This certainly isn’t the most bustling week of DVD/Blu-Ray releases we’ve had, as is often the case with the early months of summer. We’re still picking turds up off the floor of January and February, but there are some really entertaining films to be found, even amongst those I initially wrote off as lesser distractions. The common thing tying all these releases together? They all might have done better if they had more zombies in them.
Top 5 Releases
This is a compromise in two ways, the first being that it technically came out last Tuesday. That’s less of a restriction than the second, which is that I was heavily conflicted about the film overall. As I noted in my review back in October, it’s the work of two productions that don’t ultimately come together as one. On one end you have Tom Tykwer’s period adventures, from a tragic gay romance to a 70s murder mystery to some modern-day geriatric hi-jinks. All of those offered a exciting counterweight to the Wachowski’s deafening pontificating about past-lives and destiny through horribly cheesy characters and arcs. Cloud Atlas is divisive in and of itself, so of course plenty reacted to it with positive joy while others checked out of its infrequent ramblings. One thing’s for certain: It’s a one-of-a-kind film. That makes it worth seeing.
Wait, isn’t this another film that I wrote off at the time of its release? What changed? For one thing, I do not recommend reviewing movies under the duress of college work. For another, this is a film that shouldn’t be judged simply for not having the same production values as Warner Bros. afforded the Harry Potter films. Under a constricted budget, Richard LaGravenese did manage to pull a handful of delicious performances from its cast. A lot of what turned me on to Alice Englert’s and Alden Ehrenreich’s performances was their admittedly smaller work in Ginger & Rosa and Stoker, respectively. Here their charismatic presence really livens up the screen, as does some hilariously satirical villainy from Emma Thompson. It took me a while to come around, but Beautiful Creatures is a charming, ironic and honestly sweet fantasy romance, and well worth a look.
This was a movie I struggled to find last year, perhaps most simply for the soundscape it’s implied to offer by the title, not to mention the trailer. While it may simply focus on the goings on of a small community, tensions are raised as much by the private security presence as they are by the simple presence of raw sound. There’s not much else to know about the Brazilian film, but I’ll venture that there’s plenty to experience. I’ll certainly give it a chance.
Criterion offers us another weekly viewing suggestion, this time ripe from the chaotic year Mad Men is currently diagnosing: 1968. The rest, for lack of having seen the film, I’ll let Criterion’s description cover:
“With the U.S. in social upheaval, famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler decided to make a film about what the hell was going on. Medium Cool, his debut feature, plunges us into the moment. With its mix of fictional storytelling and documentary technique, this depiction of the working world and romantic life of a television cameraman (Robert Forster) is a visceral cinematic snapshot of the era, climaxing with an extended sequence shot right in the middle of the riots surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. An inventive commentary on the pleasures and dangers of wielding a camera, Medium Cool is as prescient a political film as Hollywood has ever produced.”
The lesson I’ve learned from this week’s DVD/Blu-Ray releases is to be okay with changing your mind, but be no less remorseful for not getting it right in the first place. Granted, a nor’easter is obviously not the ideal weather to go see a film in, much less the last theatrical one from Steven Soderbergh. After a confused first encounter, I revisited the psycho-sexual potboiler to find myself more taken by the bravura style the director brings to the table, and the social commentary being even further punctuated by the film’s many twists and turns. The film sadly didn’t take off like wildfire at the box office, so it’s understandable why Behind the Candelabra is heading to HBO. That said, Soderbergh has consistently deserved the big screen treatment throughout his career, and I hope it’s not too long before he regains his cinematic zeal! Side Effects is proof positive of the continued potency of his technique.
As is often the case with films from the bitter months of January & February, there’s not much gold to be found. The ABC’s of Death is a frantic pastiche of alternating giddy and plain dumb horror vignettes, but has some good grisly jolts packed into it. Arnold Schwarzenegger finally returned to the movie biz is as rowdy fashion as could be expected with The Last Stand. Jason Statham continues his repetitive lineup of essentially badass criminal protagonists with revenge film Parker.
Admittedly, all of those are choices are made better in comparison to Stand Up Guys, a painfully stale comedy that doesn’t even have the good fortune of charismatic performances. Yes, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken can deliver performances this terrible! Arguably better, worse, or equally as awful is Struck by Lightning, the irritating comedy written by and starring Glee star Chris Colfer, who uses his fame to launch a high school tale that’s not only bizarrely inhuman, but also manhandles mental disability into something with zero pathos.
Streaming Pick of the Week
Instantly Streaming via Netflix
Between work and school, it’s hard enough to make time for simply a 2-hour film. Of course by technical standards, Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake isn’t exactly a film, playing instead over 7 episodes on the Sundance Channel, with only 4 of those being directed by Campion. Whatever justification you need, though, Top of the Lake is an engrossing sustained narrative for most of its 6-hour runtime. Turning a simple molestation mystery on its head with a spider web of sexual insecurities hidden beneath the stony veneer of a lakeside New Zealand community, Campion and company carefully gauge the character revelations for optimal impact. The more we learn about Elisabeth Moss’ Robin, the less solid she seems, and for the better. Her emotional disintegration over the course of this intimate, yet symbolically massive, procedural makes it so much more than a simply TV drama. It’s in many ways the peak of Jane Campion’s creative career, though perhaps not her most focused effort. Nonetheless, it deserves your full attention, and is best taken in one whirlwind sitting. You know, like a real movie, which is what it is.