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"The movie business is macabre. Grotesque.
It is a combination of a football game
and a brothel."
-- Federico Fellini
Jan 082021
 

Annihilation (2018) by Alex Garland. Stars Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny. Lena (Portman), a biologist and former soldier, joins a mission to uncover what happened to her husband inside Area X — a sinister and mysterious phenomenon that is expanding across the American coastline. Once inside, the expedition discovers a world of mutated landscapes and creatures, as dangerous as it is beautiful, that threatens both their lives and their sanity. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.

The Disaster Artist (2017) Directed by and starring James Franco; with Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, Dylan Minnette, Alison Brie, Lizzy Caplan, Bryan Cranston, Kristen Bell, Sharon Stone, Dave Franco, Sugar Lyn Beard, Josh Hutcherson, Seth Rogen, Megan Mullally, Adam Scott. When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true: Tommy’s cult-classic disaster piece “The Room” (“The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made”).

First Reformed (2018) by Paul Schrader; starring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Michael Gaston, Cedric the Entertainer. A priest of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.

The Horror of Party Beach (1964) In 1964, 20th Century Fox released an independent shocker — shot in two weeks for $50,000 outside Stamford, Connecticut by local producer-director Del Tenney — advertised as “The First Horror-Monster Musical.” When nuclear waste dumped into the ocean mutates a shipwreck full of corpses, it unleashes an onslaught of bikini teens, surprising gore, dubious science, an intrepid maid, The Del-Aires, and arguably the greatest, worst monsters in horror movie history. Features a new 2K scan from the original negative.

Ichi the Killer (2001 — Japan) Takashi Miike’s film has endured as one of the most influential pieces of genre filmmaking of the last two decades. Based on Hideo Yamamoto’s manga series of the same name, the controversial and graphic tale of feuding yakuza gangs is seen primarily through the actions of a scarred and psychologically damaged man, who is manipulated into killing rival faction members. This visceral, bloody, and often hilarious film follows Kakihara, a notoriously sadistic yakuza enforcer whose search for his boss’ killer brings him into the orbit of a demented costumed assassin known as Ichi.

I, Tonya (2017) by Craig Gillespie; stars Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney. In 1991, talented figure skater Tonya Harding (Robbie) becomes the first American woman to complete a triple axel during a competition. In 1994, her world comes crashing down when her ex-husband conspires to injure Nancy Kerrigan, a fellow Olympic hopeful, in a poorly conceived attack that forces the young woman to withdraw from the national championship. Janney won this year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

King of Hearts (1966 — France) Director Philippe de Broca’s film, which brought a modern 1960s sensibility to a story set during World War I, laid the groundwork for such dark war comedies as “How I Won the War” and “M*A*S*H.” Scottish soldier Private Plumpick (Oscar nominee Alan Bates) is sent on a mission to a village in the French countryside to disarm a bomb set by the retreating German army. Plumpick encounters a strange town occupied by the former residents of the local psychiatric hospital who escaped after the villagers deserted. Assuming roles like Bishop, Duke, Barber and Circus Ringmaster, they warmly accept the visitor as their “King of Hearts.” With his reconnaissance and bomb-defusing mission looming, Plumpick starts to prefer the acceptance of the insane locals over the insanity of the war raging outside. Since its 1966-67 release, “King Of Hearts” has become a worldwide cult favorite and stands out as one of the most memorable films by Philippe de Broca (“That Man From Rio,” “Dear Inspector”). The superb cast also includes Oscar nominee Geneviève Bujold, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michel Serrault, Adolfo Celli and Pierre Brasseur. The score is by Oscar winner Georges Delerue. From Cohen Film Collection.

