Efficient, nasty action scenes can't overcome mostly bland characterizations and a half-baked story.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
10 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
"The Asphalt Jungle" (Criterion)
John Huston's noir classic looks amazing in HD, and still offers new joys with every viewing. This time, Jean Hagan's work stuck out, reminding me how much she brings to a relatively small part. Speaking of that, I'm happy Criterion went with other cover art than the common Marilyn Monroe poster, given that the superstar barely appears here (even if she does have a very memorable scene). In many ways, "The Asphalt Jungle" is the template for the heist films that would follow. If you've never seen it, you owe it to movie history to see where flicks like "Reservoir Dogs" and "The Usual Suspects" come from. Devoted fans also owe it to themselves to see "Pharos of Chaos," one of the weirdest documentaries ever made. Basically, for two hours, a couple filmmakers hang out with Sterling Hayden on his boat and talk philosophy and art while the actor gets higher and drunker. He rambles without end (I don't think they cut a single minute of footage) as the filmmakers say things about how they hoped he would drink less. It's a fascinating piece, and the whole thing is included with this release.
Audio Commentary From 2004 by Film Historian Drew Casper, Featuring Archival Recordings of Actor James Whitmore.
Pharos of Chaos, A 1983 Documentary About Actor Sterling Hayden
New Interviews with Film Noir Historian Eddie Muller and Cinematographer John Bailey
Archival Footage of Writer-Director John Huston Discussing the Film.
Episodes of the Television Program City Limits From 1979 Featuring Huston
Audio Excerpts of and Archival Interview with Huston
Plus: Essay by Critic Geoffrey O'Brien
Leave it to Shout Factory to offer a Collector's Edition of a very different kind of Christmas classic. 1974's "Black Christmas" is one of those movies that few people talk about in the history of horror. Sure, they'll tell you how important "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" were to the slasher movie genre but they'll forget this flick inspired both of them. Made for just over half a million dollars, it made eight times that initially, and much more over time, even though it was controversial at the time, not just playing off the urban legend of "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs" but a true murder spree in Montreal. How's the movie? It's just so-so, but it's important to see if you call yourself a real horror fan, and this release is LOADED with special features. Put it in someone's stocking this Christmas.
Audio Commentary By Producer/Director Bob Clark
Audio Commenary By Actors Keir Dullea and John Saxon
Audio Commenary by Actor Nick ManCuso As Billy
New Interview with Actor Art Hindle
"The 12 Days of Black Christmas" Documentary
"Black Christmas Revisited"
"Black Christmas Legacy"
"On Screen!: Black Christmas
Archival Interviews with Actors Olivia Hussey, Margot Kiddler, Art Hindle and John Saxon and Producer/Director Bob Clark
TV and Radio Spots
Alternate Title Sequence
Speaking of horror, one of the best of the year recently came home to Blu-ray in this clever home invasion thriller from Fede Alvarez. Jane Levy does so much with very little dialogue as one of three people who break into a blind man's home to rob him, and get way more than they're expecting. Stephen Lang rocks as the man who turns the tables on his attackers, and the film gains some interesting moral ambiguity in the way it plays with roles of victim and aggressor. The centerpiece of the movie, done with very little dialogue, is phenomenal, even if the final act gets a little silly. It's well worth a look.Buy it here
8 Deleted Scenes with Director's Commentary
Creating the Creepy House
Meet The Cast
Commentary with Director Fede Alvarez Man in the Dark
The Sounds of Horror
"Don't Think Twice"
Mike Birbiglia's excellent dramedy captures something about amateur theater people that we haven't really seen in film before. As a former improv comedy guy, I identified with so much of this flick, and considered myself lucky for having gotten out of this scene before it became much of a career. Birbiglia's focus is on what success and jealousy does to artists. Keegan-Michael Key plays the member of an imrov troupe who "makes it," getting the call from the show's stand-in for "Saturday Night Live." Gillian Jacobs does the best work of her career as Key's girlfriend, someone who likes the level of fame they've reached, and realizes that moving past it will only tear them apart. It's clever and funny.
