Peter Sarsgaard and Rashida Jones make a somewhat unusual couple in “The Sound of Silence” (IFC Films), a somewhat unusual film. And it’s not that Sarsgaard and Jones don’t have chemistry to burn; it’s that the movie operates at its own pace while diving deeply into the Sarsgaard character’s obsessions with the thrums and throbs and vibrations of our day-to-day lives. He “tunes” his clients’ New York City apartments, looking for the sounds (whether they’re on the outside or coming from household appliances) that are disturbing the tenants, and Jones plays a social worker who turns to him for his unique services. Somewhere between “The Conversation” and last year’s “Sound of Metal,” it’s a uniquely eccentric tale that might make you pay more attention to the aural background of your existence.
Also available: Oscar-winner “Minari” (Lionsgate) moved viewers with its sensitive portrayal of a Korean family redefining themselves as American farmers; acclaimed sci-fi parable “Lapsis” (Film Movement) examines a technological dystopia in the not-too-distant future; SXSW hit comedy “S–thouse” (IFC Films) trying to follow-up on a magical night of connection with his R.A.
A recent college grad and the 16-year-old she’s “babysitting” bond over a picturesque four-day California hike in the indie drama “What Lies West” (Passion River); in Philip Noyce’s “Above Suspicion” (Lionsgate), a young woman in a Kentucky mining town turns drug informant for the FBI; Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci give memorable performances in “Supernova” (Bleecker Street/Wolfe) as a longtime gay couple dealing with one of them slipping into dementia.
Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins co-stars in thriller “The Virtuoso” (Lionsgate), about a trained assassin (Anson Mount) who knows the when and the where but not the who of his next assignment; Zoe Chao and Finn Wittrock find themselves falling for each other over the course of a “Long Weekend” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment); “Endangered Species” (Lionsgate; on demand May 28, DVD and Blu-ray June 1) stars real-life spouses Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O’Connell play a married couple fighting to survive a safari gone wrong.
If literal globe-trotting is still off the menu for a while, you can take a figurative journey around the world with “Altered Innocence Vol. 1” (Altered Innocence), a collection of daring and provocative short films from various different countries (and even one from the US). This boutique label has already gained a reputation for its curation of many of international LGBTQ+ cinema’s most daring titles in recent years, and this nearly-three-hour collection of shorts maintains that tradition with a mix of genres and viewpoints that you won’t generally find outside of the queer film-fest circuit.
Also available: Hong Kong Oscar nominee “Better Days” (Well Go USA Entertainment) sets a sweet love story against a backdrop of crime, bureaucracy, and impossible standards for the country’s youth; Sundance and Venice hit “White Shadow” (IndiePix Films) follows an albino African (played by Hamisi Bazili) on the run from a deadly body-parts trade; Ken Watanabe stars in the contemporary, torn-from-the-headlines disaster saga “Fukushima 50” (Capelight).
A outnumbered group of young cadets mount “The Final Stand” (Shout Studios) to protect Moscow from Nazi invaders in this WWII epic; a loving father and a corrupt police chief (Joan Chen) play a deadly game of cat and mouse in the Chinese thriller “Sheep Without a Shepherd” (Artsploitation Films); in “The Salt of Tears” (Icarus Films), legendary filmmaker Philippe Garrel examines what happens when a dashing playboy falls in love with one of his conquests; Shout Studios presents a pair of acclaimed international animated features, Chinese fantasy adventure “The Legend of Hei” and French fable “The Prince’s Voyage.”
I thought I never wanted to see another movie about the New York underground arts scene of the 1980s, but then along came “Wojnarowicz” (Kino Lorber) to demonstrate there’s another way to cover that oft-trod ground. David Wojnarowicz was a visual artist who became one of the angriest and most eloquent writers and activists of the AIDS pandemic, and Chris McKim’s inflammatory documentary (subtitled, after one of Wojnarowicz’s art pieces, “F–k You F—ot F–ker”) does justice to its subject’s righteous fury.
Also available: Ken Burns does that Ken Burns thing he does so well, this time (with co-director Lynn Novick) focusing on the tumultuous life and career of “Hemingway” (PBS); five non-speaking people on the autism spectrum are the fascinating subjects of the empathetic “The Reason I Jump” (Kino Lorber); “Clapboard Jungle” (Arrow) features Guillermo Del Toro, Barbara Crampton, Paul Schrader, and many more indie-film legends discussing the travails and triumphs of off-Hollywood movie-making.
“Room 237” director Rodney Ascher returns with “A Glitch in the Matrix” (Magnolia Home Entertainment), an examination of people who think we’re all living in a constructed “reality” — and why they might not be wrong; as voguing was for New York, “bucking” is for the Deep South, and choreographer and filmmaker Jamal Sims guides us through this exciting world of dance in “When the Beat Drops” (Kino Lorber); in “Unmarked” (First Run Features) we meet the historians and preservationists working to protect and restore the many centuries-old African-American burial grounds throughout the country.
