Two of the finest damn horror movies of all time (period, full stop) make their Criterion Blu-ray bows this week, and that’s not even all! We’ve got one of last year’s most charming heart-tuggers, two A-plus indies, a classic ‘60s heist picture, and a ‘90s private eye movie that you’ve probably never heard of, but maybe should? Let’s get to it.
Along for the Ride: This moody documentary spotlights the 47-year friendship between actor/director Dennis Hopper and Satya de la Manitou, his “el hombre indivisible,” whom he met on the set of The Last Movie and spent the rest of his life hanging out with. “I’m only a minor character,” Manitou insists, which is true. But he’s a minor character who is also a good storyteller, and an ideal tour guide for this startling and unusual life. The snazzy, stylish black and white photography is not only appropriately expressionistic for the dips and valleys of Hopper’s career; it gives the film a sense of visual personality that’s often sorely lacking in bio-docs.
ON DVD / VOD
Flames: I can’t imagine anything worse than having to watch film of the old relationships I screwed up, and yet that’s somehow what co-directors Josephine Decker and Zefrey Throwell do in this rather remarkable documentary romance; the duo filmed much of their brief but passionate relationship back in 2011, and then returned to that footage in 2015 to try and puzzle out what went wrong. “We were madly in love,” Dekker insists, to which their editor replies, “That’s why you let it fail so spectacularly.” Those editorial flash-forwards become trenchant commentary for the events of the past, which are filled with moments of uncomfortable truth and troubling behavioral patterns. Again, I can’t imagine sharing my intimate moments with strangers like this – but I’m glad these two feel differently, because they ended up with a tough, fraught, and fascinating film.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Wonder: The marketing made Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s novel look like something of a Junior Mask – telling, as it does, the story of a 10-year-old boy with distorted facial features entering public school for the first time. And it works that angle, thanks to the evocative writing (it really gets at the anxiety of being a school outcast) and a heartbreaking turn by Jacob Tremblay of Room. But it’s not just his story; it’s about the people who surround him, from family to friends to teachers, and how they all make room for each other. That multiplicity of perspective not only makes it special, but gives it real dimension; there are dozens of little stories here, of romance and dedication and parenthood and loyalty, all of them powered by the somewhat unfashionable notion of reaching deep down into ourselves to rediscover our capacity for kindness. (Includes commentary, featurettes, music video, and trailers.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / FILMSTRUCK
Night of the Living Dead: A from-the-jump copyright error lead to such a non-stop parade of grubby public domain prints of George A. Romero’s zombie masterpiece, it’s sort of shocking to finally see it properly restored and presented. But that’s what Criterion has done, God bless ‘em, with this pristine Blu-ray (and DVD) from the film’s 4K digital restoration, just in time for the film’s 50th anniversary. But it’s also worth noting that it became a classic in that dilapidated form anyway, because it’s fricking brilliant – a socially-conscious horror thriller that provides atmosphere galore and flesh-eating scares, coupled with a trenchant message about the power of paranoia and the dangers of groupthink. Man, what a movie. (Also streaming on FilmStruck.) (Includes work-print edit, dailies reel, new and archival interviews, audio commentaries, featurettes, vintage newsreels and trailers.)
The Silence of the Lambs: One of Criterion’s very first DVDs (spine number 13!) finally, finally gets the Blu-ray treatment – not that it wasn’t available in the format previously, but their staggering plate of bonus features deserved the upgrade. Oh, and the movie remains pretty much perfect, a stunning mixture of iconic performances, technical bravado, psychological dread, and funhouse thrills. (It was also a February release of a genre movie that ended up sweeping the Oscars a full year later, so take that to heart, Jordan Peele.) It works, on all those levels at once, thanks to director Jonathon Demme’s humanist touch and peerless attention to detail, and even after years of imitation and parody, there’s still no touching Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster’s stunning lead performances. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, new and archival interviews, featurettes, storyboards, and trailer.)
The Thomas Crown Affair: When people talk now about the sexiness of Steve McQueen, how he all but floated on screen from the buoyance of his roguish sensuality, they were most likely talking about his performance in this 1968 caper flick from director Norman Jewison. As a wealthy businessman who pulls the perfect bank job, seemingly just for kicks, McQueen’s charisma is unmatchable – until he crosses paths with Faye Dunaway, at her post-Bonnie and Clyde best as a glam insurance investigator who’d like to bust him and bed him. Their hubba-hubba chess game was parodied as recently as Austin Powers, and for good reason – it remains sweat-inducing. KL Studio Classics is giving Thomas Crown the 4K restoration and Blu-ray upgrade treatment, and it remains a giddily entertaining and effortlessly hot piece of work. (Includes audio commentaries, interviews, archival featurette, and trailer.)
V.I. Warshawski: This 1991 action/comedy from director Jeff Kanew sits alongside Remo Williams and Buckaroo Banzai on the franchise non-starters shelf – perhaps unfairly. Based on a series of novels and short stories by Sara Paretsky, it stars Kathleen Turner as Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, a tough-talking Chicago private eye hired by the 13-year-old daughter of a slain hockey star to find his killer. It’s mighty thin in spots, and has that very specific early-‘90s sheen of Hollywood Pictures (the Disney off-shoot that released it), but Turner is an absolute hoot, Kanew keeps things moving at a rapid pace, and the supporting cast of character actors (including Charles Durning, Jay O. Sanders, Wayne Knight, and Stephen Root) is unbeatable. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)