Improv: Deleted Scenes
The Creative Team
Don't Think Twice: The Art of Improv
"The Exterminating Angel" (Criterion)
It's always something of an event, at least it should be, when one of Roger's Great Movies gets released on Criterion Blu-ray. His writing on Bunuel's comic masterpiece is phenomenal and I can't really add anything to it. The film still mesmerizes with its blend of social satire, straight comedy, and Rod Serling-esque oddity, and it looks remarkable in HD, featuring a new digital transfer. In typical Criterion fashion, there are also interesting special features, most notably a documentary about Bunuel, and interviews with his collaborators. "The Exterminating Angel" is a difficult film to write about because every angle one could take in describing it produces another interpretation or reading of the film. It is a maze of a movie, and I think Bunuel would love that people are still talking about how to navigate it over six decades later.
Restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
The Last Script: Remembering Luis Buñuel, a 2008 documentary featuring screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière and filmmaker Juan Luis Buñuel
Interviews with actor Silvia Pinal and filmmaker Arturo Ripstein from 2006
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Marsha Kinder and an interview with Luis Buñuel from the 1970s
"Florence Foster Jenkins"
Meryl Streep delivers as the socialite who couldn't really sing, but this film, somewhat surprisingly, belongs to supporters Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg, both recent Golden Globe nominees. As the two men who most deal with Jenkins' engaging personality, they do subtle, fantastic work. It's not that Streep is bad here; she's not. It's just that I found Grant and Helberg taking more risks and delivering more on a character level. As for the film overall, I wish the Stephen Frears of two decades ago had made it. He had more bite and social satire that would have worked in the fabric of this story. All in all, it's not a bad film, but there are elements that could have been better. It's an oddly conventional story of an unconventional woman.
The Music and Songs of Florence
Designing the Look
From Script to Screen
Q&A With Meryl Streep
Live At Carnegie Hall
"Heart of a Dog" (Criterion)
There's nothing conventional about Laurie Anderson's heartfelt ode to loss, a movie like none other since its release. To call this a documentary is almost misleading in that it's way more of a poem than a chronicle. Anderson uses the death of her dog to comment on all kinds of loss, including that of her husband Lou Reed and even 9/11. It's a beautiful, intricate piece that works to create a mood and emotion more than it does make statements or even offer historical details. And the Criterion edition comes with an essay by the one-and-only Glenn Kenny, one of our regular film critics.
High-definition digital master, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Alternate no-music soundtrack
New conversation between director Laurie Anderson and coproducer Jake Perlin
Footage of Anderson’s 2016 Concert for Dogs
Lolabelle’s video Christmas card
PLUS: An essay by film critic Glenn Kenny
"Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"
I'm old enough dear readers to remember when "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" made its first waves, and I'm most impressed that it's a film that appears to still have an impact. Three decades after its release, a restored version traveled the country, including the Chicago International Film Festival, where we spoke to its director and star in an unforgettable interview. "Henry" is still a powerful piece of filmmaking, and the Blu-ray of its recent restoration is loaded with interesting special features about the history and impact of the film.
Commentary with Director John McNaughton
In Defense of Henry: An Appreciation
Henry vs. MPAA: A Visual History
Henry at the BBFC: An Interview With Nightmare USA Author Stephen Thrower
It's Either You or Them: An Interview with Artist Joe Coleman
Portrait: The Making or Henry
Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
Interview with John McNaughton, 1998
Original Trailer-30th Anniversary Trailer
"Southside with You"
The better of the two Barack Obama bio-stories this year works because it works regardless of the knowledge of who these two people would become. This is a clever, sweet, well-made romantic drama even if you don't care to see it as the seed-planting for future leadership. A bit too much of the film looks like a TV movie for my taste, but there's more than enough to like here in terms of script and performance to justify a look. And, again, as hard as it may be in our current national mood, try and appreciate the filmmaking here regardless of the director's politics, or your own.
Commentary with Writer/Director Richard Tanne
Original Artwork & Animation
"The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series"
Loyal readers know that I've been a TV critic for about as long as I've been a film critic and so I'm often asked what the best TV shows of all time are. In my opinion, there are three on a tier above the rest: "The Simpsons," "The Sopranos" and "The Twilight Zone." Rod Serling's masterpiece holds up better today than any program of its era, and one can still see its influence ALL over TV, straight through "Westworld," for example. This complete series set provides hours of entertainment, along with days of special features. It's a great gift idea for those of you with a few names left to check off your list.Buy it here
Original Pilot Version with Rod Serling Sponsor Pitch
Audio Commentaries by Cast & Crew
Interview with Cast & Crew
Audio Commentary by "The Twilight Zone Companion" Author Marc Scott Zicree
Isolated Music Scores