Of all the reverberations of the success of HBO’s Succession, I hope one of them is an increased usage of the words “Starring Brian Cox.” He’s a great character actor – and still one of my top two Hannibal Lecters – but it’s great when he gets to tackle a lead role, like the one in The Etruscan Smile (Lightyear). Cox stars – stars, you guys – as a Scotsman forced by illness to travel to San Francisco for treatment. It’s a trip that will force him to mend some fences, starting with his fraught relationship with his adult son. Featuring a top-drawer supporting cast – which includes Rosanna Arquette, JJ Feild, Peter Coyote, Thora Birch, Tim Matheson, and Treat Williams – this warm-hearted indie makes a terrific showcase for some fine performers.
Also available: Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash (Cleopatra/MVD) purports to dig into what really took down the legendary Southern rockers; Val Kilmer and Jake Busey head up an all-star cast in the Western A Soldier’s Revenge (Well Go USA Entertainment); what starts out as A Simple Wedding (Breaking Glass Pictures) becomes anything but in this cross-cultural comedy, co-starring Rita Wilson and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Richard Gere stars as a psychiatrist treating a trio of patients (Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins, Bradley Whitford) with a Jesus complex in Three Christs (IFC/Shout Factory), based on a true story; Noah Schnapp (Stranger Things) plays a culinary prodigy in Sundance fave Abe (Breaking Glass Pictures); The Quarry (Lionsgate) features Shea Whigham as a drifter who impersonates a priest and Michael Shannon as the sheriff investigating the priest’s murder.
The macho world of Georgian folkloric dancing becomes the backdrop of a sweet queer love story in And Then We Danced (Music Box Films). Writer-director Levan Akin takes us deeply into a society where homosexuality remains taboo, where even the performing arts provide no safe haven. But against this backdrop of repression, the central romance still takes full bloom, leading to a wonderfully defiant finale. Controversial in its native country of Georgia – which nonetheless submitted the film as its Oscar nominee last year – this is a coming-out and coming-of-age tale with universal appeal.
Also available: Another great LGBT love story – not submitted in the Best Foreign Film category, alas – is the breathtakingly beautiful and achingly romantic Portrait of a Lady on Fire (The Criterion Collection); Corpus Christi (Film Movement) was a Best Foreign Film nominee and it’s about a criminal pretending to be a priest, so for this column, that counts as a bingo; Jean Dujardin stars as a man having a midlife crisis that comes with its own wardrobe, namely a Deerskin (Greenwich/Kino Lorber) jacket, in this comedy from Quentin Dupieux. (Co-starring Adèle Haenel of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, because apparently everything is interconnected.)
The teens are running wild in the streets in Belgian import Home (Altered Innocence); Karin Viard (Delicatessen) stars as a woman who appears to be The Perfect Nanny (Icarus Films)… but is she? Director Mariam Katchvani won awards at festivals round the globe for the devastating Dede (Corinth Films), set during the Georgian civil war; acclaimed Cannes winner Beanpole (Kino Lorber) follows two women in Leningrad trying to acclimate to life after World War II.
The Dardenne brothers won Best Director at Cannes 2019 with Young Ahmed (Kino Lorber), about a radicalized Muslim teen in a small Belgian town; in Torpedo U-235 (Epic), resistance fighters defy death to bring a stolen Nazi submarine to the Allies; a child psychiatrist gets more than he bargained for when treating a new patient in Dark Fortune (Corinth Films), from director Stefan Haupt (The Circle).
As someone who grew up reading her and being influenced by her, I really appreciate the inclusion of the word “art” in the title of What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (Juno/MVD), because film criticism — analyzing cinema and then putting that analysis into coherent sentences — is absolutely an art. This documentary on Kael, whose legendary reviews in The New Yorker could elevate films from obscurity and set off arguments among cineastes everywhere, features colleagues, rivals, acolytes, and fans discussing her contributions to criticism and to an exciting period of American cinema. Even if you don’t always agree with her point of view, there’s no denying the perspicacity of her perceptions; she made the world of film criticism an exciting place, and she inspired countless young writers to follow in her footsteps.
