I was gonna make some lame joke about how La La Land is out this week on disc but when you open it up it turns out it’s Moonlight, and then decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, and look at that, I was right. Also out this week: a crackerjack new zombie action picture, Criterion editions of two ‘80s gems, a Blu-ray upgrade for a first-rate Jimmy Stewart Western, and a recent fave on Netflix.
The Prestige: The smartest thing Christopher Nolan did, while redefining the superhero movie with his Dark Knight trilogy, was insisting his bosses at Warner Brothers let him take time between each of those films to craft something set apart from that world (albeit often featuring much of the same personnel, in front of and behind the camera). Between the second and third films, that in-betweener was Inception (which this viewer maintains is his best film to date); between the first and second came The Prestige, a wonderfully twisty tale of warring magicians in turn-of-the-century London. Christian Bale (of course) and Hugh Jackman stew and sneer, Michael Caine explains and exclaims, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall charm. Oh, have I not sold it yet? Should I mention David Bowie’s in it?
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
La La Land: The critical pendulum has swung so wide on this one that it’s now totally Squareseville to sing its praises, but ah well; I maintain that La La Land is a breezy treat, bright and busy, sweet and charming, but with a melancholy streak that lands hard. And it nicely bucks the problem with most modern musical films: the degree to which they fetishize their form, treating the musical — which used to be among the most common of film genres — as a gimmick, and congratulating themselves for making one when they’re so far out of vogue. But La La Land doesn’t make a big deal of the format; it merely recognizes that there are certain emotions and moments that cannot be properly conveyed except through song and dance. It’s not an evil film, and it’s odd that The Discourse is so hyperbolic that it could be remotely considered as such. It’s just a lovely little movie, and it’ll make you grin, and it’ll break your heart. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, and song selection.)
The Girl with All The Gifts: This fast-moving-zombie action thriller isn’t exactly fresh meat – there’s an awful lot of 28 Days and Weeks Later in it – but it’s done with intelligence and skill, and the acting is top-shelf. Newcomer Sennia Nunua is tremendous in the title role, both heartbreaking and terrifying as she conveys the struggle of a young woman desperately fighting “the infection” that makes her desire human flesh, even as she assists a makeshift crew of the non-infected escape similar beasts. Glenn Close is the ensemble’s other stand-out, as her character takes a couple of riveting hard turns, and she delivers a mid-film backstory that’s both chilling and efficient (few actors on this earth can match her delivery of a line like “They ate their way out”). Gory and gratifying, with a climactic ethical dilemma that’s genuinely satisfying. (Includes featurette.)
Rumble Fish: In 1983, smarting from the breathlessly-reported failure of his musical One From the Heart, Francis Ford Coppola directed two back-to-back adaptations of S.E. Hinton novels: first The Outsiders, and then this film, which plays like its R-rated, art house counterpart. It’s slick, stylized, and haunting, a dreamlike hang-out movie that shares a similar eye for young talent (the cast includes Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage, Tom Waits, and Mickey Rourke) and an ear for the rumblings of disaffected youth. The most noticeable divergence is the look; cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, mostly known for his frequent collaborations with Brian De Palma, shot the film in gorgeous black-and-white, and it’s one of those movies where you can pull just about any image, frame it, and put it on your wall. Dillon stars, in sort of the prototypical Dillon role (tough, soulful, not too sharp), while Rourke is terrific, and now extra poignant, as his burnout older brother. It’s not quite like anything else in Coppola’s filmography (save for the much-later Tetro, which was clearly trying to replicate this film’s aesthetic), and while the loose notions of false bravado and misplaced romanticism of youth occasionally connect, it’s mostly an exercise in style. And Jesus, what style. (Includes audio commentary, new and archival interviews, featurettes, music video, and deleted scenes with Coppola introduction.)
Tampopo: This new Criterion addition from Japanese director Juzo Itami is a delightfully multi-textual story of love, turf, and fierce ramen rivalries, full of dry humor, fourth wall-breaking, and playful genre-jumping: it’s got elements of a Western, yakuza movie, comedy, martial arts, romance, and even a sports flick (complete with tough mentor/dedicated student training sequence). Also, it’s outstanding food porn. It’s a little pokey towards the middle and some of the threads turn into dead ends, but it’s hard to complain too loudly about a picture this charming. (Includes full-length making-of documentary, new interviews, video essay, Italmi’s first short film, and trailer.)
Broken Arrow: This 1950 cowboys-n-Indians flick from director Delmer Daves (3:10 to Yuma, Dark Passage) is basically Dances with Wolves, but half as long and forty years early – and the later point is particularly impressive, considering the general perspective of Westerns in this period. James Stewart is just right for the role of the enlightened white guy go-between (“I’m sick and tried of all this killing. Who asked us out here in the first place?”), trying desperately to forge a piece between the noble “savages” and bloodthirsty comrades who say things like “We’ll have peace when every Apache is hung from a tree.” It has its problems (the romance is a snooze), but it’s a thankfully complicated picture that arrives at a tough, yet moving conclusion. (Includes newsreel and trailers.)