Amazing Grace is two days of Baptist church condensed to 90 minutes and injected directly into your soul.
As flu season picks up and temperatures drop, it's the perfect time of year to cozy up to Netflix, your favorite On Demand provider, or a brand new Blu-ray. And as is always the case as holiday shopping truly gets intense, the options in that last category are plentiful. Perhaps recognizing that more viewers would turn to New Releases available On Demand or on-disc, Netflix has chosen more catalog releases in their recent updates, filling their slate with a diverse array of films from the '80s and '90s, including divisive flicks from Tim Burton, Francis Ford Coppola and Gus Van Sant. I have a soft spot for all ten of the New to Netflix flicks in this edition of HECG. While they may not all be "classics," I'd call them all required viewing.
Speaking of "required viewing," films don't get more essential than "Shoah," now available streaming for the first time in HD on Sundance Now. What more could be said about "Shoah" than in Roger's Great Movies review? Just carve out the time to watch it. It's worth it.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
3 NEW TO VOD
The On Demand exclusive market has been a little quiet in the last two weeks but there have been a few new additions of films now in theaters or just about to be, including two films already reviewed here and one that we'll hit next week. You should watch all three and see if you agree with our critics.
"The ABCs of Death 2"
11 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
John Carney took a long time to try to avoid the sophomore slump after the breakthrough success of his Oscar-winning "Once" in 2006. It was seven years before "Can a Song Save Your Life?" premiered at TIFF and another half-year before it was retitled awfully as "Begin Again" and released in theaters. Now it's on Blu-ray, destined to be a solid date night rental during the winter months. Did he miss the slump? Yes and no. Stars Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley (and even Adam Levine) help keep "Begin Again" humming with their immense combined screen presence but my response when the title was changed to something so generic was along the lines of "That sounds like about a dozen other disposable movies." It turns out that too much of "Begin Again" matches its new title, too often singing a more familiar tune than it needed to in order to work. It's a movie that feels desperate to be liked. Most damagingly, it's about a guy who seeks something new in the art he embraces as a music producer but the movie is the kind remarkably familiar pop tune he would toss out his window. It's for those with a low threshold for rom-com cheesiness, but I still hope that Carney doesn't take another 7 years to make a follow-up.
The Making of "Begin Again"
Music Videos including Adam Levine's "Lost Stars"
"F For Fake" (Criterion)
Movies don't get much more mesmerizingly odd than Orson Welles' last real film, this quasi-documentary that plays with the form in such a fascinating way that it truly feels like the most vital ancestor to many of our best visual essayists of the '10s. Welles' film, on the surface, is a documentary about illusion, forgery, charlatanism, etc. And yet Welles recognized that a filmmaker is a kind of magician and a kind of forger, embracing a dizzying aesthetic to keep viewers guessing as to what they were even watching. There are moments in "F For Fake" that are very clearly "Wellesian" and yet the overall film is so bizarre that most critics had no idea what to do with it when it was released in 1975 (and audiences responded even more apathetically). One critic who did recognize the power of "F For Fake" was the great Jonathan Rosenbaum, who wrote a fantastic essay on the film and his relation to it for the original 2005 Criterion DVD edition. It's a great special feature that's joined by equally impressive ones, including a "60 Minutes" interview segment with film subject and notorious Howard Hughes autobiography hoaxer Clifford Irving, a commentary featuring Welles' partner and co-writer Oja Kodar, and a phenomenal film called "Orson Welles: One-Man Band," which includes footage from several unreleased Welles films, including "The Other Side of the Wind," which it was recently revealed will be completed and released next year.
Audio commentary from 2005 by cowriter and star Oja Kodar and director of photography Gary Graver
Introduction from 2005 by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich
Orson Welles: One-Man Band, a documentary from 1995 about Welles's unfinished projects
Almost True: The Noble Art of Forgery, a fifty-two-minute documentary from 1997 about art forger Elmyr de Hory
60 Minutes interview from 2000 with Clifford Irving about his Howard Hughes autobiography hoax
Hughes's 1972 press conference exposing Irving's hoax
Extended, nine-minute trailer
PLUS: An essay by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum
"Fargo: Season One"
As the year draws to a close, it's the natural time to start considering a "Best of TV" feature, and FX's "Fargo" will absolutely be included on such a list. It was one of the most impressive new programs in a year filled with remarkable freshmen, holding its own against HBO's "True Detective," Cinemax's "The Knick" and Showtime's "The Affair." When all is said and done, 2014 may be the most impressive year for new shows in the history of the form. FX has been a major player since the premiere of "The Shield" and they've lost none of their importance in the world of television. "Fargo" is their best show, brilliantly blending the mythology of the Joel & Ethan Coen classic with a modern sensibility. "Fargo" started strong and only got better, deservedly winning the Emmy for Best Mini-Series, a first for FX. The Blu-ray set from Fox is a sturdy one, accompanied by nice special features, and even including a winter hat with some special editions. I'll be wearing mine as the polar vortex hit next week.Buy it here.
Commentary by Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman and Noah Hawley (on select episodes)
"This Is a True Story"
Greetings From Bemidji
"Shades of Green"
Burned several times by Brett Ratner (I think "X-Men: The Last Stand" is the worst modern comic book movie) and entirely unengaged by awful trailers, I had little to no interest in the latest retelling of the timeless myth of the strongest man alive. Just ten minutes in, my preconceptions had been totally forgotten. It might even be Ratner's best flick. And it really is a "flick." This CGI heavy dissection of how mythology is formed feels like the kind of movie I would have watched every time on HBO in the '80s and early '90s. It has that imperfect matinee thing in spades: it's not great, but it's immensely watchable. It works off the amazing charisma of its star (Dwayne Johnson), and a solid supporting cast that includes John Hurt and Ian McShane. Some of the action is clunky and I think my low expectations might have helped my entertainment value so I don't want to oversell it, so I'll leave it at this: it's better than you think.
Extended Cut & Theatrical Version
15 Deleted/Extended Scenes
Hercules & His Mercenaries
The Bessi Battle
The Effects of Hercules
Commentary by Brett Ratner & Beau Flynn (Theatrical Version)
"La Dolce Vita" (Criterion)
What more is there to say about "La Dolce Vita"? As the back of the Criterion Blu-ray says, it's "the biggest hit from the most popular Italian filmmaker of all time." There's little more that I could add to the conversation on the film itself, and so I'll address the Blu-ray. I hadn't seen Federico Fellini's masterpiece in many years, and the combination of the haze of memory and the blindingly perfect new 4K digital restoration honestly made the film feel completely new again, as if I had never seen it. It looks incredible, hardly betraying the fact that it's 54 years old other than in how mesmerizingly it comments on the changing times in which it was made. The influence of "La Dolce Vita" is the main focus of the new special features on the Criterion release, my favorite of which is a new visual essay by "kogonada" that specifically dissects the mysterious, wall-breaking final shot of the movie, contrasting it against a unique POV choice that also comes directly in the middle of the film. It's a fantastic essay, proving that Fellini's work is still influencing new, modern filmmakers a half-century later.
New 4K digital restoration by the Film Foundation, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
New interview with filmmaker Lina Wertmuller, who worked as assistant director on the film
New interview with scholar David Forgacs discusses the period in Italy's history when the film was made
New interview with Italian film journalist Antonello Sarno
Interview with director Federico Fellini from 1965
Audio interview with actor Marcello Mastroianni from the early 1960s
Felliniana, a presentation of ephemera related to La dolce vita from the collection of Don Young
New visual essay by : : kogonada
PLUS: An essay by critic Gary Giddins
In Park City this year, Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz's "Land Ho!" was one of the most buzzed films, a flick that we all thought would be a surefire crowdpleaser hit for Sony Pictures Classics. Given the fact that most of you probably haven't heard of the film (it couldn't break $750K), something went slightly wrong from Sundance to the rest of the world. I'm not sure why. It probably got buried in a summer season surprisingly crowded with arthouse crowdpleasers. Whatever the reason, "Land Ho!" is a sweet, funny comedy that will hopefully find the wider audience it deserves on the home market. To be blunt, all of you who complain about how they only make movies about world-saving teens and beautiful people in tights, it's your duty to see more films like "Land Ho!." If they keep failing to make money, they won't even make the journey from Park City to the rest of the world any more. Heck, they might not even make it to Park City in the first place.
Commentary with Paul Eenhorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz
Los Angeles Film Festival Q&A with Paul Eenhorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Martha Stephens, Aaron Katz and Elizabeth McKee
One of the more divisive films of summer 2014 was Disney's reimagining of the "Sleeping Beauty" origin story, driven by a fantastic performance from Angelina Jolie to the tune of an amazing 750 million worldwide. Yes, that's three-quarters of a billion dollars. It's the biggest hit of Angelina Jolie's career, domestic or worldwide. And she really brings her all to it, selling the origin story of the one of the most notorious villains in the Disney canon. I wish the film around her was better. Some of the character design in overcooked CGI (I'm thinking of Maleficent's woodland creatures) looks horrendous, and the narrative never finds its footing, feeling too much like a spectacle instead of a story. The great Disney films have been a blend of the magical and the real, and Robert Stromberg's film too often focuses on the former. Having said that, the visual pop of the film looks remarkable on Blu-ray. Disney's HD transfers have been among the best in the business, and the release of this hit at this time of year means it will likely find its way under a number of Christmas trees and other holiday celebrations. Fans of the film will be happy. I just wish I was a bigger fan myself.