Also available: Banned-in-China documentarian Hu Jie’s Spark (dGenerate/Icarus) tells the story of an influential and controversial magazine that boldly exposed human-rights abuses – the DVD also includes The Observer, a documentary about Hu Jie and his bold body of work; Advocate (Film Movement) profiles an Israeli criminal attorney who defends Palestinian protesters; Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, and Halle Berry are among the marquee names lending their clout to Lost in America (Indican), an incisive look at youth homelessness; Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard executive-produced acclaimed music doc Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band (Magnolia Home Entertainment).
Parker Posey narrates The Booksellers (Greenwich/Kino Lorber), an affectionate look at New York’s shrinking bibliophile culture; HomoSayWhat (Cinema Libre) examines the decades of work that went into changing Americans’ minds about LGBT equality; get to know the social activist side of the legendary physicist with Albert Einstein: Still a Revolutionary (First Run Features); Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones (MVD) is the first doc about the founder of the legendary rock group.
Fans are ranking One Cut of the Dead (Shudder/RLJE) up there with Day for Night and Living in Oblivion as one of the best films ever made about the moviemaking process; that it also happens to be a zombie movie is just bloody icing on the cake. Writer-director Shinichiro Ueda turns the whole looks-like-one-take genre on its head, and in so doing, skillfully juggles terror and humor.
Also available: Australian scientists accidentally trespass on The Marshes (Shudder/RLJE) and incur the wrath of a very ticked-off loner; someone dug up that creepy doll in Brahms: The Boy II (STX/Universal); 1980 was a whole 40 years ago, which mean it’s time to give Friday the 13th (Paramount Home Entertainment) a snazzy anniversary steelbook.
In the Irish crime thriller A Good Woman Is Hard to Find (Film Movement), Sarah Bolger plays a single mom out for bloody revenge; treat yourself to a vintage creature-feature double bill on Blu-ray with The H Man/Battle in Outer Space (Mill Creek Entertainment); fans of twilight-years Sylvester Stallone should give a look to Eye See You (MVD Marquee).
Fans of “Brucesploitation” – the various knock-off martial arts movies made in the wake of Bruce Lee’s death – definitely won’t to miss the 2K restoration of Dynamo: Special Edition (VCI Entertainment); in Argentine import What the Waters Left Behind (Unearthed/MVD), a once-flooded town becomes the location for terror; if you can handle a pandemic-based horror movie, Kill Mode (Shudder/RLJE) pits rebels against mutants in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
Takashi Miike’s wild, wild oater Sukiyaki Western Django: Collector’s Edition (FilmRise) gets a new hi-def release; Alexandra Daddario is a heavy metal fan’s worst nightmare in the satirical chiller We Summon the Darkness (Lionsgate); it’s a horror movie, it’s a bowling alley – it’s Gutterballs (Unearthed/MVD).
When we long for the days when adult dramas were big box-office – and were at the center of cultural conversation – we’re nostalgic for movies like An Unmarried Woman (The Criterion Collection), an absolutely essential film about a wife who loses everything and becomes a woman who gets to reimagine herself. Jill Clayburgh is indelible as a Manhattanite who undergoes rediscovery and redefinition after her marriage falls apart, and Paul Mazursky’s humane, empathetic direction puts us by her side every step of the way.
Also available: Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations (Kit Parker/MVD) features some of the comic duo’s most legendary shorts and features, with remasters that make them look better than ever; speaking of silent comedy, Buster Keaton’s masterwork The Cameraman gets a Criterion Collection release chock-full of extras; Nick Nolte and Debra Winger generate real sparks in the underrated John Steinbeck adaptation Cannery Row (Warner Archive Collection); we aren’t getting a Tokyo Olympiad (The Criterion Collection) after all this year, but Kon Ichikawa’s documentary about the 1964 games is considered one of the greatest sports movies ever made; William Castle is best known for his entertainingly gimmicky horror films, but he has quite a few lean-and-mean crime dramas to his credit as well, as presented on the double-feature Blu-ray Hollywood Story/New Orleans Uncensored (Mill Creek Entertainment).
Homophobia and homoerotica mix and mingle in the manly-man action epics Braveheart and Gladiator, getting new 4K releases from Paramount Home Entertainment to celebrate their 25th and 20th anniversaries, respectively; decades before Paris Is Burning, there was The Queen (Kino Classics), taking us behind the scenes at a competitive, pre-Stonewall drag pageant; the devastating anti-war epic Come and See (The Criterion Collection) comes to Blu-ray with a new 2K restoration; the tragic biopic Selena (Warner Archive Collection) put Jennifer Lopez on the map, with her magnetic portrayal of the dynamic Tejano superstar.
