The Babadook (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD), one of the best and most original horror films in years, raises goosebumps with old-fashioned scares, relatable characters, and a provocative psychological foundation. Amelia (Essie Kent) is a single mother who is still in mourning for her dead husband—she barely seems to be able to rouse herself to face the world—and is unable to cope with her overactive son Sam (Noah Wiseman), who is both terribly sweet and terrifyingly unpredictable. Clearly the loss has left them both scarred. Amelia has cocooned herself in an emotional shroud while Sam arms himself—quite literally, with improvised weapons that could easily maim a fellow schoolkid—to fight the imaginary monsters that may in fact be real. While the stress shows in Amelia’s increasingly haggard face and exhausted movements, Sam gets more wide-eyed and manic, a devil child who really just wants to be an angel and protect his mommy.
The title is an anagram for “a bad book,” which here is a pop-up children’s storybook that suddenly appears on Sam’s bookshelf and releases a smudgy nightmare creature that apparently jumps out of the pages and into the shadows. The book and the Babadook (Dook! Dook! Dook!)—which lurks in shadows, creeps in the corner of their eyes, and roams at night like a ghost in a haunted house (which their creepily still home has become)—both refuse to be evicted. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to wonder how much of the Babadook is external demon invading a fraught home and how much is the guilt and resentment and darkest emotional fears let loose in the hallucinations of a troubled, sleepless mother.
Jennifer Kent, an Australian director making her feature debut, blurs the borders between the real and imaginary. She’s an experienced actress and draws tremendous performances from both Kent and Wiseman, filling the film with their anxieties and runaway emotions, but she also masterfully applies the less-is-more aesthetic to create unsettling images and terrifying suggestions. The Babadook, a charcoal sketch of an ogre with Nosferatu talons and bared fangs, remains two-dimensional even when haunting the human world, which makes it all the more scary and unreal, and Kent shrouds the house in shadow even in the bright light of day.
It’s a powerful metaphor—the darkest emotions let loose by this troubled, frazzled mother—that never lands solidly on one side or the other. It’s a primal fairy tale, a psychological thriller, an uncompromising portrait of a mother on the verge of a breakdown, and a genuinely creepy horror movie about the terrors that just might be hiding under your bed. Kent brings the film to a conclusion that satisfies all dimensions of her tale.
It’s on Blu-ray and DVD with an hour of cast and crew interviews (including filmmaker Jennifer Kent and stars Essie Davis and Daniel Henshall) and five short featurettes, plus there is a Special Edition Blu-ray which features the Kent’s 2005 short film Monster, a ten-minute, black-and-white mood piece which is the basis for the feature, and deleted scenes, plus a terrific slipcover with a Babadook pop-up. The cover art is double-sided.
Also on VOD from Amazon Instant, Xbox, and Sundance Now, and it is still available on Cable On Demand.
Big Eyes (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is Tim Burton’s second foray into strange but true stories of American termite art culture. Where Ed Wood was a valentine to artistic oddballs and eccentrics on the fringes told with an optimism that was certainly not mirrored in Wood’s real life, this is a story about the pain behind the façade of happiness and success.
Amy Adams is Margaret Keane, who painted thousands of portraits of sad-eyed waifs, and Christoph Waltz is Walter Keane, the born salesman who promoted her paintings into a pop culture phenomenon in the sixties and seventies while taking credit for painting them. Waltz plays the part like he’s perpetually on the hustle and Adams’ Margaret falls not so much for his charm as for his confidence, a dimension that becomes demanding, bullying, and threatening as he basks in the success of her work. Burton and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who also wrote Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt) empathize with Margaret and her ordeal and Adams gives a nuanced performance as Margaret, a single mother who escapes one bad marriage for another even worse, too timid to challenge the dominating Walter until she finds herself. For Walter it’s about money and attention and the adoration of fans (even if the art establishment finds the paintings commercial abominations). For Margaret, it’s a matter of honesty and identity. The paintings reflected her soul, not his.
Burton is also fascinated with the way her art was dismissed as kitsch while it was embraced by the public: Are the Keane big eyes paintings art, kitsch, both, or something else? The cross section of art and commerce is fascinating but not all that well explored. And while his instinct for visual excess is largely in check, he can’t help but give so many scenes over to Waltz’s exuberant hustle. The film works thanks to Burton’s affection for both the art and the artist, Adams’ resilient performance, and a story that is too fascinating to be fiction.
On Blu-ray and DVD with the featurette “The Making of Big Eyes.” The Blu-ray also features highlights from screening Q&As with director Tim Burton, actors Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, and Jason Schwartzman, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and the real-life Margaret Keane, and an UltraViolet Digital HD copy of the film.
Also on VOD from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and Xbox, on Cable On Demand, and Digital HD purchase.
I don’t pretend to understand Goodbye to Language (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray 3D+2D, DVD), Jean-Luc Godard’s first 3D feature (he previously shot a 3D short film for the anthology 3x3D). It’s part essay, part formal experiment, part dialectic debate, and Godard uses 3D techniques and technology to deconstruct and disconnect viewers from the image the way has done with all other dimensions of cinema. You could say it’s a meditation on the limitations of language against the power of the physical, with Godard’s dog Roxie taking the lead in lovely segments wandering through the woods or playing in the water. There’s precious little communication in all the intellectual debating of the human couple at home, where everything becomes a metaphor. Roxie just takes the world as it is. There’s more to it, of course, but there’s no traditional story to carry you along. You have to engage, and even then it’s a challenge. But that’s why one watches Godard: to see a different way of imagining the cinema. If you want a story, this isn’t a movie for you.
Godard uses the stereoscopic process in ways no other filmmaker has, exaggerating the separation to create an unreal sense of depth, and in some scenes he uses the two cameras to tracks different characters, like a split screen laid one on top of the other. These effects are preserved in the standard Blu-ray and DVD presentations of the film, which merge the two images in a single 2D image. It doesn’t completely communicate the 3D effects, but in places it at least suggests what Godard is doing. The 3D presentation is on Blu-ray only and requires a 3D-compatible Blu-ray player and DVD and 3D glasses to view in its intended format. The 2-disc set also includes a standard 2D version on a separate disc and includes a video interview with Godard and a booklet with an essay by David Bordwell.
Also on VOD and Digital HD purchase from iTunes.
A Tale of Winter (Big World, DVD), the second film in French filmmaker Eric Rohmer’s “Tales of the Four Seasons” cycle from the 1990s, is not the chilly story its title would suggest. Felice (Charlotte Very) is a single mother with two lovers but feels little passion for either of them and Felice knows passion. In the opening scene she frolics with youthful abandon with Charles (Frederic Van Dren Driessche), an American she falls for on holiday. Through a careless mistake—she gives him her wrong address and doesn’t have his—they never reconnect despite her best efforts, but his presence continues to permeate her life as she raises their child. The sunny warmth of carefree youth and emotional ecstasy of the opening turns to the cool colors of winter as Felice tries to make the best of it by choosing one of her lovers but, in the best tradition of willful Rohmer women, she discovers she simply cannot settle for second best.
Rohmer makes small, intimate films about the foibles of people in love, both young and not-so-young, with both wit and compassion. This is one of his most compassionate and understanding. Felice is a delightfully contradictory character, lively under her somber front, headstrong and petulant, indecisive and flighty, dedicated to her search for true love, and Very invests Felice with a spark that enlivens her even at her most exasperating. That spark lights up in one of the most emotionally magical and compassionate endings in all of Rohmer’s films. It makes its DVD debut after getting a brief theatrical rerelease in the U.S. In French with English subtitles; they are electronic but unremovable.
Also on VOD and digital purchase (HD and SD versions) from iTunes and Vudu.
Foyle’s War: Set 8 (Acorn, DVD) – Foyle’s War debuted on British TV in 2002 as a mysteries series set on the homefront during World War II, where the cool-headed, rational Inspector Foyle (Michael Kitchen) was assigned to investigate domestic crimes against the backdrop of life during wartime. British TV long had a tradition for mysteries set in the colorful pre-war past, from Sherlock Holmes to Poirot, but this show started a vogue for darker stories in less glamorous settings and troubled times. It became a favorite in both Britain and the U.S. (where it played on Masterpiece Mystery), was revived twice after cancellation, and carried on after the show brought the war to an end war with Foyle working for the secretive MI-5 to fight the Cold War.
This set presents the final three episodes of the show, all scripted by series creator Anthony Horowitz. Set in the late 1940s, each mystery is a fictional take on the real life events and social realities of the era. While Foyle cuts through the tangled politics of crimes that reach beyond the borders of Britain, his assistant Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) and her husband Adam (Daniel Weyman), an idealistic Member of Parliament struggling to make a difference, take us through the social and political situation of post-war life for ordinary citizens. Horowitz also takes the opportunity to explore Foyle’s superiors at MI-5, who slowly put their trust in his intelligence and sense of justice in a culture of compromise and secrecy.
In “High Castle,” the murder of a translator at the Nuremberg war crimes trials leads back to an act of treason in the war. “Trespass” deals with the conflicts over the emigration of Jews to Palestine and the rise of a Fascist party stoking anti-immigrant anger in Britain. “Elise,” the final episode of the show, weaves the story of a conspiracy within the intelligence service reaching back to the war with black market activities in the present, and it ends the show in a way that leaves the door open for yet another revival. It could happen. Horowitz has said this is the end but in the featurettes he’s careful not to close the door entirely.
Includes “The Truth Behind the Fiction” interviews between Anthony Horowitz and historian and series consultant Terry Charman that explore the real-life history behind the stories among the supplements.
Metal Hurlant Chronicles: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray, DVD) is a French-produced, English-language science fiction anthology series draws its stories from the long running French magazine of the seventies and eighties from which it takes its name: “Metal Hurlant,” best known stateside as the inspiration for the American incarnation “Heavy Metal.”
The magazine was a mixed bag of inventive graphic storytelling and pulp tales with R-rated levels of nudity and violence. The live action series leans to the pulp side of things, favoring cliché-ridden sword-swinging fantasy and futuristic space adventures with “Twilight Zone”-style twists but without the social commentary or allegorical dimension. The episodes are like digest versions of bad direct-to-cable films, directed without any visual flair or dramatic creativity and produced with a mix of slapdash sets and cheap CGI effects. The shows feature a mix of B-list genre actors (Rutger Hauer, Michael Biehn, James Marsters, Michael Jai White) and foreign-language casts with badly-dubbed voices, and the performance range from hammy to horrible. The series played in the U.S. on SyFy in 2014 and almost nobody noticed. This show makes the tongue-in-cheek SyFy Original Movies look inspired.
12 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with alternate French-language versions of four episodes (with English subtitles), featurettes, interviews, and other supplements.
Joe 90: The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD), Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s 1968 follow-up to the paranoid conspiracy adventure Captain Scarlet vs. The Mysterons, is an even stranger espionage series. “Joe 90” is the code name for a nine-year-old boy who, after serving as a guinea pig in his father’s experiments in intelligence transference, turns into a secret agent. At least as long as he wears a special pair of glasses with electrodes that plug him into the super computer (named BIG RAT) filled with the brain waves of the world’s greatest geniuses. With the blessing of his father, he leaps into deadly situations under the direction of World Intelligence Network (or WIN) officer “Uncle Sam” (yes, he’s American). The adventures are pure schoolboy fantasy: who wouldn’t want to become super spies, brain surgeons, military pilots, and rocket scientists (to name just a few of his brief professions)? I’ll bet his mother would have something to say about the reckless endangerment of a 4th grade boy, no matter how plucky. The foundation of the show isn’t merely absurd, it’s criminal. Or it would be, if it weren’t all in the name of protecting our freedoms from the dreaded, devious Commie menace.
This was the final show produced exclusively in the Supermarionation process and the puppetry is Anderson’s most sophisticated yet, with finely-articulated marionette characters with more realistic expressions and movements and detailed vehicles and gadgets for the action scenes. 30 episodes on DVD, with interviews with creator Gerry Anderson and commentary on two episodes.
