Two of the summer’s most acclaimed sleeper hits both land on disc this week, along with a big, better-than-usual comic book blockbuster and an unsung gem of a rom-com on Netflix. And this week’s catalogue Blu-ray recommendations include the twin pillars of world cinema: Ingmar Bergman and Sylvester Stallone.
Black Panther: Ryan Coogler’s entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe grossed a staggering amount of money, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise: here was, for once, a sui generis filmmaker marshaling the limitless resources of a big-budget franchise to tell a story that wasn’t just about servicing said franchise. (Frankly, there are huge swaths, like the Bond-esque casino sequence, that barely feel like a superhero movie at all.) But it also gets the blockbuster job done, delivering big action beats and inspiring hero moments with an offhand ease that shames the lumbering likes of Coogler’s contemporaries. The key to its high grosses is simple: when you bother making one of these legitimately great, audiences will keep coming back to see it again.
Man Up: A self-described “sad, single loser” (Lake Bell, sublime) is mistaken for a blind date by a giddy fellow (Simon Pegg, likewise) and decides to roll with it, which sounds like a fairly typical dumb romantic-comedy setup. But then, the wildest thing happens: about a half-hour into the movie, she fesses up, diffusing the giant charade that tends to propel films like these – and then things get really interesting. Screenwriter Tess Morris and director Ben Palmer manage to create both a clever deconstruction of the romantic comedy and an entertaining representation of it; Man Up reverses the traditional first-hate-then-love trajectory, has a wildly improvisational spirit that flies in the face of the genre’s set-in-stone ethos, and features the finest Duran Duran dance scene this side of Donnie Darko. And the duo at its center couldn’t be better together; you want them to get together, and are glad that the movie doesn’t want that to happen in the traditional, trite way.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Hereditary: Like The Witch before it, this critically acclaimed thriller premiered at Sundance to deafening buzz, was acquired by A24 and promoted as an all-time scary movie, and then saw its solid reviews and box office supplemented by a backlash from general audiences who insisted it wasn’t “really” scary. And to be fair, it’s less a horror movie than an emotionally brutal family drama dressed up like one — the events are horrifying, to be sure, but in a way that has less to do with cheap thrills than vivid nightmares, as writer/director Ari Aster captures the way a tragedy can weigh on you, day in and day out. It’s his first feature, and it’s an astonishing debut; the cinematography is purposeful and powerful, and at the very least, it’s like a two-hour demonstration of the power of sound to create dread. The very last beat is more than a little goofy, but that complaint aside, this is a refreshingly bleak and unsettling piece of work, and Toni Collette’s performance is a powder keg. (Includes deleted scenes and featurette.)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: It’s hard to argue that the timing isn’t right for an appreciation of a man who attempted, for decades, to spread the message that “Love is at the root of everything… love or the lack of it.” And director Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) doesn’t have to underline the argument when he shows clips from an episode, during the very first week of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, about fear of change, manifested in a king who builds a wall. (Yes, really.) The film is full of clips like that, and wonderful archival interviews in which the educator, minister, and broadcaster — whose shows allowed him to fill all three roles at once — articulates his philosophy. Neville’s tear-jerking film conveys them succinctly, nudged along by simple but effective animations, a moving score, and a free-flowing structure that lets him push past bio-doc conventions to fully explore what was important to this man, and the ideas he was trying to move into the mainstream.
ON BLU-RAY / FILMSTRUCK
Scenes from a Marriage: In 1973, Ingmar Bergman crafted this six-part, five-hour film for television, an oft-times uncomfortably intimate snapshot of the ups and downs of a Swedish marriage (and its aftermath). The next year, he reconfigured that footage into a three-hour theatrical feature; both versions are included on this Criterion Blu-ray (upgraded from a previous DVD release), and both have their virtues – in fact, as with the director’s later Fanny and Alexander, examining both is a marvelous opportunity to observe the master filmmaker’s process, and to understand what he found essential to this story. Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson are remarkable in the leading roles, conveying the passage of time and the shifts in emotion primarily though non-verbal work, flawlessly captured by Sven Nykvist’s close-up photography. (Also streaming on FilmStruck.) (Includes archival interviews.)
Oscar: When you think of Sylvester Stallone’s ill-advised early-‘90s foray into (intentional) comedy — if you even think or know of it in the first place — you’re most likely thinking of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, his strained 1992 match-up with Golden Girl Estelle Getty. But the previous year, he headed up a crackerjack ensemble (including Tim Curry, Don Ameche, Peter Riegert, Eddie Bracken, and pre-fame Marisa Tomei and Chazz Palminteri) for director John Landis, and the results are a lot of fun — a snappy, fast-paced, period Mob farce that nicely showcases Sly’s underrated (but undeniable) comic timing. (Includes interview and trailer.)