Must of the Month
After creating gorgeous box sets celebrating the films of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini, The Criterion Collection turns its attentions to one of the great auteurs who isn’t a dead white guy: World of Wong Kar Wai is a seven-Blu-ray set that features 4K restorations of contemporary masterpieces like “Chungking Express,” “In the Mood for Love,” “2046,” “Happy Together,” “Days of Being Wild,” “Fallen Angels,” and “As Tears Go By,” with a treasure trove of extras including a new interview with Wong answering questions submitted by the likes of Chloé Zhao, Sofia Coppola, Rian Johnson, and Kate and Laura Mulleavy; alternate cuts and short films never before made available on U.S. home video; an essay by Wong expert John Powers; and much more. It’s a monument to one of cinema’s living giants that every film lover should have on their shelf.
Hilary Swank gets to be the femme “Fatale” (Lionsgate) in this potboiler about a one-night-stand that upends the life of a successful agent, played by Michael Ealy. Whether you venture into this brand of heavy-breathing thriller for tingles or camp-inflected laughs, there’s a good chance you’ll come away with what you came for.
Also available: Dark family secrets surface in “The Winter Lake” (Epic Pictures); indigenous indie “The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw” (Indican) stars Morningstar Angeline (“Drunktown’s Finest”); Wil Wheaton makes virtual friendship super-creepy in the thriller “Rent-A-Pal” (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory); Thomas Nicholas, Mickey Rourke, Sean Astin, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Penelope Ann Miller co-star in crime drama “Adverse” (Lionsgate).
Girl meets carnival ride, girl gets carnival ride in the provocative French film “Jumbo” (Darkstar Pictures), starring Noémie Merlant (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) as a shy young woman who becomes erotically fixated on the bright colors and flashing lights of a Tilt-a-Whirl at the theme park where she works late nights on the cleaning crew. Director Zoé Wittock’s Sundance hit has drawn critical acclaim around the world for its intuitive handling of an unusual love story.
Also available: British comedy greats Rob Brydon and Tamsin Greig co-star in the comedy “Days of the Bagnold Summer” (Greenwich/Kino Lorber), featuring original music by Belle & Sebastian; Sophie Deraspe’s modern take on “Antigone” (Cinema Libre) was Canada’s 2020 Oscar entry; “Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness” (Film Movement) takes place almost entirely in the studio of Iran’s hottest reality TV show, where a woman sentenced to death of murdering her husband hopes to convince his daughter to forgive her and spare her life; not the movie Tracy Morgan gave a Golden Globe to, French comedy “Sol” (Distrib/Icarus) follows a tango singer from Buenos Aires to Paris as she attempts to insinuate herself into the life of her young grandson.
“On-Gaku: Our Sound” (GKIDS/Shout Factory) is an anime that rocks, literally, as it follows the formation of a most unconventional band; Russian family adventure “Cosmoball” (Well Go USA Entertainment) tells the story of four futuristic athletes who hold the world’s fate in their hands; the true story of Montreal’s families of Sicilian organized crime is the basis for “Mafia Inc” (Film Movement).
There are filmmakers who started out as film critics, but there are also filmmakers who could switch day jobs and become critics if they wanted to — heaven knows why they would — so deep is their knowledge of film history and so infectious is their love of the medium. Martin Scorsese fits that category, and so does Bertrand Tavernier, whose eight-part “Journeys Through French Cinema” (Cohen Media) takes viewers on a tour of the country’s rich screen heritage, from the early years through the German occupation to the New Wave and beyond. It’s the kind of film you’ll want to watch with a pad and paper to jot down titles of films you want to see again and ones you perhaps never knew existed.
Also: Multi-media artist Frank Zappa was never shy about self-documentation, which gave documentarian Alex Winter hours upon hours’ worth of footage to use for his informative, lively tribute “Zappa” (Magnolia Home Entertainment); even with a previous documentary and a biopic, there’s still more to say about RBG, and Frieda Lee Mock (“Wrestling with Angels,” “Anita: Speaking Truth to Power”) digs into this fascinating life story with “Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words” (Virgil/Kino Lorber); “That Click” (Omnibus Entertainment) celebrates the life and work of famed celebrity photographer Douglas Kirkland with a star-studded cast of interviewees, including Nicole Kidman, Andy Garcia, Sharon Stone, Michelle Williams, and Baz Luhrmann.
“Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan” (Magnolia Home Entertainment) celebrates the Pogues’ legendary lead singer as he approaches his 60th birthday; one of the world’s most beloved and eclectic languages gets the spotlight in “Yiddish” (Icarus Films); for those of us who can’t get out to movie theaters right now, it’s a great time to enjoy “The Projectionist” (Kino Lorber), a love letter to public cinema.
Patton Oswalt is among the many fans of “PG: Psycho Goreman” (Shudder/RLJE), a kitschy, splattery throwback to genre movies of an earlier era. Two kids accidentally resurrect an alien overlord, and while at first they’re delighted to use his powers to control him, things turn dark when his revival attracts the attention of other powerful aliens. The Blu-ray includes a director’s commentary and lots of other extras; keep an ear out for podcaster Stuart Wellington as the voice of Tubeman.
Also available: Japan’s Daiei Studios took a crack at the legendary H.G. Wells character in 1949 and 1957, respectively, with “The Invisible Man Appears” / “The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly” (Arrow), both on a new double-feature Blu-ray; hikers take a very “Wrong Turn” (Lionsgate) in this suspenseful new chiller; martial-arts star Tak Sakaguchi likes those odds in “Crazy Samurai: 400 vs. 1” (Well Go USA Entertainment), which features a legendary, one-take, 77-minute action sequence.
