Filmmakers have made the case that, instead of going to film school, young would-be directors might be better off just listening to director commentaries. And if that’s the educational route you’ve chosen, two of today’s most interesting directors are telling all on new Blu-ray releases. Want to know more about how Barry Jenkins brought James Baldwin’s powerful novel “If Beale Street Could Talk” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) to the big screen, or how Karyn Kusama crafted the bleak neo-noir “Destroyer” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)? They tell all on these essential new releases. (And if you’re spending your film-school money on self-education, spring for two new streaming services: The Criterion Channel and Ovid.TV, both of which have impressive catalogs of international, arthouse and documentary cinema from the world’s greatest screen artists.)
Also available: S. Craig Zahler (“Brawn in Cell Block 99,” “Bone Tomahawk”) is at it again with “Dragged Across Concrete” (Lionsgate), a cops-gone-rogue heist saga starring Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson.
Few directors in the history of cinema have been as prolific or as eclectic as Japan’s Takashi Miike. He’s made something like 70 theatrical features that have spanned the gamut from the harrowing “Audition” and “Ichi the Killer” to family-friendly movies, with weird hybrids like the horror-comedy-musical “The Happiness of the Katakuris.” He has often cited Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers” as one of his favorite films, so it’s no surprise that Miike’s oeuvre now includes “Terra Formars” (Arrow), about plucky space explorers duking it out with intergalactic cockroaches. This 2016 manga adaptation (starring Rinko Kikuchi of “Babel” and “The Brothers Bloom”) shows the always resourceful and energetic filmmaker taking sci-fi adventure to delirious new extremes.
Also available: A Parisian orphan learns about the world in the lush French countryside in “School of Life” (Distrib/Icarus Films); in the psychedelic horror tale “Hagazussa” (Doppelgänger), a witch repays the cruelty of villagers in 15th century Germany; festival favorite “The Charmer” (Film Movement) weaves a thriller out of an Iranian man in Denmark and his quest to marry a Danish woman so he can stay in the country.
Former mercenaries think they’re on a mission of mercy before realizing they’ve been tricked into a heist in the Hong Kong action film “Golden Job” (Well Go USA Entertainment); a white-collar worker becomes a “Cam Girl” (Omnibus Entertainment) in a steamy new Italian drama; “Mission of Honor” (Cinedigm) tells the true story of the brave pilots of Squadron 303 during the Battle of Britain.
Two of international animation’s most acclaimed titles from 2018 have recently arrived on home video: Brazil’s “Tito and the Birds” (Shout Studios) and Japan’s “A Silent Voice: The Movie” (Shout Factory/Eleven Arts); Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson team up for “The Aspern Papers” (Cohen Film Collection), adapted from the novella by Henry James.
Outrageous and controversial — which might have something to do with why it’s taken three years for this movie to show up on DVD — “Tickled” (Magnolia Home Entertainment) is one of those great examples of a filmmaker setting out to make one kind of documentary and then suddenly finding him- or herself creating something else entirely. Directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve thought they were exploring a harmless sexual fetish (tickling) only to wind up facing intimidation, harassment, homophobia and secrecy. (The confrontation between the filmmakers and one of the movie’s subjects at the film’s L.A. premiere remains the stuff of legend.)
Also available: With allegations regarding a president who enjoys Adderall, what better time to check out “Nazi Junkies” (Omnibus Entertainment), which explores addiction at all levels of the Third Reich; meanwhile, set during the Cold War, “Target: St. Louis” (IndiePix Films) looks at a secret government program that tested radiation on unknowing subjects in poor and segregated neighborhoods in Missouri; one of the greatest living filmmakers steps in front of the camera for “Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki” (Shout Factory/GKIDS), a portrait of the anime master.
“The Gospel According to André” (Magnolia Home Entertainment) takes us through the extraordinary life of leading fashionista André Leon Talley; Peter Bogdanovich salutes one of the movies’ greatest comedians with “The Great Buster” (Cohen Film Collection), an examination of the legendary silent-film director and star Buster Keaton; cinema love of another era entirely gets its due in “At the Drive-In” (MVD Visual), which sees a vintage open-air cinema trying to survive the changeover to digital projection.