La Belle Noiseuse (aka The Beautiful Troublemaker) (1991 — France) The Grand Prix winner at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, “La Belle Noiseuse” is Jacques Rivette’s intimately epic exploration of the convergence between artistry and eroticism. Edouard Frenhofer (Michel Piccoli) is a reclusive painter living in the French countryside with his wife (Jane Birkin). Their lives are radically upended with the arrival of a younger artist (David Bursztein) and his girlfriend (Emmanuel Béart), who becomes the muse that awakens Edouard’s fading passions. Rivette creates a layered character study, while also offering an immersive meditation on the creative process. Rivette (1928-2016) was a key member of the New Wave of the late 1950s and ’60s — the group of film critics for the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma who put their revolutionary theories to the test as they became filmmakers themselves and changed the face of modern movies. Standing somewhat apart from Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and other pioneers of the movement, Rivette created films marked by improvisation, unusual length and loose narrative that give the impression of events simply unfolding before the camera. New 4K restoration of the original four-hour version (in 1992, Rivette released a much shorter cut, titled photo for Manifesto “Divertimento,” which presented the story chiefly from the Béart character’s point of view).

The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988 — Australia) Following the release of his 1984 debut feature “Vigil,” Vincent Ward returned four years later with “The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey,” a film that would cement his position as one of the most exciting filmmaking talents to emerge during the eighties. Cumbria, 1348 — the year of the Black Death. Griffin, a young boy, is plagued by apocalyptic visions that he believes could save his village. Encouraging a small band of men to tunnel into the earth, they surface in 1980s New Zealand and a future beyond their comprehension — but they must complete their quest. Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, “The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey” is a bold and often startling fusion of medieval fantasy and

Phantom Thread (2017) Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Daniel Day-Lewis earned his sixth Academy Award nomination as Reynolds Woodcock, a fastidious and controlling fashion designer. Renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock and his sister Cyril are at the center of British fashion in 1950s London — dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites and debutantes. Women come and go in Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship. His carefully tailored existence soon gets disrupted by Alma, a young and strong-willed woman who becomes his muse and lover. Stars Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps.

The Shape of Water (2017) by Guillermo del Toro. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute, isolated woman who works as a cleaning lady in a hidden, high-security government laboratory in 1962 Baltimore. Her life changes forever when she discovers the lab’s classified secret — a mysterious, scaled creature from South America that lives in a water tank. As Elisa develops a unique bond with her new friend, she soon learns that its fate and very survival lies in the hands of a hostile government agent and a marine biologist. Stars Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer. Won four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Musical Score and Best Production Design.

Smash Palace  (1981 — New Zealand) Premiering at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, “Smash Palace” was Roger Donaldson’s second feature following the success of “Sleeping Dogs,” a film which had heralded the arrival of the New Zealand New Wave. “Smash Palace” concerns itself with the marriage of former racing driver Al (Bruno Lawrence) and French-born Jacqui (Anna Jemison). The pair had met when she nursed him back to health following a career-ending injury. They married, returned to Al’s native New Zealand to take over his late father’s wrecking yard business — the Smash Palace of the title — and had a child. But over time stagnation has set in, Jacqui’s resentment of Al has grown, and things are threatening to spill over. Playing out as a darker, more haunting New Zealand variation on such US separation movies as “Kramer vs. Kramer” or “Shoot the Moon,” “Smash Palace” offers a brilliant, vivid messy portrait of masculinity in crisis, driven by Lawrence’s immense central performance — once again confirming his status as one of New Zealand’s finest actors. In a Blu-ray debut from Arrow Video.

The Teacher (2016 — Czech Republic) by Jan Hrebejk. In a middle school classroom in Bratislava in 1983, a new teacher, Maria Drazdechova, asks each student to stand up, introduce themselves and tell her what their parents do for a living. It slowly becomes clear that perhaps the pupils’ grades are related to how willing their guardians are open to helping her out with her errands, her housecleaning, and other random services. After one of the students attempts suicide, however, the director of the school has no choice but to call for an emergency parents’ meeting to remove the teacher, but because Ms. Drazdechova is also a high-ranking official of the Communist Party, parents are hesitant to sign a petition to transfer her out. In a classroom behind the Iron Curtain, the future of all the families are at stake, as each family must wrestle with standing up for what they believe in or silently keeping the status quo.

