This week’s big-deal disc is the new Transformers movies, so let’s back away from the New Release section slowly – to Netflix, which is streaming one of 2015’s best movies, or to the catalogue Blu-rays, which include two ‘80s faves, two ‘90s classics, and a new documentary about one of our favorite myth-makers.
Carol : Two sequences bracket Todd Haynes’ 2015 masterpiece, both of them dominated by point-of-view camera. In the first, our protagonists Terese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blachett) glimpse each other across a department store floor, stealing glances and looking away; the cuts are tight yet tentative, afraid of being caught. At the end, one of them moves towards another, across a similarly crowded space, and it’s a far shakier image, but it doesn’t break—the pursuer is frightened, perhaps, but determined. In between those bookending visuals is an uncommonly sensitive and nuanced portrait of forbidden love, circa 1952, desire swirling under the carefully placed and finely polished surfaces. As with his earlier Far from Heaven, Haynes doesn’t subvert the tropes of period melodrama so much as he penetrates them, looking past them at the souls underneath, allowing them to say what earlier portraits would only let them think. It’s a marvelous picture, soulful and complex and gorgeous.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
David Lynch: The Art Life : With everyone still contemplating the power and puzzle of the Twin Peaks revival, the timing couldn’t be better for Criterion’s release of John Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm’s biographical documentary from earlier this year. Their masterstroke is not to tell the stories we all know; in fact, his first explorations of film don’t come until more than an hour in (clips from The Alphabet, already showcasing a worldview that’s creepy and unique). Instead, the filmmakers focus on Lynch’s early years, and his ongoing explorations of visual art – challenging work that is nasty, funny, and provocative. Over those images, he tells stories (filled, needless to say, with colorful colloquialisms like “They got along like Mike and Ike”), of his desire to create, of his attempts to fit into a scene, of his awareness that he would have to do a lot of bad work before he created anything that was either good or his. And they conclude with the production of Eraserhead – i.e., it’s a movie that goes right up to where most of us become aware of Mr. Lynch. But by traveling this less-trod path, we understand how he arrived there, and how filmmaking became the culmination of everything he was trying to achieve. (Includes co-director interview and trailer.)
Waiting for Guffman : After floundering in the years following This is Spinal Tap (at least as a director), Christopher Guest went back to his “mockumentary” roots and ended up kicking off a tremendous second act of semi-improvised ensemble comedies with a rapidly expanding rep company. And while Best in Show and A Mighty Wind are terrific, this 1996 story of a small-town community theater production, its cast (including Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, and Fred Willard), and their slightly inflated Broadway dreams, remains both his funniest and most quotable work – especially for us drama geeks. (Includes audio commentary, additional scenes, and trailer.)
The Piano Teacher : With their fourth film, Happy End, due in theaters later this year, Criterion has added the first collaboration between actor Isabelle Huppert and director Michael Haneke. This harrowing 2001 drama was a breakthrough for the latter, cementing his formal and thematic concerns, and it remains one of Huppert’s most scorching performances. In scene after scene, she projects coldness and need, attraction and repulsion, often simultaneously; it’s a gloriously controlled yet scarily unpredictable performance, and frankly, that’s a pretty apt description of the film it inhabits as well. (Includes new interviews, archival scene commentary, behind the scenes footage, and trailer.)
The Long Riders : The big gimmick of Walter Hill’s 1980 Western – that it features real-life brothers playing outlaw brothers of the old west – remains its primary legacy, but there’s a lot more happening here than mere stunt casting. Set in Missouri after the Civil War, the screenplay (credited to, among others, co-stars Stacey and James Keach) thankfully spares us the origin story; in fact, as it begins, the gang of connected family crews is beginning to splinter. For much of its running time, this is an outlaw hang-out movie, full of muscular shoot-outs and low-down humor, but the brutality of the climax and the extended death-rattle of its closing scenes complicates the good time considerably. Funny, stylish, and solid. (Includes audio commentary, new interviews, featurettes, and trailer.)
SpaceCamp : The starry-eyed 1986 adventure from director Harry Winer realllllllly wants to be a Steven Spielberg movie, from subject matter to tone to music to even the casting of Kate Capshaw (co-star of Temple of Doom and, later, Spielberg’s wife) in its leading role. This story of a team of young astronaut hopefuls who are accidentally launched into space and have to make their way down was filmed on location at the Huntsville, Alabama SpaceCamp, a touch of verisimilitude that’s sort of hilarious, considering that the entire plot hinges on a Rocky IV -style ‘80s Robot whose AI is light years ahead of time. But once that event occurs, Winer smoothly mixes awe and panic, with a pre- Apollo 13 ingenuity-or-death narrative that’s captivating and convincing. And the gender dynamics between Capshaw and Lea Thompson (as the student most like her) are surprisingly rich and timeless. (Includes interviews and trailer.)