New on DVD: ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘August: Osage County’

One of last year’s great but overlooked dramas and one of its better-than-average FX blockbusters are hitting DVD and Blu-ray today.

August: Osage County

John Wells’ star-stocked adaptation of Tracey Letts’ sprawling and brawling Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a dysfunctional Oklahoma clan is perhaps a little too truncated but mostly hits it out of the park. For once, Julia Roberts proves herself to be not only not done with acting but able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Meryl Streep. Full review

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The second of Peter Jackson’s all-too-much trilogy on The Hobbit packs in even more non-Tolkien material to its middle-part travelogue following the intrepid dwarves and hobbit on their way to steal back the stolen riches of Smaug the dragon. Better by far than the first bloated entry, and possessed of a greater sense of rollicking adventure, still in need of a good pruning. Full review

 

Small Screens: ‘Batman’ Returns!

 

Once upon a time you could safely rely on being able to find a couple things somewhere on TV, if you just flipped around long enough: The Three Stooges and the old Batman series. Running in seemingly near-constant syndication long after its too-brief run (120 episodes over 3 seasons from 1966–68), its Pop Art-mad cheeky humor was the way that most people growing up in the 1970s was introduced to the Caped Crusader. Once Frank Miller and Tim Burton started going all gothic on Bruce Wayne in the ’80s, it was always characterized as a reaction to the camp factor of an Adam West Batman and villains like Liberace, Tallulah Bankhead, and Milton Berle.

But the show has been increasingly hard to find outside of YouTube and black-market dubs, due to a long-running rights dispute. That may soon be over, as it was reported yesterday that the entire run of the series will be released in a box set of DVDs and Blu-ray sometime later this year. The news was broken by … Conan O’Brien. Big fan?

New on DVD: ‘Before Midnight’

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, still romancing each other in 'Before Midnight'

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, still romancing each other in ‘Before Midnight’

beforemidnightdvd1In 1995, Richard Linklater impressed with Before Sunrise, a sharp, talky piece about Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a traveling American who meets Celine (Julie Delpy), a beguiling young French woman, on a train. Nine  years later, in Before Sunset, the two meet again, nine years older. Both films were redolent with romantic longing and possibility. Now in Before Midnight, the two are married, and it doesn’t seem like mere love is going to cut it anymore.

Before Midnight is available today on DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at Film Racket; here’s part of it:

Before Midnight turns out to be a bright, good-humored, and painfully combative love story that stings more than it soothes. In it, modern cinema’s most enduring couple discovers what life is like after peeling back the veil of conjoined love and discovering the specters of selfishness lurking behind. Every moment of this swift yet relaxed film (time-compressed like the first two, it all happens over just one sunny day and moonlit evening) feels like a negotiation or a skirmish, viciously fought…

You can watch the trailer here:

 

Screening Room: ‘Seconds’

Rock Hudson discovers his new life isn't so much better than the old one in 'Seconds'

Rock Hudson discovers his new life isn’t so much better than the old one in ‘Seconds’

seconds-dvdIn the 1960s, as the old Hollywood studio system started to fall apart, an increasingly paranoid style started creeping into the era’s thrillers. John Frankenheimer’s films like The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May made a point of undercutting trust in just about every American institution in sight.

The most terrifying of Frankenheimer’s ’60s paranoia-noirs, though, was 1966’s Seconds, which I wrote about for PopMatters:

A bleak and noirish Frankenstein thriller whose DNA is threaded with zeitgeist-heavy satire, Seconds attacks a cherished American myth: the belief that everybody can start over. It takes a science-fiction concept—advanced surgery transforms somebody’s appearance so they can live life as an entirely new person—and turns it into both terrifying existential drama and black comedy. While those earlier Frankenheimer films channeled the anti-establishment distrust gnawing at the postwar American consensus, Seconds tweaked the pretensions of the post-Beat, proto-hippie self-awareness movement that promised to wipe away all the problems of modern life in a blaze of enlightenment and spiritual rebirth…

Seconds was just released in beautiful new DVD and Blu-ray editions from Criterion.

Check out the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘Oblivion’

Tom Cruise contemplates 'Oblivion'.

Tom Cruise contemplates ‘Oblivion’.

oblivion-dvdJust one of this year’s post-apocalyptic mega-budget sci-fi projects, Oblivion is a somewhat ambitious piece of work that doesn’t ultimately know what to do with itself. In part, that could result from the ever-amped presence of Tom Cruise, who doesn’t ever seem able to tamp down the Maverick long enough to register any true doubt in his own abilities to save the world. Again.

