Well folks, we’ve got another one of those weeks where our customary five-movie limit on new disc and streaming releases simply won’t do; it’s just too crowded on the shelves, thanks to two big year-end dramas, an unexpected family delight, and three first-rate catalog titles making their Blu-ray debuts. There’s an embarrassment of riches out there; here’s the cream of the crop.
Inherent Vice : Paul Thomas Anderson adapts Thomas Pynchon’s smoked-out ‘70s private eye tale, sifting in whiffs of The Long Goodbye, The Big Sleep, Chinatown, and post-Manson paranoia to come up with a hazy, bonkers, flipped-out mystery. They seem to take perverse pleasure in the plot’s endlessly multiplying complications (or, as Joanna Newsom’s narrator puts it, “creating an extra layer of fog on top of the one Doc was already standing inside of”); after a while, you realize it’s not about the plot but the people (Josh Brolin’s shouting Squaresville cop and Martin Short’s zonked-out dentist are the highlights), not about the mystery but its pursuit. As such, it’s ripe for home video revisitation, and the boisterous Blu-ray transfer lovingly captures Robert Elswitt’s sun-kissed compositions and double-exposed imagery. (Includes three promos and a deleted scene.)
The Gambler : An underrated casualty of the Christmas season crush, Rupert Wyatt’s remake of the 1974 drama is a sharp, smart little character piece, filled with quotable dialogue (the adaptation is by Oscar-winning Departed scribe William Monahan) and Mark Wahlberg’s best performance since Boogie Nights. He gets able support from John Goodman (playing against type, and well, as a tough guy), Michael K. Williams, Jessica Lange, and Brie Larson. The latter’s thread is a bit of dead end, and the story of a self-destructive gambler is old hat even without the remake factor. But it’s a stylish piece of work, and Wahlberg’s searching, performative classroom monologue scenes are a nice reminder that there’s a real actor within that goofy persona. (Includes featurettes and deleted scenes.)
Paddington : When this live-action, CGI-heavy adaptation of the classic children’s book series was announced, a bit of skepticism was understandable; it looked and sounded an awful lot like Paddington was getting Garfielded. So it’s a relief to report that writer/director Paul King has created a delightful family comedy, loaded with sly English wit, beautifully executed slapstick, and some well-earned pathos. The ensemble cast shines — particularly Sally Hawkins as the understanding mother and Nicole Kidman having a great time doing a Cruella de Vil — and Paddington not only looks great, but becomes a real (and lovable) character. Fast paced and legitimately charming, it’s one of the year’s nicest surprises. (Includes featurettes and a music video.)
Hollywood Shuffle : Robert Townsend’s low-low-low-budget satire of the life of a black film actor — where every role is a pimp or a gang banger, and every casting agent is looking for an “Eddie Murphy type” — became an underground sensation when it hit theaters in 1987, on the heels of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and sparking something of an indie black New Wave (one that ended far too soon). Separated from its plucky making-of story, it has some problems; it lays on the message a bit too thick in spots, and some of the bits run long. But its loose, sketch-like structure allows Townsend to take on plenty of targets, and much of it is not only still funny, but (sadly) still accurate. (No extras)
Miami Blues : When George Armitage’s dark crime comedy was released in 1990, character actor Fred Ward was top-billed, but all the heat was on co-star Alec Baldwin, who made this film before The Hunt for Red October but saw it released one month after. Viewed a quarter-century later, with Baldwin now a very different actor (for good and ill), the performance is still electrifying; he’s got a fiery intensity and air of danger, and both the actor and character are wildly unpredictable. You see, his “Junior” is a sociopathic criminal, but not much of a planner — he’s an improvisationalist, seemingly making up his scams and schemes on the fly, working coldly and methodically and worrying about the consequences later. And that spirit infects the picture, to its credit; it’s a bizarre, off-balance, and unapologetic little number, and if the plot is slight, that seems by design. This is more of a short story, floating on mood and weirdness and, with regards to Baldwin, movie-star cool. (Includes a trailer and new interviews with Baldwin and co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh.)
Le Silence de la Mer : French master Jean-Pierre Melville (Army of Shadows, Bob le Flambeur) made his feature debut with this fascinating story of life in Nazi-occupied France. A German officer (Howard Vernon) moves in to the home of our narrator and his niece, and they simply ignore him, using the cold shoulder as an act of resistance, “as if he were a ghost.” But the German talks to them anyway, crafting an endless monologue, night after night, that becomes a battle of wills as their relationship gradually reveals itself to be a metaphor for the entire conflict. But this isn’t some clumsy screed; it’s an evocative picture, with Melville using his powerful sound design and brash compositions to capture the claustrophobia of those small, quiet rooms, where (paralleling his protagonists) he patiently discovers the humanity at the heart of even the vilest villain. (Includes Melville’s first short film, two documentaries, and interviews.)