Thoroughbreds (2018) by Cory Finley. Stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift. Childhood friends Lily and Amanda reconnect in suburban Connecticut after years of growing apart. Lily has turned into a polished upper-class teenager who has a fancy boarding school on her transcript and a coveted internship on her resume. Amanda has developed a sharp wit and her own particular attitude but all in the process of becoming a social outcast. Though they initially seem completely at odds, the pair eventually bond and hatch a plan to solve both of their problems.

Woman Is the Future of Man/Tale of Cinema: Two Films By Hong Sangsoo (2004/2005). This collection brings together “Woman is the Future of Man” and “Tale of Cinema,” the fifth and sixth films by Hong Sangsoo, the masterful South Korean filmmaker who has been favorably compared to that great French observer of human foibles, Eric Rohmer. “Woman is the Future of Man” tells of two long-time friends, a filmmaker and a teacher, who have had an affair with the same woman. The friends decide to meet the girl one more time and see what happens. “Tale of Cinema” uses the trope of a film within a film to tell two stories, that of a depressive young man who forms a suicide pact with a friend; and the tale of a filmmaker who sees a film that he believes was based on his life, and who meets the actress from the film with a view to turning their onscreen relationship into reality. With these critically acclaimed films, presented here in high definition for the first time with a wealth of extras, Hong Sangsoo employs his idiosyncratic, measured style to create two compelling and truthful tapestries of human emotion and behavior.

And don’t forget the following Criterion releases:

Andrei Rublev (1966) Tracing the life of a renowned icon painter, the second feature by Andrei Tarkovsky vividly conjures the murky world of medieval Russia. This dreamlike and remarkably tactile film follows Andrei Rublev as he passes through a series of poetically linked scenes — snow falls inside an unfinished church, naked pagans stream through a thicket during a torchlit ritual, a boy oversees the clearing away of muddy earth for the forging of a gigantic bell — gradually emerging as a man struggling mightily to preserve his creative and religious integrity. Appearing here in the director’s preferred 185-minute cut as well as the version that was originally suppressed by Soviet authorities, the masterwork “Andrei Rublev” is one of Tarkovsky’s most revered films, an arresting meditation on art, faith, and endurance.

The Day of the Jackal (1973) In 1971, Frederick Forsythe shot to bestseller status with his debut novel, “The Day of the Jackal” — taut, utterly plausible, almost documentarian in its realism and attention to detail. Two years later, director Fred Zinnemann (“High Noon”) turned a gripping novel into a nail-biting cinematic experience. August 1962: the latest attempt on the life of French President Charles de Gaulle by the far-right paramilitary organization, the OAS, ends in chaos, with its architect-in-chief dead at the hands of a firing squad. Demoralized and on the verge of bankruptcy, the OAS leaders meet in secret to plan their next move. In a last desperate attempt to eliminate de Gaulle, they opt to employ the services of a hired assassin from outside the fold. Enter the Jackal (Edward Fox): charismatic, calculating, cold as ice. As the Jackal closes in on his target, a race against the clock ensues to identify and put a stop to a killer whose identity, whereabouts and modus operandi are completely unknown. Co-starring a plethora of talent from both sides of the Channel, including Michael Lonsdale (“Munich”), Derek Jacobi (“The Odessa File”) and Cyril Cusack (“1984”) and featuring striking cinematography by Jean Tournier (“Moonraker”), “The Day of the Jackal” remains one of the greatest political thrillers of all time. And Edward Fox, whom many viewers will recognize from “A Bridge Too Far” (1977) and “Gandhi” (1982), plays one of the most frightenly perfect hitman of all time. Trivia: He’s the older brother to actor James Fox, who starred alongside Mick Jagger in “Performance” (1970).

