For the second week in a row, one of last year’s terrific indie genre movies is hitting Blu-ray (for us physical media diehards; never give up!) and Netflix (for you streamers; I do not understand you but I embrace you) on the very same day. This week, the gem in question is A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and it’s joined on the new release shelf this week by an entertaining, blood-soaked shoot-‘em-up and re-releases of a Renoir classic, a ‘70s coming-of-age fave, and one of the most iconic action movies of the 1980s.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night : First-time feature filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour made quite the splash last year with this clever, moody, cool-as-a-cucumber vampire hangout flick. Dubbed, perhaps smirkingly, the first “Iranian Vampire Western,” Amirpour’s film dodges the tonal hodgepodge that such a mash-up label might imply; it’s a startlingly confident debut, visionary in its images, patient in its storytelling, ingenious in its juxtapositions. It’s hitting Netflix today as well, but splurge for the Blu-ray; your iPad won’t do the knockout black-and-white cinematography justice. (Includes deleted scenes, featurettes, a Q&A hosted by Roger Corman, stills, trailer, and graphic novels.)
Everly : Back in the day, Salma Hayek was “the girl” in Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi shoot-‘em-ups — tending to our hero’s wounds, only briefly getting in on the action. Here, she moves easily into the action lead, playing a tough, resourceful, tenacious woman who finally strikes back against some real scumbags. Look, Everly’s got its problems — dopey dialogue, thin characters, a brief, bizarre third act detour into “torture porn” that doesn’t work at all — but Joe Lynch’s direction is energetic and inventive, and it’s fun to watch Hayek go to town in the kind of all-out action role that’s still all too rare among female stars.
Escape from New York : The premise of John Carpenter’s 1981 action movie (newly reissued on Blu-ray by Shout Factory and bursting with new bonus features) remains irresistible: in 1997, the island of Manhattan has been turned into a giant prison, bordered by walls and police, but with society’s worst roaming free inside. When the president is kidnapped and held within those walls, only one man is tough enough for the job: Kurt Russell’s gravely-whispering badass Snake Plissken. Carpenter fills the picture with hero iconography (not just for Russell, but for his minder Lee Van Cleef and villain Isaac Hayes) and evocative nightscapes, not to mention the ticking clocks and homing devices that were all but required in ’80s action. Coupled with his customary driving syth scored and a muscular, no-nonsense attitude, Escape is an action classic and cult favorite that maintains its considerable power to engage and entertain. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, interviews, deleted scenes, trailers, and photo galleries.)
Cooley High : Michael Schultz’s 1975 coming-of-age comedy/drama positions itself as something of a black American Graffiti, from the early-‘60s setting to the jukebox soundtrack to the “Where are they now?” wrap-ups. But there’s also a Mean Streets feel in its affable hang-out vibe and loose story of a group of guys cutting class, chasing girls, and getting into trouble. (And if it takes, it also gives; it plays now like a blueprint for Boyz n the Hood, particularly in its closing passages.) Eric Monte’s script sprinkles in a touch of sly social commentary on education and ambition, and his make-out scenes capture a wonderfully funny and true awkwardness. Sure, its gender politics are problematic, and much of the acting is mighty amateurish. But star Glynn Turman handles many tricky moments well, and co-star Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs is pure charisma. (No bonus features.)
The River : Criterion gives the Blu-ray upgrade treatment to this lush favorite from Jean Renoir, a tale of family, first heartbreak, and coming of age, but with an abundance of local color: it’s set, and was shot, in Bengal, India. Sure, it’s told through the eyes of a British family (it was 1951, after all), but it’s luminously photographed and sensitively told, explaining the region, its customs, and (especially) the Hindu religion with patience and thoroughness. The storytelling transcends its familiar trappings (there’s a sense of profound heartbreak in its closing passages), but it’s mostly a film of atmosphere; Renoir was clearly in love with the culture, the music, the ceremonies, even the sounds of the bazaar, and that affection is felt in every gorgeous frame. (Includes vintage Renoir introduction, interviews, documentary, trailer, and a new video essay.)