As we head off to Sundance, we can't ignore the HECG, your guide to the latest and greatest streaming and on Blu-ray and DVD. This may be our lightest edition to date, as a lot of major releases hit before the holiday to maximize profit and others seems to be waiting for, I don't know, President's Day? Whatever the reason, it's crazy quiet out there in terms of quantity, but you can rent or buy the Golden Globe winners for Best Comedy/Musical and Best TV Drama. So that's something. One note on the Netflix offerings: the short film "World of Tomorrow," which had its Chicago premiere at the Chicago Critics Film Festival and was nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Short, is available on the service. I hope it's the start of more great short films landing on Netflix.
7 NEW TO NETFLIX
"The Last Five Years"
"Meet the Patels"
"World of Tomorrow"
5 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
Ridley Scott's Oscar nominee for Best Picture and the Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy/Musical comes home in a beautiful set from Fox. "The Martian" is one of those films designed for HD, and the company recognizes that, tricking it out with fan-based special features and a great video/audio transfer. The main draw in terms of advertising seems to be the "Ares III" series of shorts. They are kind of expansions on the film, in which the actors are in character describing what happened to Mark Watney, Damon's marooned astronaut, in the fictional universe of the film. Imagine a documentary short about what happened in "The Martian." OK. While I admire actors like Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor doing their best to make it interesting, they just don't quite. This is for hardcore fans only. The behind-the-scenes featurette are more interesting, but I do wish Damon or Scott had taken the time to do an audio commentary. This is the kind of excellent movie that deserves it.
Signal Acquired: Writing and Direction
Occupy Mars: Casting and Costumes
Ares III: Refocused
Ares III: Farewell
The Right Stuff
Ares: Our Greatest Adventure
Leave Your Mark
Bring Him Home
Production Art Gallery
"Mr. Robot: Season One"
USA's best show to date has also become one of its most popular, winning the Golden Globe for Best Drama and Best Supporting Actor for Christian Slater. What I love about "Mr. Robot" is that it's one of the few TV shows that actually has a visual language. Even some of the best shows on TV are relatively flat and personality-less visually, but "Mr. Robot" is anything but. Look at the unique placement of characters to reflect their position in the world, often with enough space above to look like they're being pressed down the screen. These characters who are fighting for identity and personal freedom in a world where neither are valued are enhanced by the excellent direction and production values of the show, allowing Slater and star Rami Malek to really shine.
Rita Hayworth's entrance in "Gilda" is one of cinema's most famous introductions. It's no wonder she stops Glenn Ford's Johnny Farrell dead in his tracks and leaves him slackjawed. From the minute that Johnny meets the new girlfriend of casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready), we know he is in trouble. As he points out to Ballin, "women and gambling don't mix." And it turns out that Johnny and Gilda have a history that's likely to get them both in trouble. Charles Vidor's 1946 noir is one of the genre's most definitive, featuring an underrated performance by Ford and an iconic one by Hayworth. The Criterion release has a very nice HD restoration and a great commentary by Richard Schickel. Most importantly, it has an essay by our very own Sheila O'Malley.
New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Audio commentary from 2010 by film critic Richard Schickel
New interview with film noir historian Eddie Muller
Piece from 2010 featuring filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann discussing their appreciation for "Gilda"
Plus: An essay by critic Sheila O'Malley
F. Gary Gray's biopic of N.W.A. shattered all expectations. Not only are modern musical biopics rarely this good, they rarely make over $200 million or get Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay (and spark outrage over not getting more nominations than just that one). As someone who grew up with N.W.A. (I can still remember exactly where I was the first time I heard them at summer camp), I was enthralled by the first half of this film. It's vibrant and passionate. I think Gray has some trouble holding that fire for the whole running time (and the Director's Cut goes 20 minutes longer, believe it or not) and accusations that the film glosses over violence and misogyny in favor of entertainment do hold some weight with me. Still, this is an undeniably good film and this Universal release is LOADED with special features, including deleted scenes and a commentary track. It will likely compete with "The Martian" for the most-bought Blu-ray of the month. N.W.A. is hot again.
Deleted Song Performance
N.W.A. The Origins
The Streets: Filming in Compton
N.W.A. Performs in Detroit
Feature Commentary with Director/Producer F. Gary Gray
I usually only include films I like in the HECG but we need to talk a bit about "Everest." As someone who read "Into Thin Air" by John Krakauer, the true story on which this film is at least partially based, and loves the cast here, I was pretty excited. Rarely has a film about climbing had such issues with rising action. There's way too much dialogue about what they're doing and why they're doing it, and too little capturing of the actual moment. It probably, almost undeniably, worked better in 3D, but most of us don't own 3D TVs. And what a waste of a cast. Why hire actresses as talented as Keira Knightley and Robin Wright just to have them on the other end of a phone? Jason Clarke is typically strong, but everyone else blends into the snow. "Everest" might have worked best with mostly unknowns in the other roles. That way we wouldn't have to wonder what these talents ever saw in this disappointing project.
Learning to Climb: The Actors' Journey
A Mountain of Work: Recreating Everest
Race to the Summit: The Making of "Everest"
Aspiring to Authenticity: The Real Story
Feature Commentary with Director Baltasar Kormákur