Every Tuesday, discriminating viewers are confronted with a flurry of choices: new releases on disc and on demand, vintage and original movies on any number of streaming platforms, catalogue titles making a splash on Blu-ray or 4K. This twice-monthly column sifts through all of those choices to pluck out the movies most worth your time, no matter how you’re watching.
This week’s round-up of the best new stuff on disc and streaming includes a pair of last year’s best movies, two new Criterions, a mini-stack of new 4Ks, and multi-disc collections for two contemporary comedy icons.
PICK OF THE WEEK:
The Jackie Chan Collection Vol. 1 (1976-1982): There’s no need to be coy about it – this was not Jackie Chan’s best period (he was still working out the delicate mixture of martial arts, action, and slapstick comedy that would become his trademark), and the seven films collected in this box set from Shout Factory (The Killer Meteors, Shaolin Wooden Men, To Kill With Intrigue, Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin, Dragon Fist, Battle Creek Brawl, and Dragon Lord) are not his best from that period (that’d be Drunken Master or Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow or, if you’re a contrarian like me, Spiritual Kung Fu). But there’s still a lot to love here, since half-formed Jackie Chan is more fun to watch than most of his fully-formed contemporaries; his charisma and charm are considerable, the gags are energetic, and the fight scenes are electrifying – particularly the closing sequence of Dragon Lord, the last film in the box, a prop-heavy barn-burner that now plays like a road map of the direction he was heading in the coming decade. Shout has already announced a volume two, and hurray for that; Chan’s greatest hits are so widely venerated that it’s worth giving some love to the deep cuts. (Includes feature-length documentary, audio commentaries, interviews, and trailers.)
TÁR: Todd Field may have gone sixteen years between this film and his last (2006’s underrated Little Children), but one gets the impression that he spent the entire hiatus lurking in bushes and hiding in closets, jotting down embarrassing situations and damning dialogue for what would turn out to be his finest film to date. Cate Blanchett is in fire form as a conductor, composer, and EGOT at the height of her power whose life and livelihood (and, perhaps, her sanity) unravel slowly as a former protégé commits suicide and “some accusations” surface. It’s a performance of pinpoint precision – she begins with absolute authority and control, and over the course of the two-plus hours, loses it entirely. And the supporting cast more than keeps pace (particularly Nina Hoss, who is doing a whole master class in reaction shots). Fields’ direction and script are both expansive and economical; particularly strong are the closing passages, which follows the character farther than most narratives would, all the way to one of the funniest closing shots in recent memory.
Riotsville, USA: I saw Sierra Pettengill’s documentary at Sundance 2022, and spent the entire year trying to shake its furious voice and images, without luck. It takes its title from the fake cities constructed on U.S. Army bases in the late 1960s as training grounds for military and police units to train, and the images shot there (by contemporaneous military and television cameras) are both grim and hilarious. But Pettengill uses that footage as an entry point into an exploration of revolution and protest, and how it was effectively quelled, in this period – the idea that something genuinely paradigm shifting was in reach, and then slipped between our fingers, thanks to a machine that kept on grinding, no matter what. It’s a discordant mixtape of shocking facts and fascinating footage, held together by the ambient, unsettling score and hauntingly poetic narration, a historical documentary that reminds us how provocative, trenchant, and timely such films can (and should) be.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD:
Bergman Island: Beautifully timed to the theatrical release of her new (and lovely) One Fine Morning, Mia Hansen-Løve’s previous picture joins the Criterion Collection to get us all mooning over its stars and contemplating their conundrums all over again. Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth are wife-and-husband filmmakers on a working vacation on Ingmar Bergman’s home base island of Faro, where the preoccupations of their life and work begin to seep into her work-in-progress script (which is dramatized as a film within the film, starring a radiant Mia Wasikowska). It sounds like self-indulgent pap, and boy it coulda been, but Hansen-Løve’s unerring ear for subtext-loaded dialogue and emotional truth really comes through for her here, and lines like “I don’t like it when artists I love don’t behave so well in real life” prompt a fair amount of outside-the-frame consideration. (Includes interviews, short film, and essay by Device Girish.) (Also streaming on Hulu.)
This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection: Some movies are like novels or short stories, unwinding a narrative using customary tools of logic and form; others, like Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s 2020 drama (also new to the Criterion Collection), are like folk tales and local legends, shaking off the confines of convention, unraveling over what feels like both past and present, simultaneously. Its setup is simple: a recent widow, in mourning, prepares for her own pending passing. But Mosese folds in a land dispute subplot, haunting cinematography, anthropological performances and a creeping sense of doom to create something altogether unheralded, and borderline indescribable. I suppose I should find a way to tackle the latter issue, but I’m at a loss. Press play and let it wash over you. (Inclues audio commentary, short films, trailer, and essay by Zakes Mda.) (Also streaming on the Criterion Channel and Kanopy.)
Actual People: Nothing on this dying planet is more tiresome than looking at a low-budget Brooklyn-set sexually-candid indie comedy/drama movie from a female writer/director/star and Leonardo DiCaprio-pointing its affinity to the work of Lena Dunham, but in all fairness, it’s hard to imagine Kit Zahur’s feature debut film without Tiny Furniture and Girls before it. THAT SAID, Zahur has a style and sensibility all her own: a terrific ear for offhandedly funny (and searingly, discomfortingly truthful) dialogue, but also a DIY visual sense, ingeniously capturing how people of this generation see the world, take in stories, and tell their own. And Zahur’s screen presence is one to reckon with; anyone who can be this vulnerable and funny in the frame, and hold our attention as easily as she does, has got an exciting career ahead of her. (Includes audio commentary, trailer, and short films and essays by Zahur.) (Also streaming on MUBI.)
