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.
Who cares that the eternal winter has finally thawed and people can go outside again when there are so many great movies to watch on Netflix or On Demand? There's no time for nature! So, we're back with our guide to the latest and greatest offerings on America's favorite streaming service along with brief thoughts, special features details, and links to buy the most interesting Blu-rays and DVDs released in the last few weeks. There's a great variety of material this week. Pick your favorites.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
Last week, Netflix did an update of numerous older films, including the classic, Best Picture-winning "Wings," one of Martin Scorsese's best, and one of Bill Murray's best. They also dropped a beloved 2014 animated sequel recently, Alain Resnais' last film, a documentary that we gave four stars, and arguably the most controversial Best Picture winner of all time. Add a few of these to your queue.
8 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
It took me into about halfway through Gina Prince-Bythewood's remarkable romantic drama to realize why it's so special: They don't make these kind of movies for adults. Almost all romances nowadays are targeted at teen girls. You don't get to see complex, adult characters given space to breathe, mourn, regret, and fall in love. You don't see adult romances that are bereft of simplistic twists a la Nicholas Sparks. And so "Beyond the Lights" feels unique. We believe Noni (future superstar Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Kaz (a great Nate Parker) are real people, the kind who existed before the credits started and continue after the film. They are as well-rounded as any the genre has seen in years, and Prince-Bythewood's arc of taking the song life has given you and rewriting it in your own voice is never overplayed or underlined. It is simply beautiful.
Buy it here
Commentary by Filmmakers Gina Prince-Bythewood, Tami Reiker & Terilyn Shroshire
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Filmmakers
"Escape to Mexico 2.0"
"Changing the Conversation"
Gary Theard: Boom Man
"Masterpiece" Music Video
Stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard once did a great piece about how impossible it is to wrap the human brain around genocide. We can understand the murder of one person, or even multiple people, by one person, but systemic, organizational murder of millions is simply incomprehensible on a certain level. He was doing it light-heartedly, but he's not wrong. Edet Belzberg's excellent documentary, recently released by Music Box Films on DVD only, goes deeper into the subject to essentially adapt journalist Samantha Power's book "A Problem From Hell," about Raphael Lemkin, a unique visionary who saw the potential for genocide, even coining the term, but still fell victim to it himself in the Holocaust. This is a stark, depressing piece of documentary filmmaking but it's a subject matter that needs to be explored if we hope to understand the human propensity for evil enough to stop it in the future.
Buy it here
Interviews with Lemkin Family and Friends
Extended and Deleted Scenes
It may say written and directed by A.J. Edwards, but most of the buzz around this Sundance hit centered on the fact that it was produced and clearly heavily influenced by Terrence Malick. The film bears more than a slight resemblance to Malick's "The Tree of Life," as Edwards employs a similarly lyrical approach with a swooping camera, poetic narration, and lack of narrative. On one level, this is the story of the childhood of Abraham Lincoln--the formative years of a leader. On the other, it is a filmmaking experiment, a piece that is defiantly similar to another, almost as a companion to "Tree of Life." Given how strongly I feel about that film (there hasn't been a film better than it since it was released), I see little problem with a world in which there are more movies like "The Tree of Life," however, this piece does lack a bit of the substance I find in Malick's best work. It's definitely worth seeing, particularly for some of its mesmerizing imagery and interesting take on how true leadership is formed through example and trial. I only wish it was on Blu-ray as well.
Buy it here
"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1"
Lionsgate knows that their ownership of Katniss Everdeen and the mega-hit franchise "The Hunger Games" is the best thing they've got going right now in terms of profit and so they wisely put a lot of effort into their Blu-ray releases for these hit films. The latest, 2014's "Mockingjay, Part 1," is loaded with special features and comes with a truly striking HD transfer, perfectly capturing millions of people's favorite film of the last twelve months. They will not be disappointed, especially with the bonus material that offers insight into the film's production, particularly the smart use of music in the piece. Deleted scenes are always a smart addition for fans as well (more movie!) although these were all wisely cut. I'm one of the people who thinks "Mockingjay" would have been stronger as one film. As is, Katniss, played expertly again by Jennifer Lawrence, is a bit too much of a pawn in what is essentially a war/strategy film here. It's too much set-up, not enough pay-off, although that set-up includes an incredible ensemble. The scenes between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore are worth the price of a rental alone.
