Middle of Nowhere (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) – As Selma opens wide to great reviews, Ava DuVernay’s second feature comes to disc, a small story about a woman who put her aspirations on hold when her husband goes to prison. Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) drops out of medical school and takes a nursing job so that she can be at home for daily calls from Derek (Omari Hardwick) and make the two hour bus ride from the Los Angeles suburbs to the prison every week. Ruby’s mother (Lorraine Toussaint) isn’t shy about letting her disappointment show and Ruby spends more time with her sister (Edwina Findley Dickerson), a single mother raising a young boy, to avoid such issues. She believes Derek regrets his mistakes and he probably believes so too, but as he becomes illegible for early parole the reality proves to be more complicated. Which is really what the film is about: life is more complicated than the parameters she has fenced around it. Ruby’s commitment to her husband’s support comes at a cost beyond mere professional success, and his past doesn’t go away so easily.
This isn’t about dramatic revelations and charge confrontations. DuVernay, who also wrote the original screenplay, has made a film about those moments lived between the decisions and is able to show Ruby coming around to see what has been obvious to others. She makes Derek a complicated and nuanced character in his limited screen time—the films stays with Ruby through her story, seeing only what she does—neither judging nor forgiving him as Ruby discovers that his mistakes are not over. The restraint leaves some issues a little vague and unsure, such as Derek’s child from a previous relationship and his past (and present) involvement in the gangs, which can be frustrating, but this isn’t his story. It’s about Ruby and the choices she makes.
The title is apt, and not just for her commitment to a husband who is locked up two hours away in the middle of the desert. Even in Ruby’s East Los Angeles neighborhood, DuVernay’s images pare away detail and separate Ruby from her surroundings and even her family, as if she has isolated herself from the world. Except for traveling to and from work (always by bus; there’s no car on Ruby’s salary), she hardly interacts with anyone but her family, and even with mom she keeps all interactions as a distance.
Corinealdi gives a quiet but expressive performance as a woman who doesn’t recognize her own malaise and loneliness until she’s wooed by an easygoing bus driver (David Oyelowo, who stars in Selma as Dr. King) and she realizes how much of herself she’s sacrificed. In those moments, when friendly conversation and a little flirtation coaxes a smile from her, we get a sense of who Ruby might have been before she gave up her life. And DuVernay resists putting her transformation into words—even the lovely voiceover as she speaks her feelings for perhaps the first time is more poetry than prescription—and instead lets the flowering of Ruby come through the way she allows herself to live and be. That sensitivity and grace won DuVernay the Best Director award at Sundance and, one assumes, proved that she had the talent to tackle Selma.
Features commentary by director Ava DuVernay and actress Emayatzy Corinealdi and an Ultraviolent HD digital copy of the film. Also available to stream from Xbox Video.
The Strange Little Cat (KimStim / Icarus, DVD), the feature debut of German filmmaker Ramon Zürcher, is not a traditional story. It observes the rhythms and interactions of a German family in a small middle-class apartment as two grown siblings return home and a celebratory for extended family is prepared. That’s the plot in a nutshell and the film celebrates the oddities and quirks of family life. The cat is actually not strange at all but the people are, in ways that are very curiously human: a little sister who gleefully screams at the top of her lungs every time the blender is fired up, a mother who drops odd remarks and tetchy criticisms with a crooked smile, siblings who fall into old patterns with jokes that make no sense to the rest of us. The film see-saws with tension and relief but never leaves the confines of the apartment, where physics seem to work differently than we’re used to (what’s with that bottle that wobbles like a magic shop gag prop?). It’s more like a modern dance than a film narrative, all about the creative steps and flourishes as the change partners.
Features a Q&A with the filmmakers and cast from a screening at Film Society of Lincoln Center. Also available to stream from Fandor.
Classic release highlights of the week, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) and Liliana Cavani’s The Skin (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD) are reviewed in an upcoming post.
Fitzcarraldo (Shout Factory, Blu-ray), previously part of Shout factory’s magnificent Herzog: The Collection Blu-ray set, offers Herzog’s most ambitious look into the obsessive drive of another dreamer as a stand-alone disc. Klaus Kinski is less demonic and delirious than previous Herzog heroes as the Irish opera lover in South America determined to bring Caruso to the jungle. In this epic of European exploitation and tribal mysticism, Kinski is dwarfed by the majesty of the jungle and enormous scale of the film’s set piece: hauling the steamboat over a heavily overgrown mountain slope with rope, pulley and sweat, an act Herzog performs for the camera for real–and it shows. Features Werner Herzog on two commentary tracks (one in English with producer Lucki Stipetic, the other in German with critic Laurens Straub) and the trailer.
Supernova (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) is credited to director Thomas Lee but was actually filmed largely by Walter Hill. The film went through rewrites and reshoots helmed by Jack Sholder, and then the whole thing was handed to France Ford Coppola to makes sense of. And then it was recut again. The resulting film, a deep space thriller set aboard a medical ship where an alien artifact unleashes chaos, is a complete mess. James Spader, Angela Bassett, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Robert Forster star. This is the R-rated version prepared for home video in 2000 (it was PG-13 in theaters). Given the efforts of Shout Factory to give us a Clive Barker’s cut of Nightbreed, I’d always hoped there might be a possibility of getting Walter Hill’s Supernova, but apparently no such cut exists. However, there are deleted scenes, an alternate (bleaker) ending, and a new 25-minute featurette with interviews with producer Daniel Chuba, director Jack Sholder, and actors Lou Diamond Phillips and Robert Forster that charts the disastrous journey of the production.