Dead Man (1995) With “Dead Man,” his first period piece, Jim Jarmusch imagined the 19th-century American West as an existential wasteland, delivering a surreal reckoning with the ravages of industrialization, the country’s legacy of violence and prejudice, and the natural cycle of life and death. Accountant William Blake (Johnny Depp) has hardly arrived in the godforsaken outpost of Machine before he’s caught in the middle of a fatal lovers’ quarrel. Wounded and on the lam, Blake falls under the watch of the outcast Nobody (Gary Farmer), a Native American without a tribe, who guides his companion on a spiritual journey, teaching him to dispense poetic justice along the way. Featuring austerely beautiful black-and-white photography by Robby Müller and a live-wire score by Neil Young, “Dead Man” is a profound and unique revision of the Western genre

Elevator to the Gallows (1958) For his feature debut, 24-year-old Louis Malle brought together a mesmerizing performance by Jeanne Moreau, evocative cinematography by Henri Decaë, and a now legendary jazz score by Miles Davis. Taking place over the course of one restless Paris night, Malle’s richly atmospheric crime thriller stars Moreau and Maurice Ronet as star-crossed lovers whose plan to murder her husband (his boss) goes awry, setting off a chain of events that seals their fate. A career touchstone for its director and female star, Elevator to the Gallows was an astonishing beginning to Malle’s eclectic body of work, and it established Moreau as one of the most captivating actors to ever grace the screen.

Memories of Underdevelopment (1968 — Cuba) This film by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea is the most widely renowned work in the history of Cuban cinema. After his wife and family flee in the wake of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the bourgeois intellectual Sergio (Sergio Corrieri) passes his days wandering Havana in idle reflection, his amorous entanglements and political ambivalence gradually giving way to a mounting sense of alienation. With this adaptation of an innovative novel by Edmundo Desnoes, Gutiérrez Alea developed a cinematic style as radical as the times he was chronicling, creating a collage of vivid impressions through the use of experimental editing techniques, archival material, and spontaneously shot street scenes. Intimate and densely layered, “Memories of Underdevelopment” provides a biting indictment of its protagonist’s disengagement and an extraordinary glimpse of life in postrevolutionary Cuba.

The Naked Prey (1965) Glamorous leading man turned idiosyncratic auteur Cornel Wilde created in the 1960s and ’70s a handful of gritty, violent explorations of the nature of man, none more memorable than “The Naked Prey.” In the early 19th century, after an ivory-hunting safari offends a group of South African hunters, the colonialists are captured and hideously tortured. A lone marksman (Wilde) is released, without clothes or weapons, to be hunted for sport, and he begins a harrowing journey through savanna and jungle back to a primitive state. Distinguished by vivid widescreen camera work and unflinchingly ferocious action sequences, “The Naked Prey” is both a propulsive, stripped-to-the-bone narrative and a meditation on the concept of civilization.

Shampoo (1975) “Shampoo” gives us a day in the life of George, a Beverly Hills hairdresser and Lothario who runs around town on the eve of the 1968 presidential election trying to make heads or tails of his financial and romantic entanglements. His attempts to scrape together the money to open his own salon are continually sidetracked by the distractions presented by his lovers — played brilliantly by Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, and Lee Grant (in an Oscar-winning performance). Star Warren Beatty dreamed up the project, co-wrote the script with Robert Towne, and enlisted Hal Ashby as director, and the resulting carousel of doomed relationships is an essential seventies farce, a sharp look back at the sexual politics and self-absorption of the preceding decade.

Sisters (1973) Margot Kidder is Danielle, a beautiful model separated from her Siamese twin, Dominique. When a hotshot reporter (Jennifer Salt) suspects Dominique of a brutal murder, she becomes dangerously ensnared in the sisters’ insidious sibling bond. A scary and stylish paean to female destructiveness, Brian De Palma’s first foray into horror voyeurism is a stunning amalgam of split-screen effects, bloody birthday cakes, and a chilling score by frequent Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann.

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2011

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2012

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2013

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2014

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

 Posted by on January 8, 2021  Add comments

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