This week on DVD/Blu-ray: One of the breakouts of last year’s Sundance Film Festival; a moving father-son drama; Clint Eastwood’s latest; a documentary that delves into the independent filmmaking movement of the ’70s; and an overlooked masterpiece from Germany.
#1. Critic’s Pick: “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (DVD and Blu-ray)
Few indie films broke out quite the way “Martha Marcy May Marlene” did at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. When first-time feature filmmaker Sean Durkin and his star, Elizabeth Olsen, both arrived in Park City, they were unknowns. When they left, after seeing their film go to Fox Searchlight, they left as indie stars. The latest good news for the pair: Both Durkin and Olsen are up for Spirit Awards (Best First Feature/Best Actress) at Sunday’s event in Los Angeles.
The film concerns Martha (Olsen), a young woman who flees a mysterious cult to find refuge at her sister’s lakefront house in Connecticut. Once relocated, Martha begins having flashbacks to the horrors she was subjected to at the hands of the cult’s fearsomely enigmatic leader, Patrick (John Hawkes).
“Marked by patient long-takes and the uneasy quietude that accompanies Martha’s constant disconnect from her surrounding environment, ‘Martha’ derives much of its power from a stark visual style that’s easily readable as the sum of its part,” wrote Eric Kohn in his review out of Sundance. “Photographed by prolific cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (‘Tiny Furniture’) and co-produced by Antonio Campos (director of the Cannes entry ‘Afterschool,’ produced by Durkin and shot by Lipes), the movie contains a haunting depiction of the claustrophobia associated with the tendency for developing minds to question their surroundings.”
Extras: The most intriguing extra on the disc is surely director Durkin’s short film “Mary Last Seen,” a prequel of sorts to the feature. Also included: multiple featurettes on the making of the film; a conversation with the filmmakers; “Marcy’s Song” music video by actor John Hawkes; and, of course, the theatrical trailer.
#2. “The Way” (DVD and Blu-ray)
One of the biggest surprises at the 2011 indie box office was this audience charmer from Emilio Estevez, starring his father, Martin Sheen. In the drama, Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who flies out to St. Jean Pied de Port to collect the remains of his son who was killed in a storm while walking The Camino de Santiago. On a quest to understand his son better, Tom embarks on the historical pilgrimage.
As Kohn wrote in his review, “Estevez treats the drama with a straight-faced, utterly earnest approach with dual respect for the material and the audience’s awareness of how it can go wrong. By playing it straight, ‘The Way’ never goes off the deep end.”
Go here to watch a video chat with Estevez and Sheen from Indiewire’s TIFF 2010 coverage.
#3. “J. Edgar” (DVD and Blu-ray)
Despite being shut out of the Oscar race, don’t overlook Clint Eastwood’s masterful look into the life of the controversial FBI figure, penned by Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”) and starring Leonardo DiCaprio in tour-de-force performance as the titular man.
“After I saw ‘J. Edgar’ a few weeks ago, I wrote that it’s a late, kick-out-the-jams masterpiece,” Film Comment contributor Amy Taubin shared with Indiewire. “After a second viewing, I feel the same. What Eastwood does to the conventions of realism is wild. There are bits of ‘Kane’ and bits of ‘Psycho,’ but a lot of the movie is reminiscent of an amateur production of Tennessee Williams where the actors are 20 years too young for the roles they are playing, but nevertheless their struggles move you to tears.”
Extras: Not much. There’s “The Most Powerful Man in the World,” a making of featurette; a digital copy of the film is also included.
#4. “Blank City” (DVD and Blu-ray)
Céline Danhier’s documentary “Blank City” is set in the late 1970s, back when New York City was cheap and nasty, to document the rise of renegade filmmakers who shook up independent filmmaking. The film weaves an oral history of the ‘No Wave Cinema’ and ‘Cinema of Transgression’ movements with interviews from the people who began it all.
Extras: Director Celine Dahner provides an interview. Other extras include: deleted/extended scenes; out-takes; and a trailer
#5. “World on a Wire” (DVD and Blu-ray)
After returning to theaters for a limited run last year, R.W. Fassbinder’s gloriously bonkers and endlessly inventive sci-fi epic (it clocks in at over three-and-a-half hours!) makes its Blu-ray debut, courtesy of the Criterion Collection. The thriller centers on Fred Stiller, a cybernetics engineer who uncovers a massive corporate conspiracy. Don’t let that description fool you. If you’re seeking a cohesive narrative, look elsewhere.
Extras: As with all Criterion Collection releases, this one doesn’t skimp on the bonus features. The film itself is a new digital transfer which was overseen by cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus. Also included: “Fassbinder’s World on a Wire: Looking Ahead to Today,” a documentary about director Rainer Fassbinder’s making of the film; a new interview with German-film scholar Gerd Gemunden; new English subtitles; and a booklet containing an essay by film critic Ed Halter.