This column will take a hiatus next week due to a little trip to Park City, Utah, but not to worry – thanks to a particularly heavy week of new disc releases, we’ve bulged past our usual five recommendations to six. And they’re good ones: one of last year’s best indies, two terrific late summer/early fall studio pictures, a pair of must-haves from the Criterion Collection, and a forgotten horror thriller that’s worth a curiosity glance.
Diary of a Teenage Girl: Marielle Heller’s adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel wasn’t just one of the best films of 2015 – it was also among the most revolutionary, a picture of female adolescent sexuality that’s downright impossible to find in film, which so often adopts a teenage-boy perspective that views the female of the species as a mysterious other (or, worse, damaged goods). Heller’s film dives face-first into the complexities of an utterly inappropriate sexual relationship between teenage Minnie (the magnificent Bel Powley) and her mother’s skeezily sexy boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), viewing her both as exploited and exploiter, yet as someone making choices rather than mistakes. It’s a sharp, funny, powerful piece of work. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurette, and film fest Q&A.)
Everest: Inspired by the expedition described by Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air (but not based on that book) this old-fashioned, star-filled disaster pic from director Baltasar Kormákur came and went fairly quickly last fall, perhaps unfairly – it’s a surprisingly sturdy picture, reminiscent of the better-than-it-had-to-be Perfect Storm (with a shared John Hawkes to boot). Kormákur cleanly situates the geography of his elements and his characters to lay out how a game of beat-the-clock all the way up the mountain turned into a race against death all the way down. Acting tends to fall low on the priority list in an effort like this, but William Nicholson and Simon Baufoy’s script plays up the little rivalries and relationships, and provides plenty of empathetic character moments for their cast. Genuinely taut and effective, with masterful effects nicely showcased by the 3D Blu-ray presentation. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
Straight Outta Compton: F. Gary Gray’s summer smash biopic of N.W.A. has plenty of problems: a clunky script (Oscar nominated or no), a lot of story in not enough time, and participation of subjects editing out some of the uglier sidebars. But there’s no denying the picture’s timeliness, ambition, and energy; director Gray taps into the sheer brute force of the crew from Compton’s music, sourcing the circumstances that inspired it and propelled it, and the scenes of pure creativity – in the studio and on the stage – are electrifying. Every performance is first rate, particularly those of Jason Mitchell as guiding spirit Eazy-E and Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, whose relationship provides the film’s complicated spine, and ultimate heartbreak. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, and featurettes.)
Inside Llewyn Davis: We were just talking about this one, thanks to the recent Oscar oversight of a similarly rich yet chilly indie drama – because Oscars fade, but great movies only get better with time. And when a two-year-old movie is already getting a deluxe Criterion re-release, that tells you something about how hard it’s stuck to our consciousness. The Coen Brothers’ dramedy is many things: a snapshot of the Greenwich Village folk scene circa 1961, a character study of a stubbornly uncompromising artist, a portrait of the misery and difficulty of being young and talented and a bit of an asshole (Oscar Isaac, in one of his first major roles, is perfection). But it never feels driven by a particular agenda, or even a strict narrative; it’s the sort of movie that washes over you, immerses you in a scene, makes you feel like you could return there on your own and know whose couch to crash on, where to hear the best music, where to go for a good cup of coffee. And just when you think it can’t get any better, John Goodman shows up. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, concert documentary, documentary short, and conversations with the Coens, music producer T. Bone Burnett, and Guillermo del Toro.)
Gilda: More people have probably seen the single moment from Gilda flashed on a prison screen in Shawshank Redemption than have seen the movie itself. But it’s a key scene – from the moment Rita Hayworth’s title character does “that shit with her hair,” you know poor Glenn Ford is a goner. The story of a scruffy gambler who goes semi-straight yet can’t resist the temptation of the boss’ new wife (and his old girl), Charles Vidor’s slinky 1946 picture is film noir par excellence: hard-boiled narration; cheerfully cynical point of view; gorgeous use of light, shadow, and silhouette (lovingly captured by Criterion’s A-plus transfer); a lunk of a protagonist; and one of the screen’s great femme fatales. There’s plenty of plot, but Vidor is primarily interested in the psychosexual game of chicken between slimily charismatic Ford and fiercely sensual Hayworth, who’s like Jessica Rabbit made flesh. The happy ending’s a teensy bit of a cop-out, but that aside, this is a tough, nasty little item. (Includes audio commentary by Richard Schickel, featurette with Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrman, interview with film noir historian Eddie Muller, a Hayworth television appearance, and trailer.)
The Guardian: Exorcist director William Friedkin’s 1990 thriller (new on Blu from Scream Factory) was a clear attempt, after a rough decade, to recapture that classic’s magic: the horror elements, the music, even the title font are similar. But it’s filled with ingenious kills, nutso camerawork, and a climax in which our hero takes apart a blood-spewing tree with a chainsaw, intercut with the nanny villain simultaneously and literally going to pieces. Look, I’m not gonna soft-soap it: The Guardian is goofy as hell. But I’m glad to have seen it, if for no other reason than I’ll certainly never see anything else quite like it. (Includes new and vintage interviews and trailer.)