It’s a fairly quiet week on the new release shelf, at least at first glance – a pair of modest indies, some catalogue titles, so on. But those small movies have some big names doing unexpected work, while the older slate includes a beloved family fave and a pair of hidden gems making Blu-ray debuts, along with one of the most iconic bad movies of our time.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
A Bigger Splash: Tilda Swinton is magnificently cast as a rock star whose vacation with her filmmaker lover (Matthias Schoenaerts) is disrupted by an old flame (Ralph Fiennes) and his enigmatic young daughter (Dakota Johnson). The mood is simultaneously idyllic and tense, deceptively casual and off-handedly sensual, with wandering gazes and thoughts leading to some particularly potent psychosexual mind-fucking. Fiennes is gloriously uncorked, Johnson smolderingly aloof, but Swinton is (unsurprisingly) the MVP here, particularly considering the considerable acting challenges presented by playing a character on laryngitis-provoked vocal rest. The direction by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) is unconventional – the re-pairings and seductions seem to come in slow motion, the ambiguity is piled high, and the ratcheting tension still takes a darker turn than expected. But you absolutely cannot take your eyes off it. (Includes featurettes and trailer.)
Equals: Director Drake Doremus (Like Crazy, Breathe In) does a 180 from his earlier, hyper-intimate romantic dramas with this science fiction story, set in a coldly futuristic world where emotions have been neutralized and “coupling” is illegal. Of course, those rules are made to be broken, as his protagonist (Nicolas Hoult) and a colleague (Kristen Stewart) find themselves infected with “the bug” – and disinterested in it cure. No prizes for spotting the influences here (Doremus has clearly put some wear and tear on his THX 1138 DVD) and the pacing in the early scenes ranges from deliberate to snoozy. But the patient world-building rewarded in due course, and the film ultimately finds its stride when it gets its leads together and zooms in on the intensity and desperation of their forbidden attraction. Turns out, this wasn’t so different from his other movies after all.
The Iron Giant: At long, long, long last, the feature directorial debut of Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) finally makes its Blu-ray debut – and there’s still not an ounce of dust on this 1999 charmer. Set in 1957 and animated in a period-appropriate, classic style, Giant tells the story of a young boy’s friendship with a giant metal man from outer space. “Wow! My own giant robot!” he exclaims early on, and that gee-whiz spirit vibrates through the movie. The robot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is a marvel of design, swinging easily from threatening to sweet (and back again), while Bird is already staking out his witty visual sensibility. And he shifts adroitly from humor to action to a genuinely moving conclusion, slipping in a gentle message and a dose of warmth that never curdles into mawkishness. It’s a delightful film, filled with wonder and adventure. (Includes audio commentaries, new documentary, featurette, deleted scenes, motion gallery, and theatrical trailers.)
Daddy Long Legs: Look, you can lob all sorts of criticisms at this 1955 Cinemascope musical from director Jean Negulesco (How to Marry a Millionaire): Fred Astaire is way too old for the lead, the storytelling is mighty flimsy, it’s overlong, and that’s partially because it’s another of those big-budget ‘50s musicals where they stop the movie for twenty minutes to include a “ballet.” But those complaints all crumble into dust when you’re talking about a picture as jazzy and high-spirited as this one, a kind of American in Paris answer record in which rich playboy Astaire secretly puts French cutie Leslie Caron through an American college, and falls for her without revealing who he is. It’s all mighty silly, but we’re not there for the plot – we’re there to watch them dance, which they do, stupendously. (Includes audio commentary, newsreels, and trailers.)
My Bodyguard: Tony Bill’s 1980 high school drama can feel, in style and content, like something of an “Afterschool Special” – it is, make no mistake, of its era. But it gets countless tiny things right: they way school kids circulate their own urban legends, the way a sneering bully can accidentally reveal the smallness inside him, the way the school outcast looks, and walks, and talks (or doesn’t). Most of all, it gets what it feels like to be bullied, the pettiness of it, less about the particulars than an overall, everyday hopelessness. Throw in a wonderful subplot about our hero’s home life at the hotel his dad runs (with delicious comic turns by Martin Mull and Ruth Gordon) and before-they-were-stars appearances by a rogue’s gallery of ‘80s faves (including Joan Cusack, Jennifer Beals, George Wendt, and Matt Dillon), and you’ve got a wise teen movie with a good heart. (Includes audio commentary, TV spots, and trailer.)
Road House: We’re throwing this one in, in addition to the usual five, because while it’s certainly not one of the best movies of the week, it’s certainly the best bad movie. Patrick Swayze stars as Dalton, the world’s best bouncer (a real thing! Honest!) who’s brought in to rescue a dive bar in Jasper, Missouri from the clutches of evil Ben Gazzara. It’s become a semi-beloved ‘80s artifact, and make no mistake, it is super-duper ‘80s – primarily in that very specific, “Everyone involved in the making of this movie was clearly doing a lotta cocaine” kinda way. The results are utterly nonsensical, broadly homoerotic, and unintentionally hilarious. And now it’s part of the new semi-reputable “Shout Select” series (“giving these movies the love and attention they deserve”), so you can enjoy this serious silliness in full HD. (Includes audio commentaries, new and vintage interviews, and trailer.)