After a handful of dud weeks on the disc front, we’ve finally got a robust selection of new releases and catalogue titles this week, with three terrific (and mostly under-seen) titles from last fall, plus a pair of certified classics in fancy new restorations.
ON DVD / VOD
The Handmaiden: Director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Stoker) is in top, feverish form in this period romantic thriller, set in Korea during the Japanese occupation. He tells the story of an heiress, her handmaiden, the man who wants her riches, and… on second thought, scratch that, the less you know about this plot, which twists and turns and reverses and re-plays earlier scenes with motivations re-cast, the better. What’s important is that it’s visually overwhelming, a film of fluttering movement and sumptuous eroticism, somehow both unlike anything Chan-wook has done before and the culmination of everything he’s ever made. Fiendish, sexy, funny, and magnificent, though Sony’s decision not to give this visually overwhelming movie the Blu-ray treatment is… troubling.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD/ AMAZON PRIME
The Monster: This horror thriller from writer/director Bryan Bertino springs from a Cujo-esque premise: a single mom (Zoe Kazan) and her daughter, stuck during a thunderstorm in a car with a flat tire on a road in the middle of nowhere, end up trapped in their vehicle by the terrifying monster outside. But there’s real tragedy and drama happening here; The Monster falls into the proud tradition of horror movies that know there’s nothing scarier than being a parent (there’s a screaming fight between mother and daughter that’s more unsettling than any of the movie’s monster effects), and it is casually, off to the side, an intense and harrowing portrait of addiction and self-destruction (witness the deep breaths Kazan takes after taking a big swig from a bottle, and before diving in for another). Little flashbacks to those moments cleverly fill in the blanks, making this much more than a horror movie – but it also does that well, with A-plus scares and merciless tension. Barely released to theaters just a couple of months back, this is the kind of undiscovered gem home video was invented for. (Includes featurette.) (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
The Light Between Oceans: Handsomely mounted and, admittedly, a touch arid in spots, this period drama from screenwriter/director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beneath the Pines) was dumped into theaters in September and dismissed in most corners as failed Oscar bait. But it’s an emotional and often wrecking story of a tentative, then tender relationship that is tested by childbirth troubles – which seem to solve themselves when an abandoned baby washes up on our protagonists’ shore. It’s a silly story, sure, but played straight by a fierce Alicia Vikander, a wrecked Rachel Weisz, and Michael Fassbender in another of those fine performances where he shows you everything and tells you nothing. Some of this may play more poignantly for parents, but there are moments of real pain and sorrow (and little Florence Cleary, as the toddler iteration of the kid, will absolutely destroy you). It’s rather an old-fashioned melodrama – but in the best sense of both terms. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
ON BLU-RAY / FILMSTRUCK
Black Girl: “Has anyone come for me?” she asks herself, as she steps off the boat, beginning this extraordinary exploration of servitude and colonialism on a note of self-doubt in an inner monologue that is expertly carried through all of this 1966 film’s 59 delicate minutes. Our Senegalese heroine, transported to France as a domestic worker, is kept behind the scenes, trotted out to be appraised and perhaps kissed; her employers and their guests speak of her as if she’s not there, or (worse) as if they don’t care that she is. “I spend my life here in the kitchen and the bedroom,” she thinks. “Is that what living in France means?” That’s a bigger question than those words, and director Ousmane Sembène’s striking, naturalistic, and ultimately shocking film vibrates with its implications. (Includes short film, new and archival interviews, documentary, alternate color sequence, and trailer.) (Also streaming on FilmStruck.)
The Man Who Fell to Earth: There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about Nicolas Roeg’s bizarre, jagged, and impressionistic blend of ‘70s futurism, absurd comedy, skin flick, genre pic, experimental movie, and gonzo epic (freshly restored for its 40th anniversary). David Bowie is basically typecast as an alien, but he’s doing some fascinating acting here – particularly when he’s listening, his deadpan reactions betraying a clear debt to his beloved Buster Keaton. It’s a film unapologetic in its oddness, populated as it is with inexplicable scenes, giant leaps in the chronology, non-sequitur dialogue, and Rip Torn’s dick (as well as more obvious musings on mortality, aging, media, and capitalism). But the Bowie love somewhat overshadows the shattering performance of the wonderfully daft Candy Clark, as the hotel maid who becomes Bowie’s lover, soul mate, and victim. There’s something in the way she shrugs “Well, I guess I’ll do for now, won’t I” that says more about humanity than most straight-forward narratives can even imagine. (Includes new and archival interviews, featurettes, and trailer.)