen to Johnson’s own mother as she lives with Alzheimer’s. It becomes an intimate and moving portrait of one woman’s life and work and testament to the ability of the camera to connect us with parts of the world we might otherwise never see, and a life lived far away and in perilous circumstances.
Wait Until Dark (Warner Archive)
If the premise of last fall’s horror hit Don’t Breathe sounded a little familiar, that’s because it owes at least the spine of its premise to Wait Until Dark, a ’60s stage hit turned into a successful film by Terrence Young, a director otherwise best known for helming some James Bond films. Audrey Hepburn stars as a woman still adjusting to an accident that’s left her blind when she’s menaced by some villains looking for a doll filled with drugs that’s accidentally come into her possession. Young doesn’t really hide the film’s stage origins, but he still gets a lot of suspense — and one huge scare — out of its claustrophobic set. Hepburn is superb as the vulnerable-but-resourceful heroine and the rogues include Richard Crenna and a wonderfully excessive Alan Arkin.
Disney’s classic films have been with us so long it’s easy to forget what risky propositions they were at the time. Released in 1940, Pinocchio was Disney’s second full-length feature, but it fell well short of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs box office success and, along with that year’s Fantasia, threatened the studio’s financial stability. Why? All these years later, it’s hard to guess. The darker storyline might have been a turn-off to some viewers. Pinocchio, after all, goes to some upsetting places, forcing kids to contemplate mortality and fates worse than death. But, when it comes to kids films, it’s often the ones unafraid to go to those dark places that endure, as Pinocchio has proven. Typical of Disney’s Blu-ray editions, the film looks and sounds great here and the extras include some newly unearthed drawings from the film’s development and a lot of neat special features from previous releases of the film.
Queen Of Katwe (Disney)
Speaking of Disney films that didn’t get their due the first time around, don’t sleep on this moving, Mira Nair-directed drama about a dedicated Ugandan teacher (David Oyelowo) who helps a girl born into poverty (Madina Nalwanga) become a chess champion. It’s based on the real life story of chess champion Phiona Matesi and co-stars Lupita Nyong’o as Matesi’s skeptical mother.
Jeff Nichols’ second film of 2016, after Midnight Special, Loving movingly re-tells the story of Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), an interracial couple who became the center of a landmark court ruling. If awards attention went to performances and filmmaking that are made more powerful through understatement, this movie would walk off with all the award.
The Monster (Lionsgate)
Since Bryan Bertino wrote and directed The Strangers in 2008, fans have been waiting for him to direct another great horror movie. The Monster isn’t quite it, but its simple premise — a woman and her daughter are stranded on a remote road in the middle of the night and menaced by a horrible beastie — and an intense performance from Zoe Kazan in the lead makes it worth a look.
Wagon Tracks (Olive Films)
One of the biggest films 0f 1919, this William S. Hart-starring Western gets an overdue home video release.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side (Scream Factory)
Poltergeist III (Scream Factory)
Scream Factory continues its project of giving even the lesser-loved sequels to classic horror films the deluxe treatment with these new editions of the films that followed the classic Poltergeist. Neither is as beloved as the original, but the second film does have Craig T. Nelson doing battle with a tequila worm monster.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Paramount)
Spoiler: He goes back.