“They Saved Hitler’s Brain” may have to surrender the title for Nuttiest Exploitation Title Referencing the Führer to “The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot” (RLJE Films), an oddball new feature starring Sam Elliott as the titular so-and-so who brings his Nazi-hunting skills to bear in tracking down and destroying a plague-bearing Sasquatch before it can infect mankind. This is the kind of movie you either never want to see or need to see immediately, so respond accordingly. And if you wanted a making-of documentary and an audio commentary from the writer-director (Robert D. Krzykowski), you’re doubly in luck.
Also available: “Scream and Scream Again” (Kino Lorber) offers a classic horror trifecta, as Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing star in the tale of a blood-draining serial killer and the authorities who pursue him; is an old neighborhood really possessed by Satan, or is that just “Superstition” (Scream Factory)? Some fun blaxploitation options this month: “The Take” / “Black Gunn” – Double Feature (Mill Creek Entertainment) puts Billy Dee Williams and Jim Brown in respective charge (the former’s adversaries include a mobster played by Frankie Avalon), while the luminous Tamara Dobson dismantles Shelley Winters’ narcotics empire in the classic “Cleopatra Jones” (Warner Archive Collection).
“Warning Sign” (Scream Factory) offers an A-movie cast (San Waterston, Kathleen Quinlan, Yaphet Kotto) and a B-movie plot (small-town research facility accidentally develops deadly super-virus), and the results are cult-film nirvana; Mary Page Keller and Andrew Stevens move into the wrong colonial mansion in the haunted-house saga “Scared Stiff” (Arrow); Hammer horror meets Shaw Bros. kung fu in “The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires” (Scream Factory), and this new Blu-ray also features the U.S. theatrical version, known as “The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula.”
If the remake has whet your appetite for the 1989 original, check out the glorious 4K release of “Pet Sematary” (Paramount Home Media); the rare giallo to be set in Ireland, “The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire” (Arrow) nonetheless offers all the trippy thrills of the genre’s heyday; not to be confused with the Nicolas Roeg film, or its impending remake, this “The Witches” (Scream Factory) stars Joan Fontaine as a schoolteacher who soon discovers the spooky truth about a seemingly innocent British village; Boris Karloff makes the leap from Frankenstein’s monster to the doctor himself in the groovily-titled “Frankenstein 1970” (Warner Archive Collection).
After “Rosemary’s Baby,” lots of Hollywood’s golden-age stars wanted their own horror hit, and “The Manitou” (Scream Factory) managed to attract the likes of Tony Curtis, Stella Stevens, Ann Sothern and Burgess Meredith; a petty crook (Jonny Brugh of “What We Do in the Shadows”) regrets stealing an ancient Chinese time-travel device in the horror comedy “Mega Time Squad” (Dark Sky Films); director Jack Arnold (“Creature from the Black Lagoon”) terrorized an Arizona town with a “Tarantula!” (Scream Factory) in this giant-insect classic; fans of spaghetti Westerns hold “Keoma” (Arrow), starring Franco Nero and Woody Strode, in high regard for both its scope and its action.
The 2016 presidential election reminded a lot of cultural observers of Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd,” and now this classic has a gorgeous hi-def Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection. Andy Griffith gives an intense and unsettling performance as Lonesome Rhodes, the good-ol’-boy who becomes the toast of early TV and soon exploits the power he holds over an ever-widening audience. Budd Schulberg’s script is one of the all-time greats, and Kazan assembles a powerhouse ensemble that includes Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Lee Remick and Tony Franciosa. The Criterion release includes interviews, a 2005 documentary, and an essay by TheWrap’s own April Wolfe.
Also available: Wouldst thou like to live hi-def-liciously with a brand new 4K release of “The Witch” (Lionsgate); Constance Bennett is the star of “Our Betters” (Warner Archive Collection) but Tyrell Davis‘ ultra-gay and very pre-Code supporting turn walks off with the movie; one of Jonathan Demme’s best films, “Melvin and Howard” (Twilight Time), scored a well-deserved Oscar for Mary Steenburgen; vintage British thriller “Torment” (Juno Films Select), an early film from director John Guillermin, sees one of two mystery-writing brothers deciding to try out murder for real.
Alain Resnais’ “Mélo” (Arrow Academy) (short for “melodrama”) stars his wife Sabine Azéma as the woman who comes between her husband and his best friend; The Criterion Collection offers new Blu-ray releases of two essential first features from female directors — Barbara Loden’s “Wanda” and Gillian Armstrong’s “My Brilliant Career,” the latter featuring Judy Davis’ breakout performance; on the opposite side of the spectrum, “Hard Ticket to Hawaii” and “Malibu Express” (both Mill Creek Entertainment), from T&A exploitation king Andy Sidaris, make their hi-def debut.
If “Captain Marvel” made you miss Blockbuster Video, the new releases of 1980s faves “Sheena” and Alan Rudolph’s “Songwriter” (both Mill Creek Entertainment) feature packaging that calls to mind vintage VHS boxes; Greta Garbo is “A Woman of Affairs” (Warner Archive Collection) in this early talkie that pairs her with frequent co-star John Gilbert; George Segal makes for a very un-007 brand of spy in the 1960s cult classic “The Quiller Memorandum” (Twilight Time); after directing episodic, documentaries, music videos and a telefilm starring a young Reese Witherspoon, Diane Keaton made her feature directorial debut with the lovely and understated “Unstrung Heroes” (Kino Lorber).
Jackie Chan and Maggie Cheung make for a dynamite screen duo, and “Police Story” & “Police Story 2” (The Criterion Collection) makes a double feature of some of their best Hong Kong action work; Martin Scorsese championed the 1998 Russian comedy “Khrustalyov, My Car!” (Arrow Academy) when he chaired that year’s Cannes Film Festival jury; during the brief window when porn and Euro-arthouse bumped up against each other, the French import “Emmanuelle” (Kino Lorber) was a heavy-breathing hit in the U.S.; Doris Day gets up to espionage capers and Paul Lynde does drag in the goofy “The Glass Bottom Boat” (Warner Archive Collection).
“Three Coins in the Fountain” (Twilight Time) was the progenitor of what “Bad Movies We Love” authors Ed Margulies and Stephen Rebello called the “A Gaggle of Starlets” movie; Sam Neill and Martin Sheen star in “Enigma” (S’more Entertainment), which has the CIA attempting to foil a plot to assassinate Soviet dissidents; castrati were never sexier than in the lush, Oscar-nominated drama “Farinelli” (Film Movement Classics).
The Cartoon Network: it’s not just for kids and stoned college students! And if you want to catch up on the cable channel’s more innovative and epic storytelling from recent years, two new releases are a great place to start. “Adventure Time”: The Complete Series takes you through a wide-ranging saga that will forever change the way you look at backpacks and bubblegum, while “Steven Universe”: Season 2 approaches gender (among other subjects) in a kid-friendly way that feels truly revolutionary.
Also available: There’s little doubt as to who “Ivana Trump’s For Love Alone” (Mill Creek Entertainment) is really about, and that’s part of the fun of this trashy 1996 roman-à-clef; “Archer: Danger Island” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) sees TV’s booziest, snarkiest spy thrust into some very Indiana Jones situations; before Bobby Ewing turned up in that infamous “Dallas” shower, Patrick Duffy was already used to being wet, having been the “Man From Atlantis” (Warner Archive Collection); “The Big C”: The Complete Series (Mill Creek Entertainment) approached cancer in a different way for TV, and gave Laura Linney another rich character for her extensive gallery.
For fans of international TV, there’s plenty more to enjoy from the folks at Acorn TV, including “Wire in the Blood”: The Complete Collection; “Finding Joy”; “The Heart Guy,” Series 3; “Rake,” Series 5: The Final Season; and “A Place to Call Home,” Season 6 – The Final Chapter.
Ben Stiller flexes a very different style of directing in the prison drama “Escape at Dannemora” (Showtime/CBS/Paramount); the History series “Project Blue Book” (Lionsgate) investigates real-life close encounters; “The Dick Cavett Show”: Inside the Minds of… Volume 3 (S’more Entertainment) puts legends like Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor on the famed talk-show host’s couch; “Ray Donovan”: The Sixth Season (Showtime/CBS/Paramount) sees the L.A. tough guy heading to New York City to put his life back together.