Amazing Grace is two days of Baptist church condensed to 90 minutes and injected directly into your soul.
There aren't too many shopping days till Christmas, and Netflix has been awfully dry lately, so we're leading with the most interesting Blu-ray releases in the last two weeks instead of our typical streaming-heavy opening. Buy a Blu-ray. Or two. Here are the most interesting new titles on the market:
10 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
Long a fan of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, I was very eager to see Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's film about the man and his band at this year's Sundance Film Festival, especially after hearing so much buzz on the ground in Park City as to its high quality. I was not disappointed. This is one of the best docs of the year, music or otherwise, a great film in that it doesn't just document a man's life and work but takes on his persona. "20,000 Days on Earth" is as smooth and elusive as its subject matter, and yet it illuminates the process of art creation far more than more traditional docs could possibly do. For Nick Cave, and most great artists, life is fuel for art. And the film about him doesn't just convey that but participate in it, turning Cave's life into its own artistic expression. I wish there was a bit more actual music in the film, but it's a minor complaint for a must-see. And Drafthouse continues to impress with their Blu-ray releases, offering detailed behind-the-scenes material and a free digital copy with all of their titles.
The Making of "20,000 Days on Earth"
Deleted Scenes Featuring Extended Interviews, Rehearsals and Performances
Even though I could see how it's so self-referential and meta as to go beyond the annoyance level for some viewers, "22 Jump Street" worked for me. Every other line in "22 Jump Street" is a variation on how comedy sequels rarely work, whether it's because they're trying to repeat the same jokes or are too lazy to write a new plot. From the "Previously On" that opens the film to the sneak peek of 23-40-something Jump Street at the end, this is as self-aware of a comedy sequel as has ever been made. And yet the cast finds an infectious energy within that look-at-me construct. Hill and Tatum (and Ice Cube) are having a blast, and it's hard not to enjoy the ridiculousness of it all with them. Yes, it could have been smarter, but it also could have been a Hell of a lot dumber. Is it merely the low expectation bar of comedy sequels? Maybe. But I laughed nonetheless.
5 Deleted & Extended Scenes
The Perfect Couple of Directors
Commentary with Directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum
17 Additional Deleted & Extended Scenes
4 Additional Line-O-Ramas
Everything is Better in College
Jenko Split Video
The Perfect Line: Ad-Libbing on Set
The Dramatic Interpretation of "22 Jump Street" - The Version Without the Jokes!
Don't Cut Yet: The Mr. Walters Prison Scene - New Recruits: Casting "22 Jump Street"
Janning and Chonah
Extended 200K & McQuaid Football Video
Disney has been upgrading Studio Ghibli titles to remastered Blu-ray editions for years now and they've finally gotten around to "Princess Mononoke" and "Kiki's Delivery Service," timed to the release of one of the best films of 2013, Hayao Miyazaki's final film, "The Wind Rises." Controversy be damned, "The Wind Rises" is a gorgeous ode to artistry; how that which we create stops being ours as soon as we create it. Jiro knows not how his machines will be used, but still finds the passion to create them. It's a gorgeous film that will only grow in esteem as times goes by. In a few short years, it will be seen as a masterpiece. Mark my words. As for the other two, they're so drastically different but both valuable to an understanding of Ghibli history. "Kiki's" seems slight at first, but has grown on me over the years, whereas "Mononoke" is the first Ghibli film with which I fell in love. It's daring, ambitious, and just as visually striking as when it came out. These films are timeless. They're all must-owns, especially in remastered HD.
Special Features: "Kiki's Delivery Service"
Introduction by John Lasseter
Original Japanese Storyboards
Original Japanese Trailers
Creating Kiki's Delivery Service
Producer's Perspective: Collaborating with Miyazaki
Behind the Microphone
The Locations of Kiki's Delivery Service
Kiki & Jiji
Flying with Kiki & Beyond
Special Features: "Princess Mononoke"
Original Japanese Storyboards
Original Japanese Trailers
"Princess Mononoke" in the U.S.A.
Original Japanese TV Spots
Special Features: "The Wind Rises"
"The Wind Rises": Behind The Microphone - An inside look at the team of talented actors and filmmakers who created the English-dubbed version of "The Wind Rises."
Original Japanese Trailers and TV Spots
Announcement Of The Completion Of The Film
Joe Swanberg continues his attempt at indie film domination with this, his first film to land In Competition at the Sundance Film Festival. Working again with "Drinking Buddies" star Anna Kendrick, co-starring with Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, and Swanberg himself, the writer/director doesn't stray far from his DIY, indie aesthetic, working more as a filmmaker who tries to capture a moment more than create one. I'll admit that I used to dismiss Swanberg, but I find him more and more interesting as he and I get older. There's something pure about the way he works, making films quickly and without the agenda of many of his peers. "Happy Christmas" isn't his best but Kendrick is good (she always is lately) and, again, I like the energy in Swanberg's work lately, a love for film inherent in his willingness to work quickly and efficiently. He doesn't overthink. And while that's not always the road to quality filmmaking, it's refreshing in an era when so much is focus grouped and marketing planned to death.
One note: it's insane that a film of this pedigree isn't released on Blu-ray in 2014. Yes, it's DVD only. And it doesn't have a single special feature. I understand that this isn't a point of purchase item like "Guardians of the Galaxy," but it's a film that has its fans, and they deserved better from Paramount.
Here's your underrated and under-seen gem of this edition of the Home Entertainment Consumer Guide: a clever horror-comedy from New Zealand that played SXSW and the Chicago Critics Film Festival. A troubled young woman named Kylie is forced to undergo house arrest, stuck in her family home with a mother who has been the laughing stock of her town for years. She's the crazy old coot who's convinced that her house is haunted. Guess what? She might not be that crazy. Going from comedy to ghost story and back and forth again is not as easy as it looks. It takes a deft hand to balance those tones and "Housebound" just works in all its genres. It's fun, and honestly a little creepy. The final act has a few too many twists, but this is a future cult hit in the making. Get on the bandwagon now.
Commentary by the Filmmakers
"It Happened One Night" (Criterion)
Movies don't get much more beloved than "It Happened One Night," a film that is notorious for being the first to win the "Big Five" at the Oscars: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay (a feat that has only been repeated two more times in the 80 years since). Every time I watch Frank Capra's rom-com template, I have a similar response: it breaks down my defenses. At first, I'm prepared to think that the film finally looks and feels dated, and just doesn't work any more. And then I laugh at something I didn't catch before. I notice a different choice by Capra, a subtle look by Colbert, etc, and I'm falling in love with this movie again. This time, via the gorgeous Criterion HD transfer, I was stunned at how different the film feels by virtue of being pre-code. There are films of the '40s and '50s that are much more dated, simply because of how much normal human behavior they had to censor. "It Happened One Night" feels buoyant, fresh, and still vital. And the special features on the Criterion release are typically excellent, including a remembrance from Capra's son about the history of the film and a feature-length documentary about the legendary man. 80 years and "It Happened One Night" still works.
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
"Screwball Comedy?", a new conversation between critics Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate
Interview with Frank Capra Jr. from 1999
Frank Capra's American Dream, a 1997 feature-length documentary about the director's life and career
New digital transfer of Capra's first film, the 1921 silent short "Fultah Fisher's Boarding House," with a new score composed and performed by Donald Sosin
American Film Institute tribute to Capra from 1982
PLUS: An essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme
Clint Eastwood has clearly entered a phase of his career in which he's somewhat going through the motions, not investing his work with the passion he had as a younger man. This is the common complaint against films like "Changeling," "Invictus," "Gran Torino" and this adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical. (Although I'll gladly defend "Hereafter" to anyone who will listen.) While I agree that "Jersey Boys" is flawed, I think it got a bit too much venom directed its way in theaters, and could make a nice Blu-ray pick-up for its target demo this holiday season. The music is still great, and the performances here are all solid. It's the kind of thing that plays better at home, as the mistake Eastwood makes is being unable to capture the spectacle of the play, a flaw amplified by the size of the theatrical screen.
From Broadway to the Big Screen - Trace the origins of "Jersey Boys" from playhouse roots to award-winning musical to groundbreaking Clint Eastwood film.
Too Good to be True - The mob loved the boys! Donnie Kehr shares his experience working with Christopher Walken, whose character was like a godfather to Frankie Valli.
"Oh, What a Night" to Remember - Hit the streets with Clint Eastwood and the cast as they prepare for the grand finale.
Michel Gondry's adaptation of a beloved Boris Vian story was met with mixed reviews in theaters and it's easy to see why. It's a unique film, with a heavy dose of whimsy in the corner of every frame. The doomed romance at the heart of this visually delightful film gets somewhat buried under that whimsy for this viewer, but it's just as easy to see why someone would fall under its spell if their tolerance for such things were at a different level. For the record, I love Gondry's work and my adoration of "Amelie" sets my whimsical tolerance pretty high, but "Mood Indigo" is a non-stop cavalcade of quirk. Some of it works, a lot of it doesn't for me. Having said that, I love that there are people like Gondry out there trying unique, daring visions like "Mood Indigo," and that there are studios like Drafthouse who put together great Blu-ray releases like this one to support them. The transfer is great, it comes with a digital download, and it even has a reversible cover. It's for collectors, as a release for a film like "Mood Indigo" should be.
Two-Disc Set Featuring Theatrical Cut & Extended Cut
Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry
From the Film to the Book
Was it just too late? Is that why "Sin City 2" bombed? This is what I was thinking as I started watching "A Dame to Kill For" and thought it awfully familiar. Maybe that's why it didn't work. It felt like a retread of something we had put on the shelf years earlier. And yet there are things to like here, including the performances by Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Josh Brolin. It's just a film that feels like an afterthought, a reunited band long after their original lineup has retired and with no new hits to play. Still, you could do a lot worse for a rental on a Saturday night, especially if you liked the original.
The movie in high-speed green screen - All green screen version
Makeup effects of "Sin City" with Greg Nicotero
Stunts of "Sin City" with Jeff Dashnaw
Another film that largely came and went that may grab your interest on the New Releases shelf. Perhaps it was merely because the bad reviews set my expectations at phenomenally low levels but I didn't mind "Tammy" on Blu-ray. Is it a great film? Heck no. Largely because Melissa McCarthy's husband, Ben Falcone, doesn't have the chops yet in terms of comic timing as a first-time director. However, there's an interesting energy to this piece, largely in that we don't see too many comedies with so many female roles that's unafraid to be dirty and unrefined. McCarthy is good, so is Sarandon. Again, it's not going to be your favorite comedy, but you may find you like it more than you expected. Certainly more than "Identity Thief."
Tammy's Road Trip Checklist
3 NEW TO ON DEMAND
If you're looking for something still in theaters, On Demand is a bit light right now but there's a new documentary about the great Richard Linklater that our Editor-in-Chief mostly liked and a film with Shirley MacLaine that our Odie Henderson absolutely hated (but maybe you want to see if you agree). Finally, there's another Sundance film making its On Demand debut tomorrow.
"Elsa and Fred"
"The Sleepwalker" (available tomorrow)
8 NEW TO NETFLIX
And we close with Netflix. Looking for something new on your favorite streaming service but no idea where to start? Well, there's less new in the world of Netflix than in any previous column. You should see Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" though, for sure, and I'm looking forward to finally catching up with Catherine Breillat's acclaimed "Abuse of Weakness." Click through the links below to add directly to your queue via the Watch It panel on the left side of our review.
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An appreciation of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm as its 25th anniversary approaches.
A review of the 4K Blu-ray box set for The Matrix Trilogy.