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:

 

New on DVD: ‘Detropia’

Detropia-DVD-FThough it was on the Oscar documentary shortlist, the final selection of best documentary nominees shamefully overlooked the unforgettable Detropia, which finally hits DVD today.

My full review is at Film Journal International:

“We are here at a critical time!” shouts a tent-revival preacher somewhere in the gloom of a rapidly downsizing Detroit. His is one of the many frightened, brave, saddened, still-fighting voices that Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady include as a chorus of the forgotten in their tragedy-tinted but clear-eyed look at what happens when a city’s reason for being up and leaves…

You can see the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘Cosmopolis’

cosmopolis-poster1

We can complain all we want about the lack of exciting new visions in mainstream cinema, but then when one does come along, it’s all too often ignored. Case in point: David Cronenberg’s full-bore millennial freakout adaptation of Don DeLillo’s semi-apocalyptic Cosmopolis:

After a few years working in genres like the gangster film (Eastern Promises) and the art-house period piece (A Dangerous Method) threatened to turn him into a respectable filmmaker, David Cronenberg thankfully returns to the perverse, literary artistry of more contentious works like Crash with this abstract, pitch-black comedy. For all its artificial mannerisms, though, Cosmopolis isn’t one of the director’s more abstruse and off-putting works; this is a sleek, seductive construction. The concoction of high-end theorizing on the state of the world, finance and the social sphere mixed with deadpan satire, in addition to the expected jabs of rough sex and ultra-violence, is a highly effective one for audiences willing to go along (ahem) for the ride…

On a relatively quiet week for home-viewing releases, Cosmopolis is available today on both DVD and Blu-ray; check it out.

My full review is at Film Journal International.

You can see the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘Sleepwalk with Me’

sleepwalk-with-me-dvd-cover-98Mike Birbiglia’s funny, heart-tweaking film Sleepwalk with Me, one of the more refreshing comedies of the year, hits DVD and Blu-ray today. It’s an odd choice for Blu-ray (you could really see the crumbs when he was chowing on that pound cake…) but to each his own.

I reviewed the film when it came out in theaters earlier this year for PopMatters:

Based on his one-man show, Birbiglia’s film is a not-even-veiled account of his struggles as a standup comic who’s also battling fears of commitment and the possibly life-threatening sleepwalking that seems to get worse as his career gets better. Changing his character’s last name to Pandamiglio (a nod to the many mangled mispronunciations his real name receives from emcees) and little else, Birbiglia does a solid job of translating the downbeat, confessional humor of his show to the screen…

Here’s the trailer:

 

DVD Tuesday: ‘Brave’

The newest Pixar film doesn’t have much in the way of cute animals, toys, or Randy Newman songs, but it does feature witches and some fancy archery, so that’s something. My review of Brave is at Film Journal International:

With a sterling roll call of British Isles vocal talent and some of the most lush and limpid animation to be found on screens this year, Pixar’s Brave is a feast for the eyes and ears, if not always the mind. Aimed more squarely at the younger set than many of their more adventurous fantasy outings like Wall-E, it’s a just-clever-enough take on an age-old and very classically Disney setup about a child and parent’s estrangement and rapprochement…

Brave is available today on DVD and Blu-ray.

You can see the trailer here:

 

New on DVD: ‘First Position’

Some months it feels like every third documentary out there is a chronicle of some kind of contest or another—call it the Survivor/Dancing with the Stars Syndrome. While certainly dramatic and pleasing to dance fans, Bess Kargman’s First Position over-indulges in that kind of competitive mindset.

My full review is at AMC Movie Database:

Like any good competition documentarian, Kargman first shows viewers her contestants and then gives an idea of the stakes involved in the run-up to the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix. The half-dozen or so young dancers that Kargman follows are the tiniest fraction of the 5,000 or so children competing around the world. Just about every one of Kargman’s stars seems to have the makings of a famous ballet dancer–the problem is that pretty much every other dancer captured by the camera seems as good or better. There’s a cliff-like ratio here in that the surplus of young talent dwarfs the precious few jobs and scholarships out there…

Final Position is being released on DVD today.

You can see the trailer here:

DVD Tuesday: ‘Sound of My Voice’

One of the greater film surprises of 2012 was the blink-and-you-missed-it Sound of My Voice, which came out on DVD last week. My review is at AMC Movie Database:

Zal Batmanglij’s canny and suspenseful head-knotter Sound of My Voice initially seems of a piece with films like Martha Marcy May Marlene, United Red Army, and the new festival film First Winter. It, too, revolves around a small gang of earnest believers following a leader whose motives are suspect at best. Where Batmanglij’s film stands apart is in its unalloyed skill and confidence — this is one of the most assured feature debuts in recent memory — and in his ability to turn this exploration of cult indoctrination into both a profound character study and a nail-biting thriller. But for a conclusion that arrives long before the audience is ready for it to be over with, this would have been the runaway indie hit of the year…

You can see the trailer here: