It’s a fairly quiet week for new disc and streaming releases; the biggest of the bunch is the big-screen adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which is, all things considered, rather meh. So allow me to direct you to several A-plus catalogue titles, along with one of the most powerful documentaries in recent memory.
Call Me Lucky : Barry Crimmins was one of the most influential comics you probably don’t know. He was the Godfather of Boston’s fertile comedy scene, doing hard-edged political commentary in the brick wall, airplane-food-joke era of the 1980s and 1990s. Were it merely a snapshot of that era and Crimmins’ place in it, this documentary portrait by friend and fellow comic Bobcat Goldthwait would be interesting enough. But Goldthwait (smoothly transitioning from narrative to non-fiction) goes much deeper than that, into the personal tragedy that turned his subject from a comedian and commentator to an activist and advocate. It’s an unpredictable and invigorating film, both rabble-rousing and moving.
Stations of the Elevated : Manfred Kirchheimer’s experimental 1981 documentary features no narration or interviews (and only the barest bones of a structure); it’s a snapshot of New York City, of its people and their routines, and, most of all, the graffiti at that moment seemed to define it. Kirchheimer doesn’t tell us how to regard the graffiti — he merely treats the subway cars as a fact of life, rolling showcases, found art objects. And in many ways, he treats Gotham the same way, making this a fascinating and valuable portrait of a city in constant flux. (Includes featurettes , new director interviews, and three of his earlier short films.)
Living in Oblivion : Tom DiCillo’s indie classic get a 20th anniversary re-release and upgrade via Shout Factory, and it’s as smart, funny, and spot-on as ever. Its portrait of the annoyances of low-budget filmmaking will ring true to anyone who’s so much as dabbled (the opening sequence is an uproariously escalating catalogue of everything that can go wrong on set), while the much-whispered inspiration of Brad Pitt on James LeGros’ pretty-boy pain-in-the-ass actor character (DiCillo’s debut feature was the Pitt vehicle Johnny Suede) gives his scenes an irresistible, gossip-y kick. But more than anything, it’s a valentine to those who slog their way through the indie muck in search of gold, with Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener doing some of their best work of the era as the harried auteur and his put-upon leading lady. (Includes audio commentary, new featurette, Q&A, and deleted scene.)
In Cold Blood : The Criterion Collection gives Richard Brooks’ 1967 true crime classic the gorgeous HD treatment Conrad Hall’s noir-twinged cinematography deserves, but this isn’t just a great-looking movie; it’s a deeply unsettling one, adopting a flat, documentary-style approach and shooting in many of the actual locations (including the home where the Clutter family was murdered in November of 1959) to tell the story of an agonizingly senseless crime, and the two troubled men who committed it. Brooks’ script, adapting Truman Capote’s iconic novel, is a model of structure (and specifically, of withholding information), while Robert Blake’s performance as Perry has only grown more haunting as his own troubling years have passed. (Includes interviews, vintage documentary, archival interviews, and trailer.)
Dangerous Game : Everyone remembers the fireworks created by director Abel Ferrara and actor Harvey Keitel’s game of raw cinematic can-you-top-this in 1992’s Bad Lieutenant; few remember their follow-up the next year, this mostly forgotten but undeniably effective inside-indie-Hollywood drama that might as well be called Bad Director. Barely released and panned by most critics, it was widely dismissed as self-indulgent claptrap, and done no favors by the scorn surrounding co-star Madonna’s Body of Evidence, released earlier that year. But it’s one of her finest performances, a vulnerable piece of work that blurs the line between fiction and reality (a tad uncomfortably for the actress, by most accounts), and Keitel is, as usual, blisteringly good. Ferrara’s films tend to get better with age; this one’s overdue for reconsideration. (No special features.)