Nightcrawler (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) earned an Oscar nomination for director Dan Gilroy’s screenplay, a wicked satire of the tabloid news television that chases sensationalistic stories for ratings (the cliché “if it bleeds, it leads” is the guiding philosophy). It should also have earned a nomination for Jake Gyllenhaal, whose Louis Bloom is a twisted Horatio Alger with the focus, drive, and heartless conniving of a sociopath. He’s a petty thief and hustler who fancies himself a self-made entrepreneur in search of a break and he finds his niche in the world of freelance video journalists, the guys who rush to crime scenes and accidents to capture the freshest, goriest, most intimate footage and sell it to the highest bidder on the local TV stations. He’s Weegee with a video camera and he’s a quick study, a master of marketing and negotiations and a ruthless competitor who isn’t above eliminating competitors and obstacles.
It takes place almost entirely at night and director of photography Robert Elswit (an Oscar winner for There Will Be Blood) carves out a marvelous neo-noir atmosphere of Los Angeles at night with his razor-sharp photography of the streets after dark, lit by pools of street lamps, sweeps of headlights, and the cold, harsh glare of Louis’ portable spotlight. To Louis the streets are just conduits to the next hot spot and locations in which to stage his next scoop. Night may be a shroud but Louis doesn’t hide in the shadows. He’s brazen enough to do it the open and part of the crispness of Gilroy’s direction is the exacting detail of Louis’ methods.
Critics have complained that its portrait of the sensationalistic news philosophy lacks depth but that really no more than the backdrop for the real story. Louis is a superbly written character and Gyllenhaal sells every dimension of him, from his unctuous surface manner to the dead eyes and cold calculation behind his blank smiles. It’s as precise as Louis’ dialogue, a practiced line of ingratiating small talk and self-help platitudes that apes the manner of the ambitious young man eager to show his potential. Underneath, he’s plotting how to get the next scoop and leverage it into a business opportunity. Crimes are merely opportunities and victims merely the raw material for his camera. He’s not above manipulating a crime scene for dramatic effect.
Blu-ray and DVD with commentary by director / writer Dan Gilroy with producer Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy (like the film, it’s a family affair) and the featurette “If It Bleeds, It Leads: Making Nightcrawler.” The Blu-ray also includes a bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film. Also on Digital HD and VOD.
Predestination (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD) is kind of a generic title for a perversely clever time travel tale, but you can understand why The Spierig Brothers, the screen credit for filmmaking team Michael and Peter Spierig who adapted Robert Heinlein’s short story to the screen, didn’t go with Heinlein’s title. “—All You Zombies—” would give audiences the wrong idea. There are no zombies in the story. What we get is much weirder, the story of an agent (Ethan Hawke) for the Bureau of Time Travel on the trail of a deadly bomber and a sad young man who calls himself “The Unwed Mother” and offers a life story of tragic, soul-crushing loss, betrayal, and loneliness. Australian actress Sarah Snook plays the young man, who was born and raised a girl and underwent a change of sex because… well, unless you’ve already read the story, the revelation of each dramatic turn is best experienced. Meanwhile, as his / her story unfolds in linear fashion at first, the film starts looping back to reveal a complicated patter of a life lived in overlapping eras, crossing paths in ways that send our tragic figure down that path as if fated.
For a faithful adaptation of a short story, the film is packed with plot twists and narrative surprises and the challenge faced by the Spierig Brothers is obscuring details that would give away the twists without making it obvious. On that front they are fairly successful—it can be a little distracting when a face is purposely hidden from view, but the story is so strange and the personal ordeal so emotionally crushing that it kept my focus. While one side of my brain worked at sifting through clues and trying to pieces together the grand design, the other side was caught up in the personal odyssey. It could have become something of a sideshow gimmick but Snook makes it work with an affecting portrait of torment and isolation. Sure, the young man who first enters the bar seems a little “off” in our first meeting (something the film is able to leverage into initial tension), but as the film unfolds, what seems weird simply becomes sad. It’s terribly clever with a densely-woven plot (all of it there in the blueprint of the story), but the human drama and the slow revelation of kinship shared by these two strangers in the bar gives the film its bruised heart and its lost, isolated figure of tragedy a sense of purpose and reason to go on.
Blu-ray and DVD with a featurette and bloopers. The Blu-ray includes an exclusive 75-minute documentary “All You Zombies: Bringing Predestination to Life.” Also available on Digital HD and VOD.
Force Majeure (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD) – One of the surprises in the Oscar nominations this year was that this film, Sweden’s official entry for the foreign language film category and a Cannes film festival winner, did not place among the five nominated films. Director Ruben Östlund gives us a family on vacation and what appears to be the inciting event of a disaster film, but in fact the killer avalanche is merely an illusion (though one so dramatic it gets your adrenaline flowing). The real drama is the panicked response of the husband (Johannes Kuhnke) and the fallout through the rest of the vacation, which Östlund explores with a dark sense of humor.
The resentment of his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) is topped only by her indignation over his denial, which leads to a kind of public shaming, a scene of social awkwardness spiked with discomforting laughs. Even funnier is his attempt to evoke sympathy with an emotional display that is utterly, shamelessly contrived. Just like his instinctive flight from danger, he doesn’t seem able to muster the proper response of a caring, protective husband and father. But is insincere? Östlund doesn’t judge. He’s more interested in questioning the expectations and obligations and starting a discussion that audiences can carry on after the film ends.
The soundtrack is largely in Swedish with some English and French dialogue, with English subtitles. Blu-ray and DVD with video interviews with director Ruben Östlund and actor Johannes Kuhnke and a promotional featurette. Also on Digital HD.
Two special editions from Criterion: Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), an unusual kind of ghost story with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, and Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), an unfinished 1936 short film that was completed with existing footage by his team and released in 1946. Both feature numerous extras. I review them in detail later this week.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons: The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD) – After the worldwide success of the kid-oriented action series Thunderbirds, a show created entirely with marionette puppets and lavishly-designed miniatures, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson turned their gadgets, gear-ific fantasy vehicles, and “SuperMarionation” puppets to the first (and still the greatest) paranoid conspiracy adventure series even made for kids.
It begins when the first men to visit Mars panic and open fire on the Martian welcoming committee and the alien civilization retracts the hand of friendship and instead declares war on all mankind: “Our retaliation will be slow but nonetheless effective. It will mean the absolute destruction of life on Earth.” Their insidious method of attack is to possess the agents of the elite Spectrum (all given color-themes code names, of course) and turning them into puppets (so to speak) controlled by the strings of the Mysterons. The blandly good looking Captain Scarlet (the Cary Grant of the marionettes) is Spectrum’s secret weapon, an early victim of the Mysterons who survives their attack with a super power. It’s not that he’s indestructible per se, but that he comes back to life when dies in the line of duty. He’s killed in practically every episode (which prompts the narrator to remind viewers that “Captain Scarlet is indestructible. You are not. Remember this. Do not try to imitate him”).
Where Thunderbirds was an hour-long show, Captain Scarlet packs all of its action spectacle and alien espionage into tight, rapidly-paced half-hour episodes (or about 25 minutes sans commercials) with more impressive effects and better-articulated marionettes than previous Anderson shows. The miniatures are created in great detail and pop-art color and the elaborate action scenes play out in the fantasy ground between playtime with the kids and CGI spectacle. It’s not played for camp and the sober presentation only makes it all the weirder and surreal in a way that adults can appreciate. And though he comes back to life, his weekly sacrifices can still be startling and affecting (which is impressive given the lack of emotional range of these puppets). It’s my favorite of the Anderson shows.
DVD only, 32 episodes on four discs with commentary on two episodes, three featurettes, and an interview with Gerry Anderson.
Batman: The Second Season, Part 1 (Warner, DVD) offers fans of the campy TV superhero comedy starring Adam West and Burt Ward playing Batman and Robin with tongue firmly in cheek, released in its entirely last year in big box sets on Blu-ray and DVD, a chance to pick it up a la carte on DVD. This collection presents 30 half-hour episodes from the 1966 TV season (they were shown in pairs over two nights each week, with the first part ending in a cliffhanger), and along with the show’s iconic villains Catwoman (played by Julie Newmar here), The Joker, and The Penguin, this batch offers up King Tut (Victor Buono), Ma Parker (Shelley Winters), Egghead (Vincent Price), and Mr. Freeze (Otto Preminger), among others. If you haven’t seen any of the discs before, you might be surprised how good the show looks after the original elements were remastered in HD. Those colors just *pow* right off the screen. There’s a fold-out episode guide but no supplements.
Also new and notable:
Laggies (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD) takes on the arrested adolescence of a young woman (Keira Knightly) how tries to hold back all adult responsibility by hiding out with a high school girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) she meets in a grocery store parking lot. Sam Rockwell is the girl’s single dad, which makes the sleepover more interesting for her. Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary by director Lynn Shelton, two featurettes, and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray also includes an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film. Also on Digital HD and VOD.
Two true stories of reporters under assault: Rosewater (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), about the real-life imprisonment and torture of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari in Iran, is the film that Jon Stewart took a leave of absence from “The Daily Show” to direct. Gael García Bernal plays the journalist. Kill the Messenger (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) stars Jeremy Renner as Gary Webb, the journalist who was targeted by a CIA smear campaign after he exposed their illegal activities arming the Contras in Nicaragua and importing cocaine in the U.S. to fund the program.
Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Part 2 (Severin, DVD) continues the history of home video censorship in Britain instituted in 1984 by looking at the cultural response to it in Jake West’s documentary Video Nasties: Draconian Days and two discs of trailers for all 82 films that were banned under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act, with optional introductions to each trailer.
Shout! Factory debuts four horror comedies (or rather comedies with horror movie elements) on Blu-ray in a pair of double features. Vampire’s Kiss / High Spirits (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) is worth it for Vampire’s Kiss (1989), an offbeat black comedy with Nicolas Cage totally committing himself to the role of a man who thinks he’s been turned into a vampire and changes his behavior accordingly. Cage joins director Robert Bierman on an archival commentary track. Love at First Bite / Once Bitten (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) are more conventional vampire spoofs, with George Hamilton camping it up as Dracula in modern New York City in the first and pre-superstar Jim Carrey as a virgin stalked by vampire Lauren Hutton in the second.
Nekromantik 2 (Cult Epics, Blu-ray, DVD) is a cult film that only a gorehound could love: the story of a woman (Monika M.) who digs up the freshly-buried corpse of the hero of the first Nekromantik and has a relationship with it as it slowly rots. It’s in German with subtitles and it has been remastered in HD from the original 16mm negative for this special edition, which includes commentary and a new introduction by director Jörg Buttgereit, a featurette, and bonus short films among the supplements.
The final two films by Italy’s bloody Bruno Mattei (who died in 2007) are a return to the zombie genre. Island of the Living Dead (Intervision, DVD) from 2006 and Zombies: The Beginning (Intervision, DVD) from 2007 were both made directly for video under the pseudonym Vincent Dawn and feature copious amounts of both gore effects and stock footage. Each includes a featurette and the original trailer.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
There’s a new streaming service vying for your attention. Shout! Factory, a company that has made its mark in the DVD and Blu-ray market with a mix of cult movies and classic TV, is launching its own service, and they’ve decided to make a free, ad-supported stream. The initial 1,000 hours of programming includes classic films (the original Stagecoach, A Room With a View), cult movies (A Boy and His Dog, The Stunt Man) and programs (30 episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to start), and vintage TV shows from The Dick Van Dyke Show and Route 66 and The Twilight Zone to Hill Street Blues and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show to Ernie Kovacs and Steve Martin TV specials. You can currently stream from the web on your computer or mobile device for free, and through a new Roku app for a small fee per program. More apps are being developed and more movies and programs will be added each month. You can access it all at www.shoutfactorytv.com.
Tracks (VOD), starring Mia Wasiskowska as Robyn Davidson, the young Australian woman who hiked 1700 miles across the Outback with four camels and her dog in 1975, seems to have been overshadowed by Reese Witherspoon’s Wild, another true story of a woman’s solo journey through the wilderness. Which is a shame, for Tracks is a lovely film. It comes to Cable VOD before disc.
Accidental Love (VOD) is actually the unfinished David O. Russell film Nailed, which was abandoned after the producers ran out of money and completed years later without Russell’s involvement, reworked, renamed, and attributed to director Stephen Greene. Jessica Biel stars as a woman who takes on Washington D.C. after she gets a nail lodged in her skull in freak accident and Jake Gyllenhaal is the naïve freshman congressman who takes up her cause. It debuts on Cable VOD a month before theaters.
Available cable VOD on Friday, February 13, same days as theaters, are two romances: the romantic comedy The Rewrite with Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei and the musical drama The Last Five Years with Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan
Available for digital purchase in advance of disc:
The Theory of Everything (Universal, Digital HD)
Outlander: Season 1, Volume 1 (Sony, Digital HD)
Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse (Universal, Digital HD)
Classics and Cult:
101 Dalmatians: Diamond Edition (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD, Disney Movies Anywhere)
Tarzan (2013) (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Lenny (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Love and Death (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Stormy Weather (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
To Sir, With Love (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
F.I.S.T. (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
Syncopation (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD)
Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (Paramount, DVD)
Justice League vs. Bizarro League (Original LEGO® DC Comics Movie) (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Massacre Mafia Style (Grindhouse, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Schoolgirl Report Vol.13: Don’t Forget Love During Sex (Impulse, DVD)
Momoe’s Lips (Impulse, DVD)
The Films of Don Davis (Marsha the Erotic Housewife / For Single Swingers Only / Her Odd Tastes) (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Come Under My Spell / Lady Dynamite (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Champagne for Breakfast (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
TV on disc:
Olive Kitteridge (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
Z Nation: Season One (Universal, DVD)
Maison Close: Season One (Music Box, Blu-ray, DVD)
Nurse Jackie: Season Six (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Hart to Hart: The Complete Fourth Season (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Earth: A New Wild (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, Disney Movies Anywhere, VOD)
The Lookalike (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
In Your Eyes (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Lilting (Strand, DVD)
Addicted (Lionsgate, DVD, VOD)
Vandal (First Run, DVD)
Kink (Dark Sky, DVD, Digital)
The Song (Sony, DVD)
Foreclosure (Virgil, DVD)
Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds (TDC, DVD, VOD)
RPG (ARC, DVD, VOD)
Brotherhood of Blades (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
Jeff Beck: A Man For All Seasons (MVD, DVD)
The Song (Sony, DVD, Digital HD)
Frankenstein Vs. The Mummy (RLJ/Image, DVD, Digital)
Poker Night (XLrator, Blu-ray, DVD)
Fear Clinic (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) (Best Buy Exclusive)