Buy it here
Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jaconson
"The Mockingjay Lives: The Making of MJ1" Documentary
Straight from the Heart: A Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman
Songs of Rebellion: Lorde on Curating the Soundtrack
Lorde "Yellow Flicker Beat" Music Video
"Insurgent" Sneak Peek
"Ride the Pink Horse" (Criterion)
I was unfamiliar with Robert Montgomery's 1947 noir until this Criterion release. It's a film that really defines its genre as it tells the story of a GI returned from the war to a world he doesn't quite recognize and no longer feels safe. Montgomery has a unique (he stars and directs) and a truly cynical worldview that feels fresh, even in 2015. This is a dark, twisted little tale, filled with wonderfully misanthropic lines of dialogue and some interesting visual choices. It doesn't quite engagely narratively like my favorites of the genre but it's interesting to explore in terms of filmmaking and where the industry/genre were in 1947. It's also, as to be expected with Criterion, pretty much perfectly restored.
Buy it here
New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Audio commentary featuring film noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini
New interview with Imogen Sara Smith, author of In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City
Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film from 1947, featuring Robert Montgomery, Wanda Hendrix, and Thomas Gomez
PLUS: An essay by filmmaker and writer Michael Almereyda
"The Soft Skin" (Criterion)
Truffaut's film most obviously inspired by his adoration of Alfred Hitchcock has long been one of the most divisive of his career. Some see it as a step down after agreed-upon masterpieces like "Jules et Jim," while others see it as Truffaut's biggest misstep. I'm not quite in either category, able to appreciate its artistry while also not quite engaging with it like those who want to claim it to be his lost masterpiece. It's neither his best or his worst. However, it's perhaps most interesting as an examination of how one artist can influence another, and so Criterion openly takes that route with its presentation. The two most interesting special features address the Hitchcock & Truffaut partnership directly, including an informative documentary about how much "The Birds" played a role in Truffaut's life (it's the film Hitch finished right when the two started working together on Truffaut's book about Hitch) and a new piece by Kent Jones that more openly explores the concept of influence within art and film. Truffaut fans will love the restoration, but I found the special features even more interesting than the film itself, which is not uncommon with Criterion.
Buy it here
New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Audio commentary by screenwriter Jean-Louis Richard and FranÃ§ois Truffaut scholar Serge Toubiana
New video essay by filmmaker and critic Kent Jones
"Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock," a 1999 documentary by film historian Robert Fischer
Interview with Truffaut from 1965 about the film
New English subtitle translation
PLUS: An essay by critic Molly Haskell
So weird. So, so weird. A man goes to a club called simply "Bondage," at which he's told that he can sign a year contract so that he will be abused unpredictably and randomly by dominatrices. He cannot break the contract. He cannot fight back. The man, who has dealt with the depression associated with a spouse being in hospital and is caring for his son on his own, signs the contract. All hell breaks loose. There's also times when the film stops and a group of critics comment on it, revealing that the title refers to the age you should be to see it. It's not appropriate for anyone under 100. It's also not great. It's fun. And I love that Drafthouse is bringing this kind of strange stuff to the States. They rule. But it's a bit long, all in service really of one joke with no punchline. I like parts of it, but not quite the whole.
Buy it here
"Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast"
I know some of the more intellectual are saying, "What? Why include that in a column about the best new Blu-rays." Well, because some of you who appreciate Truffaut also have kids, as I do, and I thought it worth mentioning that Disney is continuing this remarkably robust franchise with a new Blu-ray and DVD of the latest adventure of Tinker Bell. As for the film itself, there's not much to it. In fact, it's less engaging than most of the recent Tinker Bell Blu-rays (again, I have kids, I know) but Disney knows how to sell and so they include a DVD and Digital HD copy with the film, letting your little one watch it wherever you have access to the internet. And sometimes having options for entertainment wherever your kid may be is a selling point unto itself. And, here at the HECG, we're just trying to be helpful.
Buy it here
5 Essential Ingredients to Getting Gruff
My Dad's Movie: The True Story of the NeverBeast
Jeff Corwin's Guide to Real-World NeverBeasts
Deleted Scenes with Director Intros
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...