Life struck me as several cuts above “meh” but never made me jump out of my seat.
We're in that weird end-of-summer period for Blu-ray and DVD in which most of the new releases are the garbage that hit theaters in April and early May while most of the big catalog releases are waiting to get a bit closer to the holiday shopping season. No one is releasing a major Blu-ray in time for Back to School shopping or Labor Day celebrations. And so this is the slightest HECG yet produced, which doesn't mean it's not going to be informative and fascinating. Or at least informative.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
Even Netflix seems a little dry lately, launching a few recent indie releases, including one of our Ten Best Films of 2014, along with some interesting catalog choices including films starring Robert De Niro, Nicolas Cage, and Owen Wilson.
6 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
"Day For Night" (Criterion)
Francois Truffaut's "Day For Night" finally joins the Criterion Collection, over four decades after its controversial release in theaters. There's really not much more that could be written about the actual film. I will say that this dissection of filmmaking and form has held up remarkably well. It's a film that would resonate were it released today, even if a few of the filmmaking techniques in the film within a film would probably change. The most interesting special feature on the new Criterion release comes courtesy of video artist kogonada, who focuses energy on the three dream sequences in the film and what Truffaut is trying to say about film and his relationship to it through them. There's also a fascinating interview with Dudley Andrew about the heated exchanges between Jean-Luc Godard and Truffaut after the former saw (and hated) "Day For Night". Godard publicly accusing Truffaut of making "Day For Night" just so he could sleep with Jacqueline Bisset is a fascinating bit of film history. There's also great archival material. This is the Criterion release of the month and the best Blu-ray you could buy this week.
New visual essay by filmmaker :: kogonada
New interview with Glenn assistant editor Martine Barraque
New interview with film scholar Dudley Andrew
Documentary on the film from 2003, featuring film scholar Annette Insdorf
Archival interviews with director Francois Truffaut; editor Yann Dedet; and actors Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nathalie Baye, Jacqueline Bisset, Dani, and Bernard Menez
Archival television footage about the film, including footage of Truffaut on the set
New English subtitle translation
Plus: An essay by critic David Cairns
"The French Lieutenant's Woman" (Criterion)
Did someone at Criterion release this the same month as "Day For Night" on purpose? Both films are about movie production, and both films have movies-within-the-movie that comment on each other. While Truffaut's is the vastly superior work, Karel Reisz and Harold Pinter's adaptation of the John Fowles novel has its fans, especially those who love Meryl Streep. She was nominated for an Oscar her for her dual, multi-layered performance, although Jeremy Irons matches her in terms of quality. Their turns are the reason to see "French" again, a film that I don't feel has held up quite as well as "Day For Night," if it ever really worked. Pinter's approach is too cold and studious when the book really needed opening up instead of emotional smothering. Still, Criterion does what they do with the release, which means a great transfer and interesting special features. And now it feels almost like a companion to "Day For Night."
New interviews with actors Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, editor John Bloom, and composer Carl Davis
New interview with film scholar Ian Christie
Episode of "The South Bank Show" from 1981 featuring director Karel Reisz, novelist John Fowles, and screenwriter Harold Pinter
Plus: An essay by film scholar Lucy Bolton
"The Knick: Season One"
One of the most depressing Emmy snubs this year was the failure of the Academy to recognize the overall quality of Cinemax's best show, this great medical drama now available on Blu-ray and DVD. I get that categories like Best Actor and Best Drama may have been too crowded (even if I would disagree that "The Knick" is the show that should have been snubbed), but not nominating a show like this for Best Cinematography proves to me that they don't know what those words mean. "The Knick" has the strongest visual language on cable television (only "Hannibal" competes). Director Steven Soderbergh carefully considers every angle, every light source, every detail in his frame, to a such a degree that the result is mesmerizing. "The Knick" is a beautiful program, and one that I hope finds the audience it deserves on Blu-ray and in the second, upcoming season.
Episode Post-Ops: Get educated on ground-breaking surgery techniques featured in "The Knick."
Audio Commentaries: With Cast and Crew including Jack Amiel, Michael Begler, Jeremy Bobb, Eve Hewson, Michael Angarano, Chris Sullivan, Cara Seymour and Eric Johnson.
"Walt Disney Short Films Collection"
Twelve short films from the last 15 years of Disney animation are included on this excellent Blu-ray release that offers fans everything from 2000's "John Henry" to 2015's "Frozen Fever". As with any anthology series, the set has its highs and lows, but it's worth owning just to have "Paperman" and "Feast" on Blu-ray. They're two of my favorite animated short films, EVER. And if your kids aren't drawn to them, they still will find something to love by virtue of some of their favorite characters, including Goofy ("How to Hook Up Your Home Theater"), Mickey Mouse ("Get a Horse!"), the gang from "Tangled" ("Tangled Ever After"), and the beloved characters from "Frozen" ("Frozen Fever"). Pixar has been considered the leader in animated shorts for the last two decades, winning Oscars and fans, but this release proves that Walt Disney Animation has been keeping pace. If anything, it can help the younger members of your family learn how these things come into existence (each film is introduced by its creators) and how there are so many different ways to make a short film. "Frozen Fever" and "Paperman" have almost nothing in common structurally, and yet they're both entertaining in their own ways. Get this for Disney fans this holiday season, but also consider it for anyone interesting in animated filmmaking. It's a lesson in variety.
An inside look at the process of developing and producing a short. Hosted by actor T.J. Miller (voice of "Fred" in "Big Hero 6").
The team behind this funny, heartfelt love letter to Chris Farley have been wise to follow its brief theatrical run with a TV premiere and Blu-ray/DVD release in short succession. It's kept the film in the public sphere in a way that it wouldn't have if it just had a typical NY/LA theatrical release. In fact, it will likely be on Netflix soon, keeping it in people's hearts and minds. This is the future. Theatrical/TV/Blu-ray/Streaming all in short order. Why waste time? The Blu-ray is slight but it doesn't need a lot of bells and whistles. The film itself is something all Chris Farley fans will want to see, and probably own.
The Farley Brothers... (and Sister)
Oh, "Unfriended." It starts so promisingly. The premise is clever. A group of friends communicating mostly via video chat on their laptops are haunted and massacred by the ghost of a girl they bullied. The first act of "Unfriended" works, but it falls apart, largely because it gets too weighed down with histrionics and the silly secrets of these stupid characters. Really, there are no characters. "Open Windows" got a lot more mileage out of a similar conceit. Still, I get why some horror fans fell for "Unfriended." It's not the worst movie you could rent this Halloween season. Although it's certainly not the best either. And it's interesting to me that Universal thinks so little of the movie to release it on Blu-ray without a single special feature, a rarity for new release theatrical titles in 2015.
3 NEW TO VOD
"I Am Chris Farley"
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