There’s plenty of new releases this week on home video, and they run the gamut of horror films, psychological dramas, sci-fi blockbusters, and iconic examples of the French New Wave. Let’s start with David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows,” one of the best reviewed films of the year, about a mysterious entity “follows” those who have been cursed with its presence. When it strikes college student Jay Height (Marika Monroe), it’s up to her and her friends to stop “it” once and for all. The curse is passed from person to person through sex, which has led some critics to argue the film is a parable about the dangers of AIDS or STDs, but the “it” is really just a nightmarish presence, something that lives in the shadows and attacks when you least expect it, which provides “It Follows” with more edge than standard horror fare.
Next, we have Olivier Assayas’ new film “Clouds of Sils Maria,” a drama about Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), a middle-aged international movie star who decides to take a role in a production of a play that launched her career twenty years earlier. Enders struggles with her dissatisfaction towards her career, and leans on her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) for support, but when she’s faced with her much younger co-star (Chloe Grace Moretz), she’s forced to confront many of her buried issues. (Though Paramount is only releasing “Clouds of Sils Maria” on DVD, IFC just announced that the film will be coming to Criterion Blu-Ray sometime later.) Then there’s Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina,” a mid-budget sci-fi thriller about Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), the CEO of a popular search engine company, who invites Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at the company, to his research facility to administer the Turing test to Ava (Alicia Vikander), a humanoid robot with artificial intelligence. Finally, we have the Academy Award-nominated documentary “The Salt of the Earth” about Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado who have traveled the world mostly photographing mass tragedy.
On the classic front, we have three new Blu-Rays from Criterion. First is Alain Resnais’ “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” one of the greatest and most groundbreaking films of the French New Wave. The film tells the story of a love affair between a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) through an innovative flashback structure and uses non-linear editing techniques to incorporate both fiction and reality into the filmic space. Next, there’s Carroll Ballard’s “The Back Stallion” about the friendship between Alec Ramsay (Kelly Reno) and a wild Arabian stallion who saved his life after a terrible shipwreck. Lastly, there’s Jan Troell’s “Here Is Your Life,” a Swedish bildungsroman that follows the development of a young working-class boy and the slow industrialization of a rural environment. From Twilight Time, we have four more Blu-Rays: “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” starring Jeff and Beau Bridges as two struggling jazz pianists in Seattle who take on a female singer (Michelle Pfeiffer) to revitalize their careers; “The Best of Everything,” a romantic drama about three women (Hope Lange, Diane Baker, and Suzy Parker) who share a small New York City apartment and work together at a paperback publishing house; “Places in the Heart” starring Sally Field who won the Best Actress Oscar for the film and gave her famous, “You like me!” speech; and “Month in the Country,” a drama about a World War I veteran (Colin Firth) struggling with past traumas while restoring a Medieval mural discovered in a small rural church. Last but not least, we have two Blu-rays from Olive Films: the first is “Baby It’s You,” John Sayles’ first Hollywood production, about a romance between Jill Rosen (Rosanna Arquette), a rich Jewish girl, and Sheik (Vincent Spano), a working-class Italian boy in the late-60’s New Jersey; and second is the late-70’s drama “King of the Gypsies” about the criminal and violent lives of Gypsies in New York City.
Scott Tobias, The Dissolve
One of the most terrifying moments in “It Follows,” the best American horror film since “The Blair Witch Project,” tracks a group of teenagers into a high school, where they’re trying to investigate the origins of a being that’s relentlessly tracking one of them. As the eerie, discordant soundtrack swells in anticipation, the camera does a slow, 720-degree pan around the hallway, through the window leading to the campus grounds, and back again. Nothing is there. The kids get the information they need and leave. The pit in viewers’ stomachs grows deeper. The creature could have been in the shot — it’s certainly out there somewhere — but writer-director David Robert Mitchell lets that expectation go unsatisfied. He’s not interested in stock horror confrontations. He’s interested in freaking viewers the fuck out. Read more.
“Clouds of Sils Maria”
Criticwire Average: A-
Sean Burns, WBUR’s The ARTery
…the bulk of “Clouds of Sils Maria” is a gorgeously acted Bergman-esque two-hander — with Maria and Val holed up in a Swiss Alps village from which the movie takes its title, running lines to prepare for the production and fraying each other’s nerves. Assayas constructs the film as a hall of mirrors, transitioning at times imperceptibly from the play’s dialogue to the characters’ increasingly pointed personal conversations.”You can’t be as accomplished as you are and as well-rounded as an actress and still expect to hold on to the privileges of youth,” insists Val. But Maria, who has been coddled and babied for decades (lately by Val herself) mulishly refuses to consider “Maloja Snake” from any point of view besides her original teenaged interpretation. To do so would be admitting that time has passed and that the world has moved on. She rages against what she perceives as the dying of the light, gradually prodded by Val into accepting that the benefits of age are quite different from, but perhaps no less desirable than those privileges of youth to which she so desperately clings. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B+
Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly
It’s rare for a science-fiction film’s high-concept to get stolen out from under it by a performance — but then again, [Oscar] Isaac appears to be a rare kind of actor. Because whatever writer/director Alex Garland wants to say about the nature of what it means to be alive, or the very human qualities of deception and self-deception — and I’m not sure he’s really saying all that much — is not remotely as delightful as watching one of the most talented actors in the world doing his thing. Read more.
“The Salt of the Earth”
Criticwire Average: A-
Dan Schindel, Nonfics.com
And yet “The Salt of the Earth” pulls off another impressive feat by taking a turnaround from despair to optimism and making it feel utterly natural. Once Salgado talks about his “Genesis” project, for which he visited places and peoples on Earth that are still as they were 10,000 years ago, the doc takes a surprisingly uplifting turn. Salgado and his wife were able to revitalize his family farm, 600 acres that had previously been ravaged to desert by clear-cutting. If this small patch of Earth can return to what it once was, who’s to say that humanity doesn’t have a chance? Read more.