Sword of Trust
A likable throwback to the kind of rambling, character-driven 1990s indie comedies that the U.S. film industry barely releases to theaters anymore.
We're back with the latest and greatest as to what's available on streaming services and Blu-ray and DVD. As for the former, it's a bit light in the streaming and On Demand department, but the new releases on Blu-ray and DVD more than make up for it. In the recent Criticwire poll of the best films of 2015, the three films that finished just after "Mad Max: Fury Road" at #1 were just released on Blu-ray and DVD: "Ex Machina," "Clouds of Sils Maria," and "It Follows," in that order. In other words, 3 of the 4 best films OF THE YEAR were just released for you to watch at home. And they're joined by the really fun "What We Do in the Shadows," a new cut of "X-Men: Days of Future Past" that's superior to the theatrical version, and Criterion editions of three very different films. We'll hit them all. Pick your favorites. It shouldn't be hard to pick a few this week.
8 NEW TO NETFLIX
8 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
Alex Garland's sci-fi drama surprised critics and viewers earlier this year, presenting them with a complex thriller that worked both as character study and philosophical exercise. "Ex Machina" works even more impressively on second viewing, as it's easier to appreciate the visual choices (no film this year will use glass more impressively) and consider the thematic issues raised instead of just wondering where the plot is going. I'm still not fully convinced that Garland sticks the landing, but this is a complex, daring piece of work with great performances, technical elements, and enough issues to lead a conversation late into the evening. It also looks damn great on Blu-ray, and the release includes a lot of behind-the-scenes details about the making of this already-great film.
"Through the looking Glass: Creating 'Ex Machina'" 5-Part Featurette
8 Behind-the-Scenes Vignettes
SXSW Q&A with Cast and Crew
Speaking of great genre films, they don't get much better than "It Follows," a film that feels both like a throwback to John Carpenter's work of the '70s and '80s and completely new commentary on the male gaze and young female sexuality. What I love most about "It Follows" is the recognition on David Robert Mitchell's part that horror can still be a visually strong genre. Look at the way he uses nature—shots of sand, flowers, leaves, trees—and the visual motif of hands. This is a tactile horror film, one that feels like it takes place in the real world instead of the on-set feeling of most horror films. And Maika Monroe's performance here is remarkable. She's in nearly every scene, completely selling the deeply symbolic narrative of the horror of going from teen to adult.
Critics' Commentary Hosted By Scott Weinberg
A Conversation with Film Composer "Disasterpeace"
Poster Art Gallery
"What We Do in the Shadows"
Hilarious. I had heard a lot about the surprisingly high quality of "What We Do in the Shadows," but not being much of a Jemaine Clement fan, I kind of dismissed the buzz. I was wrong. This is a very, very funny movie, a mockumentary that actually deserves comparison with the best works of Christopher Guest like "Best in Show" and "Waiting For Guffman." It's basically a riff on MTV's "Real World" with vampires, but it's even smarter and funnier than that pitch might make it sound. At under 90 minutes, it's a brisk, clever, tight comedy that actually produces audible laughs, unlike the minor chuckles that we've come to expect as signs of quality from modern comedy. To be blunt, I laughed out loud at "Shadows" more than any comedy in a long time.
Commentary by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Behind the Shadows
"Clouds of Sils Maria"
Olivier Assayas' drama is a bit overrated—some of the final act satire of Hollywood featuring Chloe Grace Moretz is overcooked and oddly inert—but it is a must-see for one reason that might surprise you: Kristen Stewart. She does the best work of her career here in a performance that won her a landmark Cesar Award, the French equivalent of the Oscar. Part of the revelation is that we've come to expect amazing work from star Juliette Binoche every time, and she's great here too, but Stewart doesn't just hold her own with the legendary star, but brings out even more nuance to her work. "Clouds of Sils Maria" is, in many ways, Assayas' riffing on one of the formative works of his career, "L'Avventura." It's a fascinating work, and my biggest problem with the home release, other than that horrible cover on the right, is that it's only on DVD. And even the DVD has no special features. How does a film that wins the French the equivalent of the Oscar not even get a Blu-ray release stateside? What does that say about the US market for foreign films? Depressing.