“M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity” (Zeitgeist/Kino Lorber) explores the life and work of the artist who so brilliantly captured the geometry of nature and the nature of geometry; celebrate “Dolly Parton: 50 Years at the Opry” (PBS) with 90 minutes of vintage performances; “Her Name Is Chef” (Virgil/Kino Lorber) looks at six trailblazing young women making their way through the competitive and often-sexist world of fine dining.
Jackie Chan is one of the screen’s greatest martial artists and one of its most versatile physical comedians, and he delivers on both fronts in 1994’s breathtaking “Drunken Master II” (Warner Archive Collection). The plot is a mix of wrong-box farce, antiquities smuggling, and inebriation, and it gives Chan the opportunity to participate in some of the most breathtakingly thrilling screen battles of his storied career. This new Blu-ray features a 4K scan of the original Hong Kong camera negative and represents a marked improvement from many inferior versions floating around, including the Dimension Films overdubbed version released as “Legend of the Drunken Master.” (The Warner Archive release includes Cantonese, Mandarin, and English-language soundtracks, as well as the option to see the original English subtitles, complete with grammar and spelling mistakes.) Whether you’re new to or a devotee of 1990s Hong Kong action cinema, this one’s a must for your library.
Also available: Franco Nero is “Django” (Arrow Video) in the original spaghetti-Western classic, now available in 4K; “Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection” (Arrow Video) celebrates the singular output of the midwestern auteur behind cult faves like “Monster-A-Go-Go,” “The Alpha Incident,” and “The Demons of Ludlow”; the direct-to-video slasher “Last Gasp” (Vinegar Syndrome), starring Robert Patrick and Joanna Pacula, makes its Blu-ray debut.
Jack Hill’s “Switchblade Sisters” (Arrow Video) — which inspired a memorable podcast about women in genre film — maintains its power to shock and surprise after nearly five decades; it’s karate masters versus sleazy 1970s land developers in “Death Promise” (Vinegar Syndrome); “Jungle Trap” / “Run Coyote Run” (AGFA/Bleeding Skull) features two collaborations between horror director James Bryan and producer-writer-star Renee Harmon, and the fact that one of the extras is titled “It Wasn’t My Fault” no doubt speaks volumes.
Trivia fun fact: J.J. Abrams received his first professional film credit for composing the score and sound effect for the low-budget 1982 Troma release “Nightbeast” (Troma); a 1930s German melodrama advocating for birth control and safe abortion was turned into the American exploitation epic “Wages of Sin” (Something Weird/Kino Classics), which added a live lecture and several short films about childbirth; a handyman and a the spirit that haunts his rental property become find themselves surprisingly intertwined in “A Ghost Waits” (Arrow Video).
A security guard isn’t prepared for what goes on in his new job at a “Morgue” (Well Go USA Entertainment) in this horror hit from Paraguay; a rare movie to be named for a song from another film entirely, “Eye of the Tiger” (Kino Lorber) stars Gary Busey as a Vietnam vet out to stop a vicious motorcycle gang from taking over his home town — co-stars the recently-departed Yaphet Kotto; in “Deliver Us from Evil” (Well Go USA Entertainment), a retired government agent’s efforts to rescue a kidnapped girl are thwarted by a gangster seeking revenge.
The over-the-top “Action U.S.A.” (MVD Rewind) makes it to Blu-ray with lots of bonus material and VHS-inspired packaging; Pamela Ludwig of “Over the Edge” stars as a collegiate journalist tracking down a campus serial killer in “Rush Week” (Vinegar Syndrome); a victimized mother is pushed to the breaking point in “Son” (Shudder/RLJE).
Even as a lifelong devotee of MGM musicals, I was only recently made aware of 1954’s “Athena” (Warner Archive Collection), one of the most mind-bendingly cuckoo-bananas productions ever to emerge from Hollywood’s golden age. Take mid-century America’s often-condescending attitudes about vegetarianism and health culture, mix with musical numbers about feng shui and bodybuilding, and you’re just scratching the surface of this one-of-a-kind saga about an uptight lawyer (Edmund Purdom) who falls for the title character (Jane Powell) after she tells him they were numerologically and astrologically meant to be together. Whip up a chia-seed smoothie and buckle in for a genuinely loonypants piece of studio-era cinema.
Also available: One of the great satires of the 1970s, Michael Ritchie’s “Smile” (Fun City Editions) gets a beautiful new Blu-ray edition; the darkly comic “Baxter” (Kino Lorber), about a mean-spirited dog and his even meaner-spirited young owner, feels weirdly resonant in the current political climate; another trivia fun fact: “Cool as Ice” (Kino Lorber), the fruitless attempt to make a movie star out of Vanilla Ice, was shot by none other than Janusz Kaminski, just a few years before he would become Spielberg’s go-to cinematographer; once you see the fascinating new documentary “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,” you’re definitely going to want to revisit “The Night of the Following Day” (Kino Lorber) for the glimpses it provides of her volatile, abusive real-life relationship with co-star Marlon Brando.
