A wild whirlwind of a mess, without any coherence, without even a guiding principle.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
14 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
"Buena Vista Social Club" (Criterion)
Wim Wenders' Oscar-nominated concert film is more than just a document of a music event. It is a joyous celebration, made more powerful by where it takes place. The film centers on Ry Cooder, a friend of Wenders, and how he assembled a multi-talented group of Cuban musicians to play two concerts, one in Amsterdam and one in New York. It's hard to believe this film is almost 20 years old (and Lucy Walker has shot a follow-up that will get a limited theatrical release next month) and fun to remember how it gave these musicians such a brief but bright moment in the spotlight. Wenders' fictional work has been widely beloved, but Criterion has also devoted energy to his documentaries, releasing "Pina" and now this, one of his biggest hits. Turn it up.
New high-definition digital transfer, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Audio commentary from 1999 featuring director Wim Wenders
New interview with Wenders
Interview from 1998 with musician Compay Segundo on his career and the world of Cuban music
Radio interviews from 2000 featuring musicians Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, and others
PLUS: An essay by author and geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
Cohen Media Group spearheaded a restoration of Julie Dash's debut film last year, releasing it in theaters and even sending Dash out on a festival/press tour. It shed light on a film that history almost forgot. According to NPR, "Daughters of the Dust" was the first film directed by an African-American female writer to receive a national theatrical release. How interesting that some have credited Beyonce's "Lemonade," which borrows from Dash's film visually, with reigniting interest in it. However we got here, I'm happy that Cohen has seen fit to follow-up the revival of the film last year with a very solid Blu-ray release. This is an important chapter in film history. Let's make sure we don't forget it again.
Interview with Julie Dash and Dr. Stephanie Dunn, Director of Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies at Morehouse College
Q&A with Director Julie Dash and Actress Cheryl Bruce at the Chicago International Film Festival, moderated by Actress Regina Taylor
Interview with Cinematographer Arthur Jafa
Audio Commentary with Director Julie Dash and Michelle Materre
"Dead or Alive Trilogy"
Speaking of important chapters in film history, Takashi Miike definitely gets his own. There was a moment around the turn of the century in which Miike would have been one of the hottest subjects on Film Twitter if there was such a thing. 1999's "Audition" and 2001's "Ichi the Killer" bookended the first film in what would become known as the "Dead or Alive" trilogy, recently released in a gorgeous set from Arrow Films. The three films have nothing narratively in common but they're all crazy style, especially the first, influential work, one of the first Miike movies I saw. He's only made about three dozen since then, but he's still going strong, with a new film premiering in just a few weeks at Cannes. I feel like we're just getting to the point where we can appreciate Miike. He's a filmmaker we'll be talking about long after he's gone, and the "Dead or Alive" films are a very important part of his legacy. They're almost purposefully imperfect, but they display a filmmaker willing to take risks that most have never even considered.
New Interview with Actor Riki Takeuchi
New Interview with Actor Show Aikawa
New Interview with Producer and Screenwiter Toshiki Kinura
New Audio Commentary for Dead or Alive by Miike Biographer Tom Mes
Archive Interviews with Cast and Crew
Archive Making-of Featurettes for DOA2: Birds and DOA: Final
Original Theatrical Trailers for All Three Films
Reversible Sleeve Featuring Original and Newly Commissioned Artwork by Orlando Arocena
The Weinstein Company unceremoniously dumped John Lee Hancock's drama in January, putting most of their awards season power behind "Lion" and leaving Michael Keaton out of the conversation. While he probably wouldn't have made my top five, he's again very good here and should have gotten more attention. Most of all, I'm happy to see him capitalizing on the success of films like "Birdman" and "Spotlight" to continue working in challenging roles. He plays Ray Kroc, the man who basically stole McDonald's from a pair of brothers (played perfectly by Nick Offerman andd John Carroll Lynch) and turned it into an international phenomenon. Compared by some to "The Social Network" in the way it shows business greed, "The Founder" is a bit too slow for a film about fast food, and I question the POV a bit. The story of the McDonald brothers, swindled by a fast-talker, is the most interesting arc of the film. I cared less about Kroc's romantic subplot. A lot less.
Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (Featurette)
Based on the hit novel, this is one of the few early-year 2017 films that I feel will stick with audiences long after the year is over. As with "It Follows" and "The Witch," indie horror seems to be the genre that produces the visions that last in recent years. I hope people catch up with "The Girl with All the Gifts," a wonderful zombie allegory starring Glenn Close, Paddy Considine and Gemma Arterton that has the DNA of Romero and Boyle but also feels like one of the few original undead flicks in recent memory. If you're a fan of "The Walking Dead," this is your new jam.
"Unwrap the Secret World of The Girl with All the Gifts" Featurette
The first of three Best Pictures nominees in this week's column is also arguably the film that was the most surprising of this year's award season. A tearjerker from the director of "St. Vincent" wasn't really on anyone's radar, but Theodore Melfi really delivered the old-fashioned goods with this smart, fun, crowdpleasing true story of three African-American women and the role they played in the space race. Enough has been written about why "Hidden Figures" works that I won't repeat myself, but let me say this: the movie falls apart without Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, and Octavia Spencer. They are the center of the film, and every decision they make feels like the right one. In a sense, Melfi just encouraged them and got out of their way. And that was the smartest directorial decision he could have made.
It All Adds Up: The Making of Hidden Figures: No Limits - The Life of Katherine Johnson
The Right People for the Job?
Recreating an Era?
A Spiritual Journey - The Music of the Film
Moving the Decimal - Honoring Katherine Johnson
Filming in Georgia
Audio Commentary by Director Theodore Melfi and Taraji P. Henson
It feels a bit tragic that the history of this very good movie will now forever include the biggest Oscar flub in history. Forget about what happened at the Academy Awards. Forget about the buzziest Oscar season ever. Forget about all of the hype. Try and just appreciate Damien Chazelle's film on its own terms. It's a joyous, wonderful movie about the way love and creativity intersect and influence each other. It's not the traditional love story that you may be expecting. It's not even a traditional musical, in modern terms, far more influenced by Demy than Sondheim. I think history will be kind to "La La Land," as new generations find it with no knowledge of the bizarre ending of its Oscar saga. It is a movie that people will fall in love with over and over again for decades to come.
Another Day in the Sun: They Closed a Freeway
La La Land's Great Party
Ryan Gosling: Piano Student
Before Whiplash: Damien Chazelle's Project
The Music of La La Land
John Legend's Acting Debut
the look of Love: Designing La La Land
Epilogue: The Romance of the Dream
Damien & Justin Sing: The Demos
La La Land's Love Letter to Los Angeles
Ryan and Emma: Third Time's the Charm
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Damien Chazelle and Composer Justin Hurwitz
With the possible exception of Mel Gibson's unexpected return to the spotlight, this was my least favorite Best Picture nominee from the last season. There are elements that work, particularly Nicole Kidman's subtle performance and the cinematography in the first half, but this is manipulative moviemaking at its most tearjerking. It's one of those films in which everyone says what they're thinking and what they're planning to do in every conversation, especially in the second half. Every character feels like a writer's device more than someone fully-formed and three-dimensional. Does the manipulation work? Sure, I cried at the end too. But I didn't feel good about it. And there were better films that "Lion" pushed out of the awards conversation, including "Paterson" and "Silence," which we'll be talking about long after people have forgotten whether or not this movie was about a giant cat.
Behind the Scenes Gallery
"Never Give Up" Performed By Sia
Official Lyric Video
When I was young, it was relatively difficult to get a hold of Studio Ghibli films. We should consider ourselves incredibly lucky that not only are new films getting more notable stateside theatrical releases, they're also accompanied by great Blu-ray editions from GKids. And it's not just for the new flicks, but the ones that almost fell through the cracks of history like "Only Yesterday" and now "Ocean Waves," a gentle and subtle drama about memory and coming of age. It's not a great film but even minor Ghibli is important to film history. They're a company that always comes at their work artistically, and their influence and importance is only starting to be adequately recognized.
A Never-Before-Released Short Film About Life At Studio Ghibli
"Silicon Valley: The Complete Third Season"
"Veep: The Complete Fifth Season"
There is no better hour of comedy on television than HBO's current block of "Veep" and "Silicon Valley." Add in "The Leftovers," and it's on the conversation for one of the best two hour blocks of TV EVER. If you haven't been keeping up with HBO's best shows, you can now catch up on Blu-ray and DVD with the recently released season sets. There's not much to say other than HBO continues to keep matching the quality of the TV work with the quality of their Blu-ray releases, which comes with digital copies and special features that should appeal to fans.
"Silicon Valley" Special Features
"Veep" Special Features
I'm torn on M. Night Shyamalan's massive hit thriller (pun slightly intended), which made a fortune and helped push the just-announced "Glass" into production for the divisive auteur. On one hand, James McAvoy is fantastic. Watch his physical transformations as he plays the different personalities of the villainous center of this piece. On the other hand, the script here is one of Shyamalan's worst. I hate how it constantly breaks tension (the therapist is an entirely useless character who exists purely for exposition and background) and wastes two of the three kidnapped girls with no characters at all (Haley Lu Richardson, in particular, deserved better). It's a decent enough thriller for a Saturday night rental, but it's nowhere near Shyamalan's best, and I hope he irons out the concept's flaws in the sequel.
Alternate Ending & Deleted Scenes with Introductions by M. Night Shayamalan
The Making of Split
The Many Faces of James McAvoy
The Filmmaker's Eys: M. Night Shyamalan
When people speak of films that fetishize food, they often forget Juzo Itami's sensuous 1985 paean to the human appetite. Criterion seeks to change that this week with the release of "Tampopo" after a restoration hit theaters briefly last year. It's a strange film that satirizes how food unites us all, destroying social statuses and restrictions. The Criterion release is loaded with features, even more than usual, including a feature-length documentary, Itami's debut short film from 1962, and new interviews.
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
The Making of “Tampopo,” a ninety-minute documentary from 1986, narrated by director Juzo Itami
New interview with actor Nobuko Miyamoto
New interview with food stylist Seiko Ogawa
New interviews with ramen scholar Hiroshi Oosaki and chefs Sam White, Rayneil De Guzman, Jerry Jaksich, and Ivan Orkin
Rubber Band Pistol, Itami’s 1962 debut short film
New video essay by filmmakers Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos on the film’s themes of self-improvement and mastery of a craft
New English subtitle translation
PLUS: An essay by food and culture writer Willy Blackmore
"Woman of the Year" (Criterion)
Audiences may be drawn to this George Stevens classic after learning more about its filmmaker in Netflix's "Five Came Back." This is one of the last films he made before getting into his WWII work, and it has another important place in film history in that it was the first film to co-star Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, who was hot off the success of "The Philadelphia Story." With a razor-sharp script (which won the Oscar), this is one of Stevens most lovable films, and it really created the template for what we would come to know as the Hepburn-Tracy dynamic. It's another absolutely loaded Criterion release, including a two-hour doc about the filmmaker and a glorious tribute to Tracy that also runs the length of a feature. Finally, don't skip Stephanie Zacharek's great essay.
New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New interview with George Stevens Jr.
1967 audio interview with George Stevens
New interview with George Stevens biographer Marilyn Ann Moss
New interview with writer Claudia Roth Pierpont on actor Katharine Hepburn
George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey, a 112-minute 1984 documentary by George Stevens Jr.
The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn, an eighty-six-minute documentary from 1986
PLUS: An essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek
The 2020 Oscar nominations.
A collection of the reviews given our highest possible grade in 2019.
A review of Netflix's Dracula, from the creators of Sherlock.
A review of the new Netflix crime docuseries about former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez.