I'm a sucker for King-inspired things, and this one hits that chord well enough to be worth a look over your Christmas break.
Michael Shannon as Elvis Presley. Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams. Don Cheadle as Miles Davis. While it feels like these should all make for momentous, high-profile film experiences, they share a common trait other than all being released on Blu-ray on the same Tuesday in July 2016: They're all varying degrees of disappointing. I included them in this week's LENGTHY guide because of what Shannon, Hiddleston and Cheadle bring to them, but if you're looking for real finds this week, they include the latest from Jeremy Saulnier, the best documenatry of 2016, Criterion releases of Alain Resnais films and the latest from Richard Linklater. Blu-rays are in random order this week, although the first four are among the best of the year to date.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
10 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
"Night and Fog" (Criterion)
What more could possibly be written about Alain Resnais' 1955 short documentary about the Holocaust? It regularly pops up on lists of the most essential films ever made, and it has lost none of its power six decades after its release, especially as stories of genocide around the world continue to plague humanity. Part of the impact of Resnais' film is in his conclusion that the men who perpetrated some of the most unimaginable horrors in human history could be standing right next to you. Evil only remains when we allow it to be unrecognized. Criterion's release of "Night and Fog," an upgrade from their DVD release years ago to coincide with the release of Resnais' "Muriel" this week as well, includes a new interview with a man who knows a thing or two about recognizing the face of evil, Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of "The Act of Killing" and "The Look of Silence." Resnais' film is still devastating 61 years after its release. And it's one of those rare films that always will be.
Excerpt from a 1994 Interview with Alain Resnais
New interview with Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer
Face aux fantomes, a ninety-nine-minute 2009 documentary featuring historian Sylvie Lindeperg that explores the French memory of the Holocaust and the controversy surrounding the film's release
New English subtitle translation
An essay by film scholar Colin MacCabe
"OJ: Made in America"
Arguably the best film or TV show of 2016, ESPN's "OJ: Made in America" has already been released on Blu-ray and DVD, and it has been packaged in a gorgeous box set that includes both HD and standard versions of the eight-hour series in packaging that resembles a book. Each disc comes with a recap, quote and an infographic, starting with Simpson's football statistics and going on to include a map of the Bronco Chase Route and the Rockingham Evidence Map. The real draw here though is the documentary, which not only offers detail to stories you've heard before but presents them in a new context, noting how the racial history of this country produced every aspect of Simpson, from his football superstar days to his acquittal to his odd celebrity life and arrest after. It is a mesmerizing piece of work, one of the best things to air on television ... ever. And now you can see it uncut and commercial-free. I saw it not that long ago, and I plan to watch all eight hours again before the year is over.
Up Close with Chris Myers
Sports Reporters 1
Sports Reporters 2
"Everybody Wants Some!!"
There have been dozens of films about the transformative days when one goes from youth to college age, but few have more deftly captured the seemingly opposing aspects of that time when we both try to find ourselves as individuals and seek a community of like-minded people. The horny teen boys in Richard Linklater's masterful comedy spend their days before classes start sampling everything that college life has to offer. It is not coincidental that they go from a disco party to a country party to a theater party and so on and so on, as Linklater plays with his themes and injects philosophy in ways that never weigh down the buoyant comedy at the forefront. It is a masterfully written and edited film, the kind that fall deeply into the "Much Harder Than It Looks" category of filmmaking, and the entire cast has that breakout star potential we all saw in "Dazed and Confused" years ago. When Linklater called this a spiritual sequel to that film, I assumed it was just tonally speaking, but I realize now that it's philosophically too in that both movies are about both the joy and difficulty of finding your place in the world. In a sense, most of Linklater's great films have been about exactly that.
More Stuff That's Not in the Movie
Baseball Players Can Dance
History 101: Stylin' the '80s
Much like Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" gained significant depth by the passing of Heath Ledger, it's impossible to watch Jeremy Saulnier's "Green Room" mere weeks after the death of star Anton Yelchin and not feel a palpable sense of melancholy over what's been lost. Of course, "Green Room" was a great film before Yelchin's passing, but it just makes the cut-short career all the more tragic. Watch what he does here. Watch how in-the-moment he is in every scene, caught in a waking nightmare of a punk rock concert turned violent. I also appreciated Saulnier's various depictions of masculinity more this time. He told me at Sundance that Michael Mann was as big an inspiration as the obvious John Carpenter nods, and it's easy to see him playing with those male ideals. Just watch what happens to the "bad guy turned savior." "Green Room" is one of those great movies that looks like B-movie escapism at first but becomes richer and deeper on each viewing. It's one of the few must-sees so far of 2016.
Audio Commentary with Director Jeremy Saulnier
"Into the Pit: Making Green Room" Featurette
"Elvis & Nixon"
This is a truly unusual movie. It's more about the days and hours leading up to the meeting behind one of the world's most famous photos than it is either of the men in it. Who honestly cares about Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon's closest allies meeting in a parking garage to try and arrange the actual meeting? I sure didn't, even with likable performances by Colin Hanks and Johnny Knoxville. The key to this movie is the larger-than-life personalities in the title and how two great actors do their best to ground them, especially Michael Shannon, whose take on Presley is fascinating. He plays The King as a soft-spoken, sincere, almost shy man, never once falling into impression, even when forced to say "Thank you very much." He's awesome. It's just too bad the rest of the movie is too thin to support him.
Commentary with Director Liza Johnson and Jerry Schilling
Crazy But True Featurette
Speaking of thin movies in support of great performances, welcome to round two (of three) this week. Don Cheadle's passion project about the life of Miles Davis is well-intentioned and Cheadle's performance is flawless, but it's another one of those films (like "Nina") that chooses a bizarre chapter of Davis' life to tell, focusing too much on his reckless, violent later years, and WAY too much on a fictional white character (Ewan McGregor) who exists solely to be our eyes into this crazy world. Stories of minorities seen through white eyes have been a problem in film for decades, but we should have moved on from that by now. And yet Cheadle's work here is so electric and committed that he almost makes up for the deep structural flaws in the rest of the film.
Buy it here
The Truth: Becoming Miles Davis
Sundance Film Festival Q&A
Commentary with Don Cheadle and Co-Writer Steven Baigelman
If Michael Shannon in "Elvis & Nixon" and Don Cheadle in "Miles Ahead" do just enough to get their films over the line from near-miss to barely-hit, Tom Hiddleston's equally fearless and committed performance in this tale of Hank Williams doesn't quite cut it, lost in a sea of standard biopic filmmaking. Rarely has a performer given so much to a movie that gives him so little in return. And it's a shame that a legend like Williams received such a predictable, boring film to tell his story. Again, Hiddleston is fantastic, but this movie almost plays like a parody of musician biopics, trudging forward in a bland, "then this happened" structure that should have been destroyed the minute that "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" deconstructed it.
It's all too common for critics to say things like, "You haven't seen a movie like this before," when you totally have. But, trust me, you really haven't seen a movie like this before. Sure, there are echoes of '70s animation intended for adults like "Heavy Metal" in this 1973 cult classic, a film recently restored and given a theatrical release before this week's beautifully transferred Blu-ray release, but it's really hard to convey the impact of Eiichi Yamamoto's film in words. It is a movie about a peasant woman who has been raped and accused of witchcraft, an animated work that features violent and pornographic imagery that has a cumulative, entrancing power. Parts of it can be a little overdone, but it's one of those films that feels more like an experience than a passive piece of entertainment. It challenges the viewer. And we need more films that do that, even if they were made four decades ago.