Oblivion hits Blu-ray and DVD today. My review is at Short Ends & Leader; here’s part:

Oblivion starts as some blissed-out spread in a post-apocalyptic edition ofArchitecture Digest before moving into Big Revelation science fiction. Tom Cruise plays Jack, a happy-go-lucky tech who’s one of two humans left on the Earth’s surface in the year 2077. Jack and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, lithe and ghostly) live in a gorgeously sleek pod of a place elevated hundreds of feet off the blasted landscape. It’s like one of those moderne postwar glass bungalows in the hills overlooking Los Angeles, only it floats above the clouds and is packed with all manner of gadgetry that would make an Apple fetishist’s heart beat dangerously fast…

Here’s the trailer:

 

New on DVD: ‘Repo Man’

Emilio Estevez gives his best punk-rock face in 'Repo Man'

Emilio Estevez gives his best punk-rock face in ‘Repo Man’

repoman-dvdAt first it might seem strange that the folks over at Criterion would bother putting out an edition of Repo Man. After all, isn’t it really a film meant to be watched on a bad $2 bargain-bin DVD or a miserably grainy VHS tape from a decades-old cable broadcast? Possibly, but on new viewing, this is one of those cult films that actually deserves getting this treatment, brand-spanking new transfer, deleted scenes and all.

From my review at Film Racket:

The scuzz-punk doom comedy of Alex Cox’s 1984 underground touchstone makes for a creepy visitation from a fracturing society. Released at the midpoint of the Reagan era’s celebration of suburban consumerism, it had a gutter-level view of Los Angeles’ bleached-out sprawl and social entropy. Its characters tend toward the feral: repo men who hunt the cars whose owners can’t pay up, shotgun-toting punks, cold-eyed federal agents, or bugged-out cult followers. Hints of an oppressive police state are everywhere, and the scent of nuclear apocalypse is on the land. In the middle of all the science-fiction-tinged end-times bleakness, though, Cox mines a catchphrase-studded seam of absurdist humor that’s one of the film’s most durable qualities…

Here’s the trailer, in all its grotty gloriousness:

New on DVD: ‘Django Unchained’

Django Unchained

Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) get ready to dispense justice and bon mots aplenty

djangounchained-dvdQuentin Tarantino’s Christmas 2012 genre mashup bloodbath Django Unchained gets released on DVD and Blu-ray today. It’s no classic by any measure (that writing Oscar wasn’t exactly earned), but at least half of it is better than just about anything else out there right now.

My original review ran at Film Journal International:

Tarantino works fast in these early sections, delivering several loose riffs on typical western showdowns and balancing them out with a couple of comic scenes that land in a pleasing middle somewhere between Blazing Saddles and (particularly in a “Who’s on first?”-type routine with a masked lynch mob hunting Django and Schultz) O Brother, Where Art Thou? A high point of bafflingly hilarious absurdity comes when Don Johnson appears as a plantation owner given to Colonel Sanders suits and prolix verbosity. The humor plays well throughout (Django even gets a catch-phrase: “The ‘D’ is silent”) but at the disadvantage of dulling the edge of the script’s visceral portrayal of the savagery of slavery—a problem that gets more pronounced by the film’s gory climax…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘This is 40′

This Is 40

thisis 40dvdJudd Apatow has done more than just about any other filmmaker to revive the American film comedy as a vital force. But his influence has been much more positive as a writer, producer, and show-runner (Freaks and Geeks to Adventureland) than it has been as a writer and director of his own work. This is 40 follows squarely in that slightly disappointing line.

It came out last week on Blu-ray and DVD. My full review is at Film Racket; here’s part of it:

In 2007’s Knocked Up— also known as the last funny movie Judd Apatow directed — Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) were the fractious married couple who served as a warning to the commitment-phobic Ben Stone (Seth Rogen). With This Is 40, Apatow makes the wildly unnecessary move of spinning them off into their own film…

You can watch the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘The Master’

the-master_image_1

themaster1One of the greatest, weirdest films of 2012 was Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Synopses don’t quite do it justice; just find it and watch it (the DVD and Blu-ray are available as of today).

My full review is at Film Journal International:

The Master makes what should have been long obvious now utterly clear: Paul Thomas Anderson can lay claim to being one of the era’s few American writer/directors afflicted with greatness. It is hard to think of another home-grown filmmaker who so consistently brings such psychologically astute scripting, and ability to coax nakedly revelatory performances from actors—that classically trained eye for widescreen framing—to each film he makes. The Master may not match the level of artistry or thematic intensity seen in There Will Be Blood, but it is Anderson’s most approachable film in years, not to mention his most vividly realized characters to date…

You can see the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘Pina’

pina-dvdThe 2011 dance documentary from Wim Wenders, Pina, was a refreshing new usage of the 3D format for nonfiction film. (Werner Herzog tried to use it to much less effect in Cave of Forgotten Dreams). The film is available today from Criterion Collection in DVD and Blu-ray. My full review is at AMC Movie Guide:

Joy isn’t a feeling that one associates with Wim Wenders all that much. Wonder or ennui, maybe irony, but not joy. But nevertheless that’s the first thing that springs to mind with his electric new 3D dance documentary, his first feature to get a real Stateside release since 2005’s moody, downbeat Don’t Come Knocking. There are other feelings and moods wrapped up here, tragedy and loss, but with all the sunlight (has the man ever shot a brighter film?) and sweeping movement, the joy prevails. This is filmmaking as glorious music…

You can see the trailer here: