A marvelous animated trilogy draws to a close on disc this week, along with a new documentary, an art house hit, and a handful of must-have catalogue titles. Plus, two recent favorites migrate from Prime to Netflix. Let’s take a look:
Moonlight: There’s a scene at the end of the first section of writer/director Barry Jenkins’s Best Picture winner, in which three characters sit at a dining room table and talk to each other, simply and directly. A young man asks questions about his life and the people around him; an older man and woman answer, as honestly as they can. This doesn’t sound like a riveting scene, but it is; the honest and openness is astonishing not only for these characters, but for an American independent film about their experiences. And it’s a microcosm for this entire, extraordinary film, which spotlights the kind of life our cinema (and our world) too often leaves unexamined – and does so with vibrancy, humor, virtuosity, and love.
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, 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.
ON 4K / BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World: While Disney and Pixar have alternately disappointed and delighted, and Illumination has apparently made a mission of being obnoxious, DreamWorks Animation has quietly crafted the most consistently entertaining family franchise of the decade. The third and (presumably) last installment concerns a quest and a villain and all that stuff, but a surprisingly large chunk of the movie is handed over to dragon Toothless’s courtship of another dragon, the Light Fury. Just writing that out makes it sound silly, but that material is charming and sweet, and gives real emotional heft to the flawless closing scenes. (Includes audio commentary, shorts, deleted scenes, and featurettes.)
ON DVD / BLU-RAY / VOD
Let the Sunshine In: “It feels so good to stop all that talking,” notes Isabelle (Juliette Binoche, great as ever), in between kisses with her new lover – but even then, as they’re talking about not talking, they’re still talking, which is its own kind of funny. In Claire Denis’s comedy/drama (new to the Criterion Collection), the characters never really stop talking; they’re constantly second-guessing, trapping, and bluffing, and though Isabelle is alternately talking to former lovers, current lovers, would-be lovers, and won’t-be lovers, Denis is fascinated by both the differences in these interactions and the subtle similarities, the hostilities and half-truths that seem universal. There’s not much of a narrative here, a point driven home by the way Denis just runs the credits under the last dialogue scene, because it’s not really a story with an “end” in any traditional sense. And there doesn’t need to be; this is character sketch, in the best possible sense of the phrase. (Includes interviews, short film, and trailer.)
Shaft Triple Feature:Just in time for this summer’s frankly peculiar-looking sequel/spoof of Samuel L. Jackson’s 2000 installment, Warner Archive is giving the full original trilogy – Shaft (1971), Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa(1973), all starring Richard Roundtree in the title role – the Blu-ray treatment. The first, all agree, is still the best, a hip blaxpoitation riff on the tropes of the classic gumshoe detective movie. Director Gordon Parks returned for the first sequel, which can’t match the first film’s scrappy energy, but uses the bigger budget to stage a handful of memorable set pieces. And Africa, while the weakest of the three (new director John Guillermin was no Gordon Parks), is perhaps the finest showcase of the considerable charisma of Mr. Roundtree. (Featurette, TV episode, and trailer for Shaft; trailers for Shaft’s Big Score! and Shaft in Africa.)
Nixon: At the conclusion of the audio commentary for this 1995 political drama (new on Blu from KL Studio Classics), Oliver Stone announces, “JFK was my Godfather, and this is my Godfather II.” He might sound like a blowhard or an egotist, were he not absolutely right. Here, he marshals reams of historical material, a flurry of shifting film stocks, a giant ensemble cast, and a Lear-level Anthony Hopkins into a furious storm of a movie, not only dramatizing (in riveting detail) the political fall of the 37th president, but the psychological flaws that motivated that fall. (Includes theatrical and director’s cuts, audio commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, archival interviews, and trailer.)
Robbery: This 1967 British crime thriller (also bowing on Blu via KL) is something of a proto-Heat, telling the parallel stories of a tip-top crew’s planning and execution of an ambitious robbery, while the cops are nipping on their heels investigating their last one. It also features, damn near right out of the chute, a white-knuckle car chase sequence that feels like a test run for director Peter Yates’s Bullitt the following year. Throw in a brassy, sax-y score and a taut-well-executed final heist, and you’ve got a forgotten gem ripe for rediscovery. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)
ON DVD / VOD
Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable: Winogrand, a growling straight-talker with a Bronx accent and an eye for visual poetry, was a street photographer – one of the great ones. This documentary portrait from American Masters and director Sasha Waters Freyer utilizes a loose biographical structure to explore his recurring motifs, and to close-read some of his best pictures’ compositions, themes, and influences. It’s not a total shine-job – Fryer doesn’t shy away from the shortcomings of the work, or the controversies surrounding it – but it admires him regardless, and cleverly figures out ways to see, through him, a modern history of the form.