Life struck me as several cuts above “meh” but never made me jump out of my seat.
The temperatures have dropped in most of the United States, and what better to do this time of year than watch movies? If you can't get out to pick from the array of remarkable recent releases ("Black Mass," "Sicario," "The Martian"), what should you watch at home? What are the most interesting recent additions to Netflix, VOD services like iTunes, and Blu-ray and DVD? Let us guide the way.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
As is always the case, the first of the month produces the widest selection of new offerings on the world's most popular streaming service. This month, I tried to pick out a truly diverse ten titles, ranging from acknowledged classics to recent films you may not have seen. All ten of these are worth a look, but if I can point you to one documentary that may have slipped under your radar, don't miss "Dear Zachary." It's a stunner.
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
"A Clockwork Orange"
"Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About a Father"
"The Girl is in Trouble"
"Glengarry Glen Ross"
"The Good Thief"
"Man From Reno"
3 NEW TO VOD
Nothing on Netflix excites you this month? Dig a little deeper into VOD service offerings of films still in theaters or even yet to come in most markets, highlighted by this trio.
"Manson Family Vacation" (available tomorrow)
"The Final Girls" (available tomorrow)
9 NEW TO BLU-RAY
Both this week's edition and next week's HECG is bound to include more than the average share of horror-themed Blu-ray releases, as Halloween serves as a peg for studios to release recent scary flicks or re-release some of their classics. I'm ignoring "Insidious: Chapter 3" this week (and you should too) and the jury is still out on whether or not I'll include "The Gallows" next week, so let's dig deeper. How about the unjustly maligned 1992 adaptation of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" from Francis Ford Coppola? I've always loved this movie and it gets better every time I see it. In fact, I remember this being one of the first movies for which the public response truly baffled me. People spent time making fun of Keanu Reeves' (purposefully) flat performance, and ignored the design elements, the score—and Gary Oldman! "Bram Stoker's Dracula" is a movie in need of a reappraisal by so many people. Actually, make that everyone, because either you love it or you should love it. The much-hyped 4K restoration on the Blu-ray is a bit less eye-popping than I expected, but the film itself is still fantastic, and the special features are extensive.
All-new Interviews with Francis Ford Coppola and Roman Coppola
Rare Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola, Visual Effects Director Roman Coppola, and Makeup Supervisor Greg Cannom
Audio Commentary & Film Introduction by Director Francis Ford Coppola
Original Theatrical Trailer
The Blood is the Life
Deleted & Extended Scenes
The Costumes Are the Sets
Method and Madness
The loose, free-form structure of "Magic Mike XXL," which is defiantly episodic in its narrative, mirrors the live-for-the-moment aesthetic of its characters. The lack of traditional plot as compared to the original threw a lot of people off when it was released in theaters. Those people are crazy. "XXL" is a joyous, expertly crafted, FUN movie that defies the traditionally lazy, cash-grab foundation of most sequels. Get on its wavelength. Accept that its episodic on purpose and with thematic intent. Enjoy it in the moments, whether it's the amazing sequence with Jada Pinkett Smith, or the even better one with Andie MacDowell minutes later. It's a film that could have been a series of dance sequences but finds energy even in its quieter, dialogue-driven scenes. And Channing Tatum just keeps getting more confident and charismatic with every film. No, it's not "deep," but it's what so many sequels fail to be: fun.
"The Moves of 'Magic Mike XXL'" and "Georgia"
Extended Malik Dance Scene
Speaking of energy, there's style to spare in this French variation on the true story captured in William Friedkin's classic "The French Connection." This is the French side of the story of drugs being trafficked into the United States in the '60s and '70s, told through a "Heat"-esque lens focusing on a cop (Jean Dujardin) and a criminal godfather (Gilles Lellouche). The film is surprisingly procedural (sometimes too much so), but it is such against a gorgeous backdrop of the French Riviera. And Dujardin hasn't been this good since "The Artist," capturing a man who becomes obsessed with stopping the flow of drugs out of his country to the rest of the world.
The Making of "The Connection": A Fifty-Minute Look Behind the Scenes
20-Page Booklet Featuring Cast and Crew Interviews
How do you even explain "The Duke of Burgundy" in a paragraph? It's almost impossible. On one hand, it's a story of a dominant-submissive relationship between two women. But that might make it sound a little more straightforward than it is. There's NOTHING straightforward about Peter Strickland's highly-acclaimed follow-up to "Berberian Sound Studio." It is a surreal examination of power roles within a relationship that's dripping with style and its own indescribable personality. It's not for everyone. But if you are willing to seek out something adventurous and truly unusual for this weekend's rental, see what all the fuss is about with one of the biggest critical hits from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
Commentary by Director Peter Strickland
Interview with Director Peter Strickland
Cat's Eye Promo
Short Film - "Conduct Phase"
Is this the final Studio Ghibli film? That's the rumor, and it makes the experience of watching it all the more bittersweet given its narrative of looking to the past and gaining confidence for the future. I'm hoping to write a lot more about the impact of Ghibli with the Miyazaki box set next month, but I'll say this: it's not just animation—FILM wouldn't be the same without Studio Ghibli. But what about "Marnie"? On one level, it's a simple ghost story of a girl who meets a similar-age female who teaches her to come out of her shell. What at first seems slight gets more and more emotionally resonant as it goes on. It's almost impossible not to be emotional by the end. Is it emotion for Marnie? Or for Studio Ghibli? Does it matter? You should see it either way.
