A wild whirlwind of a mess, without any coherence, without even a guiding principle.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
8 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
"Black Girl" (Criterion)
The Criterion Collection has been rightfully criticized for focusing almost primarily on European and Japanese cinema when it branches out of the English language. They love their French auteurs and German expressionists. However, there are some signs that this wildly influential company is starting to think outside of its self-imposed box. Not only does Criterion's recent cartoon—a tease that hints at releases to come throughout the year—feature what has been widely interpreted as the company's first Apichatpong Weersathakul film but they just released the fantastic first work of Ousmane Sembene, the godfather of African cinema. Roger Ebert was a vocal proponent of Sembene's work, helping get it to a wider American audience than it otherwise would have found. Kudos to Criterion for continuing that effort.
New 4K digital restoration, undertaken by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
4K restoration of the short film "Borom sarret," director Ousmane Sembène’s acclaimed 1963 debut
New interviews with scholars Manthia Diawara and Samba Gadjigo
Excerpt from a 1966 broadcast of JT de 20h, featuring Sembène accepting the Prix Jean Vigo for Black Girl
New interview with actor M’Bissine Thérèse Diop
Sembène: The Making of African Cinema, a 1994 documentary about the filmmaker by Diawara and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Alternate color sequence
New English subtitle translation
PLUS: An essay by critic Ashley Clark
Kirsten Johnson's autobiographical documentary was one of RogerEbert.com's top ten films of 2016 and on my personal top ten list as well. If you disqualify "OJ: Made in America," as some do, it's my pick for the best documentary of 2016. It's a mesmerizing, distinct approach to biography, as Johnson uses footage she has shot over the years for other filmmakers, cut together with her own home movies. It not only fits the old dictum that "you are who you know," and Johnson has met some fascinating people, but gets at something complicated about the role that the filmmakers plays with his or her subject. I love that Criterion has already placed this film on a pedestal from which it is more likely to reach a wider, satisfied audience.
New high-definition digital master, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Editing “Cameraperson,” a new program featuring director Kirsten Johnson, producers Marilyn Ness and Danielle Varga, and editors Nels Bangerter and Amanda Laws
In the Service of the Film, a roundtable conversation with Johnson, producer Gini Reticker, and sound recordists Wellington Bowler and Judy Karp
Excerpts from two 2016 film festival talks with Johnson, including one between her and filmmaker Michael Moore
"The Above," a 2015 short film by Johnson
PLUS: An essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda and reprinted writings by Johnson
"Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man"
Is it crass opportunism to release this concert film on Blu-ray for the first time only now that Leonard Cohen has died? Arguably, but it's not like this is a double-dip, and the film is an excellent one that should have been on Blu-ray in the first place anyway. "I'm Your Man" is essentially a tribute concert film for one of history's best songwriters to cover. Cohen's lyrics were like poetry, open to interpretation enough that new performers could make them their own. Favorites in this release include Antony & The Johnsons' "If It Be Your Will," Teddy Thompson's "Tonight Will Be Fine," and The Handsome Family's "Famous Blue Raincoat." It's also very competitively priced. You could spend 15 bucks in a lot worse ways.
Audio Commentary with Director Lian Lunson
A Conversation with Leonard Cohen
Additional Performances of Leonard Cohen Songs Not Seen in the Movie
Jeff Nichols made two phenomenal films in 2016, and this one landed on more top ten lists and even earned its leading lady a much-deserved Best Actress nomination. I've heard the criticisms since I saw the film in Toronto that it's too conservative and staid given the anger and passion that should arise from its subject matter, and I get that, although I don't think it comes from any sort of laziness on Nichols' part. If anything, I think he's overly respectful of a very private couple, putting them on a pedestal and refusing to sensationalize their story. However, he also directs the hell out of his cast, bringing truthful, stunning performances from Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, and not enough was made of Nichols' ability with world-building. You can feel the dust in the air in Nichols' world, one that feels lived in and relevant to today. Not enough people saw this movie in theaters. I hope more will catch up with it at home.
A Loving Ensemble
Loving v. Virginia
Virginia: A Loving Backdrop
Feature Commentary with Director Jeff Nichols
After years of fantastic HD special editions, Disney has released all of their canon on Blu-ray by now, and so they're cycling back through their Greatest Hits at the rate of about one a quarter, playing that game they play so well with supply and demand. They know that not everyone bought "Pinocchio" the last time that it hit Blu-ray in a special edition, and so they repackage it and move it back into buyer's minds for another shot at the wallet. As is pretty much always the case with Disney, the transfer here is glorious. The line detail and color saturation looks pretty much perfect, and the special features are just enough for those who did buy it the last time to consider picking it up again. This has always been one of my favorite classic Disney flicks, willing to scare kids in ways that the company really isn't any more.
The Pinocchio Project: "When You Wish Upon A Star"
Walt's Story Meetings: Pleasure Island
In Walt's Words: Pinocchio
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in "Poor Papa"
Yes, boys and girls disappointed by garbage like "Underworld: Blood Wars" and "Rings," lackluster horror movie franchises are not a modern phenomenon. The machine has been pumping 'em out for years. In fact, the '80s may have been the pinnacle of the cheapo horror movie sequel. It felt like every single genre flick that made some money got a sequel. And when a movie made as much money as "Poltergeist," it got two. Leave it to the wonderful people at Scream Factory to package them both with special features and restored HD transfers. "Poltergeist II" is actually probably better than you remember. "Poltergeist III" is worse.
Special Features - "Poltergeist II"
Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer Michael Garis
Audio Commentary with Webmaster of the Poltergeist Fan Site David Furtney
"Robbies's Return" - An Interview with Oliver Robins
"The Spirit World" - An Interview with Special Effects Designer Richard Edlund, Steve Johnson and Screaming Mad George
"Ghosts of Giger" - A Look at the Contributions of Artist H.R Giger Featuring Rare Photos and Illustrations and an Interview with Friend and Agent, Les Branny
Special Features - "Poltergeist III"
Audio Commentary with Director Gary Sherman
Audio Commentary with Webmaster of the Poltergeist Fan Site David Furtney
"High Spirits" - An Interview with Screenwriter Brian Taggert
"Reflections" - An Interview with Actress Nancy Allen
"Mirror Faces" - An Interview with Special Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr.
Disney made a noble effort to get a film about chess out to a wider audience, but "Queen of Katwe" still underperformed in theaters, which means it's bound to find viewers at home. This is one of those rare crowdpleasing films that actually pleases, built on a foundation of character and place that feels genuine, thanks to great performances and a director who actually calls the part of the world in which the film is set home. Consequently, this never feels manipulative, even as it gets emotional, and David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o anchor their supporting characters in such a way that allows the children at the film's center to shine. Give this to a young person you know.
Queen of Katwe: Their Story
A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight
In the Studio with Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys "Back to Life" Lyric Video
Young Cardamom & Hab "#1 Spice" Music Video
The 2020 Oscar nominations.
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.
A collection of the reviews given our highest possible grade in 2019.