This week on Blu-ray, we get an Oscar winner, some Oscar nominees, a failed piece of Oscar bait, and a big-budget sci-fi flop. Guess which one’s likely to sell the most copies.
‘Fences‘ – For his third directing effort (after ‘Antoine Fisher’ and ‘The Great Debaters’), Denzel Washington adapts the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning play by August Wilson about a working-class black family in the 1950s. Washington and Viola Davis reprise the roles that they’d already won Tonys for on Broadway. The film version was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, which is impressive considering that even the positive reviews for it didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic. Davis won the Oscar for her role, but Washington failed to claim a third statue even though last-minute awards buzz suggested that momentum was swinging his way. Despite a lot of praise for its powerhouse performances, the movie was also criticized for failing to break away from its stage origins.
‘Passengers‘ – Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are very attractive stars, and all of the expensive visuals in their big space movie sure looked pretty in the trailers (even scoring the film an Oscar nom for production design). Unfortunately, reviews were downright brutal and the picture was a box office dud. A lot of complaints centered on the fact that the plot has a very discomforting rapey aspect that the movie tries to pretend is romantic. I’m sure it’ll make some nice eye candy in 4k UHD, though.
‘Elle ‘ – Needless to say, cinema provocateur Paul Verhoeven takes a more direct approach when dealing with a rape theme. Working in France, the director’s return to international theater screens after a decade-long absence is an unconventional revenge thriller (frequently described as a black comedy) about a successful businesswoman’s unexpected reaction to dealing with a sexual assault. Isabelle Huppert won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar, and the movie became something of a cause célèbre when it played at film festivals. Sadly, that notoriety didn’t translate to ticket sales. No doubt, the subject matter turned a lot of viewers away.
‘Collateral Beauty‘ – Oh dear. The title alone is ridiculous and nonsensical. Will Smith unsuccessfully guns for more award nominations by playing a grief-stricken man who believes that he’s being visited by human personifications of the abstract metaphysical concepts of Love, Time and Death. If you’ve read any spoilers for the movie (and Phil was unafraid to divulge them in his review), you know that its big plot twist is offensively stupid and absurd. Critics howled in derision. Domestic audiences had no interest in it, but the picture did well enough overseas to eke out a profit
‘The Love Witch‘ – Indie filmmaker Anna Biller has a reputation as a one-woman production studio who writes, directs and edits all her movies in addition to composing the music, making the costumes, and designing and decorating the sets herself. Her particular fascination is with campy sexploitation movies of the 1960s and ’70s. In this case, she’s made a painstaking recreation of garishly-colored, badly-acted Euro-sleaze horror flicks that’s so convincing it’s not entirely clear whether the film is supposed to be a parody or not. Many years ago, I had a passing acquaintance with cinematographer David Mullen (I guess Biller can’t do everything on her own). I’m sure he must have had a lot of fun working on this.
The Criterion Collection brings the 1976 Mexican docudrama ‘Canoa: A Shameful Memory‘ to Blu-ray. The film details the tragic circumstances surrounding a mob of villagers incited to violence and murder by a corrupt priest.
In what could be read as a political statement given current events, Shout! Factory decided that right now would be a good time to revisit the dopey Russians-take-over-America action flick ‘Red Dawn‘ (the 1984 original, of course, not that awful remake).
I expect that Scream Factory’s motives for double-dipping the Stephen King horror thriller ‘Firestarter‘ have less mischievous intent.
The Warner Archive unearths the bizarre 1977 sci-fi horror film ‘Demon Seed‘, in which an evil A.I. supercomputer kidnaps and impregnates Julie Christie in order to conceive a human/computer hybrid baby. Yes, the plot description sounds like trash. Being based on a lesser novel by Dean Koontz doesn’t help. However, the movie is of interest for being made by Donald Cammell, an artist and co-director (with Nicolas Roeg) of the surreal cult film ‘Performance‘. Cammell had ambitions for the project that were unfortunately not fully realized due to studio interference. Nevertheless, even in its compromised state, the movie has more on its mind than you’d expect.
Also excavated from the Warner Archive is Ray Harryhausen’s cowboys-vs.-dinosaurs extravaganza ‘The Valley of Gwangi‘.
Starz/Anchor Bay prepares for the impending live-action remake by reissuing the original 1995 anime film ‘Ghost in the Shell‘. It’s the same underwhelming Blu-ray first released a few years ago, but comes packaged now in a new SteelBook with art from the Mondo collective. I’m not a fan of Mondo, but this one looks a little better than most of their work.
From Kino comes ‘The Lovers on the Bridge‘, a 1991 French film by Leos Carax starring Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant as a homeless artist and a street performer who fall in love under difficult circumstances.
TV product this week includes the first season of something called ‘Six‘ (which I gather is a military drama about Navy S.E.A.L.s), the fourth season of ‘Doctor Who‘, and breakout copies of the fifth and sixth seasons of ‘Nash Bridges‘.
The title I’m most interested in this week is ‘Elle’. I’m also curious enough about ‘Passengers’ and ‘The Love Witch’ to rent them. I wouldn’t mind revisiting ‘Demon Seed’, but I’m not sure that I really feel the need to own it.
How does this week look to you?