“Zola” (Lionsgate) is the first film based on a viral Twitter thread (and probably won’t be the last), but it’s compelling viewing for reasons that have nothing to do with its provenance. Taylour Paige (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) stars as A’Ziah “Zola” King, a waitress and sometimes stripper whose epic road trip to Florida hits one bump after another. It really is about the company you keep, and Zola is hanging out with a trouble-making dancer (Riley Keough), her hapless boyfriend (Nicholas Braun), and her enigmatic “manager” (Colman Domingo), and the twists are unpredictable, off-putting, and darkly hilarious in Janicza Bravo’s comedy.
Also available: Altered Innocence, one of the best-curated boutique labels around, delivers festival fave “A Dim Valley,” which asks the question, “What if a film about a cabin in the woods was a comedic meditation on love and not a horror movie?”; “The Djinn” producer Meghan Weinstein makes her directorial debut with the satirical thriller “The Influencer” (Breaking Glass Pictures).
Don’t let the period pop songs and haircuts fool you: François Ozon isn’t out to create gauzy nostalgia in “Summer of 85” (Music Box Films). Based on a British YA novel, it’s about two boys falling in love at the seaside, the adolescent and jealous obsession that ensues, and then some really unexpected plot twists that are both wrenchingly poignant and trenchantly hilarious. Ozon is a master of amour fou by the sea, so he’s totally in his element here.
Also available: Finally available on US home video is “Dead Pigs” (Film Movement), the impressive and outrageous debut film from Cathy Yan, who went on to make “Birds of Prey, and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn”; a musician and a movie star travel from Manhattan to Ireland to cross paths in the rom-com “Finding You” (Lionsgate); a new adaptation of “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (Kino Lorber) — at three hours, it’s only about 20% as long as Fassbinder’s — follows a Guinean refugee through his relationhips in Germany; acclaimed Georgian export “Beginning” (Mubi) follows a woman whose life unravels when her Jehovah’s Witness community finds itself under fire.
A mysterious masseur brings a little magic to a gated community in Poland in “Never Gonna Snow Again” (Kino Lorber); Sudan’s first Oscar entry “You Will Die at Twenty” (Film Movement) follows a boy who lives his life under the prophecy that his demise will come early; in “Beats” (Music Box Films), two best friends on the verge of different life paths hit one last rave in the summer of 1994; Michael Caine’s the Fagin in the Dickens update “Twist” (Lionsgate), with an ensemble that includes Lena Headey, David Walliams, and Rita Ora.
“Whirlybird” (Greenwich/Kino Lorber) brilliantly spins one of those “if this were fiction, you’d never believe it” yarns, about the married couple that revolutionized Southern California newsgathering with the use of a helicopter — a practice that reached its apotheosis during the OJ Simpson Bronco chase – but there’s a lot more to the story. It’s a fascinating look at the evolution of the news, but more than that, it’s a fascinating character study that involves trauma, deadlines, and gender identity.
Also available: “Apocalypse ’45” (Kino Lorber) examines the horror and the history-changing events that ended WWII; a Chinese village experiments with democracy in the hopes of reclaiming stolen land in Jill Li’s “Lost Course” (Icarus Films Home Video); subtitled “The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding (1987-1997),” “All the Streets Are Silent” (Greenwich/Kino Lorber) examines the intersection of race, society, fashion, and street culture.
It took ten years of “Chasing Madoff” (Cohen Media Group) to bring down the infamous Ponzi scheme architect; the iconic punk singer speaks for herself in “Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over” (Kino Lorber); “The Human Factor” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) examines how close negotiators came to bringing peace to the Middle East; when a Chinese NYPD officer kills an unarmed Black man and then becomes the city’s first officer to be convicted in a shooting in over a decade, it set off a complex civil-rights battle that is documented in “Down a Dark Stairwell” (Kino Lorber).
“Elstree 1976” (FilmRise) goes behind the scenes of the making of the original “Star Wars” and focuses on the actors (including the late David Prowse) and extras who helped bring the story to life; a legendary American choreographer and his work are celebrated in “Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters” (Kino Lorber); the British band tells its story and spotlights its community of fans in “Don’t Go Gentle: A Film About IDLES” (MVD Visual).
The legendary congresswoman tells her story in “Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power” (Greenwich/Kino Lorber); man-and-horse stories don’t come more poignant than “Harry and Snowman” (FilmRise); relive cold-war tensions with the reissue of 1980’s “Nuclear Nightmares” (Corinth Films), narrated by Peter Ustinov; “Live at Mr. Kelly’s” (Virgil Films) pays homage to the Chicago nightclub that spotlighted such up-and-comers as Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, and Richard Pryor, to name a few.
Terrence Malick and Godfrey Reggio produce “Awaken” (Dust), a trippy look at man’s relationship to technology; “Black Magic Live: Stripped” (Lightyear) peeks behind the curtain at Las Vegas’ only Black male dance revue; “Fish & Men” (Virgil Films) examines just where we get our seafood and what the consequences current methodologies might hold.
If your idea of Halloween fun is more about zipper-backed B-movie monsters than modern-day gorefests, the Cold War Creatures: Four Films from Sam Katzman (Arrow) box set is for you. Katzman cranked out the low-budget fright flicks for theaters and drive-ins, and this set features a quartet of his wildest sagas — “Creature with the Atom Brain,” “The Werewolf, “Zombies of Mora Tau,” and “The Giant Claw” — and if you pick up the Limited Edition set, you get a book of essays and a second book of stills and artwork from each film.
Also available: If you’re a fan of the “Exorcist II”/“Medusa Touch” era of Richard Burton’s screen career, then don’t miss the small-batch Blu-ray of “Bluebeard” (Scream Factory), in which new wife Joey Heatherton realizes her husband has dispatched his previous brides, played by the likes of Raquel Welch, Sybil Danning, and Virna Lisi; “Great White” (Shudder/RLJE) lets you live every week like it’s Shark Week; William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, and Richard Jaeckel have reason to fear “The Dark” (MVD Rewind Collection) when a string of murders are committed by something that turns out to be not quite human; you gotta give it up to the poster designer of “Death Ring” (Code Red) for proclaiming that the film stars “Norris, McQueen, Swayze” when the actors in question are Mike Norris, Chad McQueen, and Don Swayze.
“Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat” (Vestron/Lionsgate) suggests that good vampires and the bad kind will throw down in Purgatory over the right to drink blood in this loopy cult fave starring David Carradine, Maxwell Caulfield, and Bruce Campbell; Mary Holland (“Happiest Season”) shoots for the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship in “Golden Arm” (Utopia); ripped-from-the-headlines exploitation films don’t get much sleazier than “Guyana: Cult of the Damned” (Code Red), starring Stuart Whitman as fanatical religious leader “James Johnson.”
You can’t say they didn’t warn you — a group of ex-cons discover exactly who has hired them as movers in “Stay Out of the Attic” (Shudder/RLJE); “Golden Needles” (Kino Lorber) boasts a mix of B-movie legends (Joe Don Baker, Jim Kelly), slumming stars (Elizabeth Ashley, Burgess Meredith, Ann Sothern), and a Lalo Schifrin score, all from the director of “Enter the Dragon”; Susan Clark and a pre-“Deliverance” Burt Reynolds find the missing link in New Guinea in “Skullduggery” (Kino Lorber); teenage initiate Meg Tilly spends “One Dark Night” (MVD Rewind Collection) in the crypt of a recently-deceased psychic who’s using his powers to reanimate the dead.
Playboy Playmate Susan Kiger flees bumpkin slashers — under the direction of Ozzie and Harriet’s son David Nelson, no less — in the 1982 curio “Death Screams” (Arrow); revenge drama “Violation” (Shudder/RLJE) screened at Toronto, Sundance, and SXSW; “Crazy Nights” (Full Moon) takes a disco-era, “mondo”-style gawk at European depravity.
Donna D’Erico stars as an alien warrior who manages to “Escape from Area 51” (Cleopatra); Heather Locklear and Louis Jourdan are on the marsh in “The Return of Swamp Thing” (Lightyear); oddball anime adaptation “The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch” (Arrow), from “Gamera” director Noriaki Yuasa, makes its global Blu-ray after decades of being unavailable outside Japan; Shea Whigham, Olivia Munn, and Frank Grillo get their B-movie mayhem on in “The Gateway” (Lionsgate).
