Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
Netflix's August 1 update was a little slight (probably knowing most subscribers are busy with "Stranger Things" and "Bojack Horseman"), so we're skipping that section this week. But the Blu-rays and DVDs that just hit the market and streaming services like Vudu and iTunes more than make up for the absence. Four of my favorite films of 2016 so far hit Blu-ray in the last two weeks, along with two of the most ambitious television shows currently on the air. We also have a few classics, and an arthouse hit starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. I didn't even mention one of the most beloved horror films of the '70s. Get out your wallet. You're going to need your credit card.
10 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
Given how adored it has been by literally everyone to whom I've recommended it, it feels a bit like Weinstein dropped the ball with John Carney's musical-comedy, pushing it to just over $8 million worldwide. Sure, an Irish movie with no stars and original music based on '80s pop is a tough sell, but "Once" made 2.5 times this in 2007 dollars. When I saw "Sing Street" at Sundance, the closing credits turned into a dance party, with everyone getting out of their seats. I know it's a common theme to discuss the cynicism and depression that has faced our country this year, embodied by a continued fight for civil rights and a heated political landscape. Take a break from politics. Watch the story of a boy who falls in love and tries to become a pop star to win a girl's heart. Don't miss this one.
Making Sing Street
Writer/Director John Carney & Adam Levine Talk Sing Street
Speaking of studios entirely unaware what to do with a film, I'll never understand why Sony has decided to release Joachim Trier's excellent, English-language debut on DVD-only. Sure, there's an argument to be made that this is more of a rental title (there aren't a lot of Trier collectors, I suppose), but it's 2016. We're at the point where everything should be released in HD, especially a movie this accomplished. And, yes, it doesn't have vistas like "The Revenant," but there's a fluid beauty to Trier's work on this story of failed connections and simmering grief (which has, interestingly, been a theme of 2016 with this one, "The Meddler" and "The Invitation"). Trier is focused mostly on how memory impacts grief, and vice versa. We have a habit of remembering people we have lost differently than they may have actually been. It's about how we process loss, or fail to do so. This is complex, challenging storytelling. ALL the time, I hear from people lamenting the fact that they don't make movies for adults any more, focusing more on teenage ticket buyers. This is a great movie for adults.
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers"
Who could have guessed that a serialized story published six decades ago in a magazine would have such staying power that it would be made into four films, at least one of which has been released repeatedly on Blu-ray and DVD? Philip Kaufman's version of Jack Finney's story of pod people is perhaps the most famous of the four to date. Part of the reason for that is the undeniable political subtext of it. Made at the end of the '70s, it is a film about that transition between the era of support and love and the Me Generation of the '80s. People you thought you knew changed as Camelot fell and Nixon was kicked out of office. It reflects the fear and paranoia over a changing culture, which makes it a particularly powerful film this year. Of course, Scream Factory knows that, very purposefully releasing it just after the national conventions. New special features are a bit slight, but I did like the chat with Brooke Adams, who tells some good stories about her cast members, including Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldblum.
2K scan of the interpositive
Star-Crossed in The Invasion - an interview with actress Brooke Adams (9 minutes)
Leading the Invasion - an interview with actor Art Hindle (25 minutes)
Re-Creating The Invasion - an interview with writer W.D. Richter (16 minutes)
Scoring the Invasion an interview with composer Denny Zeitlin (15 minutes)
Audio Commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman
Audio Commentary by director Philip Kaufman
Re-Visitors From Outer Space, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Pod - including interviews with director Philip Kaufman, screenwriter W.D. Richter, director of photography Michael Chapman and actors Donald Sutherland and Veronica Cartwright (15 minutes)
Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod (4 minutes)
The Man Behind The Scream: The Sound Effects Pod – an interview with Ben Burtt and sound editor Bonnie Koehler (12 minutes)
The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod (5 minutes)
An episode of SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE, Time is Just A Place, based on Jack Finney’s short story. Directed by Jack Arnold.
What is the best animated film of 2016 so far? Most people would probably go with "Zootopia" or "Finding Dory," but let me offer an under-the-radar nominee, Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci's excellent "April and the Extraordinary World." This sci-fi/fantasy/adventure film has some of the best production design in years, capturing an alternate universe Europe in the '30s and '40s that feels inspired by steampunk and the kind of fantastic stories of adventure seen in the serials of the day. It's a beautiful, imaginative film that doesn't talk down to its audience and will work on different levels for children and their parents. There has been a GLUT of family films this summer and most of them have been mediocre to bad. This one is still my favorite.
