Domino: Brian De Palma’s latest is plagued with many of the recurring issues of his recent filmography: clumsy politics, some unconvincing staging, goofy inattentiveness to detail, and some oddly low-rent surface flourishes (the credits to this one, for example, look like they were generated in iMovie). But as ever, when he gets his hands on one of those virtuoso set pieces, he chews on it like it’s 1981. There are (by my count) three of them in this story of a Copenhagen cop avenging the death of his partner, all mixing his trademark technical virtuosity and proficiency for white-knuckle tension; when De Palma gets going, you can all but hear the slow clicking of his fishing pole, reeling you in. And it runs a compact 89 minutes, so even when it doesn’t work, it’s not like he’s wasting your time. By no means essential, but fans of the filmmaker can do (and have done) a lot worse.
Spider-Man: Far From Home: The various daddy issues of Peter Parker take center stage in this, the first post-Endgame chapter of the ol’ Marvel Cinematic Universe; surrogate father Tony Stark is gone and Nick Fury is more the “disapproving uncle” type, which leaves him prone to the affirmations and encouragement of Mysterio (Jake Gyellenhaal, excellent). This all unfolds during a summer vacation in Europe, during which Peter and his classmates see sights (or green-screens of them) and watch Fury hijack their itinerary, while Peter tries to work up the nerve to take the leap with M.J. That storyline is frankly the highlight; as Peter and M.J., Tom Holland and Zendaya have a charming, easy chemistry, nicely capturing the nerves and clumsiness of teenage crushes; Martin Starr and J.B. Smoove also get some laughs as their ill-equipped teachers. The other stuff is fine too. (Includes alternate and extended scenes, gag reel and outtakes, original short, and featurettes.)
Maiden: “The ocean’s always trying to kill you,” Tracy Edwards explains. “It doesn’t take a break.” She should know; in 1989, she led the first all-female crew to attempt to sail the 27,000 around-the-world sail of the Whitbread Challenge. You can imagine how the story was framed at the time, and Alex Holmes’s documentary is loaded with questionable cartoons and coverage, and chuckling male journalists sheepishly owning up to their “edge.” Holmes, on the other hand, cogently covers their triumph over adversity, while conveying the tension and excitement on the water as well; by the time it arrived at its moving conclusion, there wasn’t a dry eye in our house. I’d imagine you’ll have a similar experience. (Includes Q&A and featurette.)
Pan’s Labyrinth: In 2006, after rotating between art-house horror and studio projects, Guillermo del Toro finally painted his masterpiece. Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale at heart, but with copious goo, gore, and death – the kind of adult-oriented bedtime story Terry Gilliam used to make so well. It’s grim and difficult, but technically stunning and emotionally resonant; del Toro may put the viewer through a wringer, but his closing passages are immeasurably satisfying. And it looks and sounds incredible in 4K, boasting flawless effects and bass-rumbling battles. They might’ve just bought it on Blu-ray a couple of years back, in that terrific Criterion set, but fans of this one (and there are many) are going to want to grab this one again. (Includes audio commentary, video prologue, and featurettes.)
The Shining: One can’t help but think director Stanley Kubrick would’ve valued the crispness and clarity of the 4K image in this new edition of his 1980 Stephen King adaptation, greeted with mixed reviews upon its release, now rightly acclaimed as one of the great horror pictures of its era. It’s stood the test of time better than many of its contemporaries not just because of the pedigree of its creator or the star power of its cast; it’s because Kubrick resisted the urge to ladle on the gore (well, mostly) and instead found new and inventive ways to unnerve the viewer, creating tension and suspense with the mere movement and placement of his camera. It’s not a “scary” movie – it’s a frightening one, made by a master filmmaker who knew the difference. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
Gremlins: Joe Dante’s 1984 horror/comedy classic—a ruthlessly satirical indictment of materialism, the holidays, and picket-fence America – also gets the 4K treatment, and its high concept and surrounding folklore has become so immersed in popular culture (all together now: don’t let them near bright light, don’t get them wet, and don’t feed them after midnight) that it’s easy to overlook or undervalue the subversive nature of Dante’s direction and Chris Columbus’s screenplay. But both are a wonder, stepping up into the rose-colored nostalgia of the Reagan era, cleverly painting a borderline-saccharine portrait of Norman Rockwell-eseque small-town life, and then gleefully, literally burning it to the ground. (Includes audio commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, motion comics, and trailers.)
The Addams Family / Addams Family Values: We’ve somehow gone this entire time without releasing Barry Sonnenfeld’s one-two punch of goth comic genius on Blu-ray, but hey, better late than never. The 1991 original is still a kick, with director Sonnenfeld and screenwriters Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson clearly drawing inspiration less from the ‘60s television show and more from Charles Addams’s original, pitch-black cartoons – and the casting of Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston in the leading roles remains a stroke of genius. But 1993’s Values is a rare cares of a sequel surpassing the original, thanks to the inspired casting of Joan Cusack as the film’s villain and the sensible elevation of Christina Ricci into full-blown scene-stealer; her deadpan turn as Wednesday Addams, particularly in the uproariously funny summer camp sequence, is the stuff of legend. (No bonus features.)