Also new and notable:
A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (KimStim, DVD), a collaboration between independent / experimental filmmakers Ben Rivers and Ben Russell, follows an unnamed man through three different experiences: living on a small collective in Estonia, exploring the wilderness of Finland, and performing as part of a Black Metal band in a concert in Norway. The film was not widely distributed but it played major festivals and limited runs at specialty theaters around the world.
Batman vs. Robin (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD) is a sequel to the DCU Original Animation feature Son of Batman, adapted from the “Court of Owls” comic book arc scripted by Grant Morrison and focusing on Batman’s mentorship of his son Damian, the arrogant and angry grandson of R’as Al Guhl. Director and Warner animation veteran Jay Oliva also made Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Justice League: War and has an affinity for superhero stories with a dark edge. The DVD includes a sneak preview of the upcoming Justice League: Gods and Monsters with the Blu-ray also includes commentary, featurettes, and four bonus episodes of Warner animated superhero shows.
Class of 1984 (Scream Factory, Blu-ray), directed by Mark L. Lester from a script co-written by Tom Holland (Fright Night and Child’s Play), plays like Blackboard Jungle by way of The Warriors, starring Perry King as the idealistic new teacher in a violent inner city school and Timothy Van Patten as the hyper-intense gangleader who turns his clash of wills with the teacher into a vendetta. Features director commentary and new and archival cast and crew interviews.
Long Weekend (Synapse, Blu-ray), a gruesome Australian film about a couple trying to salvage their marriage on a camping trip, is the Aussie answer to the revenge-of-nature horror genre. Previously in DVD, it makes its Blu-ray debut in an edition featuring commentary by producer Richard Brennan and cinematographer Vincent Monton and an interview with actor John Hargreaves.
That Man From Rio / Up to His Ears (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) is a double-feature of comic adventures from director Philippe de Broca and star Jean-Paul Belmondo. That Man From Rio (1964), their biggest hit, is a secret agent spoof with Belmondo as a James Bond-like agent on the trail of a stolen Amazonian statue in Brazil, with Françoise Dorléac joining his for the fun. Belmondo co-stars with Ursula Andress in Up to His Ears (1965) and this time he plays a bored millionaire targeted for death by the beneficiaries of his will. Both films have been remastered from new 2K restorations and the two-disc set includes an hour-long documentary on That Man from Rio, a half-hour documentary on Up to his Ears, additional featurettes and interviews, and a booklet with stills. The two films are also available separately on VOD and digital purchase.
I Am Steve McQueen (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray, DVD), originally made for Spike TV, is just as probing as you’d expect from a production from McQueen Racing and featuring his son, Chad McQueen, plus his widow, ex-wives, and grandkids. It’s essentially a survey of his career with detours to explore his love of cars and racing. Robert Downey Jr. narrates and the fellow actors and racing experts interviewed for the piece are all in agreement that McQueen was cool. Blu-ray and DVD with two featurettes.
Six new releases from Twilight Time this week, including the cult film Zardoz (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), directed by John Boorman and starring Sean Connery. More on this later (I just received these films and haven’t done more than sample the discs), but know that it includes two commentary tracks. Also new this week: François Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H. (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), James Ivory’s The Remains of the Day (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), the 1995 Richard III (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) with Ian McKellan, The Fantasticks (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) with both the theatrical and extended original cut, and April Love (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) with Pat Boone.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
The Tribeca Film Festival is underway in New York City but they are sharing three of their presentations with the entire country through Cable On Demand: Far From Men, starring Viggo Mortensen as a French-born teacher in a small Algerian village in the 1950s; the British crime thriller Hyena starring Stephen Graham (he played Al Capone in “Boardwalk Empire”); and documentary Misery Loves Comedy, which asks dozens of comedians the question, Do you have to be miserable to funny? All debut on Wednesday, April 15.
Available on Cable On Demand on Friday, April 17, the same day as theaters, is the drama Alex of Venice with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the thriller Beyond the Reach with Michael Douglas in the Mojave Desert, and The Dead Lands, a revenge drama from New Zealand set in the pre-Colonial era of the Maori tribes.