Buy it here
New video interviews with director Eiichi Yamamoto, art director Kuni Fukai, and composer Masahiko Satoh
U.S. theatrical trailer
Original theatrical trailer
New essay by Dennis Bartok
Fernando León de Aranoa's dramedy was largely ignored in its minimal theatrical release, but I hope it finds more of an audience on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming services. No, it's not some underrated classic that will change the way you look at cinema, but neither is it the kind of film that deserves the near-complete dismissal it received stateside. Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins give fantastically lived-in performances as aid workers in mid-'90s Yugoslavia, forced to deal with bureaucratic red tape just to get a body out of a well. Del Toro, in particular, is excellent at conveying the world weariness of a man who still wants to do some good but recognizes the forces that keep him from being able to do so. Some of the final act is a bit overwritten, especially a subplot involving a local boy and his family, but the film really works in its small moments when Del Toro, Robbins and the rest of a very solid cast are allowed to do character work.
"The Return of the Living Dead"
Even though I'm as big a horror fan as you know, I had relatively dismissed Dan O'Bannon's "The Return of the Living Dead," recently released by Scream Factory in a features-PACKED special edition. "Is that the one with the punk rock kids and the melting flesh?" Sure, I knew that O'Bannon, not Danny Boyle, really invented the "fast zombie" and that O'Bannon, not Romero, invented the idea of undead creatures with a taste for brains, but I had dismissed his film as more influential than entertaining. I still kind of feel that way, although I appreciated it a lot more in this restored version than I remembered. It's playful and fun, while being totally gross and often very funny at the same time. And Scream Factory again goes all out in terms of special features, giving fans more than they could ever imagine for their favorite films.
Audio Commentary With Gary Smart (Co-author Of The Complete History Of The Return Of The Living Dead) And Chris Griffiths
Audio Commentary With Actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin And Make-up Effects Artist Tony Gardner
Audio Commentary With Director Dan O'Bannon And Production Designer William Stout
Audio Commentary With The Cast And Crew Featuring Production Designer William Stout And Actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph, Allan Trautman
The Decade Of Darkness – Featurette On '80s Horror Films (23 minutes)
Still Gallery – Posters, Lobby Cards, Movie Stills And Behind-The-Scenes Photos
Still Gallery – Behind-The-Scenes Photos From Special Make-up Effects Artist Kenny Myers' Personal Collection
Zombie Subtitles For The Film
In Their Own Words – The Zombies Speak
The FX Of The Living Dead With Production Designer William Stout, FX Make-up Artists William Munns, Tony Gardner, Kenny Myers And Craig Caton-Largnet, Visual Effects Artists Bret Mixon And Gene Warren Jr. And Actor Brian Peck (Expanded Version) (30 minutes)
Party Time: The Music Of The Return Of The Living Dead With Music Consultants Budd Carr And Steve Pross And Soundtrack Artists Dinah Cancer (45 Grave), Chris D (The Flesh Eaters), Roky Erickson, Karl Moet (SSQ), Joe Wood (T.S.O.L.), Mark Robertson (Tall Boys) Plus Musicians Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks) And John Sox (The F.U.'s, Straw Dogs) (Expanded Version) (30 minutes)
HORROR'S HALLOWED GROUNDS – Revisiting The Locations Of The Film
The Return Of The Living Dead Workprint – Includes 20 minutes Of Additional Footage (In Standard Definition)
More Brains: A Return To The Living Dead – The Definitive Documentary On The Return Of The Living Dead (120 minutes)
A Conversation With Dan O'Bannon – His Final Interview (28 minutes)
The Origins Of The Living Dead – An Interview With John A. Russo (16 minutes)
The Return Of The Living Dead – The Dead Have Risen – Interviews With Cast Members Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Brian Peck, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, Linnea Quigley And More… (21 minutes)
Designing The Dead – Interviews With Writer/Director Dan O'Bannon And Production Designer William Stout (15 minutes)
In Two Weeks: "The Invitation," "Louder Than Bombs," "Sing Street," and more!
The staff choices for the best films of 2018.
A review of Fallout 76.
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