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fifth Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) wraps up the Martin Scorsese-produced series set in Atlantic City during Prohibition with an abbreviated final season of eight episodes. Jumping ahead to 1931, with talk of ending Prohibition in the air, it finds Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) working to stake his claim in the legal booze trade (he attempts to strike a deal with a certain Joseph Kennedy) while Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky (Vincent Piazza and Anatol Yusef) are busy trying to unite the major mobs into a syndicate and eliminate the competitors and outliers. Thompson included.
As is the new convention with cable dramas about violent worlds and lifestyles, the final season wraps up many of the storylines by chronicling the demise of major characters. The transition of organized crime and the federal case against Capone in Chicago come right out of history but creator Terence Winter isn’t strictly beholden to the record for some of the other dramatic developments (just compare Nucky’s screen story with the real life Enoch Johnson). Winter may have been hampered by the short season but his choice to end the series in transition seems more creative than convenient. And his affection for Nucky is clear in the reflective journey he makes—the flashbacks of young Nucky coming of age in Atlantic City is surely as much about his own concerns as it is to reveal the making of a unique kind of racketeer—and he spends his final days as a prohibition-era power righting certain wrongs as he can. The advice given him in the first episode of the series, “You can’t be half a gangster,” ring through this season. But for Winter, the turning point isn’t anywhere in 1931 but back in Nucky’s formative years, learning how power is flexed and what is sacrificed to attain it. Winter saves Nucky’s original sin for the final episode, his Rosebud of sorts. It doesn’t explain all, of course, but it adds another dimension to Nucky’s efforts at any kind of redemption.
Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on four episodes and “Scouting the Boardwalk” featurettes on the locations for each episode. The Blu-ray also includes the exclusive “Blu-ray Live HBO Sampler,” which allows internet-connected Blu-ray devices to access the pilot episodes of four shows for free: Girls, Looking, Banshee, and the new series Togetherness.
Stingray: The Complete Series – 50th Anniversary Edition (Timeless, DVD) “Stand by for adventure!” After two successful sci-fi Supermarionation shows for British TV, producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson turned to undersea action in Stingray. The heroes are the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (WASP), deep sea agents whose mission of exploration is transformed into one of defense when the Aquaphibians attack from the underwater city of Titanica. Supermarionation refers to the Anderson’s brand of marionette puppets and the shows are completely performed by the inexpressive but engaging puppets (with strings in full view). Captain Troy Tempest is the stalwart human hero, supported by his co-pilot Phones and Princess Marina, a mute underwater dweller he rescues from the villainous Aquaphibians in the first episode. Lois Maxwell, the definitive Miss Moneypenny herself, is the voice of Lt. Atlanta Shore, daughter of Troy’s boss and Marina’s rival for Troy’s affections. The scripts are awkward (as is much of the puppet action) but the Andersons love their gadgets and their vehicles and, as silly as some of this science fantasy show is, it is a blast for its in souped-up submersibles, led by the state-of-the-art Stingray, and for the colorful design and creative science of the show. The blue-skinned Aquaphibian spy on the surface is played a Peter Lorre clone, right down to the sniveling dialogue. It’s odd and kitschy enough but still a warm-up to the more accomplished Anderson programs that followed, specifically Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. “Anything can happen in the next half hour!”
39 episodes plus commentary on select episodes and a featurette among the supplements.
You take the good, you take the bad, you take it all and there you have The Facts of Life: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, DVD). The sitcom about a four girls in a private school residence and their maternal housemother (Charlotte Rae) lasted for nine seasons, following the girls (played by Mindy Cohn, Kim Fields, Nancy McKeon, and Lisa Whelchel) from prep school through college and beyond, with Cloris Leachman taking over for Rae in the final seasons and young George Clooney joining the cast in the seventh season. The first five season have been on DVD before. This box set debuts the rest of the series and more. It features all 201 episodes on 26 discs, plus the episode of Diff’rent Strokes that launched the show and two TV movies: The Facts of Life Goes to Paris (1982) and The Facts of Life Down Under (1987), the 2014 cast reunion at The Paley Center, two featurettes, and a trivia game.
Also new and notable:
Gone Girl (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD), David Fincher’s film of Gillian Flynn’s novel (which she adapted for the screen), is getting overshadowed by the late-year Oscar hopefuls but this heady thriller is quite smart and compelling, full of turns and surprises and featuring a streak of dark humor and social satire. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are excellent as characters who get tired of posing as more interesting people and become disillusioned with reality of their lives, but with very different responses, and Fincher’s direction is razor sharp.
The Blu-ray editions features filmmaker commentary, a bonus Digital HD copy of the film, and an accompanying “Amazing Amy” storybook modeled in the books featured in the film.
