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.
Red Dawn (Shout! Factory)
Until recently, it seemed as if history had destined this 1984 John Milius (Conan the Barbarian, Big Wednesday) movie to the status of a Cold War curio. But history, as has been noted before, has a way of repeating itself, and with tensions between Russia and the U.S. heating up again, this U.S.S.R.-invades-America has a new sort of resonance. Sort of. Red Dawn was pretty absurd even in ’84, but that just makes it all the more fascinating. A friend of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola — he wrote the original screenplay to Apocalypse Now — Milius has always espoused a brand of politics all his own, one that sees the world through militaristic terms above all. Here he lets that philosophy play out in an America that’s fallen to communist forces and can only be saved by the guerrilla actions of high school students in the resistance. (With a cast that includes Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Lea Thompson, and Charlie Sheen, it doubles as a who’s who of young ’80s stars.) The politics are hysterical and the action well-staged, making it both an amazing time capsule and a one-of-a-kind action movie that only one director could ever created.
Being There (Criterion)
Peter Sellers made one film after starring in this 1979 Hal Ashby movie about Chance, a gardener who ascends to a position of great power in Washington by seeming happenstance, but this is the best performance to cap his career. After displaying his chameleonic abilities in film after film, he took on a character defined in many ways by his blankness. Having lived a sheltered, contented life and learning about the real world primarily through television, Chance enters the world as a middle-aged innocent. The sharp, melancholy films watches as the people Chance meets project what they want on him, working toward a final scene as ambiguous in its own way as the finales of Blowup and Inception. Melvyn Douglas and Shirley MacLaine deliver superb supporting performances and the whole film confirms Ashby as the most overlooked great director of the 1970s, so it’s nice to see it getting the deluxe treatment.
Multiple Maniacs (Criterion)
John Waters’ second feature film, and creative breakthrough, remains hilarious, repulsive, and completely compelling. (We wrote more about it here.)
There was a lot of handwringing a while back about whether or not HBO could stay relevant after the high-profile failure of Vinyl and with the end in sight for Game of Thrones. But it’s quietly been on a winning streak thanks to a handful of smaller-scale series, like Issa Rae’s half-hour comedy about being young, black, single and unsatisfied in L.A.
Of the two animated features Disney released this year, Zootopia got a lot more attention (and an Oscar). But don’t sleep on Moana, a winning, South Pacific-set musical with terrific songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and winning performances from Duane Johnson and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho.
Speaking of great performances, you’ll find plenty in this bunch of awards season films making their way to home video. Paul Verhoeven’s Elle isn’t easy viewing and would fall apart without Isabelle Huppert’s work as a rape victim who responds unusually to the crime. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis couldn’t be better in Fences. And though Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta got a bit lost in the year-end rush, it’s both a fine addition to his filmography and spotlight for stars Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte, who play the title character at different ages. Finally, Pablo Lorrain’s Jackie is a wonder of intense, immersive historical storytelling anchored by a career-best Natalie Portman performance. In a race dominated by the Moonlight vs. La La Land talk, neither quite got the attention they deserved but both are destined to be talked about for years once more viewers catch up with them.
Firestarter (Scream! Factory)
This Drew Barrymore-starring Stephen King adaptation isn’t among the best movie versions of King’s work, but it’s a brisk thriller that’s also one of the building blocks of Stranger Things.
Valley of the Gwangi (Warner Archive)
Before Jurassic Park there was this adventure movie in which cowboys stumble upon what can only be called a lost world filled with dinosaurs. It’s fun, and the Ray Harryhausen effects are among the effects master’s best.
Demon Seed (Warner Archive)
One of the darkest science fiction films of the 1970s, a decade not short on dark sci-fi, this Dean Koontz adaptation finds Julie Christie imprisoned within a home run by a super-intelligent computer with sinister designs.
Robocop 2(Shout! Factory)
Robocop 3 (Shout! Factory)
Neither of these sequels to Paul Verhoeven’s masterful science fiction satire are as good as the original, but both are worth a look for some of the ideas it attempts — both have their roots in Frank Miller screenplays — and, in Robocop 2 at least, Irvin Kershner’s skillful direction.