Aurora: Becoming a Beauty
From Fairy Tale to Feature Film
Building an Epic Battle
"Nightbreed: Director's Cut"
A lot of director's cuts are cheap ploys to get fans of a film to buy a movie that they've already really seen. They often incorporate a few scenes that the filmmakers always intended to cut just to advertise the film as "Unrated!" It's rare to find a Director's Cut that truly changes a film (unless you're Ridley Scott, of course). To the list of director's cuts that are most distinctly different from their theatrical releases, we can now add Clive Barker's "Nightbreed." Circulating among fans for years under the name "The Cabal Cut," an alternate version of Barker's monster movie gained enough of a following that the fantastic Scream Factory found the original camera negatives and remastered it into a real director's cut. It includes over 40 minutes of new footage and runs 20 minutes longer (as changes were made throughout the piece). It's much easier in this version, as Barker says in his introduction, to see the monsters as the outcasts always intended by the film's creator instead of the enemies desired by the producers. It's still a bit muddled and choppy, but it's undeniably a better film, highlighted by a clever turn from David Cronenberg. And Scream Factory's HD transfers are unmatched in the world of horror, as is their phenomenal cover art.
New Director's Cut presentation with over 40 minutes of new footage
Introduction by writer/director Clive Barker
Audio Commentary with restoration producer Mark Alan Miller and more!
New interviews with actors Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley, Hugh Ross, Simon Bamford and Christine McCorkindale, Special Makeup Effects artist Paul Jones and Action Unit director Andy Armstrong
"Planes: Fire and Rescue"
I know this column is designed only to include the "highlights" of recent Blu-ray releases and I'm not here to tell you that the sequel to the abysmal "Planes" is a "good movie," but I chose to include it for two reasons: it's notably better than its predecessor and, as I mentioned with "Maleficent," Disney really knows how to do the Blu-ray thing. "Fire & Rescue" is notably stronger in a visual sense than the flat "Planes," and it pops in HD. Kids will also like the new animated short, along with other special features designed to appeal to the little ones in the family this holiday season. As for the movie itself, it's undeniably manipulative but at least that emotional hook replaces a complete absence of character or plot in the first film. It's got a solid message and strong visuals. I wish the voice work wasn't so bland and the script so predictable, but parents could do worse this holiday season.
Exclusive Animated Short "Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular"
Welcome to Piston Peak!
"CHoPs" TV Promo
Air Attack: Firefighters From the Sky
Deleted Scenes with Filmmaker Intros
"Still I Fly" Music Video by Spencer Lee
"Reno 911! The Complete Series"
Comedy Central's surprise hit ran for six seasons in the '00s and helped launch the careers of Thomas Lennon, Niecy Nash, and Wendi McClendon-Covey. It's about time for a Complete Series release, available on DVD only and very reasonably priced. As for the show itself, it had its ups and downs over the years, but I always admired its anything-for-a-joke aesthetic and cast that often felt over-talented for the material, especially in later years. The Paramount DVD set is really just a repackage, taking all of the individual season set DVDs released and cramming them into one massive case. It is a release for fans only but they're sure to be satisfied. Who else would want nearly 2,000 minutes of "Reno 911!"
Audio Commentary on 32 Episodes
Over an Hour of Alternate, Extended & Deleted Scenes
Nearly 2 Hours of Outtakes
Cop Psychology: Inside the Minds of Reno's Deputies
Profiles in Valor
Finally, we have the best release of this column outside of the Criterion pair of classic flicks: Bong Joon-ho's "Snowpiercer," a film that feels more than any other like a movie that will only grow in esteem as the years go by. As they do now with "Blade Runner," "Seven" and "Fight Club," people will say things like "Do you believe "Snowpiercer" didn't win like seven Oscars? SMH." in ten years. It is a confident, daring piece of work, repurposing a futuristic vision of class culture to serve as both wild entertainment and a commentary on issues of the '10s. Our best sci-fi comments on our present as much as it predicts our future, and "Snowpiercer" does just that. The Blu-ray is not just expertly transferred but PACKED with special features, highlighting the film from multiple aspects, including the critical response on a commentary hosted by Scott Weinberg. You must see this movie. Do it before the bandwagon gets too crowded for you to get on it.
Critics' Commentary Hosted By Scott Weinberg
The Birth Of "Snowpiercer"
Concept Art Galleries
Chris Evans & Tilda Swinton On "Snowpiercer"
The Train Brought To Life: Behind The Scenes Of A Special Screening
Transperceneige: From The Blank Page To The Black Screen
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
An appreciation of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm as its 25th anniversary approaches.