Pixar’s latest and Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 turning point make their Blu-ray debuts this week, alongside a scathing indie comedy, classics from Welles and Kurosawa, a tough but forgotten Western, and a brilliant adaptation of Arthur Miller’s classic play. Plus, one of this year’s most joyful movies hits Netflix.
Sing Street: The thesis statement of the latest musical charmer from John Carney (Once, Begin Again) comes early, as a laugh line, when Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and his brother (Jack Reynor) watch a Duran Duran video on Top of the Pops, in Dublin circa 1985. “I mean, what tyranny could stand up to that?” Reynor asks incredulously, and over the course of its rhapsodic 100 minutes, Sing Street argues that every form of tyranny to a 15-year-old — the loneliness of being the new kid in school, the bullying of knuckle-headed classmates, the intimidation of a beautiful girl who’s out of your league, the sadness of your parents splitting up, and the misery of knowing you’re in a nowhere place there’s no way out of — crumples in the face of music, its joy and creativity and boundless possibilities, and the way it can become your perfect fantasy version of both your art and your life.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Finding Dory: Pixar’s transformation from a home for new and original family entertainment to a branding and sequel factory is depressing, yes. But you have to give them this: last summer’s follow-up to Finding Nemo is a warm and very funny return to the sea, digging deeper into the fleeting melancholy of its title character while crafting a handful of charming new sea creatures and a shifting of setting (to a touristy aquarium park) that keeps its filmmakers from revisiting too much of the same turf. The aquatic acrobatics of the big climax strain credibility (to put it mildly), but the tear-tugging reunions and overwhelming kindness make it pretty difficult to ding this one on technicalities. Extra points for Ed O’Neill, whose vocal work as grouchy septopus Hank is equal parts uproarious and heartbreaking. (Includes featurettes, short film, and deleted scenes.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD/ AMAZON PRIME
Fort Tilden: Small-scale yet scathing, this story of a day in the life of two young Williamsburg women trying to get to the beach is a merciless poke in the eye of Brooklyn bohemia. It’s filled with sharply-drawn characters, dialogue that’s just a half-spin towards satire (“This place is awesome, it’s such a piece of shit!”) and spot-on touches (part of getting their apartment “sex-ready” is leaving out a copy of Infinite Jest). Writer/directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers have a knack for brutally passive-aggressive dialogue, examining the way people of a certain age and disposition communicate in verbal subtweets, while stars Bridey Elliott and Clare McNulty miraculously transcend caricature without doing anything as dull as softening their whiny, entitled characters. It’s a funny movie, and often a harrowingly uncomfortable one, landing the punches that even something like Girls tends to pull. (Includes interviews and trailer.)
Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams: The heavy hitters came out to help aging master Kurosawa’s third-to-last picture find its audience; the producers included Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola, while Martin Scorsese makes a brief but memorable appearance as Vincent von Gogh (“Why aren’t you painting?” he reprimands a visitor. “To me this seems beyond belief!”). Their signal boost is particularly noteworthy for such an experimental picture – a series of vignettes and hallucinations, full of stunning imagery and patient visual storytelling, all inspired by the filmmaker’s recurring dreams. So it’s something of a dream journal, albeit one by a visionary artist, allowing him the opportunity to directly address his career-spanning themes and concerns. And it’s more interconnected than it initially seems, with scenes of beauty, madness, and despair bridged by a Kurosawa avatar, who we end up viewing as a wandering inquisitor trying to make sense of the world. Criterion’s Blu-ray transfer is a stunner, and the film’s closing tableaux are overwhelmingly joyous and inspiring. (Includes audio commentary, archival documentaries, new interviews, and trailer.)
Punch-Drunk Love: After making the grueling, epic Magnolia, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson famously said he wanted to do something easy – a 90-minute, Adam Sandler comedy. But Punch-Drunk Love isn’t a comedy the way Adam Sandler movies usually are; it’s more like a comedy the way Jacques Tati movies are. The Happy Gilmore star crafts a magnificently contained performance as a somewhat unstable entrepreneur who falls, quite unexpectedly, in love, while Anderson does all sorts of strange, fabulous things with his camera and soundtrack to put us into his protagonist’s anxiety-ridden headspace. It can make for a harrowing watch, but when Sandler’s warmth unexpectedly breaks through, it’s blinding. And Emily Watson’s understated, elegant turn is a huge assist in making this profoundly bizarre and experimental effort into a surprisingly universal paean to the first flush of love. (Includes short film, new interviews and conversations, featurette, artwork, Cannes Film Festival press conference and interviews, deleted scenes, commercial, and trailers.)
Macbeth: Shakespeare adaptations were still relatively rare when Orson Welles mounted this film version of the Scottish Play in 1948 – and he was only able to get it made on a tiny budget at Republic, best known for Westerns and other B-pictures. He ended up working with what was available to him, i.e. costumes that look like costumes and sets that look like sets, but he combined those elements with deliberately theatrical lighting effects to give us a sense of the director both staging the play and crafting the film. It’s not like he slacks on the later job, either, showcasing his striking compositions, gliding camerawork, and general knack for infusing the Bard’s words with an urgency and intensity that eludes so many productions, on stage and screen. Republic vastly shortened and redubbed the film for a 1950 re-release; both versions are restored and included in this new edition from Olive’s Signature collection. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, featurettes, and clips from Welles’s legendary 1937 WPA staging of the play.)
Hannie Caulder: “Like the man said: there aren’t any hard women, only soft men.” So growls Raquel Welch in this nasty little Western – also hitting Blu via Olive Signature – from director Burt Kennedy (The Train Robbers, Support Your Local Sheriff!). Welch plays the title role of a woman left widowed, raped, and ruined by a trio of repugnant bandits; she tracks them down and takes them out, with the help of a seen-it-all bounty hunter (the great Robert Culp) who teaches her both how to shoot and how to kill. This blood-spattered, grizzled item is a decidedly post-Peckinpah oater (witness the copious bloodshed and slo-mo), but it doesn’t play like imitation. Kennedy crafts his own dread-filled atmosphere, and though Welch gets a lift from an enviable supporting cast of character actors, she is rock-solid in the lead – by turns tough, sensitive, and determined. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
Death of a Salesman: This 1985 TV movie re-mounts the previous year’s Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s classic, with Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich. The adaptation, under the direction of Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) keeps much of the staging intact, but to great effect; the theatricality is all of a piece with the dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness structure of the text. Hoffman, playing decades over his age, is stirringly convincing as the broken Willy Loman, while Malkovich breathes new anguish and pain into the tricky character of son Biff, and the rest of the supporting cast – including Kate Reid, Charles Durning, and Stephen Lang – is similarly striking. (Includes featurette.)