The Origin of The Extraordinary World
"The Girlfriend Experience: Season One"
Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz's Starz drama could arguably be called the most ambitious program on television. It is a riveting half-hour drama about a young woman who becomes a high-end prostitute, which may make it sound like little more than salacious cable programming, but there's SO much going on here that it takes more than one viewing to really appreciate it. Riley Keough's stunning performance anchors a show that works on multiple levels, riveting purely for its plot but also worth discussing on a deeper level in terms of what it says about gender roles and sexuality. Why do we praise men who go to extremes to rise in the financial world but look down on women who make money on their own terms with their bodies? What's mesmerizing is how deftly Kerrigan and Seimetz walk the line of this show, never once making it feel like a cautionary tale while also not glamorizing this lifestyle. If anything, that's the daring theme of the show: This is her choice, no one should make it for her, and now you should make your own.
An Inside Look
What is The Girlfriend Experience
The Look of The Girlfriend Experience
"The Knick: Season Two"
I love coincidental timing because the conversation of ambitious drama has to also include Steven Soderbergh's gloriously dense story of the medical revolution around the turn of the century, anchored by a great Clive Owen performance. The leading man is mesmerizing, but "The Knick" is special most of all for actually having a visual language, something still too commonly absent even in today's peak TV. Look at the camera angles, the editing choices, the use of music—"The Knick" is our most film-like show on television. And HBO has done their typically fantastic job with the home release, providing not only pristine transfers but hours of special features.
Inside the Body Shop
Inside the Costume Shop
Invitation to the Ball
Audio Commentaries with Cast and Crew
A still-grieving father is invited to a dinner at the home at which he watched his son die. The grief tore him away from his wife, who has gone through her process very differently from him, disappearing to Mexico and returning with a new man, new friends, and a new outlook. But something just doesn't seem right in Karyn Kusama's delicately made thriller, which boasts a masterful use of space and sound. As the walls close in on our protagonist, we wonder just what the end of game of this dinner party will be. And when the final meal is served, Kusama's film gains further depth as a study of not just tension but the importance of living with grief. We cannot try to fix it or run away from it. We can only walk with it. This is a great movie, and Drafthouse's release is an excellent one, in a sturdy case with a detailed booklet and interesting special features.
Disclaimer: Almost everyone likes "The Lobster" more than I do. In fact, I told someone the other day that I expect it to be in the conversation for a nomination for Best Original Screenplay (it's A24, who worked similar wonders for "Ex Machina"). For me, Yorgos Lanthimos' black comedy is undeniably fun and clever, but also repetitive and ultimately unsatisfying. It too often feels unfocused, even if it's original. However, you should see it. Not only because everybody seems to like it more than I do, but because we should embrace and support filmmakers who are willing to take risks and casts this high-profile willing to sign up for them. Sure, I wish "The Lobster" was a bit better, but I'm still happy it got made.
Speaking of movies that don't quite come together, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele's leading man debut is just joyful and funny enough to recommend, but also kind of horribly directed. Comedy requires a rhythm that just isn't quite here, hurt by clunky editing and a bizarre score. It's almost as if the movie is working against its stars more often than it tries to help them. Luckily, they are both so likable and funny that the filmmaking flaws will be easy to forgive on the home market. I expect "Keanu" to do very well on DVD and Blu-ray, hopefully making their next effort more imminent.
Keanu: My First Movie
What is there to say about the ridiculous, nauseating "Hardcore Henry," a movie that notoriously plays like a first-person shooter video game? It's pure lunacy. And I would understand someone who told me they thought it was the worst movie ever made. For me, I went along for the ride, especially when I saw it the first time in Toronto. I admire films that are this committed to their insanity, and Sharlto Copley is undeniably fun as our guide through the chaos. At home, "Hardcore Henry" looks even more like a video game. Watch it on your PS4 and hold a controller in your hands. It will feel downright interactive.
Feature Commentaries with Director/Producer Ilya Naishuller and Star/Executive Producer Sharlto Copley
3 NEW TO VOD
New theatrical releases you can rent on demand now, while they're still in theaters.
"Five Nights in Maine" (available tomorrow)
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...