Amazing Grace is two days of Baptist church condensed to 90 minutes and injected directly into your soul.
And...we're back. Temperatures are dropping, holiday shopping lists are filling up and your options of streaming, On Demand and Blu-ray entertainment are increasing. There are so many choices out there. How do you make the right one? Use the Guide. Share it with your friends. Let's start with the best titles new on Netflix.
10 NEW ON NETFLIX
It's a bit of a light two weeks of updating to the world's favorite streaming service, highlighted by the addition of dozens of episodes of ESPN's award-winning "30 for 30" series. The franchise, which has also returned with new episodes on the cable network, has allowed for some truly excellent short-form documentary filmmaking. Check out a few on the subjects that interest you. Or if you're looking for a film, here's a list of 10 of the more interesting recent additions, including one of Paul Walker's final roles, an inspirational documentary and Roman Polanski's latest flick. When there's a link, click through to the review and click Watch It on the left side to add directly to your queue.
3 NEW ON DEMAND
Every two weeks sees at least three new interesting, still-in-theaters releases On Demand. The latest update includes a performance by Kristen Stewart praised by Matt Zoller Seitz and a comedy I consider one of the best films of the year, "Listen Up Philip."
"Listen Up Philip"
"Summer of Blood"
9 NEW ON BLU-RAY
"Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" (Criterion)
It would not be difficult to produce a syllabus for a film class from Criterion Blu-ray releases. Their recent upgrade of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" should be mandated viewing in said class. Not only has Fassbinder's stunning drama been perfectly transferred with a 4K restoration overseen by the film's director of photography, but the special features perfectly serve the film in that they enhance one's appreciation of it instead of merely serving as bonus material. You simply have to hear Todd Haynes draw the lines from Douglas Sirk's "All that Heaven Allows" (also available in a great Criterion Blu-ray) to "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" to "Far From Heaven." And I highly recommend reading Roger's Great Movies review before experiencing Fassbinder's film again (or even seeing it for the first time). Fassbinder's film is such a rich, detailed, perfectly composed piece of drama. It's so delicate and truthful, while also serving as a great example of character placement within the frame. It is both real and art at the same time. And Criterion's new Blu-ray of the film does it justice (also read Godfrey Cheshire's great piece on Fassbinder from earlier this year).
New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography Jurgen Jurges, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Introduction from 2003 by filmmaker Todd Haynes
Interviews from 2003 with actor Brigitte Mira and editor Thea Eymesz
Shahbaz Noshir's 2002 short Angst isst Seele auf, which reunites Mira, Eymesz, and cinematographer Jurgen Jurges to tell the story, based on real events, of an attack by neo-Nazis on a foreign actor while on his way to a stage performance of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's screenplay
Signs of Vigorous Life: New German Cinema, a 1976 BBC program about the national film movement of which Fassbinder was a part
Scene from Fassbinder's 1970 film The American Soldier that inspired Ali
PLUS: An essay by critic Chris Fujiwara
When I was 13, and deep in a twisted love affair with slasher horror icons like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, I truly underappreciated Chuck Russell's remake of "The Blob." It was just too silly. A killer goo? Where's Freddy when you need him? Watching it for the first time 26 years later on the great new Twilight Time Blu-ray, I was stunned at how great this remake actually is. It should be included on lists with "The Fly" and "The Thing" when discussing great horror remakes. Ably assisted by screenwriting by Frank Darabont (and one can draw direct lines from this to AMC's "The Walking Dead"), Russell takes the concept of a deadly substance from outer space and grafts a commentary on Big Brother and Americana on it. The effects hold up to this day, and the thing is perfectly paced. Special features are strong and the transfer is perfect. This is one of the best horror releases of the season.
Isolated Score Track
Audio Commentary with Director Chuck Russell and Horror Authority Ryan Turek
Friday Night Frights at The Cinefamily
Original Theatrical Trailer
This one took long enough, right?!?! "Kingpin," the Farrelly brothers' best film, has actually been unavailable on DVD for years, meaning in today's world of instant gratification, you couldn't see this great comedy at all. And, yes, it's a great comedy. A perfect blend of gross-out humor and heart, "Kingpin" is funny from first scene to last, buoyed by give-it-all performances by Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray. This is when the Farrellys were in their prime, finding the right balance between disgusting punch lines and honest characters. "Kingpin" is an underdog story as reimagined by people who grew up bowing at the altar of Mel Brooks. It's still hysterical.
Includes 2 Versions of the Movie: Theatrical and R-Rated
Commentary by Directors peter and Bobby Farrelly
New Bonus Featurette:
Kingpins: Extra Frames with The Farrelly Brothers
Theatrical Trailer (HD)
"Mad Men: The Final Season, Part 1"
AMC's drama doesn't get the attention it once did but I expect the second half of the final season in early 2015 to be one of television's biggest stories. It may not have had the build-up of Walter White, but I'm still fascinated by how Matthew Weiner will end the arc of Don Draper. Will he finally find happiness? Weiner has developed some of the most interesting, well-rounded characters on television in the last decade. It really feels like they live and breathe, to the degree that I actually long for happy endings for people like Peggy and Joan. Don, I'm not so sure. Before you read the final chapter, you need to see this very strong half-season, one that started a bit rocky but ended confidently. Lionsgate, as usual, transfers the show well and includes some interesting special features, although fewer this time than on some seasons past.
Gay Rights - Personal stories from gay rights activists of the 1960s, who speak of their fear of exposure, unemployment and desolation.
Gay Power - Borrowing strategies from the civil rights movement, gay activists organized, taking on the government. The denial of their human rights fueled many protests and pushbacks, igniting the Stonewall Rebellion and sparking the "gay power" movement.
