This is one of those weeks where the extremes of new home video releases underscore how much variety is out there: from the concluding collection of one of our era’s most financially successful franchises to the long-delayed debut of a four-hour Taiwanese masterpiece, and everything in between.
Pee-wee’s Big Holiday : Paul Reubens is currently 63 years old, so there is something mildly disturbing about seeing him gallivant around a feature film as Pee-wee Herman (even if his aging is given a computerized assist). And the film itself is a bit of a retread of his 1985 breakthrough Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, sometimes veering into beat-by-beat duplication, à la Netflix’s other recent long-time-coming sequel, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. But director John Lee (The Heart, She Holler) manages, at least in flashes, to replicate the manic energy and giggly surrealism that made Reubens’ earlier films and television shows so special, and with the help of a game cast and clever script, they work up a Pee-wee follow-up that’s worthy of the legacy.
The Hunting Ground : This harrowing look at the epidemic of campus rape from director Kirby Dick (who helmed the similarly infuriating The Invisible War) has proven unsurprisingly controversial since its debut at Sundance last year. Apologists and skeptics may comb the picture for inaccuracies and victim-blaming opportunities, but there’s no denying the visceral power of Dick’s filmmaking — or the truth of the matter at its center, as described in wrenching detail by the women who state their names, show their faces, and tell their stories. Most impressively, it’s ultimately a film about hope, in which these survivors take on the system, and see an opportunity to take their schools, and their lives, back.
The Hunger Games: Complete Four-Film Collection : Simultaneous with the DVD and Blu-ray release of the smart and satisfying final chapter Mockingjay – Part 2 (also available separately), Lionsgate is re-releasing the entire quartet in a single box set, with copious special features. Taken together, they’re a welcome reminder of what a mini-miracle this series was (especially so close to the opening of yet another chapter of the underwhelming knockoff Divergent series). Yes, in spite of all the rip-offs and would-bes that it begat, this blockbuster franchise based on a series of YA post-apocalyptic novels is worth treasuring, thanks to its intelligent writing, inventive direction, and (most of all) the charisma of its convincing performers – to say nothing of the endlessly fascinating political and social subtext. (Includes audio commentaries, documentary, featurettes, photo galleries, and new deleted scenes.)
Daddy’s Home : The Other Guys stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg re-team – with a deep bench of valuable supporting players (including Linda Cardellini, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Cannavale, and Bill Burr) — for this domestic comedy, which is dumb and obvious but awfully funny. Ferrell is a relentlessly good-guy stepdad whose cheery outlook and firm station is shaken by the arrival of bad-boy “real dad” Wahlberg; what begins with mind games and twisted bedtime stories degenerates into all-out intimidation and dirty tricks. It’s uneven, yes, and the spotty script always seems on the verge of saying more about tenuous masculinity than it actually does (though, credit where due, there is a scene where the two men literally compare testicles). But the duo establish and exploit a workable rhythm, and it delivers enough laughs to pass the time. (Includes featurettes and deleted and extended scenes.)
A Brighter Summer Day : Edward Yang’s 1991 drama has, for the past quarter-century, proven as beloved as it was elusive; it didn’t receive a proper American release until 2011, and is just now available here on video, via a gorgeous and well-supplemented release from Criterion. And it’s a challenging piece of work – running just shy of four hours, driven less by plot than mood and memory. Director Yang (Yi Yi) works in an observational style, capturing interactions rather than manipulating them, from a medium distance that can lull the viewer into a complacency which renders its flashes of casual violence all the more upsetting. It requires patience, but rewards it; this is a film you live in for a while, alongside its characters. (Includes audio commentary, full-length documentary, videotaped performance of a Yang play, and a new interview with actor Chang Chen.)