The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2014
Black Jack: 35th Anniversary Edition (1979) A rediscovered classic from realist master Ken Loach and one of the inspirations for Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Black Jack,” based on Leon Garfield’s novel for children, is a dark and complex adventure film set in brutal 18th century England. After French thief and ruffian Black Jack (Jean Franval) escapes the hangman’s noose, he kidnaps young Tolly (Stephen Hirst), a boy who can somehow understand and translate the big barbarian’s odd speech. Together they go on an adventure that includes traveling fairs, body snatching, murder and the rescue from an insane asylum of a girl (Louise Cooper) who may not be insane at all. Shot primarily in 16mm and on a modest budget on location in Yorkshire by future Oscar-winning cinematographer Chris Menges with a young cast of non professionals chosen by Loach for their authentic northern accents.
Blue Jasmine (2013) Directed by Woody Allen and starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay. Tour-de-force and an Oscar win for Blanchett. After everything in her life falls to pieces, including her marriage to wealthy businessman Hal (Baldwin), elegant New York socialite Jasmine (Blanchett) moves into her sister Ginger’s (Hawkins) modest apartment in San Francisco to try to pull herself back together again. As she tries to cope with her new life — which is considerably less elegant than her life back East — she dreams of her past life’s glamour, teetering on an emotional tightrope between her troubled past and a fresh start.
The Bridge (2011 — Denmark/Sweden) The series begins when a woman is found murdered in the middle of the Oresund Bridge, right on the border between Sweden and Denmark. Police from both countries are called to the scene and what looks like one murder, turns out to be two. It’s a spectacular double murder: the bodies have been brutally cut in half at the waist and put together to form a single corpse. It’s also just the beginning of a wave of violence the likes of which no one has ever seen before. Inspired the FX remake that aired in the U.S. in 2013. In Swedish and Danish with English Subtitles.
Commitment (2013 — South Korea) Stars Choi Seung-hyun (aka Korean pop star T.O.P), Han Ye-ri, Kim Yoo-jeong. After his father’s botched espionage mission, North Korean Myung-hoon and his young sister Hye-in are sent to a labor prison camp. In order to save his sister’s life, Myung-hoon volunteers to become a spy and infiltrates the South as a teenage defector. South Korean Intelligence soon discovers the plot and begins closing in on Myung-hoon, while his own government sends a vicious assassin to eliminate him.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead (2014 — Norway) The unbelievably fabulous sequel to the 2009 cult zombie hit about a ski vacation that turns horrific when a group of medical students resurrect an army of Nazi Zombies led by one Oberst Herzog; before that film was over, only one man, Martin, was left alive; his friends were devoured, he accidentally killed his girlfriend with an axe, and then cut his own arm off with a chainsaw. This sequel, which outperforms the original in every way, picks up the following morning when Martin wakes up in a hospital bed with a new arm — but it’s a super-powered Zombie arm that wants to kill him and anything else it can reach. Martin escapes, meets up with a trio of zombie killers from the U.S., called the Zombie Squad, and figures out a way to deliver some payback to Colonel Herzog — by raising an undead army of his own. Funny, clever, intelligent, self-referential and with some great special effects, this has to be one of the best zombie films ever made. There’s a refreshingly original storyline, fine acting and solid direction; helmer Tommy Wirkola knows his stuff (and has a great sense of humor — he not only pokes fun at zombie films in general but at his own zombie film). Warning: “Dead Snow 2” has an ending like no other zombie film — strike that, like no other film — ever. You will not believe your eyes.
Detour (1945) Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake. Digitally restored Edgar G. Ulmer directed film-noir classic. Down-on-his-luck nightclub pianist Al Roberts (Tom Neal) leaves New York to join his girlfriend in Hollywood by hitching a ride with a shady bookie. When the driver mysteriously dies, Al — fearful he will be accused of murder — takes the man’s cash, clothes, car and identification. Continuing on his journey under his new guise, Al picks up the beautiful Vera (Ann Savage) — who coincidentally had been given a ride by the dead man earlier. When Al identifies himself as the dead man, the femme fatale catches on and immediately turns to blackmail, plunging him deeper into trouble … and one wrong turn may prove fatal.
