This week’s disc new releases include the likes of Before I Fall and The Shack, and the big new streamer is War Machine, so yeah, time to do some digging. We’ve got a pair of less-beloved titles from legendary filmmakers making their Blu-ray debuts, alongside two silent classics, a 2001 cult fave joining the Criterion Collection, and a sharp thriller from an exciting new voice in horror. And fine, if you like the blockbusters, we’ve got one of those that’s not half bad.
Doctor Strange: The latest entry in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has all the problems we’ve come to expect from those folks, but credit where due: director Scott Derrickson at least cares enough about imprinting this product to make Strange, well, strange. He fills the cast with weirdos (including Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen), throws in plenty of throwaway comic curlicues, and goes full-on trippy in its dimension-bending special effects sequences. Most importantly, there’s a sense of giddiness and fun to the venture, and less of a feeling that they’re crossing items off a franchise checklist, even when they totally are.
ON BLU-RAY / AMAZON PRIME
The Blackcoat’s Daughter: Osgood Perkins is a director who loves to lull you into complacency with his thick silences and patient storytelling, and then zonk you with a genuinely horrifying image. His first release (but this second film; don’t ask) was last fall’s moody tone poem I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House; this one is much more of a “conventional” horror movie, at least on the surface: blood, stabbings, carnage, etc. But that’s just on the surface; the stories he’s telling are far more disturbing than they typical slasher fare, and he finds an ideal leading lady in Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper herself), who’s utterly terrifying as a boarding school girl who’s losing her sanity while skulking around growling things like “You smell pretty.” It’s an unpredictable and harrowing movie, and its closing turns are superb. (Includes audio commentary and featurette; also streaming on Amazon Prime.)
Ghost World: Terry Zwigoff made his narrative debut, after two acclaimed documentaries, with this adaptation of Daniel Clowes’s beloved graphic novel, and it’s an absolute delight – magnificently capturing the ironic detachment most acutely found in the moments immediately after high school, and pinpointing (without preaching) the emptiness at the center of it. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are pitch-perfect as the two recent grads for whom snark is a default setting; Steve Buscemi is quietly wonderful as the poor schmuck who becomes something of a mascot. It’s a wise and knowing movie, equal parts riotous comedy and utter melancholy, and if Zwigoff’s execution is occasionally clumsy, there are so many isolated moments of pure pleasure and unvarnished truth, it’s hard to ding him for it. (Includes audio commentary, new interviews, deleted scenes, trailer, and more excerpts from that great movie in the opening credits.)
One Two Three: This fast-paced 1961 effort from Billy Wilder and his co-writer I.A.L. Diamond often gets overlooked in their filmography, and it’s not hard to guess why, coming as it did on the heels of The Apartment the previous year and Some Like It Hot the year before that. But it’s a funny, sexy sparkler of a movie, a sharp-elbowed Cold War satire starring Mr. Yankee Doodle Dandy himself, Jimmy Cagney. He’s terrific as a fast-talking, no-bullshit Coca-Cola exec in Berlin, barking and snapping at anyone in the vicinity, though he mostly functions as the fuming, slow-boiling straight man, surrounded by nutjobs. So sure, it’s not quite up to the standards of Wilder and Diamond’s best work – but hell, few things are. (Includes audio commentary, archival interviews, and trailer.)
The Paradine Case: This 1947 courtroom drama makes its Blu-ray debut this week alongside One Two Three, and holds a similar spot in the filmography of Alfred Hitchcock – widely considered one of his lesser works, though primarily due to the wanting lead performance of Gregory Peck. Per that reputation, he’s more than a little stiff, and the business with his jealous wife is a snooze. But his closing speech is a keeper, and he does some nuanced work while puzzling out the complexities of his client, who is not made of Hitch’s typical “obviously innocent yet wrongly accused” stuff. The filmmaker builds atmosphere and mood as capably as ever, and while it’s one of his more muted pictures, he throws in some nifty camera moves and subjective framing as well; not great Hitchcock, but a sight better than you’ve probably heard. (Includes audio commentary, archival Peter Bogdanovich interview with Hitchcock, audio excerpt from the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews, radio adaptation, restoration comparison, and original trailer.)
The Sheik / Son of the Sheik: The Sheik was a giant hit in 1921, and understandably so. It was an impressive production in size and scope, full of battle scenes and sandstorms, but its biggest virtue was its simplest: the raw charisma of star Rudolph Valentino, who plays a rich tribal prince who kidnaps and seduces a free-spirited English society girl. It made him a megastar, for a time; five years later, after a couple of noticeable bombs, Valentino returned to the character for Son of the Sheik, playing both the prince and his offspring in a tale of both romance and familial/generational tension. These films (both out on Blu-ray, in new restorations, from Kino Lorber) are prototypical silent melodramas: operatic emotions, thunderous action, the works. But they hold up (in spite of the copious doses of Orientalism and Stockholm Syndrome) thanks to Valentino; his magnetism, sex appeal, and sheer electricity are still jolting. (The Sheik includes audio commentary, archival footage from Valentino’s funeral, and trailer; Son includes Orson Welles intro, vintage documentary and featurette, newspaper gallery, and trailer.)