There are plenty of new Blu-Ray offerings this week, but there are only a few worth getting particularly excited about (and as usual, they are Criterion releases). I tried to dig for some more picks that might be worth your time, provided you’re interested in something a bit more interesting than sequels to Despicable Me and Fast and Furious.
Top 5 New Releases
In the running for the most divisive film of the year, this challenging, semi-autobiographical movie about a rural couple living in Mexico won Carlos Reygadas the top directing prize at Cannes back in 2012. Now that American audiences have finally been exposed to it, there are some who probably wish they hadn’t been. Still, the movie is not without its staunch defenders; Andrew O’Hehir loved it, as did the ever-credible Manohla Dargis.
Lux even failed to find a consensus at Film Misery. Duncan hilariously complained “when the devil comes into your house with a toolbox and his dick swinging… you know you’ve done something wrong,” whereas G Clark briefly gave it a mention in our rundown of our favorite early 2013 films. Having not yet seen the film, I can’t break the tie. But given how movies that garner this kind of sharply divided response tend to attract my attention, I will have to give Reygadas’ film a chance.
Technically, Mary Poppins doesn’t turn fifty for another nine months. But why should Disney allow pesky “dates” and “facts” impede the marketing for the re-release of their beloved, Academy Award-winning masterpiece, especially as they prepare to distribute a new movie telling the storied history of that very same beloved, Academy Award-winning masterpiece? All snark aside, it’s very likely I’ll be shelling out a tuppence or two for this 50th Anniversary release myself, given how little of the movie I actually remember. (It’s telling that I know the lyrics to the Simpsons parody songs better than the ones they lampoon.) If anything, revisiting Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent will make the nostalgic trip worthwhile.
Mads Mikkelsen took the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his performance here of a schoolteacher wrongly accused of abusing a young student, and it was a prize well-earned. While his own character’s innocence is never in doubt, and while circumstances of the film make little room for ambiguity (perhaps to its mild detriment), Mikkelsen finds complexity to his character. At once, he fully exploits his frustration and bemusement of his circumstances to make him appear justly wronged, and he also taps into the man’s innate immaturity, gently conforming him to stereotypes that lend more plausibly to the moment the torches and pitchforks of his former friends come out. The movie itself doesn’t quite match Mikkelsen; it’s a rather conventional social parable, warning nobly against the dangers of our own mob mentality impulses. But there’s solid filmmaking to be found in the mix, a serviceable template for a superb performance that few will mention this awards season.
There’s a reason we included this gem in our Classic Documentaries Marathon last year. While most folks today look to nonfiction films for quirky subjects or political agitprop, the very best ones tend to dedicate their entire runtime to a single character (or a group of characters) who ultimately are far too interesting of subjects to be left for the contrivances of fiction. Grey Gardens, which chronicles the daily rituals of Edie Windsor and her aging daughter, is rightly considered one of the most iconic character studies the nonfiction genre has ever produced. It is a remarkable cinematic feat not merely because watching Big and Little Edie drive each other up the wall is a complete blast, but for the profoundly quizzical relationship that the filmmakers develop with their subjects. It is unclear, and unnerving, who exactly is recipient of Little Edie’s growing infatuation: the director(s) holding a camera to her face, or the camera itself.
In case the core message of his last film Hugo was not painfully clear, Martin Scorsese’s pet project in this twilight stage of his career is the preservation and revival of great films – ones that might otherwise have no chance of survival. His World Cinema Project, founded in 2007, works to serve that goal. WCP’s partnership with Criterion to release these six international titles – in addition to being a true force of unequivocal good in the movie universe – might be the most justified blind purchase for any cinephile on your holiday shopping list. More information on Scorsese’s World Cinema Project can be found here, and more information on the specs of this box set can be found here.
The seven titles being released are:
- Touki Bouki (1973, dir. Djobril Piop Mambéty) – Senegal
- Redes (1936, dir. Emilio Gómez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann) – Mexico
- A River Called Titas (1973, dir. Ritwik Ghatak) – India/Bangladesh
- Dry Summer (1964, dir. Metin Erksan) – Turkey
- Trances (1981, dir. Ahmed El Maânouni) – Morocco
- The Housemaid (1960, dir. Kim Ki-young) – South Korea
Also New on DVD/Blu-Ray
As I alluded to earlier, two mega-hits from two mega-franchises came out on Blu-Ray this week as well. Despicable Me 2 and Fast and Furious 6 will likely rank among the year’s highest-grossing films (if not necessarily the best). I’ve seen precisely zero movies in either franchise, so I can’t quite tell you how these ones stack up. But something tells you that the neither Despicable nor Furious devotees are exactly pining for my say on these installments anyway.
A 2-pack release of Muppet Treasure Island and The Great Muppet Caper is also coming out this week and, while I haven’t seen Treasure Island since I was a kid, I vaguely remember a perfectly hammy performance from Tim Curry as Long John Silver. And Great Muppet Caper? That one’s got me more excited; I’ve gone on record as saying it is not only my favorite of the Muppet movies, but that it is one of the best TV-to-movie adaptations ever made.
With both Captain Phillips and Finding Mr. Banks generating buzz both with the box office and with awards precursors, it’s probably safe to say Tom Hanks is finally crawling out of the little slump he’s been marooned in since his last hit (2010’s Toy Story 3). You might mark the occasion by seeing just how far Hanks has come by revisiting Big, which is getting a 25th Anniversary re-release. If anything, the movie will remind you that the man does comedy, and he does it beautifully. Even if you don’t care much about Hanks, Penny Marshall’s comedy is worth another look anyway; it is one of the sweetest, gentlest, funniest mainstream movies of the past quarter-century.
After garnering accolades for her two previous films, it’s a shame that word on Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely has been so tepid. I still want to check it out, though, if only because of the lingering affection I have for Humpday and Her Sister’s Sister.
Streaming Pick of the Week
Currently available on Hulu Plus.
Arguably the best non-period film he ever made, featuring the finest non-Mifune performance he’s ever directed, Akira Kurosawa’s fourteenth film proves the Japanese legend deserves as much recognition for his skill with intimate human drama as he was given for his epic warscapes. Takashi Shimura plays Mr. Watanabe, a listless government official who learns he will soon die of stomach cancer and, after some soul-searching, determines to use his bureaucratic savvy to leave one modest, simple, good thing behind as his legacy. Never too saccharine, always humane and emotionally complex, Ikiru is one of the truly great films about dying, in part because it never allows the tumult of Watanabe’s life to devolve into melodrama or insincerity. But it’s still an immensely satisfying work, on a surprisingly fundamental level. The image of Shimura on a swing set, singing an old childhood song in the snow, might be the most stirring moment ever to grace a Kurosawa film.