The Trial Of The Chicago Eight: Parts One And Two - A recounting of the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, which led to one of the most infamous trails in U.S. history: the trail of the "Chicago Eight."
The Best Things In Life Are Free - A look inside Robert Morse's last day on the of "Mad Men."
Technology: 1969 - An interactive time line chronicling the birth of the personal computer and the Internet.
"My Darling Clementine" (Criterion)
In many ways, "My Darling Clementine" is the consummate Western. It's by one of the most definitive directors of the genre--John Ford. It stars an American icon in Henry Fonda. It tells a story of the Old West that has been retold dozens of times in the legend of Wyatt Earp. And it captures something about the genre and the way it reflected changing times and rocky partnerships. It's also gorgeous. One often forgets Ford's ability as a visual artist, remembering his films more by his stars than his style. Watch the placement of characters in the frame in "Clementine" to enhance viewer feeling about them. Doc Holliday, first a villain, is seen in shadow and at odd angles from our hero, Wyatt Earp, early in the film. Later, he's on the same plain, when our feelings about him have changed. Watch the way Ford uses the sky and the landscape as backdrop. Every shot was carefully considered. The result is a film that has a poetic realism. It almost mesmerizes the viewer, and transports them in the process. I love this movie. And the Criterion Blu-ray is one of the best of the year.
New audio commentary featuring John Ford biographer Joseph McBride
New interview with western historian Andrew C. Isenberg about the real Wyatt Earp
Comparison of the two versions by film preservationist Robert Gitt
New video essay by Ford scholar Tag Gallagher
A Bandit's Wager, a 1916 short costarring Ford and directed by his brother, Francis Ford, featuring new music composed and performed by Donald Sosin
NBC broadcast reports from 1963 and 1975 about the history of Tombstone and Monument Valley
Lux Radio Theatre adaptation from 1947 starring Henry Fonda and Cathy Downs
PLUS: An essay by critic David Jenkins
My feelings on "Nothing Bad Can Happen" have already been well-noted in the review, although my overall impression of the film has improved with time. While I still think it's imperfect, it's undeniably ambitious, which is something I find myself saying more and more about the releases of Drafthouse Films, one of our more interesting smaller studios in today's market. Releasing works like "Pieta," "The Act of Killing," "The Congress," "Cheap Thrills" and much more, Drafthouse have become an essential voice in today's market. And their Blu-ray releases are excellent. They're well-transferred in terms of HD quality, including interesting special features, and often come with reversible covers. They feel artistically generated instead of merely products to make some cash. Just like the films themselves.
Tore Tanzt: A Conversation with Julius, Katrin and Verena
Interview with Director Katrin Gebbe
With a third film already in production, it seems like "The Purge" franchise is going to be as annual of an event as the fictional rampage it depicts. And, surprisingly, I'm OK with that. The first film was a decent thriller built on a pulpy, ridiculous concept. Every year, all crime is legal for 12 hours. It makes no sense. But the suspension of disbelief is right there up front for you to accept or dismiss. After that, director James DeMonaco delivers a taut home invasion thriller. Instead of just repeating that act in year two, the director essentially switches genres and goes all-out B-movie, delivering a film more reminiscent of "The Warriors" or "Judgment Night." Yes, the characters are more forgettable than they should be and the final act is simply ludicrous in its social commentary construction, but I liked that DeMonaco was willing to push his concept to its logical (or illogical) extremes. No one wants a subtle version of "The Purge." Don't get me wrong. This is not a great film. But it never sets out to be that. It's fun, well-constructed and looks great on Blu-ray. More special features would have been nice for the film's serious fans. Maybe those will come with "The Purge 3."
Behind the Anarchy
So, I know that this column is designed to inform readers about the "best" new releases on streaming services and Blu-ray/DVD. So what's "Sex Tape" doing in here? First, you should know, this is a BAD movie. It's shockingly bad. But there's something to be learned by watching a truly awful comedy now and then. Roger used to say that as much could be learned from a bad movie as a good one. And what can we learn from "Sex Tape"? First, you need more likable protagonists in your comedy. Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz never get a chance to develop characters before the sitcomish premise kicks in. And so they're scrambling to get back their sex tape never matters to us. And then there's a little thing called comic timing. So many of the jokes in "Sex Tape" feel neverending. There's an extended bit involving Segel and a dog that is breathtakingly long. Comedy is about rhythm. And "Sex Tape" doesn't have any. To be fair, and because we are including it here, the Sony Blu-ray looks good and comes with some deleted scenes and bloopers that hint at the good time that the people who made the film had during production. It's just too bad so little of that ended up on screen.
Deleted & Extended Scenes
Romance Reboot with Dr. Jenn Berman
"The Vanishing" (Criterion)
Finally, we have our third great Criterion release of the week, a film that scarred me the first time I saw it. I'm sure I'm not alone. The final scene of "The Vanishing" is legendary, the kind of thing that those who saw it have never forgotten. It is a daring gut punch that has somewhat overshadowed how good the movie that comes before it actually is. Even without that jaw-dropping ending, "The Vanishing" would be worth revisiting. It's a brilliant dissection of obsession and secrets. Could you move on without knowing what happened to a loved one who has disappeared? At the same time, could the family man living next to you hide a murderous side? George Sluizer's excellent thriller feels both like a film that was inspired by great works that came before it and has inspired a few films of its own (one can see David Fincher pulling from it in works like "Se7en" and "Zodiac"). Check it out again. The final scene will still devastate you even after you know what's coming.
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
New interview with director George Sluizer
New interview with actor Johanna ter Steege
PLUS: An essay by critic Scott Foundas
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.
A review of the 4K Blu-ray box set for The Matrix Trilogy.