This week gives us two big new disc releases that are actually great pop movies — plot twist, that’s a thing that can happen sometimes! Also, an early ‘90s art-house fave (newly visible again, thanks to its pronounced influence on Beyoncé’s Lemonade) lands on Netflix, more Peckinpah makes its way to DVD, and a ‘70s car comedy gets the Blu-ray treatment.
Daughters of the Dust : Julie Dash’s feature directorial debut was released in 1991, at the height of the “Black New Wave,” but never found an audience beyond the art house; we weren’t ready for it then, and we still might not be. This story of the Sea Island Gullah, descendants of African captives living off the shores of America in the early 20th century, is part dream, part memory play, and part pageant — gorgeously, lyrically rendered, filled with painterly compositions and poetic dialogue. It’s the sort of visual and tonal feast that defies easy explanation; it’s mesmerizing, sui generis filmmaking, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Queue it up, turn off you phone, and immerse.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
John Wick: Chapter 2 : The original, 2014 John Wick could’ve been your garden variety shoot-‘em-up revenge flick, but it was elevated by two distinct elements: the virtuoso style of stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski (and his uncredited co-director David Leitch), and the ingenious mythology of Derek Kolstad’s clever script. This follow-up leans even harder on those elements, as Kolstad delves deeper into Wick’s world of paid killers and protectors, and Stahelski continues to create some of the most elegant gunplay this side of John Woo. Chapter 2 is gory, and loud, and maybe a little silly. But boy is it ever a good time. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, short, and theatrical trailer.)
The LEGO Batman Movie : This spring franchise flick sounded, on its face, like the worst kind of crass moviemaking product – but then again, so did The LEGO Movie before it. Best of all, director Chris McKay seems to take his inspiration less from the series’ predecessor than from Airplane! or The Naked Gun, creating a fast-paced and delightfully pointed satire of the entire Batman brand, from the moodiness of the current versions to the goofiness of his earlier iterations. They wound up, contrary to any and all expectations, making the funniest comedy of the young year. Pro tip: check the IMDb page first, so you know which clever voice cameos to listen up for (please give whoever cast Harvey Dent and Bane a raise.) Between this and Wonder Woman, maybe we shouldn’t give up on DC movies after all. (Includes new animated shorts, featurettes, deleted scenes, and Blu-ray 3D version.)
The Gumball Rally : The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, a cross-country, no-rules, unsanctioned auto race, inspired several movies in the ‘70s and ‘80s – most famously the Hal Needham-directed Cannonball Run pictures. This earlier take is very much a wild mid-‘70s comedy, as opposed to the ‘80s slickness of the Runs; writer/director Chuck Bail had his roots in blaxpoitation (his earlier directorial efforts included Black Samson and Cleopatra Jones), and there’s a fair amount of telltale grime on Gumball. But it’s a lot of fun, particularly for gearheads, and everyone else will enjoy the high-spirited performances (particularly from the great Raul Julia, oozing charisma and magnetism). It’s junk food, yes – but mighty tasty junk food. (Includes theatrical trailer.)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia : This rough-edged, gnarly 1974 effort from director Sam Peckinpah (re-released on DVD as a special edition – though, sadly, not with a Blu-ray upgrade) is an existentialist dirge in genre movie’s clothing, a sweaty, grimy piece of work that’s nonetheless exhilarating in its freedom and self-awareness. Warren Oates, an actor who can speak monologues just by crinkling the lines on his face, may never have topped his scorching work here, in a role that ably captures his gruff sensitivity and offhand humor (his mumbling commentaries to “Al,” the head of the title, are as pitch-black as comedy gets). There’s a really specific demo for this kind of thing – it’s a tough sit, downright nasty in spots – but this is perhaps as pure a distillation of the filmmaker’s romantic brutalist vision as we ever got. (Includes audio commentary and theatrical trailer.)