Festival Express (2003) In the summer of 1970, some of the era’s biggest rock stars took to the rails for Festival Express, a multi-artist, multi-day, multi-city concert tour that captured the spirit and imagination of a generation. What made it unique was that it was portable; for five days, the bands and performers lived, slept, rehearsed and let loose aboard a customized train that traveled from Toronto, to Winnipeg, to Calgary, with each stop culminating in a mega-concert. “Festival Express” captures some of rock’s most iconic artists in an extraordinary setting, during an incredible time in music history. These were some of Janis Joplin’s final performances, as she would tragically die just three months later. The Band were at the height of their time together, and the Grateful Dead were in the midst of releasing future classics “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.” Also on board were the Buddy Guy Blues Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Ian & Sylvia and the Great Speckled Bird, Mashmakhan and Sha Na Na. In a Blu-ray debut.
Flu (2013 — South Korea) South Korea’s answer to “Contagion.” A human trafficker is infected with an unknown virus and dies in a Bundang hospital, covered in red rashes and coughing up blood. Less than 24 hours, similar cases are reported all over Bundang. The medics despair over the super virus that has no known cure, but they soon find hope when they hear of a sole survivor who may have developed antibodies against the viral mutation. As medical professionals rush to find the sole individual with the potential key for a cure, fatalities rise and soon the government has no choice but to quarantine the city.
Gloria (2013 — Chile) Stars Paulina Garcaa, Sergio Hernandez, Diego Fontecilla. A story set in Santiago and centered on Gloria, a free-spirited older woman, and the realities of her whirlwind relationship with a former naval officer whom she meets out in the clubs. Marvelously directed by Sebastian Lelio and beautifully led by a powerful performance from Paulina Garcia, the film takes an honest, sweetly poignant look at a type of character that’s all too often neglected in Hollywood.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Director Wes Anderson transports viewers to another one of his unique, self-contained worlds that requires you to give yourself up totally to his story within a story within a story that recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless painting; a raging battle for an enormous family fortune; and a desperate chase on motorcycles, trains, sleds, and skis — all against the backdrop of a suddenly and dramatically changing continent. Stars Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Lea Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson.
High School Confidential! (1958) Directed by the great Jack Arnold and starring Russ Tamblyn, Mamie Van Doren, Jackie Coogan, Jan Sterling, John Drew Barrymore, Diane Jergens, Ray Anthony, Charles Chaplin Jr., Michael Landon and Lyle Talbot. Fanning the flames of Eisenhower America’s growing paranoia, “High School Confidential!” is the quintessential juvenile delinquency film that celebrates the very sex-drugs-and-rock ‘n’ roll culture it pretends to condemn. Staring Tamblyn as Tony Baker, the new kid at Santa Bellow High, whose cocky attitude and ambitious weed-dealing enable him to infiltrate the gang of a local narcotics boss played by Coogan. But “High School Confidential!” is much more than a hardboiled crime picture: It’s a pop-culture touchstone, a” Rebel Without a Cause” without the angst,” The Wild One,” but even wilder. The opening sequence with a piano pounding performance of the theme song by Jerry Lee Lewis on a flatbed truck is one that still sizzles and shakes. In a Blu-ray debut.
I Am Divine (2013) Award-winning documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Schwartz (“Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story”) turns his camera on the plus-sized “cinematic terrorist” turned international icon of bad taste. Harris Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, comes to life in this complex documentary that traces his humble beginnings as an overweight, teased Baltimore youth to internationally-recognized drag superstar. The film includes interviews with many key figures from Divine’s life, including legendary filmmaker John Waters, co-stars Ricki Lake, Tab Hunter and Mink Stole, and his mother.
Inequality for All (2013) Documentary on the widening income gap between the rich and the middle class and its devastating impact on the American economy by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. A passionate argument on behalf of the middle class, “Inequality for All” features Reich — professor, best-selling author, and Clinton cabinet member — as he demonstrates how the widening income gap has had a devastating impact on the American economy. Here’s some startling facts: In 1983 the poorest 47 percent of America had $15,000 per family, 2.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. In 2009 the poorest 47 percent of America owned ZERO PERCENT of the nation’s wealth (their debt exceeded their assets). At the other extreme, the 400 wealthiest Americans own as much wealth as 80 million families — 62 percent of America. The reason is the stock market. Since 1980, the American GDP has approximately doubled. Inflation-adjusted wages have gone down. But the stock market has increased by over 10 times, and the richest quintile of Americans owns 93 percent of it.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen. Follows a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is at a crossroads. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles — some of them of his own making. Living at the mercy of both friends and strangers, scaring up what work he can find, Llewyn’s misadventures take him from the baskethouses of the Village to an empty Chicago club — on an odyssey to audition for a music mogul — and back again.
The Last Days (2013 — Spain) A mysterious epidemic spreads across the planet; humanity develops an irrational fear of open spaces which causes death within seconds. Soon, the entire global populace is trapped inside buildings. As Barcelona descends into chaos, Marc sets off on a quest to find Julia, his missing girlfriend – without ever venturing outside.
Like Someone in Love (2013) Abbas Kiarostami has spent his movie career exploring the tiny spaces that separate illusion from reality and the simulated from the authentic. At first blush, his extraordinary, sly “Like Someone in Love,” which finds the Iranian director in Tokyo, may appear to be among his most straightforward films. Yet with this simple story of the growing bond between a young part-time call girl and a grandfatherly client, Kiarostami has constructed an enigmatic but crystalline investigation of affection and desire as complex as his masterful “Close-up” and “Certified Copy” in its engagement with the workings of the mercurial human heart.
The Machine (2013) Two computer programmers fall in love as they create the first-ever piece of self-aware artificial intelligence, designed to help humanity … but things go terribly wrong when the British Government steals their breakthrough and teaches it to become a robotic weapon.
Mysterious Skin (2004) Directed by Gregg Araki and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg and Elisabeth Shue. At the age of eight, Kansas youngsters Neil and Brian played on the same little league baseball team. Now, 10 years later, the two boys couldn’t be more different. Neil is a charismatic but emotionally aloof male hustler while Brian is a nervous introvert obsessed with the idea that he has been abducted by a UFO. When the boys parallel lives inevitably intersect, the pair unearth dark, repressed secrets on a harrowing and unforgettable journey of self discovery. Adapted from Scott Heim’s acclaimed novel. In a Blu-ray debut.
New World (Shinsekai Story) (2013 — South Korea) A rich Beijing party girl, bored with her boyfriend, her giggly friends and her whole frivolous life, books a trip to Osaka, Japan where she’s heard they celebrate Christmas with heartwarming nostalgia. But when she arrives at her hotel, she’s shocked to find that it’s located in Shinsekai, Osaka’s crime-ridden underbelly of poverty, vice and colorful characters.
Nurse (2013) By day, nurse Abby Russell (Paz de la Huerta) lovingly attends to the patients at All Saints Memorial Hospital; by night, she prowls nightclubs, luring unfaithful men into dangerous liaisons. When Danni (Katrina Bowden), a young, sensitive nurse, joins the hospital staff, Abby pursues her friendship, but when the friendship turns to obsession and Abby is spurned, she unleashes a rampage of terror.
Nymphomaniac Volume I & II (2014) Directed by Lars von Trier. The wild and poetic story of a woman’s journey from birth to the age of 50 as told by the main character, the self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg). On a cold winter’s evening the old, charming bachelor, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), finds Joe beaten up in an alley. He brings her home to his flat where he cares for her wounds while asking her about her life. He listens intently as Joe recounts the lushy branched-out and multifaceted story of her life, rich in associations and interjecting incidents. “Volume II” is the continuation of Joe’s sexually dictated life and delves into the darker aspects of her adulthood, obsessions and what led to her being in Seligman’s care. Co-stars Shia LaBeouf, Stacy Martin, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, Michael Pas, Connie Nielsen, Ananya Berg.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2014) Directed by Jim Jarmusch. The tale of two fragile and sensitive vampires, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). Both are cultured intellectuals, mature and charmingly ultra-cool with an all-embracing passion for music, literature and science, who have evolved to a level where they no longer kill for sustenance, but still retain their innate wildness. Their love story has endured several centuries but their debauched idyll is threatened by the uninvited arrival of Eve’s carefree little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) who hasn’t yet learned to tame her wilder instincts. Driven by sensual photography, trance-like music, and droll humor, Jim Jarmusch’s poetic love story — set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangier — is a meditation on art, science, and the mysteries of everlasting love. Features a great underground music soundtrack.
On the Job (2013 — Philippines) Crime thriller inspired by a real-life scandal in which inmates are temporarily released from prison to work as contract killers on behalf of politicians and high ranking military officials. Two cops uncover the scheme, but, caught in a web of deceit and corruption, head on a collision course with government officials who will do anything to silence them.