Dawn of the Dead: Nearly two decades after its release, people still rave about the pre-title sequence of Zack Snyder’s riff on George A. Romero’s zombie classic, and they’re not wrong – it fucking goes, parachuting in to an apocalypse-in-progress with furious energy and gleeful disregard for the rules of who is supposed to live or die in a horror movie. (The screenplay is by future would-be comic-book-movie disrupter James Gunn.) The rest of the movie can’t top it, but what could? Snyder presents a convincing portrait of a society imploding, as (once again) a band of survivors takes over a suburban mall and hopes to wait out the end of the world; as in the best “Dead” movies, the juice comes from how expertly the filmmakers and actors set up the strong personalities of their characters, and let them contrast and clash. The best of the bunch is Sarah Polley (I like to imagine that Shout’s new 4K upgrade was a response to her wave of good press recently for Women Talking), who reminds us how valuable it is to have an actor of her skill and gravitas anchoring a wild genre movie, and keeping shit real. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, introduction, featurettes, storyboard comparisons, interviews, and trailers.)
The Italian Job: I prefer the remake. Hi. Do I have your attention? It’s true, and you can take away my cinephile card for it – but I’ll also go to the mat, without hesitation, for this 1969 original, which sports a Quincy Jones score, Douglas Slocombe’s photography (nicely brought to vivid life by KL Studio Classic’s new 4K restoration), Michael Caine saying (to the delight of The Trip stans around the world, “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”), a tightly-executed heist, a supporting cast that ranges from the very definition of highbrow (Noel Coward) to the very definition of lowbrow (Benny Hill), and the immortal mini-Cooper chase scene, one of the few elements that the 2003 remake dared not tinker with. (Includes audio commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, and trailers.)
Death Wish: KL’s new 4K edition of Michael Winner’s wildly influential 1974 action thriller captures all of its fine qualities – the grimy cinematography, evocative NYC location work, Herbie Hancock’s score, Charles Bronson’s face – and everything that’s troubling about it as well, as a picture that gave voice (and, too often, inspiration) to white middle-class folks hell-bent on taking their cities back from encroaching poor and minority citizens (Making New York Great Again, if you will). That’s all, of course, subtext (though often just barely); there are plenty of surface pleasures for ‘70s exploitation aficionados, including a gleefully stacked-deck script, a surprisingly emotional Bronson performance, and a memorable performance by Jeff Goldblum, in his film debut, as a mugger who really enjoys his work. (Includes audio commentary, interview, and trailer.)
The Lady from Shanghai: It would be easy to tsk-tsk KL for putting out another Blu-ray edition of Orson Welles’s 1948 noir masterpiece, rather than going 4K (especially since last year’s Touch of Evil release was such a winner). But it’s also hard to complain about this gorgeous and thorough edition of one of Welles’s most colorful productions; he apparently had to eat a lot of crow when he went to make this pulpy thriller for Columbia’s Harry Cohn, whom he’d earlier vowed never to work for after a flap concerning Columbia’s contract with Welles’s then-wife, Rita Hayworth. But he was able to get the film financed (and pay off some of his debts) by co-starring with Hayworth – even though their young marriage was already on the rocks, which gives all sorts of fascinating dimensions to not only their tortured on-screen relationship, but how he presents his bride to the world as his film’s top-billed star. But this is all egghead background stuff: Rita Hayworth as a blonde femme fatale! Orson Welles as an Irish-dialect sap! Everett Sloane as a rich prick! Shoot-out in the hall of mirrors! All in under 90 minutes! Wait are you waiting for? (Includes audio commentaries, interviews, and trailers!)
Peter Falk 4-Film Comedy Collection: Peter Falk is weirdly, wonderfully having a bit of a moment right now, first in the unexpected popularity (at least among the weirdos I know) of Columbo (now streaming on Peacock!), and then in its clear inspiration for the new mystery series Poker Face (also streaming on Peacock!). Mill Creek’s new four-film, two disc collection offers plenty of good Falk, albeit in a broader comic mode than on that beloved show. The 1984 Falk/Charles Durning buddy comedy Happy New Year is all but forgotten, which is a shame, because it’s a perfectly enjoyable little caper movie (and a rare chance to see the middle-aged Falk as a romantic leading man); 1985’s Big Trouble is much maligned, since it had the misfortune of being the final directorial effort of John Cassavetes, who took over the troubled production as a favor to his pal Falk. (It’s not a total waste; it has Falk and Alan Arkin reanimating their In-Laws chemistry, a handful of laughs, some inspired Double Indemnity cosplay, and a va-va-va-voom Beverly D’Angelo turn. It’s just not a John Cassavetes movie, which is forgivable. Not many movies are!) But the set is most noteworthy for the inclusion of the previously hard-to-see LUV, a 1967 team-up of Falk, Jack Lemmon, and Elaine May that doesn’t quite fulfill it’s dark romantic comedy promise, but comes close; and for The Cheap Detective, the broad, Neil Simon-penned Bogart spoof that finds Falk doing a mighty entertaining feature-length Bogart impression, alongside a stacked cast that includes Ann-Margret, Stockard Channing, Louise Fletcher, and a pre-Clue match-up of Eileen Brennan and Madeline Kahn. (No bonus features.)