There’s definitely a subset of the audience that knows the Alan Alda-Michelle Pfeiffer comedy “Sweet Liberty” (Kino Lorber) as “the one where Bob Hoskins takes a shower”; Budd Boetticher’s Western “Horizons West” (Kino Lorber) gives you two queer icons for the price of one, with Rock Hudson co-starring and Raymond Burr in a supporting role; John Schlesinger attempted his own version of “Nashville” with the sprawling and messy “Honky Tonk Freeway” (Kino Lorber), but if you sift through the film, there are little gems to be found; Jennifer Connelly and Virginia Madsen star, respectively, as the virtuous heroine and the femme fatale pushing Don Johnson’s buttons in the Dennis Hopper-directed neo-noir “The Hot Spot” (Kino Lorber).
George Segal and Natalie Wood are “The Last Married Couple in America” (Kino Lorber) in a divorce comedy that features a who’s-who of 1970s comic character actors, including Richard Benjamin, Valerie Harper, Bob Dishy, Marilyn Sokol, Dom Deluise, and Arlene Golonka; “Million Dollar Mystery” (Kino Lorber) never quite reaches the “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” heights to which it aspires, but some millennials who caught it on cable after its 1987 release have fond memories of it; Rankin-Bass completists will be thrilled to pick up a new Blu-ray of “The Daydreamer” (Kino Lorber), an anthology of stop-motion animated shorts based on the works of Hans Christian Andersen; we all need more Dorothy Malone in our lives, and in the Western “Quantez” (Kino Lorber), she co-stars opposite Fred MacMurray in villain mode.
James Garner has a score to settle, so it sure does help that he happens to have a “Tank” (Kino Lorber); the sweetly ribald teen-movie spoof “Another Gay Movie” (Breaking Glass Pictures) celebrates its 15th anniversary with a new director’s-cut DVD; a four-year-old child copes with the death of her mother in the devastating “Ponette” (Kino Classics), featuring an unforgettable performance by young Victoire Thivisol.
The Douglas Sirk Collection: “To New Shores” / “La Habanera” (Kino Classics) features two 1930s titles from the German period of a filmmaker who would become a Hollywood master; now that you’ve seen Amanda Seyfried play her in “Mank,” watch the real Marion Davies star as twins in the silent 1925 romance “Lights of Old Broadway” (Kino Classics); at the height of the Vietnam War, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland headlined the touring satirical review “F.T.A.” (Kino Classics) — the title stood for “Free the Army” or something else entirely, depending on who you asked; Simone Signoret gave one of her great latter-day performances as an elderly woman who babysits the children of the neighborhood sex workers in the the Oscar-winning “Madame Rosa” (Kino Classics).
It’s “Mad Men” in Japan in the 1958 cutthroat corporate satire “Giants and Toys” (Arrow Video); it’s “Early Edition,” but played for laughs in “It Happened Tomorrow” (Cohen Film Collection), as Dick Powell finds himself receiving the next day’s newspaper; IndiePix Films releases three new titles in its “Retro Afrika” series: “Faceless Man,” “Ambushed,” and “Run for Your Life”; director Robert Siodmak plays noir for comedy (or maybe vice versa) in “The Man in Search of His Murderer” (Kino Classics).
And last, but certainly not least, a quartet of must-own titles from The Criterion Collection: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s hypnotic “Flowers of Shanghai,” Amy Heckerling’s iconic ’80s comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Edmund Goulding’s brooding “Nightmare Alley” (see it before the Guillermo Del Toro remake comes out!), and Dorothy Arzner’s biting saga of marriage and addiction, “Merrily We Go to Hell.”
With a reboot around the corner, it’s the perfect time to dig into “Rugrats”: The Complete Series (Nickelodeon/Paramount). If you’re of an age to have loved this show in the original run, you’ll want to remind yourself of everything you enjoyed about it; if, like me, you were too old for it the first time, it’s worth exploring if only because it had such an impact on its target audience. You don’t want to let all those “ugh, she is SUCH an Angelica” references go over your head.
Also available: Speaking of complete-series sets, which fit so well into any home library, check out young Charles Bronson in “Man with a Camera”: The Complete Series (MPI Media) and the French intrigue and espionage of “The Bureau”: The Complete Series (Kino Lorber), featuring Mathieu Kassovitz, Louis Garrel, and Matthieu Amalric; also new this month is the new animated comedy “Star Trek: Lower Decks”: Season One (CBS/Paramount).
And for fans of prestige, English-language TV from around the world, cozy up to “One Lane Bridge” (Acorn), “A Suitable Boy” (Acorn TV), “Wisting, Season 1” (Sundance Now), “The Salisbury Poisonings” (AMC Studios), “Cold Call” (Sundance Now), and “Shadow Lines, Season 1” (Sundance Now).