Now this is a stellar week for DVD/Blu-Ray releases, so much so that I couldn’t bring myself to cut one of the six worthwhile titles this week loose. Filled to the brim with fabulous indie films of 2013 and acclaimed films getting the proper Criterion treatment, as well as a streaming pick of the week that’s no less powerful itself. We’ve got quite a showcase for you, so scroll on down.
Top 6 New Releases
I admit that The East is not a necessarily resounding indie thriller, but it’s a highly necessary one to prove what kind of commercial potential smaller budgeted films are capable of. This follows a pretty typical procedural model, following Brit Marling’s secret agent Sarah, adopting the name Jane when she infiltrates an eco-terrorist group called The East, though to my memory they never explained why they’re called that. As the film progresses we get one “jam” of a sinister corporation after the next, teasing a willfully dicey eye-for-an-eye political mind behind The East‘s own actions.
The East may lose its gusto as it hastily wraps up its ending in a way that oddly feels like it’s setting up for a sequel, but as somebody who just finished up chastising sequels as an entire cinematic practice, I’d actually be willing to see this as a franchise. It helps that both Brit Marling and Ellen Page’s faces are given more observational ambiguity here than they’ve received in quite some time, if ever. Again, nothing major, but a solid thriller, which isn’t as common in the mainstream spectrum nowadays.
At some point I need to give Richard Linklater the marathon treatment, because I shamefully haven’t seen most of the films that are his call to fame. Dazed and Confused, Waking Life and his 1991 breakthrough Slacker still remain untapped on my watchlist, and their quite likely more crucial examples of the American filmmaker’s domestic focus than his more masterful Before series’ romantic European adventures. With Slacker now getting a Criterion Blu-Ray reissue, the time is ripe to delve into the older works of one of current cinema’s increasingly ambitious filmmakers.
This film landed in theaters over a year after its premiere at Sundance 2012, so by the time it finally did release it was something of a quiet buzz on the spectrum while audiences went all in for similarly static cinematic experience Upstream Color. Though Simon Killer matches neither the precision or elliptical nature of Shane Carruth’s standout, it is nonetheless a hypnotic film about the electrically wired nature of the gaze. Those looking at the title may walk expecting something bloodier, but there’s something less obviously suspenseful, and thus all the more captivating, about existing in the fuzzy, agitated head space of Brady Corbet’s titular character. It’s one of the year’s most addictive, frenetically focused surprises and it frankly needs to be seen and marveled at before the more outspoken Oscar players steal focus from such niche neon marvels as this.
I think it was nearly a year ago that I lamented in another DVD/Blu-Ray round-up my desire to delve into the films of Ingmar Bergman, but my self-stifling failure to do so year after year. Consider that lament reinstalled, but beyond my own guileless perspective of his work, Autumn Sonata is a notable career touchstone in that it features one of the last major performances of Ingrid Bergman’s career. The story of a classical pianist reconnecting with a neglected daughter sounds similarly melancholic in tone to Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, to note a recent example. I’m not totally sure if this is the best place to start retrospecting his career, but it’s another crucial reminder that such a retrospective is extremely necessary.
I’m eager to take another look at Behind the Candelabra, arbitrarily because of its creative arts (near) sweep of the Emmys, but genuinely because I was taken aback by its portrait at first glance. First and foremost, this is no ordinary depiction of homosexuality, which is to say they don’t play it down as an emphatic character aspect like the characters of Andrew Haigh’s Weekend. “Stare as long as you want,” Michael Douglas’ Liberace says during a performance, but there’s no shortage of piercing glares on display here. Behind the Candelabra is fully willing to admit the unorthodox living situation that Liberace and Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson are in, but don’t diminish their humanity in the process. Douglas and Damon cut through the judgments, both in the diegetic story and from the viewing audience, to reveal a mutual desire for the kind of connection they must sacrifice part of themselves to attain. I don’t know if the film maintains its gusto throughout, but it’s another of this year’s most wary depictions of excess
People who don’t like any of Sofia Coppola’s films hopelessly confuse me, not that their reasons for disliking her style aren’t understandable. I just feel they aren’t argued in a particularly valid way, often devolving into blunt statements of materialism and selfishness. Those who are able to look past Coppola’s privileged upbringing, however, will see that her films have often been of a sensory quality that’s part hypnosis, part cry-for-help. The Bling Ring is perhaps her most critically minded film to date, but even as she questions the recklessness of the eponymous teen gang, it’s hard not to get swept up in rush of their freedom. It’s clear Coppola is not for everyone, but as Justin stated in his review, The Bling Ring is “for those seeking a gentler, less serious-minded exploration of American materialism”. For all that gentleness, though, Coppola’s film becomes ever more deeply resonant in its minute gestures than most films are in massive waves of tragedy.
Given the fact that I simply had to allow for 6 films in this week’s spotlight rundown, there’s plenty beyond the fringes of this week’s releases worth checking out. I’m not a proponent of globetrotting zombie thriller World War Z in the slightest, but Justin found things worth liking about the film in moments, even if it didn’t totally amount to solid cinema. Internet media thriller Disconnect had some proponents earlier in the year, but copped away from making a genuine statement about internet relationships in favor of typical thriller beats. It took no time at all for Scenic Route to making from theaters to DVD, speaking for the dull nature of the gratuitous road thriller.
Perhaps the most promising of the other new releases this weekend is Gimme the Loot, a comedy about two graffiti artists who launch an above-their-heads scheme. Premiering at last year’s SXSW festival, it’s had nearly as long a road to the big screen as Simon Killer, so that may a roughed gem worth checking out. Meanwhile in TV-land, the first season of Bates Motel hits shelves today, and while it’s a typical and trapped prequel to Psycho, Vera Farmiga’s veracious performance is still my favorite to win the Drama Actress Emmy this Sunday. She’ll obviously lose to Claire Danes, but I’m holding out hope for Farmiga. She’s a treasure!
Streaming Pick of the Week
Instantly Streaming via Netflix
We’re not likely to have any shortage of 2013 streaming titles worth checking out on Netflix any time soon, which is great news for the little films that you may have missed earlier this year, such as this delicate Australian drama set in Germany during the dying days of Hitler’s regime. Like fellow recent streaming title After Lucia, it’s another examination of teenage brutalities, but in this case ones implanted in the Nazi regime’s historic cultural brainwashing that makes its titular character Lore her own monster to grapple with. At the crucial age where not all darker influences are irreversible, Lore’s internal conflict is gorgeously reciprocated by the grim visual tendencies of D.P. Adam Arkapaw, who just one the creative arts Emmy for cinematography on Top of the Lake, a similarly subdued standout of chilling atmosphere, but without as inky a gloss as Lore has. I delve deeper into these aspects in my review, but it’s a film you should see and judge for yourself first.