This week’s big Blu-ray release is that Beauty and the Beast remake and, well, let’s just say it’s not quite recommended. Instead, go with this week’s other, comparatively modest tale of unlikely lovers, and then head for the offbeat picks: an epic rock-doc, an unconventional buddy action/comedy, a ‘90s fave, and classics from Disney, Peckinpah, and Mizoguchi.
War on Everyone : They are so many gloriously oddball touches in the latest from writer/director Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary) — an out-of-nowhere dance scene to “Rhinestone Cowboy,” an in-depth discussion of Jennifer Lopez’s nudity in Out of Sight, Michael Pena’s detailed critique of a homeless kid’s cardboard sign, Paul Reiser all but reprising his role from Beverly Hills Cop — yet it never feels slapdash or slipshod (or like yet another Pulp Fiction clone, which it’d be easy to mistake it for). McDonagh creates such a weird, singular world that everything feels like fodder for his cop-movie genre play, theatrical dialogue, and operatic visual style. It’s a movie so giddily high on its own supply, on the pleasure and nuttiness and buzz of just being a movie, that you can’t help getting swept up in it.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Long Strange Trip : It would stand to reason that you’d have to be a giant fan of The Grateful Dead to sit through a four-hour career-retrospective documentary about them – and don’t get me wrong, it’ll certainly help. But this ace bio-doc from director Amir Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story) is also a user-friendly introduction to the band, carefully positioning them within the late-‘60s music scene and culture in general (and, even more compellingly, laying out how they got huge again in the seemingly incongruent ‘80s). But there’s plenty here for hardcore Deadheads as well, long-lost archival footage and unreleased performances that shine a light on not only the group’s relevance, but their genuine talent.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
A United Kingdom : Director Amma Asante’s Belle follow-up, like her previous hit, tells a familiar story with a twist –the true tale of the interracial royal marriage of Botwana, circa 1947. True to the period and the narrative, it’s a decidedly old-fashioned movie, though that’s not necessarily a dig, and like any romantic drama of the era, it’s a film that depends almost entirely on the charisma and chemistry of its stars. And on that score, Asante wins big: Rosamund Pike is elegant, passionate, and just plain good as the white British woman who becomes the unlikely princess Ruth Williams, while David Oyelowo projects both power and vulnerability as Prince Seretse Khama. With two lesser actors, this could’ve been a throwaway, or worse; instead, it’s a memorable story of love found (and maintained) under the most difficult of circumstances. (Includes featurettes.)
ON BLU-RAY / FILMSTRUCK
Ugetsu : This melancholy masterwork from director Kenji Mizoguchi (getting the Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion) is a difficult film – richly detailed but narratively mysterious, filled with flawed people making poor decisions and paying for them, dearly. Mizoguchi crafts it as an ornate period piece, but the story’s temptations and betrayals keep harshly interrupting its scenes of splendor and grace with unexpected bursts of brutality and pain, masterfully using errant sounds and unsettling music to create real discontent. It’s far from a fun movie, but it sticks with you. (Includes audio commentary, full-length Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director documentary, archival interviews, featurette, and trailer.) (Also streaming on FilmStruck.)
Juice : There was an extraordinary moment, in the early 1990s, when films not only about but by African-Americans were both critically lauded and commercially successful, and in the wake of hits like New Jack City and Boyz N The Hood, major studios were willing (for once, and just briefly) to take risks on filmmakers of color. Sure, they were almost exclusively interested in similar stories of guns and crime, but some directors managed to subtly shade within those lines. Chief among them was Ernest R. Dickerson, Spike Lee’s longtime cinematographer (he shot Lee’s first six features) who made his directorial debut with this 1992 hit, turning the story of four friends from Harlem who turn on each other into something akin to a Warner Brothers gangster movie with a film noir edge. Helping matters considerably was Dickerson’s sharp eye for young talent, with a cast that includes early spotlight roles for Omar Epps, Queen Latifah, and an electrifying young actor named Tupac Shakur. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
Bambi : Walt Disney’s fifth animated feature, newly restored and released from the Disney Vault™, remains one of the studio’s most lush and luminous, its hand-drawn portraits of the animals and settings of the deep wood still astonishing in their beauty. And it maintains its reputation as one of their most heartbreaking pictures as well – there’s a reason “Bambi’s mom” remains the go-to reference for movies making little kids cry, and the delicacy and poignancy of that sequence is stunning. But it’s also a more joyful and playful movie than you might remember, using its cute characters and nature setting to tell what is, ultimately, a story about the discoveries, pleasures, and pain of childhood. (Includes featurettes and deleted scenes.)
The Ballad of Cable Hogue : Sam Peckinpah’s immediate follow-up to The Wild Bunch (new on Blu from Warner Archives) must’ve really thrown fans of that picture – there there’s barely any blood shed in the thing, and certainly not the symphony of squibs those who boxed him in as “Bloody Sam” would expect. Instead, it’s a lightly mournful character study dressed in a grizzled Western’s tattered rags, gliding easily from frontier comedy to nervous romance to revenge flick with a casually funny Jason Robards performance to shift those gears. The writer/director’s affection for the character is unmistakable – Hogue, like Peckinpah himself, is reflexively anti-authoritarian, inhabiting a world where everybody’s crooked (even the priest), and where, in the strangest turn of all, Hogue accidently goes and makes himself semi-respectable. It’s a quietly remarkable movie, and one of a handful that seemed to fully capture the contradictions and complexities of its creator: sometimes vulgar, sometimes lyrical, always compelling. (Includes audio commentary, featurette, and trailer.)