Boyhood (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is arguably the movie of 2014. Even if you don’t think it’s the best film of last year, it dominated Top Ten lists and critics groups awards and it offered a different and daring kind of cinematic experience, something rare enough in American popular cinema.
It’s now common knowledge that filmmaker Richard Linklater and his four central actors—Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as the parents, Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter) as the older sister, and Ellar Coltrane as Mason—shot the film over the course of 12 years to watch not just Mason but everyone in the fictional family grow up and evolve over time. What’s most exciting about the film, however, is the way the film avoids the expected landmark moments and big dramatic conflicts to focus on the sense of life as an experience and an evolution.
Which is not to say there aren’t dramatic moments—Arquette’s single mom shows a history of bad judgment when it comes to life partners and one flight from a particularly bad marriage to a bullying drunk is both harrowing and startlingly realistic—but that the usual spotlight events are left offscreen. Because life isn’t about those flashpoints, it’s about connections made with friends, privileged moments with family, decisions, interests, disappointments, successes, and an evolution of character informed by experience. And that’s what this film becomes: an experience as much in the texture of this fictional life, growing up from first grade to arriving at college, as in the narrative journey. The performances are appropriately low-key and naturalistic and the evolution feels organic, thanks in large part to the collaboration of the actors and incorporating elements of their own experiences in the characters.
It runs 164 minutes, which lends itself to a home viewing (easier to get comfortable for the long haul), but it is something to see straight through as a single narrative experience. The Blu-ray features the 19-minute featurette “The 12 Year Project,” made up of interviews with the director and the cast (often interviewing one another on camera) over the course of production, from year one to year twelve, and the 52-minute “Q&A with Richard Linklater and the Cast,” shot after a screening of the film at L.A.’s Cinefamily on June 15, 2014. They are excellent supplements to the experience. Also includes bonus DVD and UltraViolet Digital HD copies of the film. No extras on the DVD release.
Both Danny Miller and I placed it in the top spot of our Top Ten lists. I talked to Richard Linkater about the film for Keyframe and Danny interviewed stars Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, and Lorelei Linklater for Cinephiled.
Black Sails: The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) made it past the initial season of rocky television seas, immediately making it one of the rare successes among TV pirate shows and period swashbucklers. NBC’s rival show, the summer series Crossbones with John Malkovich, was an almost immediate shipwreck but the Starz production sailed away with decent reviews and ratings good enough to earn it a second season.
Inspired by characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” but set twenty years before the events of the novel, it stars the ruggedly handsome Toby Stephens as Captain Flint, a respected pirate leader on a quest to track down as fortune in gold secretly transported by a Spanish galleon. John Silver (Luke Arnold) is a young ruffian here and he steals a vital clue to the mystery ship, at first to make a play for the fortune himself, then to assure his survival on Flint’s ship. In addition to battling the British Navy, Flint has to deal with a crew impatient with their lack of plunder, rival ships, threats of mutiny, and all sorts of pirate politics on the sea and ashore in the pirate haven of New Providence, where Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) owns the tavern and the brothel and serves as both bank and fence for the brigands. There are a few historical pirates as well, including Charles Vane (played by a darkly dangerous Zach McGowan) and the female pirate Anne Bonny (Clara Paget).
The show has fun with the premise without tipping into comedy, making Flint a driven anti-hero who is not above killing a friend or colleague to further his goal, but the chase for the gold drags on and other stories and characters overshadow Flint’s obsessive quest. The series is shot in South Africa, which successfully stands in for the Caribbean and gives the show a sunny, exotic backdrop, and director Neil Marshall, who helmed the superb sea battle episode “Blackwater” of Game of Thrones, sets the style and tone of the show with his gift for hard-edged action sequences and striking visuals. This is a Starz show, the network that gave us Spartacus: Blood and Sand and DaVinci’s Demons, so it’s full of sex and nudity (most of it utterly gratuitous) and explicit violence in every episode, but it’s a more interesting show than either of those programs, thanks to writers/producers Robert Levine (Touch) and Jonathan E. Steinberg (The Human Target, Jericho). Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus six featurettes. The Blu-ray also features an Ultraviolent Digital HD copy of the season.
Girls: The Complete Third Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) – There is an audience for Lena Dunham’s HBO series that is otherwise underserved when it comes to provocative television. Dunham allows the four women of the show, all in their early twenties with good educations and high aspirations struggling to find their place in the real world of modern day New York City, be as self-absorbed, irritating, jealous, rude, sexually obsessed, petty, and unrepentant as young men are routinely presented on TV and in movies. Her talent as a writer and producer to shape a half-hour serialized show that presents each episode as a well-told single story has improved since the first season and the cast (Dunham, Allison Williams, Zosia Mamet, Jemima Kirke, plus Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky) knows what their characters are about. But I have to confess: I’m not the audience. I don’t like the characters and I can’t relate to them. Which is my issue, I confess.
This season deals with Hannah (Dunham’s character) addressing her issues with mental health while trying to sustain a relationship with Adam, her underemployed actor boyfriend, and make a success of her writing career, which makes significant headway here. Meanwhile Marnie (Williams) obsesses over a bad break-up, Shoshanna (Mamet) prepares to graduate, and Jessa (Kirke) continues to manipulate and lie her way through life as the group’s train-wreck of a friend. Though to be fair, it’s hard for me to tell if these young women are actually friends anymore.
12 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus commentary on six episode and “Inside the Episodes” featurettes. The Blu-ray also includes “The Making of Girls: Season Three,” deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and other supplements (including the complete Marnie Michaels “What I Am” music video), plus an Ultraviolent Digital HD copy of the season. The fourth season begins this week and a fifth season has already been announced by HBO.
With so many interesting shows out there, I’m afraid I just didn’t make the time to see HBO’s new series Looking: The Complete First Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), about a group of thirtysomething men in San Francisco’s gay community. It’s created by Michael Lannan and Weekend filmmaker Andrew Haigh and the initial season earned great reviews. The second season begins this weel
The Boys From Brazil (Shout Factory, Blu-ray), the 1978 thriller adapted from the high-concept potboiler by Ira Levin, is famous largely for its premise: a society of neo-Nazis in South America have placed dozens of clones of Adolph Hitler with adoptive parents around the world and those boys are now reaching adolescence, which cues phase two of the plot to launch the Fourth Reich.
This is ostensibly the big revelation of the film but let’s face it, it has been common knowledge since the film’s release—this was my first viewing of the film (I had amazingly never seen it before) and I knew all this already—and in many ways it has made the film more notorious that famous. It stars a scenery-chewing Gregory Peck as Dr. Josef Mengele, the mastermind of the conspiracy, and Laurence Olivier hamming it up in an Oscar-nominated role as a Nazi hunter on the trail of the conspiracy, and features a respectable cast of supporting actors that includes James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliott, Rosemary Harris, and Bruno Ganz (who decades later played Hitler in Downfall). And it’s directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, who had made Planet of the Apes, Patton, and Papillon. All of which you would expect to add up to something interesting, or at least entertaining. Yet it’s all rather flat and unimpressive. Schaffner plods through the scenes, failing to generate excitement from the murder scenes or create a credible thriller out of the story, and the leading men seem determined to overplay their roles, as if cueing the audience not to take any of it seriously. It’s more curiosity than classic, but it also a minor cult film with a great pedigree and an almost irresistible premise. Previously on DVD, it makes it Blu-ray debut with a satisfying transfer and a bare-bones edition with no supplements.
Also new and notable:
Get On Up (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is the James Brown story, from Tate Taylor, the director of The Help, and Chadwick Boseman, the star of the Jackie Robinson biopic 42.
Daniel Radcliffe stars in Horns (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) as a man suspected of murdering his girlfriend who wakes up one morning sprouting a pair of devilish horns from his head. Based on the novel by Joe Hill and directed by Aja Alexander.
Two thrillers: The Guest (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), starring Dan Stevens (formerly of Downton Abbey) as a soldier who insinuates himself with the family who lost a son in the Iraq war, and No Good Deed (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson.
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (Scream Factory, Blu-ray), the 1995 sequel to the original horror film, is based on a story by Clive Barker (who is also a producer) and directed by Bill Condon, who went on to make Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls, and the last two Twilight movies.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
21 Years: Richard Linklater, a documentary on the career of the filmmaker, comes out on DVD next week but is now available on Digital VOD and comes cable VOD on Thursday, January 8. A timely offering, with Boyhood now on disc and VOD. Ethan Hawke, Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black, Julie Delpy, and Parker Posey are among the collaborators interviewed for the film.
Two thrillers—the science fiction film Predestination with Ethan Hawke and Noah Taylor and The World Made Straight with Jeremy Irvine and Minka Kelly—debut on cable VOD on Friday, January 9, the same day they debut in select theaters.
Available to purchase in Digital HD format before disc is the Scarlett Johansson action film Lucy (Universal, Digital HD) and Ira Sachs’ acclaimed drama Love is Strange (Sony, Digital HD) with Alfred Molina and John Lithgow.
Classics and Cult:
Sword of Doom (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Last Days of Chez Nous (Scorpion / Kino, DVD)
Charlie Wilson’s War (Universal, Blu-ray)
The Constant Gardener (Universal, Blu-ray)
The Good Shepherd (Universal, Blu-ray)
Working Girl (Fox, Blu-ray)
Wheels of Terror (The Misfit Brigade) (Scorpion / Kino, DVD)
TV on disc:
Glee: The Complete Fifth Season (Fox, DVD)
Archer Vice: The Complete Season Five (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Manners of Dowton Abbey (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
American Experience: Ripley: Believe It or Not (PBS, DVD)
Midsomer Murders: Series 12 (revised) (Acorn, DVD)
Midsomer Murders: Series 13 (revised) (Acorn, DVD)
Navy SEALS: Their Untold Story (PBS, DVD)
Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Longest Week (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Not Another Happy Ending (Omnibus, DVD)
Ways to Live Forever (Alive Mind, DVD)
Atlas Shrugged: Part III (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Honey (Kino Lorber, DVD)
Salvo (Film Movement, DVD)
The Dark Valley (Film Movement, DVD)
Dinosaur 13 (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case (Alive Mind, DVD)
Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis? (Disinformation, DVD, VOD)
88 (Millennium, Blu-ray, DVD)
Happy End (Wolfe, DVD, Digital)
Finders Keepers (Lionsgate, DVD)
The Houses October Built (RLJ, Blu-ray, DVD)