If the killer dress of “In Fabric” was too couture for you, “Slaxx” (Shudder/RLJE) has a pair of homicidal jeans for you to try on; the 4K debut of “Children of the Corn” (Arrow) comes chock-full of interviews, commentaries, and retrospectives; a nurse faces a terrifying night shift when “The Power” (Shudder/RLJE) goes out in 1974 London, leaving the city plunged in darkness.
Two of the great post-war American cultural commentators and satirists are honored with box-set collections this month. The Ultimate Richard Pryor Collection: Uncensored (Time Life) features 13 discs of the comedian’s essential material, including all four of his concert films, countless TV appearances including the four episodes of the controversial and quickly cancelled “The Richard Pryor Show,” documentaries, interviews, and much more. Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films (The Criterion Collection) features a remastered quartet of the groundbreaking filmmaker’s features — “The Story of a Three Day Pass,” “Watermelon Man,” “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” and “Don’t Play Us Cheap” — along with early short films, new conversations with Van Peebles, and his collaboration with son Mario, “Baadasssss!” about the making of “Sweet Sweetback.”
Also available: If you want a hint of how weird it was to be a kid growing up in the 1970s, take in a double feature of the indescribable (but unforgettable) musicals “Pufnstuf” (Code Red) and “Bugsy Malone” (Paramount Presents); iconic actor Jean-Paul Belmondo recently passed away, and Kino Lorber has new Blu-rays of two his films, “Seven Days…Seven Nights” (aka “Moderato Cantabile”) and “The Hunter Will Get You.”
Actor Jean-Louis Trintignant made his directorial debut with the dark comedy “A Full Day’s Work” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), about a man who systematically kills the nine jurors who sent his son to the gallows; that plot makes it a perfect double feature with “Theatre of Blood” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), in which Vincent Price plays a ham actor who slaughters London’s theater critics in distinctively Shakespearean ways; back to Trintignant, he and Michel Piccoli, Jean Seberg, and Roy Scheider co-star in “The French Conspiracy” (Code Red/Kino Lorber), clips of which pop up in the documentary “Los Angeles Plays Itself”; and back to Price, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has a new Blu-ray of another of his AIP hits, “The Tomb of Ligeia.”
Before he was everybody’s favorite Hallmark Channel cozy dad, Treat Williams was fighting police corruption in Sidney Lumet’s “Prince of the City” (Warner Archive Collection); in “One Crazy Summer” (Warner Archive Collection), John Cusack reteams with “Better Off Dead” director Savage Steve Holland, and Demi Moore and Bobcat Goldthwait are along for the ride; Laika and Shout Factory release new deluxe editions of the animation studios first four hits: “Coraline,” “The Boxtrolls,” “Paranorman,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.”
The nation’s remaining video-store clerks are no doubt thrilled that Kino Lorber decided to release “Masquerade” (1965) (a comedic spy caper starring Cliff Robertson) and “Masquerade” (1988) (the Meg Tilly-Rob Lowe erotic thriller) in the same month; the summer’s hot reissue was “La Piscine,” and a new Blu-ray features restorations of two more collaborations between Alain Delon and director Jacques Deray, “The Gang” / “Three Men to Kill” (Cohen Film Collection); Claude Chabrol puts his own stamp on the 60s spy thriller with “Blue Panther” (Kino Lorber); not to be confused with the Richard Burton movie mentioned above, this “Bluebeard” (Kino Lorber) is the Chabrol version.
If you’re a fan of Stanley Donen’s expat period, he followed up “Charade” with another frothy espionage yarn: “Arabesque” (Kino Lorber), starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren; more Jean Seberg, as she plays a widow caught in a battle of wills with David Janssen’s “Macho Callahan” (Kino Lorber); Walerian Borowczyk wrapped up a singular film career with the erotic “Love Rites” (Kino Classics).
The hilarious “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) is probably the only movie where Steve Martin will swap banter with Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman — and props to Rachel Ward for her essential and straight-faced contributions; Jean-Claude Brisseau’s disturbing “Sound and Fury” (Altered Innocence) is available for the first time in the US in a new 2K restoration; you know Jean Hersholt for the honorary Oscar named after him, but now you can see the legendary (and openly gay) actor opposite Zasu Pitts in the 1928 farce “13 Washington Square” (Kino Lorber); and speaking of pioneering cinema greats, even a century later, Lon Chaney’s performance as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (Kino Lorber) ranks among the immortals.