"X-Men: Days of Future Past: Rogue Cut"
Bryan Singer went back and inserted 10 minutes of subplot into his massive hit "X-Men: Days of Future Past" that centers on the beloved character of Rogue, well-played by Anna Paquin. He also altered a few other moments and expanded a few other scenes, making this a definitive director's cut of the film, and, surprisingly, a stronger version of the movie than the theatrical edition. The "Rogue Cut" of "DOFP" feels more confident, flows more fluidly, and should be the only version of the film that people watch from now on. It's not drastically different than the theatrical edition, but fans of the movie who are worried about an already-bloated film getting more bloated need to really ask themselves if one more character subplot and 15 more minutes overall really makes that much of a difference to the "X-Men" experience. If anything, the extra running time actually makes this cut feel LESS bloated because the narrative feels more epic and less constricted.
Commentary by Director Bryan Singer and Composer / Film Editor John Ottman
Gallery: Storyboards, Costumes and Concepts Art
"Fantastic Four" Sneak Peek
Commentary by Director Bryan Singer & Producer / Writer Simon Kinberg
Mutant vs. Machine - 9-part making-of documentary featuring the cast and filmmakers!
"Hiroshima Mon Amour" (Criterion)
What is there to say about "Hiroshima Mon Amour" that hasn't already been said? Like "Citizen Kane" or "Tokyo Story," it is widely recognized as one of the most influential films ever made, and in light of that has been analyzed down to every single shot. Some have even argued, rather convincingly, that Alain Resnais changed cinema with this breakthrough film. How so? Look at the way he uses imagery, often poetically in brief flashbacks or cuts to action not related to our two central characters directly but thematically. "Hiroshima" is a film that works on a textual level as a deep conversation between two people from different worlds, and as a commentary on the power of film itself. It's long overdue to get the Blu-ray upgrade from the Criterion collection. Special features are very strong here, especially the interviews with Resnais and Riva, and an excellent essay by the always-great Kent Jones.
Audio commentary by film historian Peter Cowie
Interviews with director Alain Resnais from 1961 and 1980
Interviews with actor Emmanuelle Riva from 1959 and 2003
New interview with film scholar Francois Thomas, author of "L'atelier d'Alain Resnais"
New interview with music scholar Tim Page about the film's score
"Revoir 'Hiroshima'...", a 2013 program about the film's restoration
New English subtitle translation
Plus: An essay by critic Kent Jones and excerpts from a 1959 "Cahiers du cinema" roundtable discussion about the film
"The Black Stallion" (Criterion)
When I was growing up, I thoroughly wrote off 1979's "The Black Stallion." I considered it a cheesy "girl movie" about a horse and nowhere near as cool as the films I was getting into in the '80s like "Ghostbusters" and "Back to the Future." I was wrong. This is a beautiful, lyrical, poetic piece of work, and the Blu-ray release is even more impressive given the array of special features included by The Criterion Collection. I love Criterion releases that feel as comprehensive as this does, including five short films by the director, all with introductions. The great Scott Foundas appears for a conversation with Ballard and there's an interview with the amazing Caleb Deschanel. The transfer here is also excellent. It's a great release for an underrated film.
Five short films by Carroll Ballard, with introductions by the director:
"The Perils of Priscilla" (1969)
"Seems Like Only Yesterday" (1971)
New conversation between Ballard and film critic Scott Foundas
New interview with Deschanel
New piece featuring photographer Mary Ellen Mark discussing her images from the film's set
Plus: An essay by film critic Michael Sragow
"Here is Your Life" (Criterion)
Swedish director Jan Troell may not be a household name but the Criterion Collection has been quietly trying to keep his legacy alive, releasing recent films like the excellent "Everlasting Moments" and this breakthrough film for the director from 1968. Based on an autobiographical novel, one is immediately taken by the confidence on display here and the epic approach to storytelling in a film that covers nearly three hours. The Criterion release appropriately recognizes the scope and importance of the film, including new interviews with Mike Leigh and screenwriter Bengt Forslund. Most importantly, the release includes Troell's short film made just before this film with the timeless Max von Sydow.
New introduction by filmmaker Mike Leigh
New conversation between director Jan Troell and film historian Peter Cowie
New interviews with actor Eddie Axberg and producer and screenwriter Bengt Forslund
"Interlude in Marshland," a 1965 short film by Troell, starring Max von Sydow
New English subtitle translation
Plus: An essay by film scholar Mark Le Fanu
3 NEW TO VOD
A video essay about Mortal Engines, as part of Scout Tafoya's ongoing video essay series on maligned masterpieces.
This is the most purely entertaining season of Stranger Things to date.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...