Only one new movie makes the grade for this week’s new release recommendations, which is part of what’s great about Blu-ray — the opportunity to revisit, reevaluate, and reappraise. So this week, take a look at a rare Richard Pryor drama, an iconic Al Pacino performance, an influential exploitation movie, a powerful Australian drama, and one of Wes Anderson’s very best films.
Results: Writer/director Andrew Bujalski, who customarily helms such oddball efforts as Computer Chess and Mutual Appreciation, seems to making a broad play for mainstream success with this sunny, bright, funny movie; it looks like a pretty typical mainstream romantic comedy, what with the love triangle at its center and the marquee stars (in the form of Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce). But the third point on the love triangle is the key to the movie; he’s played by eccentric character actor Kevin Corrigan, who brings his cock-eyed approach and freewheeling style to that most predictable of genres, and infects it with a sense of freshness and unpredictability. (Includes interviews, promo videos, featurette, and trailer.)
Moonrise Kingdom: All Wes Anderson movies make their way to the Criterion Collection sooner or later, so here we have a new Blu-ray and DVD edition of his 2012 coming-of-age comedy/drama. (It also just hit Netflix.) It’s an effortlessly charming and endlessly funny movie — one of Anderson’s most heartfelt (it’s a rare film that remembers exactly what it feels like to be very young and totally infatuated), and, in its scenes of adult heartbreak, most knowing. And it’s got one of the verrrrry few recent Bruce Willis performances worth talking about. (Includes audio commentary, storyboard animatics, interviews, featurettes, audition footage, trailer, and Edward Norton’s home movies from the set.)
ON BLU-RAY/AMAZON PRIME
Some Kind of Hero: The tension of Richard Pryor’s 1980s film career emanates from this 1982 release (new on Blu-ray from Olive Films, and streaming free on Prime), which finds the comic doing some of his finest straight-up dramatic work as a Vietnam POW trying, and failing, to reintegrate himself into American life. It’s full of well-played serious beats: falling apart in his cell, crying breakdowns back home, losing his cool with army brass, sinking into true desperation, listening at the door as the daughter he doesn’t know calls someone else “daddy.” But the powers-that-be clearly weren’t comfortable with a full-on Pryor drama, so criminal misadventures are awkwardly grafted on (the box office success of Stir Crazy and Busin’ Loose no doubt factoring in heavily), giving the film an oddly discombobulated tone. Still, it’s well worth seeking out for the rare opportunity to see this very funny man playing it straight—and pulling it off. (No bonus features.)
Breaker Morant: Bruce Beresford catches a fair amount of hell from modern movie lovers for sin of directing the movie that won Best Picture when Do The Right Thing should’ve (Driving Miss Daisy, 1989), but the Criterion-upgraded release of his 1980 breakthrough picture should rehabilitate that image somewhat. Marshaling an ensemble of terrific Australian character actors (Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown, and Edward Woodward chief among them), he tells the story of a quartet of British soldiers court martialed during the Boer war in South Africa at the turn of the century. You can’t help but see the DNA of A Few Good Men as a presumably ineffective lawyer (Thompson) stumbles into a case exposing the deficiencies of the chain of command, and Beresford’s crisp staging emphasizes the contrast between these proper, well-mannered gentlemen soldiers, and the barbarism they’re all capable off. The courtroom stuff is ace, but the film’s real power lies in its stunning yet restrained closing passages, and, especially, its final shots. “Shoot straight, ya bastards — don’t make a mess of it!” (Includes audio commentary, new and archival interviews, vintage documentary, and trailer.)
Dog Day Afternoon: The iconic moments of Sidney Lumet’s 1975 true-story drama — freshly reissued in a 40th anniversary Blu-ray edition — are as great as they’re supposed to be: Pacino’s “Attica” crowd rally, the way the bystanders turn on him (and, later, turn back), the prescient commentary on media and celebrity, the third act actor’s decathlon of phone calls, mother confrontation, and will dictation. But upon repeat viewings (and your film editor has certainly taken this one for a spin a few times), the subtler effects grow louder: how Lumet resists the urge to play the robbery’s many initial fumbles for laughs, how he instead finds character comedy in the negging of the bank employees, the urgency of the camera’s infrequent movements, the way it opens in the moment, with no set-up, merely happening as it would if you stumbled upon it. Especially striking this time around is its opening montage, a series of city life images that talk to each other, almost like a call and response: black and white, work and play, clean and dirty, and (most importantly, narratively speaking) rich and poor. Dog Day Afternoon remains one of the great movies of a great era, a masterfully constructed and keenly nuanced character study that rises above its sensationalistic premise. (Includes commentary, making-of documentary, Lumet featurette, and DVD presentation of the excellent documentary I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale.)
Black Caesar: The inspiration for this 1973 “blaxpoitation” quickie wasn’t exactly subtle: the posters called its hero the “Godfather of Harlem.” And it bears the earmarks of such pictures, with laughable dialogue and chintzy production values that wouldn’t look out of place on Black Dynamite. But there’s no denying the rough-and-tumble energy of Larry Cohen’s direction, the charisma of star Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, or the brilliance of the score, by another godfather: the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. (Includes trailer.)