Penance (2012 — Japan) Five-part miniseries based on the best-selling novel “Shokuzai” by Kanae Minato. “Penance” begins with a tragic crime from 15 years in the past: In a small town, a young elementary school girl named Emili has been abducted and killed by a stranger. Four girls who had been playing with Emili at the time are the first to discover her body — with the abductor never being found and the crime going unsolved. Emili’s distressed mother Asako condemns the four girls, all of whom claim not to remember anything about the stranger. Crazed with grief, the mother demands each school girl to find the killer, or pay the penance. Deeply affected by Asako’s condemnation, the four girls become adults burdened with the curse of “penance,” which eventually triggers a chain of tragic events. The latest work by Japanese cult and horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Tokyo Sonata,” “Doppelganger,” “Pulse,” “The Cure”).
Propaganda (2014 — New Zealand) Since it mysteriously appeared on You Tube on July 18, 2012, “Propaganda” has been described as “1984 meets The Blair Witch Project,” “A mouthful of scary porridge” and “Even better than Triumph of the Will.” Controversial to its core, this hard-hitting anti-Western propaganda film, which looks at the influence of American culture on the rest of the world from a North Korean perspective, has been called “Genius!” by Michael Moore, and has been described as “either a damning indictment of 21st Century culture or the best piece of propaganda in a generation.” As first reported on mainstream news around the world, “Propaganda” is allegedly a video smuggled out of North Korea. Brilliantly using this “fake North Korean propaganda” found-footage device, director Slavko Martinov first parodies its language and stylings, before targeting the mountain of hypocrisies and contradictions that make up the modern Western world. In doing so, “Propaganda” delivers a devastating blow to those who might be quick to laugh at “backward” ideologies before considering how 21st century political and cultural trends have hurt the moral high ground of the rest of the world. Eugene Chang is the narrator/North Korean professor, Susannah Kenton handles the English voice-over.
The Purge: Anarchy (2014) The sequel to summer 2013’s sleeper hit that opened to No. 1 at the boxoffice, sees the return of writer-director-producer James DeMonaco to craft the next terrifying chapter of dutiful citizens preparing for their country’s yearly 12 hours of anarchy. A couple are driving home when their car breaks down just as the Purge commences. Meanwhile, a police sergeant goes out into the streets to get revenge on the man who killed his son, and a mother and daughter run from their home after assailants destroy it. The five people meet up as they attempt to survive the night in Los Angeles. Stars Kiele Sanchez, Frank Grillo, Zach Gilford.
The Raid 2 (2014 — Indonesia) Immediately following the events of the sleeper hit “The Raid” (2011) — in which he fought his way out of a building filled with gangsters and madmen — Rama (Iko Uwais) is forced to reinvent himself as an undercover cop in order to provide protection for his wife and child. Working for the anti-corruption taskforce led by the one person he can trust, Bunawar (Cok Simbara), he is given a mission to engage himself as an enforcer for a local mob boss, Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). Finding a way in through Bangun’s son Uco (Arifin Putra), Rama must hunt for information linking Bangun with police force corruption. All the while, he harbors a dangerous and personal vendetta for revenge and justice that threatens to consume him — and bring both this mission and the organized crime syndicates crashing down.
The Returned (2013 — Spain) In a world where a deadly zombie virus has infected mankind, a single cure has been found. The cur is a treatment called the “Return Protein” that stays the effects of the virus in its host. With injections every 36 hours, the “Returned” are able to live as though they were never bit, despite the virus still coursing through their veins. When it’s discovered that the protein stock is running low, chaos hits the streets. Returned who run out of the protein turn to zombies and wreak havoc, protesters turn to murderers as they try to rid the streets of the returned, and right in the middle of it all are Alex and Kate. Kate is a leading doctor in the field of zombie virus’ and Alex is a musician with a dark secret: he is a Returned. As death and fear run rampant, Alex’s secret becomes known and his dosage runs low, and he and Kate must fight for a chance to live before he becomes a zombie.
The Returned (Les Revenants) (2012 — French) The lives of the residents of an idyllic French alpine village are forever changed when a seemingly random collection of people who have been dead for several years inexplicably come back to life and try to integrate themselves into their former lives. A gripping, stylish mix of real and surreal, the highly cinematic series — which is an intimate portrait of people dealing with their guilt over the death of their loved ones and questions our desire for eternal life — features a wide range of top French film actors and a haunting, atmospheric soundtrack by Scottish post-rock band Mogwai. “The Returned” was a smash hit last year on French television and the highest rated subtitled drama in the UK in nearly a decade, and aired on Sundance Channel in the states. Based on 2004 feature “Les revenants” by Robin Campillo. Eight episodes.
Rover (2014 — Australia) This overlooked gem is a gritty and violent drama set 10 years after a global economic collapse where food and gasoline are expensive and life is cheap. The film follows hardened loner Eric (Guy Pearce) as he travels the desolate towns and roads of the Australian outback, causing no trouble until a gang of three thieves — who have just robbed a dusty outpost and murdered the inhabitants — steals his car, a Rover, to make their getaway. Eric takes off after them in another vehicle, along the way capturing — and saving — the wounded brother (Robert Pattinson) of one of the robbers, who was left behind in the escape. Eric forces him to help him track down the trio, along the way encountering a bevy of misfits, oddballs and miscreants as he seeks his beloved car, the one thing that still matters to him. Unlike other post-apocalyptic thrillers, there’s no zombies, vampires or “Mad Max”-type villains, just the slow disintegration of society and human values as nihilism and the worst impulses of human nature come to the fore. Michod paints a balmy, sun-drenched wasteland with leisurely strokes punctuated by bursts of danger and violence. If you’re used to a “Jack Irish,” “The King’s Speech” or a “Mildred Pierce”-Guy Pearce, you’re in for a pleasant surprise here as the U.K.-born, Aussie-raised actor becomes a Down Under “Man With No Name.”
Snowpiercer (2014) After a failed global-warming experiment, a post-apocalyptic Ice Age has killed off nearly all life on the planet. All that remains of humanity are the lucky few survivors that boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, powered by a “sacred” perpetual-motion engine. A class system has evolved aboard the train, fiercely dividing its population — but a revolution is brewing. The lower-class passengers in the tail section stage an uprising — led by one man (Chris Evans), moving car-by-car up toward the front of the train, where the oppressive rich and powerful ride, and where the train’s creator and absolute authority (Ed Harris) resides in splendor. But unexpected circumstances lie in wait for humanity’s tenacious survivors. An adaptation of the French graphic novel by Bong Joon-Ho (“The Host,” “Mother”). Stars Namgoong Minsoo, Alison Pill, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer.
The Strange Woman (1946) Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and starring Hedy Lamarr, Gene Lockhart, Louis Hayward and George Sanders. The charming and extremely beautiful Jenny Hager (Lamarr) finds she can always use her looks to get what she wants from men, and she’ll stop at nothing to control the ones who cross her path. After her drunkard father’s death, she quickly maneuvers herself into a position to marry an older, wealthy businessman … and the father of a childhood friend. Heartless and manipulative, she soon goes after the son.
The Suspect (2013 — South Korea) Dong-chul (Gong Yoo) is the best field agent in North Korea — until he’s abandoned during a mission, his wife and daughter missing. Hunted and on the run, torn between grief and vengeance, he takes a job as a night driver for the CEO of a powerful corporation. The chairman is brutally assassinated — but gives Dong-chul a pair of glasses before he dies. Now, he’s on the run again. Accused of murder, wanted for treason, and desperate to uncover the volatile national secrets hidden inside the glasses, Dong-Chul wants the truth.
The Swimmer (1968) Directed by Frank Perry and starring Burt Lancaster, Janet Landgard, Janice Rule and Joan Rivers. The ultimate late-60s studio-produced cult film. In one of his finest performances, Burt Lancaster stars as Ned Merrill, a man who confronts his destiny by swimming home, pool by pool, through the suburban nightmare of upper-class East Coast society. Its a haunting, surreal and stunning indictment of mid-century bourgeoisie society. Based on the acclaimed short story by John Cheever. Long out of print.
20 Feet From Stardom (2013) Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names. In this compelling and very watchable documentary, award-winning director Morgan Neville shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 20th and 21st centuries. Triumphant and heartbreaking in equal measure, the film is both a tribute to the unsung voices who brought shape and style to popular music: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill.
Under the Skin (2014) An existential science fiction film that journeys to the heart of what it means to be human, extraterrestrial — or something in between. A voluptuous woman of unknown origin (Scarlett Johansson) combs the highways in Scotland in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. They are seduced, stripped of their humanity, and never heard from again. Based on the novel by Michel Faber, “Under the Skin” examines human experience from the perspective of an unforgettable heroine who grows too comfortable in her borrowed skin, until she is abducted into humanity with devastating results.