The Making of "When Marnie Was There"
Yohei Taneda Creates the Art of "When Marnie Was There"
Behind the Scenes with Voice Cast
Foreign Trailer and TV Spots
"The Honeymooon Killers" (Criterion)
Leonard Kastle's a true one-hit wonder, making only this film based on a true story depiction of Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) and Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco), also known as The Lonely Hearts Killers. The pair would take out ads looking for relationships; she would pose as Ray's sister; they would swindle women and kill them. Advertised as an exploitation pic, this 1969 drama is much more than that. It's devastating in its quiet moments, like the conversations between Martha and Ray that drip with desperation. And I love the simplicity of some of its "bigger" moments. Violence comes suddenly. And it's often not filmed in the way one would expect it to be visualized. There's a great shot near the end as one of their victims is facing the inevitable and Kastle focuses on her desperate, terrified eyes. It's a hard movie to shake.
Interview with writer-director Leonard Kastle from 2003
"Love Letters," a new interview program by Robert Fischer, featuring actors Tony Lo Biance and Marilyn Chris and editor Stan Warnow
"Dear Martha..." a new video essay by Scott Christianson, author of "Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House"
Plus: An essay by critic Gary Giddins
"My Own Private Idaho" (Criterion)
When 1991's "My Own Private Idaho" came out, I was just forming my love for independent cinema, galvanized by 1989, the year of "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," "Do the Right Thing" and Gus Van Sant's "Drugstore Cowboy." I was discovering the auteur theory, and what I loved about Van Sant's second film was how it felt distinctly different from "Cowboy" but also hinted at an artist interested in the disenfranchised and those discarded by society. Van Sant was back on the street, and back in the world of addiction, but this time he saw Shakespeare in the alleys and the gutters, helped in no small part by another amazing performance from River Phoenix. The Criterion edition is a beauty, right down to the packaging and the book of essays. It's a release that makes me miss my youth, miss River Phoenix, and miss those early days of the '90s when independent cinema felt so alive and willing to take chances.
Illustrated 2005 audio conversation between Van Sant and filmmaker Todd Haynes
The Making of "My Own Private Idaho," a 2005 documentary featuring cast and crew
Kings of the Road, a 2005 interview with film scholar Paul Arthur on Van Sant's adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry IV and Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight
Conversation from 2005 between producer Laurie Parker and actor River Phoenix's sister Rain
Audio conversation from 2005 between writer JT Leroy and filmmaker Jonathan Caouette
Plus: A book featuring essays by film critic Amy Taubin and Leroy; a 1991 article by Lance Loud; and reprinted interviews with Van Sant, Phoenix, and actor Keanu Reeves
"A Room with a View" (Criterion)
I am also old enough to remember when Merchant/Ivory were an annual force in awards seasons conversations. They had been making movies for a long time, but 1986's "A Room with a View" was the breakthrough, becoming one of the biggest arthouse hits of that year due in no small part to amazing work by Daniel Day-Lewis and Helena Bonham Carter. DDL was not yet the force of nature we know him to be now and HBC was only 19, but we could sense immediately that these were two actors that really mattered. HBC comes back for an illuminating interview on the new Criterion release, which is otherwise a bit scant in the special features department, especially for Criterion.
New interviews with director James Ivory, Pierce-Roberts, costume designer John Bright, and actors Helena Bonham Carter, Simon Callow, and Julian Sands
Segment about Merchant Ivory Productions from a 1987 "NBC Nightly News"
Plus: An essay by film critic and author John Pyn
"The Avengers: Age of Ultron"
I can't speak to the special features as Disney/Marvel could only provide a digital code to their latest blockbuster, but I thought you'd want to know it's out there. As most of the world saw it in theaters, you've probably formed an opinion by now but here's mine: disappointed. I loved the first movie, but this one feels too cluttered and cartoony for my tastes, nearly falling to Schumacher territory with its over-abundance of characters and extended action sequences. The cast makes it, (and Whedon's gift with dialogue), but the action doesn't feel like it has any real stakes. Give me "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" any day of the week.
"From The Inside Out - Making Of 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron'": This all-access look into the making of the biggest Super Hero cinematic experience of all time will knock you out with its scope, ambition and, yes, Vision.
The Infinite Six: Discover everything you need to know about the most powerful objects in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Global Adventure: Travel to the amazing locations where the movie was filmed.
Deleted & Extended Scenes
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Joss Whedon
A celebration of director David Lynch's filmography in anticipation of an upcoming retrospective at the IFC Center in...
A review of the fourth original Marvel series for Netflix. And the worst.
A classic thriller that moves with a sense of purpose.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...