Well folks, it’s the very last home media guide of the year, and if you don’t mind me saying, it’s a good ‘un: three big recent titles land on disc, one of the year’s best foreign films hits Netflix, and two catalogue titles get spiffy Blu-ray upgrades. So take a look; you might even get some last-minute shopping ideas.
The Unknown Girl: It’s always fascinating to watch socially conscious filmmakers bring their themes and preoccupations to a genre narrative, and that’s what happens in the latest from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Two Days, One Night) – this is a story of responsibility and obligation, moving within Belgium’s lower- and lower-middle class, but within the framework of a mystery thriller. The Dardennes fascinatingly fuse those seemingly disparate concerns, creating a compelling mystery, but one filled with moments of high stakes and, particularly in its overwhelming closing scenes, unrestrained humanity.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan’s latest is a zoomed-in dramatization of the evacuation of British soldiers at Dunkirk in WWII – an event that’s been oddly ubiquitous at cinemas this between this, Their Finest, and Darkest Hour – done in a style that’s a good deal less chatty and more direct than his previous (very good) pictures. He puts more emphasis on his images this time around, and lets them tell the story, while pushing the viewer into a sensory experience that aims to replicate the feel, and fear, of being on those beaches and in those planes. It’s an overwhelming film, elegantly acted and crisply executed, even while indulging in an act of structural trickery that’s a bit of a dud. (Includes featurettes.)
mother!: Director Darren Aronfsky’s fall cause célèbre is a heady brew of psychological horror, pitch-black comedy, and religious allegory, and it is straight-up bonkers; I honestly don’t know how Aronofsky got something like this financed, shot, and slated for a wide release by a major Hollywood studio. When it works, it’s deeply discombobulating, occasionally disturbing, and stickily funny (sometimes all at once). When it doesn’t work, it’s borderline embarrassing. But its payoffs are worth its risks, and the mere fact that it exists at all is a testament to either Aronfsky’s salesmanship, Jennifer Lawrence’s star power, or both. Order it up some night, and have a nice, long argument afterwards. (Includes featurettes.)
Stronger: We’ve seen so many true-story narratives of lives interrupted by tragedy and hardships overcome in its wake, it’s hard to blame anyone for taking a pass on David Gordon Green’s adaptation of the memoir of Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. It could’ve been maudlin, but Green’s brass-tacks direction, John Pollono’s earthily funny screenplay, and the spirited playing by Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, and Miranda Richardson keep the picture honest, particularly when viewed in comparison to a fraudulent piece of Bay-infused agitprop nonsense like Patriots Day. (Includes featurette.)
The Hospital: This 1971 satire was, per the credits, “by Paddy Chayefsky” (playwright-style), and plays very much like a dry run for his similarly-credited Network five years later: it takes on a venerable institution, it features a suicidal antihero, it complicates matters with a band of period revolutionaries, and it pivots on a less than convincing May/December romance. This first time, he lays it on a little too thick at the end, and the controlled chaos feels more the latter than the former. (Hospital director Arthur Hiller was no Sidney Lumet. It’s not his fault; most directors aren’t.) But it’s nonetheless forceful, provocative, and funny as hell, featuring a bracing George C. Scott performance – nobody was better at saying “sonofabitch” – particularly in the long, searching scene in which he gets good and drunk, and rages against the dying of the light (and his dick). And its portrait of the medical profession, teaming with misdiagnoses, malpractice, and greed, feels somewhat less than dated. (Includes isolated music track and trailer.)
Alice: One of Woody Allen’s lesser known but most striking pictures, in which an emotionally stunted Upper East Side housewife (Mia Farrow, in one of her best turns) visits a Chinese acupuncturist and finds herself able – much like her namesake – to transcend her surroundings via his magic potions. Allen’s basic-as-hell approach to special effects is a bit of a masterstroke, grounding the fantasy in an everyday practicality, and dabbling in a kind of stage-inspired magic realism that he recently returned to, with far lesser results, in Wonder Wheel. That said, it’s a Woody Allen movie with Alec Baldwin in a featured role, so, y’know, act accordingly. (Includes isolated music track and trailer.)