Two 19th century newlyweds battle the elements for survival in “Abandoned: Angelique’s Isle” (Indican); tormented young “Todd” (Bayview/Shoreline) snaps and stalks; a cabbie and his fare make a horrifying discovery on a drive through the country in “The Toll” (Lionsgate).
Boris Karloff arrives at the “Isle of the Dead” (Warner Archive Collection), only to discover that no one leaves with their sanity intact; Chris Redd of “SNL” co-stars in Sundance chiller “Scare Me” (RLJE Films), about the ultimately storytelling competition; Ivan Kotik is out for revenge in the action-packed “Russian Raid” (Well Go USA Entertainment).
The saga continues as “Ip Man: Kung Fu Master” (Magnolia Home Entertainment) delves into the legendary martial artist’s early years; it’s two soldiers against the Taliban in “400 Bullets” (Shout Studios); the stylish Poe adaptation “The Bloodhound” (Arrow) marked an auspicious debut for filmmaker Patrick Picard; Jackie Chan runs a team of bodyguards who are the only hope for an industrialist and his family in “Vanguard” (Lionsgate).
After Eagle Pennell and before Richard Linklater, one of Texas’ leading indie filmmakers was the late Andy Anderson, who got his biggest national release when Universal picked up his revenge thriller “Positive I.D.” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), now making its Blu-ray debut. Not unlike its contemporary “Blood Simple,” Anderson’s film takes a terse and grimy genre tale and spins it into something unique and transcendent. (I’m also a big fan of Anderson’s final feature “Detention,” also known as “Learning Curve”; the DVD is, alas, out of print, but you can find it streaming.)
Also available: At long, long last, Jacques Rivette’s hilarious and oddball dream saga “Céline and Julie Go Boating” (The Criterion Collection) makes its North American Blu-ray review, and I envy everyone who’s getting to see it for the first time; the novel was about homophobia, but when “Crossfire” (Warner Archive Collection) became a movie, the film noir classic took a groundbreaking look at anti-Semitism; Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) has some of the best sex scenes and mahjongg scenes of any movie from this century; Sam Peckinpah was arguably at his Peckinpah-iest with the seedy, violent, captivating “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics).
Landmark African classic “Touki bouki” (The Criterion Collection) gets its first U.S. Blu-ray — fun fact, seminal filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty is the uncle of “Atlantics” director Mati Diop; “Rosebud” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) was the next-to-last film directed by Otto Preminger, and the only movie to feature former New York City mayor John Lindsay in an acting role; Anthony Quinn is a Mafia boss with vendetta on his mind in “The Don Is Dead” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics); Gwen Verdon scorches the screen opposite Tab Hunter in “Damn Yankees” (Warner Archive Collection), choreographed by Bob Fosse.
Spanish cult director Álex de la Iglesia gets new 4K editions of “Perdita Durango” and “The Day of the Beast” (both from Severin Films); also going 4K is the 2014 “Godzilla” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment), just in time for the latest installment’s debut; Bette Midler attempts to don the mantle (and the Pucci pantsuits) of Jacqueline Susann in “Isn’t She Great” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), but the results are more a one-woman “Beaches,” with Midler playing both the brassy vulgarian and the dying swan; and while we’re throwing that adjective around, Mario Lanza plays “The Great Caruso” (Warner Archive Collection) in MGM’s operetta biopic.
The most sneakily philosophical comedies of the 1990s were “Groundhog Day” and Albert Brooks’ brilliant “Defending Your Life” (The Criterion Collection); “Little Fugitive”: The Collected Films of Morris Engel & Ruth Orkin (Kino Classics) pays tribute to a filmmaker couple who were pioneers of American indie cinema; Nazi-era Germany didn’t just turn out Leni Riefenstahl movies — they also produced Westerns, believe it or not, like “The Kaiser of California” (Kino Classics); Cannon Films became a punchline for its schlocky ninja movies, but the studio also turned out ambitious fare like the Oscar-nominated “Runaway Train” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), directed by Andrei Konchalovsky (back in theaters with “Dear Comrades!”) from an unproduced Akira Kurosawa screenplay.
If the “Congratulations on your vaccine, now stay at home a few more weeks” gift isn’t a thing, then it should be. And if you’d like to compel your loved ones to do just a little more social distancing before they head back out into the world, let them fill their days with a bingeable TV box set. There are plenty of great new ones, spanning the gonzo comedy of “Wonder Showzen”: The Complete Collection (MTV/Paramount), the cult snark of “Rick and Morty”: The Complete Seasons 1-4 (Adult Swim/WB), acclaimed animated adventure “The Legend of Korra”: The Complete Series (Nickelodeon/Paramount) — available in a limited edition steelbook — and the landmark boomer humor of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”: The Complete Series (TimeLife).
Also available: If you like Lifetime, pom-poms, and intrigue, then the Cheer! Rally! Kill! 5-Film Collection (Lionsgate) is for you; the documentary “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song” (PBS) examines the musical history of one of the nation’s most established and influential institutions; American Masters: “Flannery” (PBS) examines the life and work (and problematic aspects) of the great Flannery O’Connor.
They don’t make made-for-TV movies like “The Bermuda Depths” (Warner Archive Collection) anymore, and the DVD features an informative commentary track from 1970s pop-culture mavens Amanda Reyes and Lance Vaughan; “Paddington” villains Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant memorably teamed up for “The Undoing” (HBO/WB); two half-brothers take on mystical, mythological forces in “Victor and Valentino”: Folk Art Foes (Cartoon Network/WB).