It often seems like feast or famine here on the home media beat – one week, there’s more great new releases than you have room for, and the next week you have a week… well, a week like this, with only one new disc of note. But never fear; it’s the top of the month, so there’s new catalogue titles galore on the streaming services, plus an abandoned gem rescued by Netflix.
The Little Prince : Paramount was set to distribute this visionary adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic book to theaters last March, only to pull it literally a week before the release date; Netflix came to its rescue, and thank goodness. Ingeniously telling the classic book’s story (in loving stop-motion) within the framework of a contemporary framing narrative (in a modern, computer-generated style), it serves as a reminder of how many great children’s movies are about loneliness, off-setting the wonder of the images with a bone-deep melancholy. (There’s a whole movie of material in the tiny scene where our heroine gets her birthday present from her father). The beauty and kindness of its profoundly moving conclusion is overwhelming, as are several moments on the way; this is a wondrous, imaginative, and wistful piece of work, and Paramount’s loss is all of our gain.
In the Shadow of the Moon : David Sington’s fascinating documentary tells the story of the men who went to the moon and what they saw there, utilizing extensive archival footage and new interviews with several of the astronauts who took that journey and went on that walk. Sington’s doc is a rich, interesting, well-constructed film that puts its events into proper context and allows plenty of room for awe. In its original theatrical release back in 2007, the joy of seeing those images on the big screen was undercut a bit by the Discovery Channel style of the presentation; on your home screen, that should be less of a concern.
The Verdict : Star Paul Newman, director Sidney Lumet, and screenwriter David Mamet were all at the height of their powers when they collaborated on this remarkable 1982 chamber piece, a character drama about a hard-drinking, bottom-dwelling attorney (Newman) who finds himself with one last chance, working the right side of a good case. Lumet’s matter-of-fact style proves an ideal match for Mamet’s subtext-rich dialogue, and this juicy leading role (which netted him his seventh Oscar nomination) is a prime example of Newman’s exemplary second act, in which his accumulating years lent his work a weight and gravity that lesser actors could only hope for.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Coffee and Cigarettes : Jim Jarmusch’s 2003 film began with a 1986 Saturday Night Live short starring a high-energy Roberto Begnini (is there another kind?) and a low-energy Steven Wright (is there another kind?) sharing a cup of joe, a smoke, and some conversation. With the aesthetic established – high contrast black and white, minimal set-ups, bone-dry writing and delivery – Jarmusch shot additional shorts over the passing years. The results are unsurprisingly hit and miss (there’s a deathly stretch near the beginning, where three in a row don’t work at all). But when it hits – that initial short, the Cate Blanchett scene, the Alfred Molina / Steve Coogan bit, the wonderful interaction between Bill Murray and Wu-Tang’s RZA and GZA – it’s a deadpan delight.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD/ VOD
A Hologram for the King : You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t when you’re Tom Hanks; when he sticks his mainstream norm, he’s taken for granted, but when he does a daring little oddity like this one, no one goes. Reteaming with Cloud Atlas co-director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) to adapt Dave Eggers’ novel, Hanks wonderfully plays against his usual calm and confidence as a floundering salesman desperately out of his element in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Tykwer gets into a snappy rhythm and conveys a sense of everyday surrealism, and is gleefully willing to go off on odd tangents and moody explorations. In other words, it’s a stranger movie than we’re used to seeing Tom Hanks in, and bravo for that. (Includes featurette.)