A Walk Among the Tombstones (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), directed and adapted from the Lawrence Block novel by Scott Frank and starring Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder, Block’s ex-cop turned recovering alcoholic private investigator, proved a little to grueling for audiences. But if you like modern detective fiction, this film captures the gritty, pared-down quality of a tough American modern crime novel.
With the featurette “A Look Behind the Tombstones.” The Blu-ray edition also features an additional featurette and bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.
The Two Faces of January (Magnet, Blu-ray, DVD), adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel, is a thriller starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaac as Americans in Greece.
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are long time partners who can finally marry in New York City, only to be separated by circumstance, in the acclaimed Love is Strange (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD).
Andre Benjamin plays Hendrix in Jimi: All Is By My Side (XLrator, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), which chronicles his London years but doesn’t feature any of his signature songs.
Men, Women & Children (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD), directed by Jason Reitman, looks at disconnection in the social media-connected world, with Jennifer Garner, Adam Sandler, and Rosemarie DeWitt.
Ray Liotta stars in two very different films: The Identical (Cinedigm, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), a Christian-themed film with an Elvis-like figure, and Revenge of the Green Dragons (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD), a Hong Kong/U.S. co-production about Chinese gangs in New York, directed by Andrew Lau and executive produced by Martin Scorsese.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
The Amazon original series Transparent won two awards Golden Globes this week, which makes the announcement of the new Amazon Pilot Season all the more timely. Debut episodes of seven proposed new shows for adults and six kids shows debut on Thursday, January 15 to view for free, even if you don’t have an Amazon Prime account.
Point of Honor is a drama set in the Civil War from filmmaker Randall Wallace and producer Carlton Cuse, The Man in the High Castle a science fiction show based on Philip K. Dick’s award-winning novel developed by X-Files producer Frank Spotnitz, and The New Yorker Presents a docu-series from Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney. Comedies include Cocked, about a family gun business with Sam Trammell and Jason Lee, Down Dog, set in the yoga culture with Josh Casaubon and Paget Brewster, Mad Dogs with Steve Zahn and Billy Zahn, and Salem Rogers with Leslie Bibb. Amazon will gauge interest and feedback to decide which shows will get picked up for a full season.
Vice, a low-budget sci-fi action film from B-movie director Brian A. Miller that combines Westworld with Grand Theft Auo, debuts on cable VOD the same day as theaters. Bruce Willis, Thomas Jane, and Ambyr Childers stars.
Available to purchase on Digital HD before disc this week: John Wick (Lionsgate) with Keanu Reeves, My Old Lady (Universal, Digital HD) with Kevin Kline and Kristin Scott Thomas, and the game-to-movie horror film Ouija (Universal, Digital HD).
Classics and Cult:
My Left Foot (Lionsgate, Blu-ray)
River’s Edge (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Foxes (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Falcon and the Snowman (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
At the Earth’s Core (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray)
The Razor’s Edge (1946) (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Art of War (Warner, Blu-ray)
The Twilight Saga: Extended Editions Triple Feature (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Four Adventures of Reinette & Mirabelle (KimStim / Icarus, DVD)
Capricorn One (Timeless, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
The Day That Shook the World (VCI, DVD)
Venus Flytrap (Massacre Video, DVD)
Demon Queen (Massacre Video, DVD)
Pretty Peaches (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
The Ribald Tales of Canterbury (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
42nd Street Forever – The Peep Show Collection Vol. 6 (Synapse, DVD)
42nd Street Forever – The Peep Show Collection Vol. 7 (Synapse, DVD)
42nd Street Forever – The Peep Show Collection Vol. 8 (Synapse, DVD)
TV on disc:
The Jewel in the Crown: Remastered Anniversary Edition (PBS, DVD)
The Bridge: The Complete Second Season (Fox, DVD)
Tyrant: The Complete First Season (Fox, DVD)
Dallas: The Complete Third and Final Season (Warner, DVD)
NYPD: Season Eight (Shout Factory, DVD)
Lovejoy: Series 4 (Acorn, DVD)
A Horseman Riding By (1978) (Acorn, DVD)
Above Suspicion: Complete Collection (Acorn, DVD)
The Big House: The Complete Series (Olive, DVD)
Lovejoy: Series 4 (Acorn, DVD)
A Horseman Riding By (1978) (Acorn, DVD)
Above Suspicion: Complete Collection (Acorn, DVD)
Jessabelle (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Bird People (IFC, DVD)
Wetlands (Strand, DVD, Blu-ray)
Viktor (Inception, DVD, VOD)
Finding Fela (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Keep On Keepin’ On (Anchor Bay, DVD)
21 Years: Richard Linklater (Breaking Glass, DVD, VOD)
Duane Michals: The Man Who Invented Himself (Kino Lorber, DVD)
Memphis (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Fugly! (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
Two Mothers (Zwei Mütter) (Canteen Outlaws, DVD)
Bad Turn Worse (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Zarra’s Law (ARC, DVD)
Silent Youth (Ariztical, DVD)
Racing Hearts (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Cosplay Fetish Battle Drones (Collage Fossil, DVD)