And arriving weeks ahead of disc On Demand is the comedy Hot Tub Time Machine 2, which is being released in an extended, “unedited” version, and the Italian drama Human Capital, which won seven David I Donatello awards, including Best Film, Best Actress (Valeri Bruni Tedeschi), and Best Supporting Actor (Fabrizio Gifuni) and Actress (Valeria Golina).
Available for Digital purchase in advance of disc:
The Wedding Ringer (Sony, Digital HD)
The Boy Next Door (Universal, Digital HD)
Bedlam (Lionsgate, Digital HD, VOD)
Paddington (Anchor Bay, Digital HD) – Friday, April 17
Classics and Cult:
Sullivan’s Travels (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Odd Man Out (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Long Weekend (Synapse, Blu-ray)
Tales of Terror (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
Woman of Straw (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
Late for Dinner (Kino, Blu-ray)
The King of Masks (First Run, DVD)
Zardoz (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Story of Adele H. (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Remains of the Day (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Richard III (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Fantasticks (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
April Love (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Eddie and the Cruisers / Eddie and Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! (Shout! Factory)
Blood and Black Lace (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
Blood and Black Lace: Limited Edition Steelbook (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray+DVD)
Carrie (2002) / The Rage: Carrie 2 (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
The Toxic Avenger Part II (Troma, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Class of Nuke ‘Em High II: Subhumanoid Meltdown (Troma, Blu-ray)
The Way Things Go (1980) (Icarus, Blu-ray, DVD)
Stephen Sondheim Collection (Into the Woods, Company, Sunday in the Park With George, Follies in Concert, Sweeney Todd, Sondheim: The Birthday) (Image, DVD)
Supersoul Brother (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Little Miss Innocent / Teenage Seductress (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Little Sisters / Powder Burns (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
New Erotic Adventures of Casanova / New Erotic Adventures of Casanova 2 (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Naughty Nurses Double Feature: Head Nurse / Nurse-Made (Distribpix, DVD)
The Peep Show Collection Vol. 9 (Impulse, DVD)
TV on disc:
The Missing (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
1600 Penn: The Complete Season 1 (Fox, DVD)
The Crazy Ones: The Complete First Season (Fox, DVD)
Louis: The Complete Season 4 (Fox, DVD)
Legit: The Complete Season 2 (Fox, DVD)
Wilfred: The Complete Season 4 (Fox, DVD)
JAG: The Complete Series (Paramount, DVD)
Teen Titans Go!: Appetite for Disruption Season 2 Part 1 (Warner, DVD)
Power Rangers Super Megaforce: The Perfect Storm (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Little House on the Prairie: Season Five Remastered (Blu-ray, DVD)
The End of the Civil War (Lionsgate)
John Denver: Country Boy (PBS, DVD)
Transatlantic Sessions: The Best of Folk – Vol. 1 (PBS, DVD)
Nazi Hunters: Heroes Defeated Hitler (BBC, DVD)
World War I: The People’s Story (Acorn, DVD)
Lights Out! (PBS, DVD)
Maps to the Stars (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Echoes (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
God Help the Girl (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Beside Still Waters (Cinedigm, DVD)
Curling (Big World, DVD)
Whitney (Lionsgate, DVD)
Antarctica: A Year on Ice (Music Box, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Love Hunter (Kino Lorber, DVD)
Manny (Anchor Bay, DVD)
William S. Burroughs In the Dreamachine (Cult Epics, DVD)
He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not (First Run, DVD)
[REC]4: Apocalypse (Sony, DVD)
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Vengeance of an Assassin (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
Enter the Dangerous Mind (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
Hustler White (Strand, Blu-ray, DVD)
Population Boom (First Run, DVD)
Mom’s Day Away (Cinedigm, DVD, Digital)
Jinn (Freestyle, DVD)
Deep in the Darkness (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
From the Dark (Dark Sky, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD)
John Doe: Vigilante (ARC, DVD)
Roadside (RLJE/Image, DVD, Digital)
Wingman Inc. (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)