Ingmar Bergman star Bibi Andersson gave Hollywood a whirl with “Story of a Woman” (Code Red), which cast her into a love triangle with Robert Stack and James Farentino (the poster screamed, “Sensitive…Sensual…Innocent…Wanton…Wife…Mistress…WHAT OTHER WOMEN DREAM…SHE DARED!”); while not technically a sequel, “Rififi in Paris” (Kino Lorber) is based on a novel by “Rififi” author Auguste Le Breton; even die-hard Angela Lansbury fans might have missed her role as a femme fatale in the 1955 noir “A Life at Stake” (The Film Detective), available in a new 4K restoration.
Kino Lober releases two crime thrillers from “Christ Stopped at Eboli” director Francesco Rosi, “Illustrious Corpses,” starring Lino Ventura, and “Lucky Luciano,” with Gian Maria Volontè and American co-stars Rod Steiger and Edmond O’Brien; also new on Blu-ray from the label this month is Bertrand Tavernier’s directorial debut, “The Clockmaker of St. Paul.”
And finally, the folks at The Criterion Collection offer a variety of great new releases — a long-awaited “Mona Lisa” Blu-ray, featuring one of Bob Hoskins’ richest performances; Johnnie To’s tribute to judo and Kurosawa, “Throw Down”; Gina Prince-Bythewood’s beloved indie “Love & Basketball”; and Luchino Visconti’s kinky WWII saga “The Damned.”
Pick it up at Wawa: The multi-Emmy-nominated “Mare of Easttown” (Warner Archive Collection) comes to Blu-ray. One of the most talked-about TV events of the year, the limited series provided another fascinating role for Kate Winslet and prompted a national conversation about Pennsylvania slang and accents (and convenience stores). The extras are a bit sparse — some behind-the-scenes featurettes — but it’s important that streaming shows come to physical media, whether it’s for libraries (personal and public), for viewers who don’t have access to high-speed internet, or just for the possible eventuality that the content will disappear from the service. (Don’t get me started on how many HBO films and series of yore are nowhere to be found on HBO Max.)
Also available: Japanese auteur Koji Fukada makes his first foray into episodic storytelling with “The Real Thing” (Film Movement), a series that premiered at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival; the long-running procedural gets an appropriately mammoth collection, as “NCIS: New Orleans: The Complete Series” (CBS/Paramount) gets collected in a doorstop-sized box set; “The Soul of the Midnight Special” (Time Life) features 130 musical performances from the classic late-night show, including icons like Earth Wind & Fire, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, The O’Jays, Chaka Khan, Teddy Pendergrass, Bill Withers, and many more; the zombies just keep a-comin’ in “Fear the Walking Dead”: The Complete Sixth Season (Lionsgate).
Get your procedural-cozy on with Acorn releases like “Keeping Faith”: Series 3, “Balthazar”: Series 3, “Bloodlands,” “Murdoch Mysteries”: Season 14, “The Brokenwood Mysteries”: Series 7, and “Bäckström”: Series 1. And if you like your medical dramas more sensitive than sanguine, you can always pair “The Good Doctor”: Season Four (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) with “The Indian Doctor”: Complete Series (Kino Lorber).
Fans of Australian drama can dig into the political machinations of “Total Control”: Series 1 and the footballers’-wives intrigue of “Playing for Keeps”: Season 2 (both Sundance Now/RLJE); hot cops investigate deadly crimes on “S.W.A.T.”: Season Four (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), “Prodigal Son”: The Complete Second Season (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment), and “The Murders”: Season 1 (Sundance Now/RLJE).
“The Spanish Princess,” Part 2 (Lionsgate) gives us Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragón, only soapy; speaking of royalty, two TV giants finally cross paths in “Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby-Doo Meets Courage the Cowardly Dog” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment); and if you’re a fan of pro wrestling, go behind the masks with Biography: WWE Legends Volume 1 and Volume 2 (both Lionsgate).