It’s a big week for family movies on disc, with a new Disney hit and an all-time classic getting the 4K and Blu-ray treatment. We’ve also got an unsung ‘90s gem joining the Criterion Collection, as well as a new buddy comedy/drama and a once-again-relevant first-person documentary on Netflix.
Paddleton: Few things on this earth were considered squarer than liking Everybody Loves Raymond, and sorry, guilty as charged; that series excelled in the increasingly rare form of the three-camera family comedy, and in had an invaluable asset in Ray Romano, whose oddball charisma and sprung timing came to full flower over its long run. It’s been a pleasure to watch him stretch in the years since, taking chances with more serious work like Men of a Certain Age, Vinyl, and The Big Sick, forming nuanced characters while maintaining the shaggy likability and crackerjack comic sensibility that makes him unique. And those qualities are on full display in his new Netflix special and this Netflix original film, co-starring Mark Duplass (who co-writes with director Alex Lehmann) as Romano’s best buddy, who asks for his help taking his own life before terminal cancer does the job. It sounds bleak, yes. But their easy comic byplay keeps it from descending into misery, and the emotional truths of its closing passages are quietly shattering.
The Unknown Known: With Donald Rumsfeld back on people’s radars thanks to Vice (and Steve Carell’s performance therein, which is, who’re we kidding, the best in the movie), it’s a fine time to revisit Errol Morris’ superb 2014 documentary on the former Secretary of Defense, which just came back to Netflix. It’s something of a spiritual sequel to his 2003 Oscar winner, The Fog of War, but Morris isn’t merely repeating himself here; in sharp contrast to Robert McNamara, who seemed at least vaguely aware of the mistakes he had made and the cost of them, Unknown Known shows us a political figure who has learned nothing, who remembers things as he wishes they’d happened rather than as they were, and who will not be convinced otherwise. In doing so, Morris captures as trenchant and haunting a portrait of self-delusion as I’ve ever seen.
ON 4K / BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Ralph Breaks the Internet: Phil Johnston and Rich Moore’s sequel to Disney’s 2012 animated hit Wreck-It Ralph is a rare case of a family sequel that actually has more story to tell — in this case, bringing the retro arcade characters from the original into the world of online gaming (and #content). The results are ingeniously crafted, frequently funny, and delightfully self-aware, particularly when delving into the world of Disney’s own online presence and cultural omnipresence. But the movie ultimately works not because of its winking in-jokiness or meme-savviness; it’s at its best when focusing on the relationship between its key protagonists, voiced with resonance and authenticity by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman. They give the movie its surprising but undeniable heart. (Includes featurettes, deleted scenes, and music videos.)
The Little Mermaid: There’s no denying that the kickoff of Disney’s 1990s animation renaissance hasn’t aged as well as some of its contemporaries; the gender politics of this thing remain unfortunate, and the likes of Beauty and the Beast’s bookworm Belle and Aladdin’s fiercely independent Jasmine feel like a direct correction to its beautiful but mute Ariel. But the pleasures of the picture are hard to dismiss: the vividness of its undersea world, the exuberance of its villain, and the Broadway brilliance of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s toe-tapping songs. It’s less a cohesive whole than a skip-around mixtape at this point — but, boy, those highlights are really something. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, music videos, and sing-along mode.)
To Sleep with Anger: One of the best byproducts of the too-brief early 1990s burst of African-American filmmaking was the great but under-the-radar writer/director Charles Burnett (“Killer of Sheep”) getting the chance to make this, his first feature in seven years. It’s an insightful and deceptively subtle examination of familial tension, emotional abuse, and stewing resentment in a middle-class black family, brought to the surface by the arrival of family friend Harry (Danny Glover, who also executive-produced). He’s all polite manners and smiling ingratiation at first, but he immediately gets into each family member’s head, exposing all the existing fault lines that cause their little earthquakes. It’s a delicious role for Glover, full of kindness that gives way to sinister darkness with barely a nudge; some of the other performances are a tad stiff. But Burnett’s terrific script keeps everyone firmly on the ground, and his relaxed direction captures the deliberate rhythms of these lives, allowing Harry to properly disrupt them. Razor-sharp and stylistically eccentric; hats off to Criterion for bringing this neglected treasure back to the spotlight. (Includes featurettes and new interviews.)