New on DVD & Blu-Ray: July 23, 2013

If it’s been some time since we’ve told you what’s good on DVD and Blu-Ray, that’s mostly because there usually isn’t much during the summer season. The emphasis of these months is very much on the big screen, whereas the DVD releases are mostly riddled with the January-March fodder we were rolling our eyes at earlier this year. Occasionally, though, there are enough indie standouts and Criterion showcases to warrant recommendation, as is the case with this week.

So look on below to see what’s worth your dollar this week!

Top 5 New Releases

Twixt5. Twixt (2011)

All I can say is “Finally!” That really is all that can be said of Francis Ford Coppola’s little-seen latest, a jaunty low-budget horror fantasy which screened at Toronto Film Festival two years back to little… well, clearly no avail at all. It got no theatrical release in the US and it never sparked much enthusiasm among critics. What can be said of Coppola’s chocolate-titled and tinted film is that it brings him back to his early, grislier roots. Might this be some cult gem that a handful of supporters later hail as a classic? Judging personally from the trailer, I kind of hope not. The production values look queasily low, though that might be what Coppola intended. In spite its student aesthetic, cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. still looks to be crafting exquisite visuals out of what little there is to work with. This was never going to be a conventional hit, but it’s worth checking out to see what the aging master is exercising his craft with nowadays.

Trance4. Trance (2013)

Speaking of master filmmakers going back to their early genre roots, Danny Boyle recently took a break from prestige awards-baiting fare to turn out this sleek, polished, mind-bending thriller. Starring James McAvoy and Vincent Cassel as two thieves trying to one-up each other in possession of a priceless work of art, Rosario Dawson radically changed the equation when she enters the situation as a hypnotist. Commence several twists and turns that boggle the mind, but leave the heart uninitiated, which is exactly what we needed from Boyle at this juncture in his career. Again, it’s the cinematographer that really stands out, Anthony Dod Mantle adding to London his trademark deep-hued sheen and most frolicking in the mind-bending compositions on display. If it fails to endure as deeply thought-provoking cinema, it’s vibrant good time while it lasts.

The Ice Storm3. The Ice Storm (1998) – Criterion Collection Blu-Ray

It seems there’s never an occasion when Ang Lee’s 70s-set family drama isn’t absolutely welcome. You’ll recall Justin ranked it #4 in the scheme of Lee’s filmography, saying “Lee appropriately covers the frustrations, the disappointments and the anger of his characters under a heavy layer of restraint, only occasionally allowing for real emotions reach the surface. It’s quite devastating and deeply honest.” I found time to hail the empathetic mastery of The Ice Storm myself, saying “As ill-prepared as the children shown may be, their parents certainly aren’t any better off, with allusions to Nixon era indiscretions giving further background to a time of uncertainty. Their vain attempts at kindling happiness in the most backhanded manipulations are made so wrenching for how sympathetically these characters are shown.” If our words are worth nothing, take Criterion’s fine recommendation!

Ginger & Rosa2. Ginger & Rosa (2013)

No other film this year has had me wishing it were better more than Ginger & Rosa, a film which only comes short because its sights seem so high. Detailing the emotional rollercoaster of Elle Fanning’s Ginger as she deals with the growing nuclear age and the fragmentation of her own nuclear family, I reviewed the period drama back in March with a mix of love and disappointment. Perhaps it’s the shades of brilliance that emerge every now and again, either through Fanning’s absorbing and imploding facial maneuvers or D.P. Robbie Ryan’s radioactively bright compositions. It may be Potter’s own failure to realize just how explosive the emotions she’s playing with are, often writing her characters tidily out of corners. It’s to the film’s credit that I was left wanting something fiercer, because that ambition is there and worth taking note of.

Babette's Feast1. Babette’s Feast (1987) – Criterion Collection Blu-Ray

Criterion’s well known for championing lesser hailed films in hopes of extending them to a new audience of cinephiles. With that in mind, Babette’s Feast isn’t the most masterful or trailblazing of efforts for them to raise, but it’s certainly an appreciable one. Set in a hastily judgmental Christian community in Denmark, the eponymous dinner doesn’t come until the 2nd half of the film, before which simple relationship dynamics are built between Babette and the sisters who take her in. The feast serves as a metaphor for artistic struggle and achievement, as food often signifies in film. It’s by no means a revelation, but it’s a worthy artistic achievement to raise for consideration.

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PietàThis week brings many new releases, but exactly how many of them are worthwhile is questionable. G Clark noted in his review how Golden Lion winner Pieta was some distance below Kim Ki-Duk’s best films, but you may want a look for yourself. If you want a James McAvoy crime thriller that isn’t Trance, Welcome to the Punch may be just your thing. If you’re really hankering for a showcase of Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth front-and-center, go ahead with Love and Honor. And if you’d rather see a French version of upcoming Vince Vaughn comedy The Delivery Man (trailer here), then Starbuck is for you. But again, pursue at your own risk.

Streaming Pick of the Week

Happy-Go-LuckyHappy-Go-Lucky (2008)

Instantly Streaming via Netflix

Cate Blanchett is set to shred the big screen apart this Friday with her apparently vicious performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. That’s all well and good, but I figured I’d point your gaze to a film that works as a delightful counterweight to the hysteria of Allen’s latest. It just so happens that Happy-Go-Lucky stars Blanchett’s co-star Sally Hawkins, playing a character who requires a lot less to make herself truly happy. That is if Hawkins’ Poppy is authentically happy at all. If it’s just a put-on, then Hawkins and director Mike Leigh do well to mask it, building an infectiously bright and bubbly portrait of stagnant happiness. Eddie Marsan provides the cynical opposition to Poppy as her depressed driving instructor, and it’s there that supposedly lightweight film takes on deeper shades of conflict.

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  • “Happy-Go-Lucky” is just wonderful.

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