This week’s new release shelf offers up your choice of double-headers: two new Blu-rays from Disney (one a classic, one a new film that should be a classic), two new music documentaries on DVD (with a common thread, even). Plus, one of last year’s most thrillingly weird movies hits Amazon Prime.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Swiss Army Man: When this comedy/drama from writer/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert debuted at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, it was immediately dubbed “the farting corpse movie,” and sure enough, in its first scene, Hank (Paul Dano) discovers a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) who periodically expels leftover gas. But once you get past its gloriously oddball opening, that’s not what the movie’s about at all – this is a poignant and intelligent two-hander (of sorts) about friendship, obsession, and the limitations of reality. It’s a stylish, often dreamlike picture, filled with quietly poetic images and witty edits, and the Daniels play its central conceit refreshingly on-the-square; they take these characters seriously, even when they’re doing the most absurd things.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD/ VOD
Queen of Katwe: A true underdog sports story from Disney sounds like anathema to most viewers, but this family-friendly drama about Ugandan chess champ Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) just goes to show that it’s not what a movie is about, but how it’s about it. In this case, much of that “about” comes via director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!, whose customary gift for capturing and conveying time and place – coupled with the wonderful performances of Nalwanga, Lupita Nyong’o as her mother, and David Oyelowo as her coach – renders what could’ve been a formula drama into something urgent, emotional, and special. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, music videos, featurette, and Nair’s short film “A Fork, A Spoon, & A Knight.”)
Pinocchio: Disney’s second animated feature gets the “Signature Collection” treatment, and it’s a beaut – gorgeous Blu-ray transfer, digital HD treatment (for the first time), copious special features. But the real draw here, as always, is the movie itself: lovingly crafted, delicately written, veering from gentle fairy tale to terrifying nightmare with grace and skill. It’s full of iconic images, moments, and songs, but it’s more than just the accumulation of its famous parts; it’s one of Disney’s true masterpieces, telling an enchanting story with swoony sweetness and dabs of darkness. (Includes featurettes, new music, and archival interviews.)
ON DVD / VOD
Gimme Danger: The Stooges came up fast and imploded with equal speed, and in its best stretches, Jim Jarmusch’s biographical documentary about the band feeds off the energy and tempo of their best recordings, and rides them out. Drawing on interviews with Iggy Pop – one of our finest purveyors of great rock stories – and the rest of the surviving members, he captures the spirit of those long-ago times, offsetting the names and places yielded like talismans with a welcome perspective of deconstructionism (Iggy still gets a kick out of conspiratorially assuring us that the times don’t quite match their popular memory). Jarmusch takes a strangely reverential approach to not only the subject but the conventions of the form – you wish he’d have been as interested in formal experimentation as the band he’s profiling – but that complaint aside, this is an entertaining and engaging rock-doc. (No bonus features.)
Danny Says: And if you’re looking for a double feature, pair up Gimme Danger with this portrait of the man Iggy calls “a connector, like a fuel line in a car,” one Danny Fields. Fields was something of a Leonard Zelig figure for ’60s and ’70s pop culture: he hung out at the Factory, appointed himself the press agent for the Doors, was the first publicist for Elektra Records, edited 16 magazine, helped ignite the Beatles’ “bigger than Jesus” controversy, managed the Ramones, and gave early boosts to Patti Smith, the Stooges, the MC5, and Leonard Cohen. So, as you can imagine, he’s seen a few things, and has some stories to tell. Director Brendan Toller complements those stories with priceless archival footage, unheard old tapes, and inventive new animation, creating a fast-paced, energetic, and thoroughly enjoyable bit of pop history. (Includes additional recordings, new and archival interviews, vintage promo film, and trailer.)