You’ve most likely seen one of the year’s three high-profile releases about the Manson murders, but you haven’t seen the most essential one until you check out “Charlie Says” (IFC/Shout Factory), in which “American Psycho” collaborators Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner examine the brainwashed women of the cult, and how their understanding of their abuse at the hands of Manson also led them to understand their own culpability. It’s a haunting, disturbing look at manipulation and exploitation, but it’s underscored by a sense of growing empowerment and agency. The film is a powerful and empathetic examination of damaged human beings swept up into truly awful circumstances.
Also available: The haunting and beautiful “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (Lionsgate) takes a meditative look at male friendship, family secrets, and the price of gentrification; in “Deep Murder” (Screen Media), the cast of a soft-core porn movie discovers they’re actually the cast of a slasher movie and must figure out how to survive in this meta-horror-comedy; Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine play pals who figure out that they’re perfect for each other over a series of other people’s weddings in the rom-com “Plus One” (RLJE Films).
Laura Dern gives another standout performance as the real-life pen pan of a wrongly-accused arsonist in Edward Zwick’s “Trial By Fire” (Lionsgate); in “Miss Arizona” (Cinedigm), a former beauty queen uses her pageant skills (and her SUV) to help out a quartet of women fleeing abusive relationships.
Zhang Yimou scores with another breathtaking martial arts saga with “Shadow” (Well Go USA Entertainment), a film that guarantees you’ll never look at umbrellas quite the same way again. (Here, bumbershoots become bladed implements of death.) Design and story meld, as Yimou uses an ancient legend and a near-monochromatic color scheme to explore duality and the yin and yang of existence. If you want a subtle way to show off how great films can look and sound on your home theater system, pick up the 4K release.
Also available: The bold “Rafiki” (Film Movement) was initially banned in its home nation of Kenya for daring to tell a lesbian love story, but it has been acclaimed around the globe as a breakthrough film; “The Girl in the Fog” (Icarus Films) stars Toni Servillo (“The Great Beauty”) as a special agent sent to investigate a young girl’s disappearance; Honor Swinton Byrne got rave reviews at Sundance for her portrayal of a young film student involved with the absolute wrong man in “The Souvenir” (Lionsgate); it’s always nice to see Deborah Kara Unger back on screen, and in “Ecstasy” (Strand Releasing), she co-stars in a tale of lust and obsession.
Portuguese millennials run wild in “Damned Summer” (IndiePix Films); “Tiger Milk” (Altered Innocence) sees two teenage girlfriends in Berlin gearing up for That Summer That Changed Everything; a Chinese spin on “The Lake House,” the rom-com “How Long Will I Love U” (Well Go USA Entertainment) features a man and a woman, living in the same apartment 20 years apart, finding their timelines suddenly merged.
Anime fans won’t want to miss the sweet and surreal “Penguin Highway” (Shout Factory/Eleven Arts) or “Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter” (Shout Factory/GKIDS), the latest from Goro Miyazaki (“From Up on Poppy Hill”); women in Kurdistan (led by Golshifteh Farahani, “Paterson”) band together to expel ISIS from their hometown in “Girls of the Sun” (Cohen Media Group), based on a true story; a would-be cartoonist and a trans woman bond over the course of a very special Uber ride in Indian import “Pixelia” (IndiePix Films).
Ana Brun won Best Actress at Berlin for “The Heiresses” (Icarus Films), a powerful drama from Paraguay; two strangers meet an fall in love at Niagara Falls in “The Whirlpool” (IndiePix Films), a film shot entirely on phones and small hand-held cameras; the trippy Swedish “Aniara” (Magnolia Home Entertainment) melds sci-fi and poetry in its look at Earth-bound travelers lost in space; one of this generation’s most prolific adapters of Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh finally plays the Bard himself in “All Is True” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment).
An essential but oft-forgotten pioneer of early cinema gets a much-needed spotlight in “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché” (Kino Lorber/Zeitgeist). This isn’t the first look back at Guy-Blaché’s work as a director at the dawn of cinema, and at how industry sexism eventually pushed her and other talented female filmmakers to the margins while men took over, but it’s done the most to restore this important artist to her rightful ranks among the creators of the medium.
Also available: The groundbreaking “Before Stonewall” (First Run Features) has been newly restored for the 50th anniversary of the titular riots; “Anti-Nowhere League: We Are the League” (Cleopatra Entertainment) takes a look back at the birth of the influential UK punk band; artists on both sides of the camera fondly recall a legendary sci-fi TV series in “What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (Shout Studios); “The Other Side of Everything” (Icarus Films) features a Serbian filmmaker and her mother taking an unfiltered look at both their family history and the nation’s troubled past.
And if you’re an aficionado of 1960s music, there’s plenty of material on hand, including the American Experience doc “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation” (PBS), the performance-based “Peter, Paul and Mary at Newport 1963-65” (Shout Factory) (also available on CD), and “The Beatles: Made on Merseyside” (Omnibus Entertainment), which explores the early days of the Fab Four.
If you thought it was wacky when DC Comics aired The Banana Splits with Suicide Squad a while back, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet: “The Banana Splits Movie” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) takes Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snork — four costumed goofy-animal rockers designed by Sid and Marty Krofft — and plops them into the middle of a definitely-not-for-kids. R-rated slasher movie. Will Hanna-Barbera intellectual property match well with gore and violence? Will Warner Bros. turn the Wacky Racers into “Death Race 2000”? Watch this experiment in terror and decide for yourself.
Also available: Jan-Michael Vincent is a trucker out for vengeance in the drive-in classic “White Line Fever” (Mill Creek Entertainment); “Vice Squad” (Scream Factory) offers a memorably unsettling performance by Wings Hauser as a killer pimp in this 1982 sleaze masterpiece; girls at a birthday party (including Maya Hawke of “Stranger Things”) go Lord of the Flies in “Ladyworld” (Cleopatra Entertainment); the ever-controversial “Alice, Sweet Alice” (MVD) co-stars a young Brooke Shields in one of the most Catholicism-steeped non-exorcism horror movies ever made.
It’s cops versus smugglers in action-packed import “The Brink” (Well Go USA Entertainment); Leif Garrett doing his own “Skateboard” (Liberation Hall) stunts, plus a script by future TV mogul Dick Wolf, make for a very unusual but very 1980s teen romp — seriously, though, how is there no exclamation point in the title; way before her college-admission scandal, Lori Loughlin was one of “The New Kids” (Mill Creek Entertainment) in a violent saga from “Friday the 13th” director Sean S. Cunningham.
If “Fosse/Verdon” has piqued your interest, check out Bob Fosse’s directorial debut “Sweet Charity” (Kino Lorber). (As the FX miniseries showed, Gwen Verdon immortalized the role on Broadway, but even though Shirley MacLaine got the movie role, Verdon still assisted behind the scenes.) It’s not as assured a work as Fosse’s later “Cabaret” or “All That Jazz,” and you can sense the studio still operating in the bloated post-“The Sound of Music” mode so prevalent in Hollywood musicals of the 1960s, but there are flashes of wit and brilliance, and a lovely turn by MacLaine that give it just enough oomph.
Also available: Alan Bates delivers a powerful turn under Harold Pinter’s direction in “Butley” (Kino Classics), part of the American Film Theatre series; martinis meet hi-def as “The Thin Man” (Warner Archive Collection) makes its Blu-ray debut; also breathtaking in the Blu-ray format is Douglas Sirk’s lush and swoony “Magnificent Obsession” (The Criterion Collection), starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman; Steve Martin both wrote and starred in “Roxanne” (Mill Creek Entertainment), a charming modern take on the Cyrano de Bergerac legend.
One of Billy Wilder’s most biting satire was “A Foreign Affair” (Kino Lorber), his look at American chicanery in post-WWII Europe; speaking of which, Marlon Brando stars as “The Ugly American” (Mill Creek Entertainment) in a Cold War tale that remains all too relevant; two classics of reggae cinema get important reissues — “Babylon” (Kino Classics), never released in the U.S. until recently makes it to Blu-ray, alongside an extras-packed Collector’s Edition of Perry Henzell’s “The Harder They Come” (Shout Factory); Bertrand Blier’s still-scandalous Oscar-winning comedy “Get Out Your Handkerchiefs” (Cohen Film Collection) helped rocket Gerard Depardieu to stateside stardom in the 1970s.
Pauline Kael once argued that movies needed more trashy fun and less of the arty obliqueness of films like “Last Year at Marienbad” (Kino Classics) — newly restored in 4K — but one wonders if a steady diet of superhero movies might make her nostalgic for Alain Resnais’ slow-cinema classic; Resnais was a standard bearer of the French New Wave, while Akio Jissôji: The Buddhist Trilogy (MVD) celebrates an artist from Japan’s New Wave; shot on location in India, the silent classic “Shiraz: A Romance of India” (Juno Films), shot on location, was recently restored by the BFI National Archive; and speaking of legendary silent films, Buster Keaton Collection, Volume 2 (featuring “Sherlock, Jr.” and “The Navigator”) and Volume 3 (“Seven Chances” and “Battling Butler”) (both Cohen Film Collection) together offer a quartet of brilliant comic features.
Never before released on video, Universal serial “The Vanishing Shadow” (VCI Entertainment) makes its way to Blu-ray, featuring what some consider to be the cinema’s very first hand-held ray gun; the 1956 British noir “Doublecross” (Juno Films) gets its first North American DVD release; the great Jean Gabin and Jeanne Moreau star in Jacques Becker’s caper classic “Touchez Pas au Grisbi” (Kino Lorber); “The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice” (The Criterion Collection) features another haunting family tale, set against a changing world, from master director Yasujiro Ozu.
A British village fights to save a bird sanctuary from becoming a military firing range in “Conflict of Wings” (Juno Films); one of the great Stephen King adaptations, the coming-of-age tale “Stand by Me” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment makes its 4K debut; nearly 40 years after its debut, William Friedkin’s “Cruising” (Arrow Video) remains contentious among film scholars and queer activists for its tale of an undercover cop (Al Pacino) looking for a killer in 1980 New York City’s underground leather scene.
Viggo Mortensen made an early impression in the creepy 1990 cult favorite “The Reflecting Skin” (Film Movement Classics), kids with a chemistry set split the atom in the charming British family film “Child’s Play” (Juno Films); two early Alfred Hitchcock talkies come with fascinating extras: “Murder” features a German-language version, also directed by Alfred Hitchcock with a different cast, while “Blackmail” (both from Kino Lorber Studio Classics) includes the music-only silent version of the film.
Out on August 27 are two essential films from an essential filmmaker: Zeitgeist and Kino Lorber offer new Blu-rays of Derek Jarman’s “The Garden,” perhaps the director’s most poetic and personal work, and the haunting “Blue,” a soundscape set against a blue screen, created after Jarman had lost his eyesight to AIDS-related complications. With FilmStruck no longer with us, these new Blu-rays offer a rare opportunity for American audiences to experience these powerful works.
If you were old enough to turn on a television in the early 1970s, then you’ll totally want the expansive The Best of “The Carol Burnett Show”: 50th Anniversary Edition (TimeLife). Paying homage to one of the greatest comedy/variety shows of all time, this box set offers nearly 59 hours of material, from classic sketches and bloopers to the show’s two-hour retrospective final episode to brand-new interviews with Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Julie Andrews, Steve Lawrence and other mainstays of the show. If you’re already thinking about Christmas, any fan of vintage TV would be delighted to find this under the tree.
Also available: The CW’s “Arrow”: The Complete Seventh Season and “The Flash”: The Complete Fifth Season (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) bring these hit superhero series up to date, and the Blu-ray editions each feature the three DC Crossover: “Elseworlds” episodes as well; for a decidedly breezier take on the DC Universe, you can’t go wrong with “Teen Titans Go!”: Season 5, Part 1 (Warner Bros./DC); and while “Pan Am”: The Complete Series (Mill Creek Entertainment) never quite lived up to its potential, any show that spotlights Christina Ricci, Margot Robbie and extravagant 1960s period detail has something going for it.
Fans of Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers’ rich, globe-trotting detectives will enjoy the eight feature-length adventures in the “Hart to Hart”: Movies Are Murder Collection (Mill Creek Entertainment); the “Sons of Anarchy” franchise continues to expand with “Mayans M.C.”: The Complete First Season (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment); “Sesame Street”: Dance Party (Shout Kids/Sesame Workshop) puts Wendy Williams, Nicole Kidman, Janelle Monáe and other stars alongside Elmo and Snuffleupagus, and that’s really all you need to know.
Those outside of the target demo might be pleasantly surprised to learn that “Blue Bloods”: The Ninth Season and “NCIS: New Orleans”: The Fifth Season (both CBS/Paramount) are both still alive and well after all these years; crime thriller “Straight Forward” (Acorn TV) jumps between Sweden and New Zealand as a con artist seeks revenge for her father’s death; my rule on a Bryan Fuller show is to abandon it when Bryan Fuller does, but if you stan for Neil Gaiman, “American Gods”: Season Two (Lionsgate) keeps the story (and the deities) going.
“The Walking Dead”: The Complete Ninth Season (Lionsgate) bids farewell to Andrew Lincoln and sets up a future for the dwindling human population; the supremely binge-able “The Good Place”: The Complete Third Season (Shout Factory) features extended episodes you didn’t see on TV; the direct-to-DVD sequel “The Swan Princess: Kingdom of Music” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) is here to whet your appetite for the original film’s upcoming 25th anniversary; if you miss seeing Lucille Ball’s famous red hair in her original hit sitcom, “I Love Lucy”: Colorized Collection (CBS/Paramount) is here to chase your black-and-white blues away, never mind what legendary cinematographer Karl Freund would have to say about it.