One big summer comedy and another, much smaller one frontline our home media guide this week, with plenty of juicy alternatives as well: a tech movie about matters of the heart, a nutty horror/comedy, a vintage Western, and a Criterion box set of six martial arts classics.
Operator : There’s a scene about midway through Logan Kiebens‘s tech-and-love comedy/drama when Mae Whitman has to take charge of a scene, and I’m here to tell you, brother, Mae Whitman can take charge of a scene. There’s a lot to love in this story of a brilliant but fragile software developer (Martin Starr) who uses his caretaker wife (Whitman) as the model for a health program and slowly ends up pushing her away in favor of her replica – but it’s most valuable for finally giving Whitman, so breathtaking week after week on Parenthood, a big-screen showcase for her considerable talents. Starr is also quite good, taking a potentially frustrating character and giving him just enough tortured humanity, and Kiebens (marking, remarkably, her feature directorial debut) shows a real knack for juggling disparate tones and important ideas. A weird, wonderful picture.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Sausage Party : Oh sure, you could complain about the juvenile gags and rampant crudity and cornucopia of stereotypes in this very R-rated animated comedy from the Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg factory — but seriously, it’s a movie about grocery store hot dogs trying to fuck buns, so you’re sort of getting what you ask for here. That said, the execution can be hit-and-miss, with its one-joke premise stretched mighty thin and a script that too often settles for the easy joke. But much of it is unapologetically and unrelentingly funny, and it’s miles more thoughtful than its crass premise would suggest.
Morris from America : This story of a young African-American (the wonderful Markees Christmas) figuring out his identity while stuck in Germany flirts with familiar territory: he’s a fish out of water, coming of age and falling in love while coping with cruelty of other kids, etc. But writer/director Chad Hartigan (This Is Martin Bonner) inserts some welcome ripples, from the shady motives of the girl he digs to the candid handling of his sexual awakening. Best of all is the relationship with his single dad (Craig Robinson, putting across his considerable warmth and good humor — and in multiple languages), which is handled with a richness and depth that recalls Say Anything. It’s a charming picture, but it takes no shortcuts to easy happy endings. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scene, bloopers, casting tapes, and featurette.)
Lone Wolf and Cub : The blood that’s shed so freely in this series of iconic Japanese action films doesn’t just flow; it gushes in geysers, often preceded by dismembered limbs and heads, colored so bright it’s almost gaudy. Its presentation highlights the Grand Guignol theatricality of these utterly bonkers movies – it’s not the least bit convincing, nor is it intended to be. Based on the legendary manga series, there were six films in all (produced in a furious spurt between 1972 and 1974), with Tomisaburo Wakayama as an executioner turned assassin, avenging the death of his wife while caring for his tiny son. Filled with gory, kinetic swordplay, unorthodox staging, hard-nosed dialogue, and surprisingly dense plotting, all six films (restored for this Criterion box set) are still shocking, thrilling, and unexpectedly moving. (Includes new interviews, documentaries, trailers, and HD presentation of Shogun Assassin, the bastardized American version of the first two films.)
Bubba Ho-Tep : About the highest compliment you can pay this 2002 horror/action/comedy from Phantasm director Don Coscarelli (making its Blu-ray debut via Scream Factory) is that it lives up to its delicious premise: at a Texas retirement home, Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis – yes, that Ossie Davis), both of whom faked their deaths, team up to battle a reanimated killer mummy. It is, as you can imagine from that logline, completely insane. But it’s also affectionate towards it subjects, and towards the men they’ve become, without short-changing its dark comedy or ghoulish thrills. It’s the damndest thing, this movie – silly, audacious, and impossible not to like. (Includes audio commentary, new interviews, deleted scenes, featurettes, music video, trailer, and TV spot.)
Western Union : Considering it came from the director of M and Metropolis, this 1941 Western is surprisingly conventional – a westward voyage with romantic entanglements, stock characters, and plenty of noxious anti-Native American sentiment. But director Fritz Lang was probably wise to play it safe, dealing as he was with a big-canvas, Technicolor studio picture, and he comes up with some memorable sequences (particularly the thrilling, fiery climax) and character beats, cleverly situating the story’s strong personalities against each other. In the end, he’s telling less of a genre story than a redemption tale, and it works best on that level. (Includes trailers.)