El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie: There’s a moment in Vince Gilligan’s feature-length Breaking Bad coda when he pulls back to show us Skinny Pete’s house, and there’s a trampoline in his front yard. It’s not remarked upon, and it’s only seen in a wide shot. But it’s the kind of perfect, telling detail that makes Gilligan such a special storyteller, and why his work has proven so welcoming to re-watching and close-analysis. I’m not altogether convinced that El Camino really justifies its own existence; it is, when you break it down, basically half deleted scenes and half confirmations of foregone conclusions from the finale. But it’s fun to spend a bit more time with these characters, and actors – and leave it to a pro like Robert Forster to show up here, with his world-weary eyes and deadpan expressions entirely stealing a movie that dropped on the very day he passed away. El Camino is not essential. But it’s entertaining as hell.
Mike Wallace Is Here: Few journalists were more feared than 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace – but came to television as an entertainer (pitchman, actor, game show host, etc.), not a journalist. And that show business background goes a long way towards explaining his trademark, confrontational style, which was (among many things, granted) good television. That and many more insights and revelations are found in Avi Belkin’s bio-doc, which is refreshingly boundary-bending itself; it’s comprised entirely of archival material (no voice-over, no new talking heads). That’s a challenge, but the cutting is sharp as a tack, using B-roll, outtakes, in-betweens, and split-screens to find the story that was often being told immediately outside the frame. (Features deleted scene.)
Scary Movie: No, not that Scary Movie. The latest release from our pals at the American Genre Film Archive is a barely-released, low-budget, 16mm effort from 1991, starring John Hawkes in one of his earliest roles. He’s unsurprisingly engaging as a Bob Hope/Lou Costello-style fraidy cat who encounters a serial killer, on the run on Halloween night, hiding out in a haunted house where our hero is trying to conquer his fears. No one will confuse the results with high art, but director Daniel Erickson takes advantage of the colorful characters native to the picture’s Austin, Texas locations to cook up a pot of hillbilly horror that is, frankly, a hoot. (Includes audio commentary, short films, and vintage trailer.)
Häxan: Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 masterpiece (which gets a Blu-ray upgrade this week from Criterion) was decades ahead of its time, masterfully fusing horror cinema and documentary filmmaking when both were in their infancy. This wildly experimental feature frames itself as an evolution of witchcraft, full of historical anecdotes and expository sidebars, but its dramatizations are what sing – filled as they are with deeply unnerving imagery and frankly stunning effects. The cinematography is stunning (the transfer is gorgeous), and the make-up and effects remain confounding and beautiful. A thick stew of religious iconography, nightmare imagery, and sexual repression, it’s a must-have for this spooky season. (Includes audio commentary, alternate version, outtakes, and featurettes.)
The Fearless Vampire Killers: Another seasonally appropriate pick, making its Blu-ray debut from Warner Archives, though probably less due to the calendar than the Once Upon A Time in Hollywood-inspired uptick in interest for the onscreen work of Miss Sharon Tate. She met husband Roman Polanski on this production; he directs and stars as the assistant to a Von Helsing-style vampire hunter, while Tate plays the object of his affection. It’s by no stretch Polanski’s best work, but it’s a lot of fun – striking and silly, creepy and goofy, with the broad comedy in no way encroaching on the director’s customary high style. And, yes, Tate is terrific in it. (Includes featurette, alternate title sequence, and trailer.)
Our Hospitality: Buster Keaton’s first proper feature comedy (after the omnibus Three Ages) is a timeless treat, a period farce in which our fancy-lad hero travels West to claim his inheritance, only to find himself in the middle of a generations-long Hatfields and McCoys-style feud. Ingenious bits throughout, leading to a thrilling, watery climax in which the star, who famously did his own stunts, nearly drowned. It is, like the best of Keaton’s comedies, equal parts thrills, laughs, and pathos, and Kino’s new Blu-ray edition is marvelous. (Includes audio commentary, short films, and featurettes.)