This week’s must-have Blu-rays – aside from that amazing Pioneers of African-American Cinema box – include the latest musical-comedy from the writer/director of Once and a gorgeous upgrade for one of Terrence Malick’s finest films. Plus: Netflix premieres a rather harrowing nightmare comedy, and a Bogie classic makes its way to Blu, as does more bonkers blaxpoitation fun from Rudy Ray Moore.
Rebirth : There’s a certain kind of feeling you get in a nightmare, this unshakable anxiety that you don’t know what you’re doing, but you do know that it’s the wrong thing. Writer/director Karl Mueller seizes on that feeling for about the middle hour of this loopy comedy of uncertainty, in which a regular schmuck (Fran Kranz) is lured by his college buddy (Adam Goldberg) into some weird cross between self-help seminar, acting exercise, and cult recruitment. The exact purpose (of the retreat and the film) remains elusive, deliberately; we’re flying blind with this guy, and the dreamlike photography and percussive score compliment his immersion. Mueller’s narrative trickery may put off some viewers, but not this one; the question of what this is (and what our protagonist hopes it is) keeps us unsteady but not untethered, resulting in a funny, chaotic, and unpredictable piece of work.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Sing Street : Once and Begin Again director John Carney completes his trilogy of modern day musicals with what may well be his best picture a date, a sweet, joyful, charming recollection of what it is to be young and creative, as inspired by every new record you hear as by the mysterious crush you cannot shake. So much of this story of a teenage band in mid-‘80s Dublin rings true beyond that time and place: the urgency of shaking off your dead-end home and taking a risk before it’s too late, the trembling-earthquake quality of a stolen kiss, and most of all, the way one can use art to fix all the problems that will never work themselves out in life (visualized in an easy front-runner for the finest set-piece of the year thus far). It came and went a bit too quickly in theaters this spring; I implore you not to let it slip further away. (Includes featurettes and cast auditions.)
The New World : Terrence Malick’s 2005 masterwork arrives on Criterion Blu-ray in a staggering three-disc edition, each including a different version of the picture: its 135-minute theatrical release, the 150-minute first cut, and a new 172-minute extended edition. And it may be one of those films that genuinely requires the extra space, to reach its full potential as a combination historical drama, star-crossed romance, and tone poem – and to give them all equal weight. The hallmarks of Malick’s recent work are all intact: Emmanuel Lubezki’s prowling camerawork, the dreamy voice-overs, and the inventive juxtapositions. Yet they feel especially fresh here, as stories like this so often traffic in empty pageantry; Malick’s poetic/impressionistic approach is not only warranted, but welcome. It’s an aesthetically gorgeous picture, yet overwhelming in its emotional force – by turns heavy-hearted, brutal, and bittersweet. (Includes the aforementioned alternate versions, new and archival featurettes, new interviews, and trailers.)
Deadline – USA : This weirdly obscure gem from writer/director Richard Brooks (a decade and a half from In Cold Blood) stars Humphrey Bogart in the role he was born to play: as a hard-boozing, cynical, bow-tied newspaper editor, doggedly working to bust open the story of a mob murder while his paper is on the verge of closure. It’s a good old-fashioned newspaper movie, full of clacking typewriters, barking reporters, and stopped presses, but in the specifics – of disappearing jobs, advertisers exerting advertising influence, and the importance of hard news in a sea of distractions and yellow journalism – it hasn’t aged a damn day. (Includes audio commentary and trailers.)
Petey Wheatstraw, The Devil’s Son-In-Law : This 1977 Rudy Ray Moore vehicle found the star doffing the character of Dolemite for the first time, but as his opening monologue, equal parts rhyming couplets and non-stop braggadocio, makes clear, we’re not exactly in for a De Niro-style persona reinvention. And Petey is marked with the usual pitfalls of the Moore oeuvre – wild tonal shifts, badly choreographed fight scenes, bargain-basement production values, performances that veer from cabinet wooden to eye-popping indulgence – coupled with new supernatural elements that are clearly way out the filmmakers’ reach. And yet, as with his previous work, there’s something perversely entertaining about it all; it’s bonkers even for Moore, from the hooting opening scene (in which Petey’s mother gives birth to a full-grown boy) to the nutso climax (in which our hero slo-mo dances, waves a magic cane, and performs howlingly low-tech “miracles”) to the overall sense, from the theology to the staging, that Moore and writer/director Cliff Roquemore were mostly aiming to put on the dirtiest Church Play in recorded history. And hey, if you’re ever longed to watch Rudy work his way through a bachelor party orgy, boy have I got good (and thus bad) news for you. As per usual, it’s an acquired taste, but those who are into this kind of thing will realllllly be into this. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, soundtrack, and trailers.)