And don’t forget the following Criterion releases:
All That Jazz (1979) The preternaturally gifted director and choreographer Bob Fosse turned the camera on his own life for this madly imaginative, self-excoriating musical masterpiece. Roy Scheider gives the performance of his career as Joe Gideon, whose exhausting work schedule — mounting a Broadway production by day and editing his latest movie at night — and routine of amphetamines, booze, and sex are putting his health at serious risk. Fosse burrows into Gideon’s (and his own) mind, rendering his interior world as phantasmagoric spectacle. Assembled with visionary editing that makes dance come alive on-screen as never before, and overflowing with sublime footwork by the likes of Ben Vereen, Leland Palmer, and the awesomely leggy Ann Reinking, “All That Jazz” pushes the musical genre to personal depths and virtuosic aesthetic heights.
Eraserhead (1977) David Lynch’s 1977 debut feature is both a lasting cult sensation and a work of extraordinary craft and beauty. With its mesmerizing black-and-white photography by Frederick Elmes, evocative sound design, and unforgettably enigmatic performance by Jack Nance, this visionary nocturnal odyssey remains one of American cinema’s darkest dreams.
Overlord (1975) Seamlessly interweaving archival war footage and a fictional narrative, this immersive account by Stuart Cooper of one 21-year-old’s journey from basic training to the front lines of D-day brings to life all the terrors and isolation of war with jolting authenticity. Overlord, impressionistically shot by Stanley Kubrick’s longtime cinematographer John Alcott, is both a document of World War II and a dreamlike meditation on human smallness in a large, incomprehensible machine. In a Blu-ray debut.
Safe (1995) Julianne Moore gives a breakthrough performance as Carol White, a Los Angeles housewife in the late 1980s who comes down with a debilitating illness. After the doctors she sees can give her no clear diagnosis, she comes to believe that she has frighteningly extreme environmental allergies. A profoundly unsettling work from the great American director Todd Haynes (“Far from Heaven”), “Safe” functions on multiple levels: as a prescient commentary on self-help culture, as a metaphor for the AIDS crisis, as a drama about class and social estrangement, and as a horror film about what you cannot see. This revelatory drama was named the best film of the 1990s in a Village Voice poll of more than 50 critics.
The Shooting/Ride in the Whirlwind In the mid-sixties, the maverick American director Monte Hellman (“Two-Lane Blacktop”) conceived of two Westerns at the same time. Dreamlike and gritty by turns, the two films would prove their maker’s adeptness at brilliantly deconstructing genre. As shot back-to-back for famed producer Roger Corman, they feature overlapping casts and crews, including Jack Nicholson in two of his meatiest early roles. The films — “The Shooting” (1966) about a motley assortment of loners following a mysterious wanted man through a desolate frontier, and “Ride in the Whirlwind” (1966), about a group of cowhands pursued by vigilantes for crimes they did not commit — are rigorous, artful, and wholly unconventional journeys into the American West.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990 — Spain) Pedro Almodovar’s colorful and controversial tribute to the pleasures and perils of Stockholm syndrome, “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” is a rambunctious dark comedy starring Antonio Banderas as an unbalanced but alluring former mental patient and Victoria Abril as the B-movie and porn star he takes prisoner in the hopes of convincing her to marry him. A highly unconventional romance that came on the spike heels of Almodovar’s international sensation “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” this is a splashy, sexy central work in the career of one of the world’s most beloved and provocative auteurs, radiantly shot by the director’s great cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine.
Vengeance Is Mine (1979 — Japan) A thief, a murderer, and a charming lady-killer, Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata) is on the run from the police. Director Shohei Imamura turns this fact-based story — about the 78-day killing spree of a remorseless man from a devoutly Catholic family — into a cold, perverse, and at times diabolically funny examination of the primitive co-existing with the modern. More than just a true-crime tale, “Vengeance Is Mine” bares humanity’s snarling id. In a Blu-ray debut.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001 — Mexico) The smash road comedy from the Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron is that rare movie to combine raunchy subject matter and emotional warmth. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna shot to international stardom as a pair of horny Mexico City teenagers from different classes who, after their girlfriends jet off to Italy for the summer, are bewitched by a gorgeous older Spanish woman (Maribel Verdu) they meet at a wedding. When she agrees to accompany them on a trip to a faraway beach, the three form an increasingly intense and sensual alliance that ultimately strips them both physically and emotionally bare.
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