Cult star Romy Schneider is front and center on two new releases featuring three of her most beloved films: Two Films by Claude Sautet: César et Rosalie/Les Choses de La Vie and L’Important C’est d’Aimer (both Film Movement); before Julie Andrews donned a tuxedo, the German farce Victor and Victoria (Kino Classics) had fun with gender performance; put on your Wranglers and your two-steppin’ boots for the 40th anniversary release of Urban Cowboy (Paramount Home Entertainment), available for the first time in Blu-ray; Milos Forman’s Hair (Olive Films) turns a nearly unfilmable stage musical into both a celebration and an elegy for the flower-power generation.
Molly Ringwald reached icon status with the beloved teen romance Pretty in Pink (Paramount Presents); Tomu Uchida’s Kabuki-inspired The Mad Fox (Arrow Academy) gets its first hi-def release in the U.S.; fantasy and fable meet the industrial revolution in the acclaimed My 20th Century (Kino Classics); Satoshi Kon’s beloved Tokyo Godfathers (GKIDS/Shout Factory) makes its U.S. Blu-ray debut with its first officially sanctioned English dub.
The Deer Hunter: Collector’s Edition (Shout Select) celebrates one of American film’s most powerful and poetic movies about the Vietnam War; Doris Day finds Romance on the High Seas (Warner Archive Collection) in her breakthrough movie; Andy Sidaris produced, but didn’t direct, The Dallas Connection (Mill Creek Entertainment), but the skimpy women’s swimwear on the cover lets you know he remained a creative influence; it’s a double bill of hard-nosed, vintage action with The Man from the Alamo/They Came to Cordura (Mill Creek Entertainment).
That more white Americans seemingly learned about the 1921 Tulsa Massacre from Watchmen (HBO/DC/Warner Bros.) than they did in school speaks volumes about what parts of the American experience do and don’t get taught in history class. And whether you’d read the original comics or not, or liked the Zach Snyder feature film based on those comics or not, this HBO limited series blew expectations wide open, creating a whole new story (that built on the old one) while provocatively exploring the skeletons in our nation’s closet.
Also available: Cross The X-Files with the Vatican, and you might wind up with Evil: Season One (CBS/Paramount); those foul-mouthed little bastards reach Episode 300 in South Park: The Complete Twenty-Third Season (Comedy Central/Paramount); Howard Hesseman became a role model to substitute-teachers everywhere with Head of the Class: The Complete First Season (Warner Archive); Batman’s butler gets a backstory in Pennyworth: The Complete First Season (DC/Warner Bros.).
A seemingly “perfect” couple separates but stays in the same house for the sake of their reputation as relationship experts in the romantic drama Stuck With You: Season One (UMC/RLJE); the 14-part documentary 1619: Up from Slavery (Mill Creek Entertainment) tracks the Black experience in America from forced immigration to the modern era; Adrian Dunbar is a disgraced doctor looking to mend family ties in the UK drama Blood, Series 2 (Acorn); Dr. Harleen Quinzel is having quite the year, from the popular Birds of Prey movie to the acclaimed Harley Quinn: The Complete First Season (DC/Warner Bros.).
Star Trek: Discovery fans won’t want to miss Star Trek: Short Treks (CBS/Paramount), which collects 11 canonical shorts (two of them animated) plus 50 minutes bonus material; fans of Essie Davis’ sleuth were so hungry for a feature film that they partially crowdsourced Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears (Acorn TV); here’s a cool treat for vintage TV fans – an adaptation of Wuthering Heights (Liberation Hall), presented in 1958 for The DuPont Show of the Month, starring Richard Burton, Rosemary Harris, and Patty Duke – in a DVD that comes with the original commercials included.
Doctor Who: The Complete Twelfth Series (BBC) sees The Doctor continuing her way through, around, and beyond the known universe; the oozy terror of vintage EC Comics lives on in the new anthology series Creepshow: Season One (Shudder/RLJE); one of TV’s most popular dramas reaches its climax with Power: Season Six (Lionsgate); and if you’re building a complete collection of one of Japan’s most beloved small-screen superheroes, the gorgeous line of Mill Creek Entertainment steelbooks continues with Ultraman Ace.