After a couple of reallllly out-of-control weeks, we’ve finally got the home media guide down to its intended size. It’s not that there aren’t more options; it’s that most of this week’s big releases are things like Patriots Day and Why Him? But there are some gems: the latest from Martin Scorsese and Mike Mills, a haunted family drama, a new edition of a ‘60s classic, and Wes Anderson on Netflix.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: Wes Anderson’s fourth feature hit theaters in 2004 with unreasonably high expectations: each film he’d directed thus far had been better than the last (cresting with 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums), while star Bill Murray had gone off and done Oscar-nominated work in Lost in Translation. So there was a sense of disappointment, at the time, when Life Aquatic didn’t top those works. But now, seen from a distance, it’s easier to appreciate what Anderson was up to here: an unusually personal story of obsession, betrayal, and disappointing patriarchs, with elements of fantasy and surrealism rarely present in his live-action works.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Silence : In the obvious, surface ways, the latest from Martin Scorsese barely feels like a Scorsese picture at all – there’s such formal restraint to the filmmaking, it’s sort of shocking when there’s a big camera move (nearly an hour in), and there are only a handful of them. Yet it burns with the power of his earlier religious works (The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun); Scorsese nearly entered the priesthood before taking up filmmaking, and it feels as though only an artist with that background could capture, as he does here, the intimacy and intensity of the act of prayer. His protagonist’s searching letters and inner monologues are like incantations, as he desperately intones, “the weight of your silence is terrible,” and addresses one of the most pressing dilemma of faith: “Am I just praying to nothing, because you are not there?” This is a patient telling of a slender story – more of a tone poem or mediation, really, on the questions we ask of our God (whomever he or she may be), and the kind of answers we require. (Includes featurette.)
20th Century Women : Turns out Mike Mills’ sweet and witty Beginners was just a warm-up for this lovely and wise coming-of-age story, in which a young man’s mother, aware that she’s losing touch with him, asks the younger members of their makeshift family to help him become a better man. But those are just the broad outlines of a movie that’s not really about plot. It’s about the emotional fears all of these people share: of being alone, of being uncool, of growing old, of being a disappointment. The ensemble cast comes bearing endless gifts, but the MVP is Annette Bening, who can do more with a slow exhale or a sly glance than most actors can do with reams of dialogue. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
A Monster Calls : Adapted from Patrick Ness’s novel, this is a family film in the truest sense — not so much for kids as for parents and offspring that are, like its protagonist, “Too old to be a kid, too young to be a man.” And that’s not just because of the adult themes, which include bullying, divorce, and disease; they’re dealing in the complex emotions those events wring from us, and in coming to terms with the force of those emotions. Good performances all around, particularly from Sigourney Weaver as a grandmother trying to compartmentalize, and Felicity Jones, who plays the bleary-eyed sad/sick mum without descending into mawkishness. (Includes two audio commentaries and featurettes.)
ON BLU-RAY / FILMSTRUCK
Blow-Up : Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 hit contains one of the most influential scenes in modern cinema – a remarkable sequence in which his hero, a devil-may-care fashion photographer (David Hemmings), becomes convinced that he’s photographed the aftermath of a murder. He begins obsessively reprinting, enlarging, and arranging his photos to reconstruct the scene, and in doing so, captures something of the paranoia that would become a defining characteristic of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; in that scene, you’ll find echoes of the Kennedy assassination (and the conspiracy theorists who would conduct similar experiments), and inspiration for later thrillers like The Conversation and Blow Out. The film that surrounds this virtuoso set piece hasn’t aged quite as well as some of its imitators; as a snapshot of Swinging London in its heyday, it’s awfully dry and judgmental, and Jesus, those mimes. But when it cooks, it really cooks. (Includes featurettes and new and archival interviews.) (Also streaming on FilmStruck.)