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.
The Knick: The Complete Second Season (HBO)
The Girlfriend Experience (Anchor Bay)
In 2013, Steven Soderbergh announced a retirement from filmmaking that most suspected would last about as long as Jay-Z’s retirement from making albums. Depending on how you do the math, he didn’t even beat Jay-Z’s three-year stretch between The Black Album and Kingdom Come. Soderbergh’s first post-retirement feature, Lucky Logan, will likely hit theaters next year, but he hasn’t exactly spent the time between collecting stamps. Beyond working the camera for Magic Mike XXL, Soderbergh’s thrown himself into a variety of other projects, including re-editing classic movies, launching a line of spirits, and working on television.
His highest profile project has been The Knick, a turn-of-the-century Cinemax medical drama created by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler for which Soderbergh spent two seasons serving as director, cinematographer, and editor thanks to a tireless work ethic and remarkable time-management skills.
During those two seasons, Clive Owen played a brilliant surgeon whose addictions and desire to push limits often got the better of him. The series surrounded him with a remarkable cast that included such should-be-better-known-names as Andre Holland (as a black doctor pushing back against prejudice) and Eve Hewson (as a young nurse who quickly sheds her naiveté about big city life).
The show’s first season approached perfection. Soderbergh carefully balanced the needs of the narrative, immersive filmmaking, a rich atmosphere, and storylines that both accented how much the world has changed over the last century and underscored the many ways it had not. Its second season, however, struggled a bit, thanks to plots that kept pushing the show into soapy territory. It remained a show unlike any other — up to a strange but probably inevitable final episode — but it also became possible to hear the wheels grinding a little too loudly.
Soderbergh serves only as executive producer for the Starz series The Girlfriend Experience, but it too benefits from a strong creative team exerting control over the material. Lodge Kerrigan (Clean, Shaven) and Amy Seimetz (a director and actress best known for Sun Don’t Shine and for co-starring in Upstream Color) co-write almost every episode (Seimetz has a solo credit) and alternate directing duties. Though it’s inspired by Soderbergh’s 2009 film about a high-class prostitute, it’s decidedly its own thing.
Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road) stars as Christine, a Chicago law student who, as the series opens, begins working as an intern at a powerful firm. She also embarks, following the example of a fellow student, on a side career as a prostitute for an exclusive madam. Seimetz and Kerrigan balance the potentially lurid material with a cool, reserved style and a continued emphasis on exploring what makes Christine do what she does — even though Christine herself doesn’t seem to have an answer to that question.
Yet for a show that works so well as a psychological study, thanks in large part to Keough’s slippery performance, it also burns through plot at a remarkable pace, setting up developments that feel like they’ll take all season to play out, but which take only an episode or two to be resolved. It works well both as a thriller that ratchets up tension on several fronts at once and an enigmatic look at a woman discovering herself while putting herself at risk. Like Soderbergh, Seimetz and Kerrigan will certainly return to the movies. But here they again prove the small-screen has room for distinctive visions, and that this Peak TV moment still hasn’t lost its ability to create surprising and new creations.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Scream Factory)
Until the 2007 film The Invasion, there had been no bad adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel, The Body Snatchers. Don Siegel’s first adaptation, 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, used its story of aliens taking over the bodies of ordinary Americans to channel Cold War fears. In 1993, Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers did much the same for an early ’90s defined in part by the military might on display in the first Gulf War. Even Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty has quite a bit to recommend it.
But the first remake, Philip Kaufman’s 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, remains the strongest and most timely reimagining. Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Big Trouble in Little China) transplant the body-stealing pods to a ’70s San Francisco in which everyone already seems vaguely sedated and a little too into themselves to notice the world has started to fall apart. Brought to creepy life by Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and especially Leonard Nimoy, who’s cast as a decidedly un-Spock-like self-help guru, it’s the perfect reworking of the story for the Me Decade, one that’s unsettling through its final moments.
A hit in its day, Kaufman’s film has never been hard to find, but it’s nice to see it get the Blu-ray treatment it deserves here, one that includes a new transfer, an old Kaufman commentary, new interviews with key players, and more.
Set in an alternate 1970s not too far removed from the one captured in Kaufman’s film, Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s allegorical novel imagines a towering residential building that turns savage as residents turn against each other in a bloody clash. Headed by an enigmatic Tom Hiddleston, it’s a stylish but sometimes barely comprehensible film that often feels more like an exercise than a deeply considered adaptation.
The Lobster (Lionsgate)
Yorgos Lanthimos put himself on the international map with the disturbing, bleakly funny Dogtooth. The year’s The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and John C. Reilly, became an arthouse hit earlier this year thanks to a dark, allegorical comedy about finding love and, in the words of our own Vince Mancini, its “wonderful insight into the superficial similarities we sometimes use as a foot in the door with potential lovers.”
Keanu (Warner Bros.)
The world mourned the comedy lost when Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele decided to pull the plug on their Comedy Central series Key and Peele. Happily, it wasn’t the end of their partnership as the duo plans to continue working together on films and other projects. The first such effort, Keanu, is a pretty good, if a little disjointed, buddy crime comedy that sends the pair off in search of a lost kitten.
April and the Extraordinary World (Universal)
Robotic lizard-people and steampunk-inspired technology fill this animated feature from France that we called a “wondrously odd” environmental fable when it played theaters earlier this year.
A Hologram for the King (Lionsgate)
What if Tom Hanks starred in a Dave Eggers adaptation directed by Tom Tykwer and nobody noticed? That’s more or less what happened with A Hologram for the King, but perhaps, like Run, Lola, Run and Poison, an appreciative cult following awaits it.
In two weeks: The great ’80s cult classic that virtually nobody saw at the time.