It’s a busy week for this week in home video, and leading off today’s list of new releases is Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young,” his first film of 2015. “While We’re Young” follows a middle-aged couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who begin to hang out with a twenty-something couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) when they become attracted to their bohemian lifestyle. The film explores a bevy of issues, including generational splits, aging, and strangely enough, documentary ethics all while indulging in Baumbach’s penchant for sarcastic witticisms. Though some critics were charmed by Baumbach’s “grownup” movie, many were miffed by the film’s execution, especially the third act, and found his insights into Generation X/Millennial split to be obvious and lame. They’ll get another dose of Baumbach later this year with “Mistress America,” his third film with Greta Gerwig.
Other releases this week include “Get Hard,” the answer to America’s pleas for a buddy comedy starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart that features numerous prison rape jokes. There’s also the Al Pacino vehicle “Danny Collins” about an aging rocker whose life turns around after discovering an undelivered letter written to him by John Lennon. Then there’s Aleksei German’s “Hard to Be a God,” a three-hour Russian sci-fi epic about a far away planet in its own Middle Ages and an Earth scientist who watches the chaos and brutality. Finally, we have David Zellner’s “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” the story of a Japanese woman who travels to Minnesota because she’s convinced the Coen Brothers film “Fargo” is a true story and there’s a satchel of ransom money buried along a snowy highway. The film is based on the urban legend surrounding the real life death of Takako Konishi.
On the classic front, Shout! Factory is releasing Penelope Spheeris’ cult punk rock documentary trilogy “The Decline of Western Civilization.” Previously out of of print, “The Decline of Western Civilization” documents Los Angeles punk culture over two decades with the first film highlighting acts like Black Flag and the Germs, while the second film showcases metal acts like London and Odin, and the last film focuses the latter-day L.A. punk scene. Spheeris’ films capture a fascinating active subculture in its prime, including their intense concerts and their behind-the-scenes antics, but though Spheeris details many grisly elements of the punk rock lifestyle (including some questionable ideology, to put it lightly), she never condescends to the scene and instead documents it with a keen, empathetic eye.
Criterion is releasing two films this week: the first is Bob Rafelson’s “Five Easy Pieces” starring Jack Nicholson as an existentially lost oil rig worker who returns home after hearing his father is dying, which features arguably the best diner scene in film history (the movie is also available in “America Lost & Found: The BBS Story,” but this is its debut as a standalone release); the second is Jaromil Jires’ surrealist film “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” about a girl living in a dreamworld featuring vampires, priests and monsters. Music Box Films has “Downtown 81,” a film chronicling the life and work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1980’s New York. Finally, Warner Bros. is releasing a Blu-Ray edition of Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky,” a film about opening your eyes to the world rather than hiding behind masks.
A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
There’s a certain sitcom easiness to the film’s premise, which hinges on both the mild absurdity of Josh and Cornelia not acting their age — he buys a hipster hat; she takes hip-hop workout classes; they both try mescaline — and some pot-shots taken at the pretentiousness of youth culture. But Baumbach handles this potentially groan-worthy material with verbal and visual wit, the effervescent snappiness that’s become his signature. Read more.
Criticwire Average: C-
Daniel Mecca, The Film Stage
Too often the filmmakers rely on lowest-common-denominator prison rape jokes and lazy plotting to allow for action-comedy set pieces, resulting in a poorly-constructed scene at a White Supremacist stronghold and a sloppy third act that feels like an afterthought. Alison Brie is basically ignored in the role of James’ wife, a money-obsessed bimbo forced to trot around in lingerie for no real reason. Once again, it seems like Cohen and company mean this to be some sort of commentary on the current state of affairs. Sadly, “Get Hard” is never funny enough or smart enough for long enough to get the point across. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B-
Sean Burns, Movie Mezzanine
As Plummer explains, “He’s got a good heart. It’s just up his ass most of the time.” I laughed a lot during “Danny Collins” and I cried a little bit, too. This is a hugely entertaining, mainstream crowd-pleaser about how we can all try to be our better selves, fail spectacularly, and then pick ourselves up and try again. Baby steps. Read more.
“Hard to Be a God”
Criticwire Average: A-
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com
“Hard To Be A God” is a fantastical examination of man’s inhumanity to man, and as replete as it is with persistent visceral disgust, it also pulses with intelligence, a mordant compassion, and yes, incredible wit. Its vision is so monstrously realized that even as it repulses, it makes almost any other film you would care to put next to it seem puny, silly, unnecessary. It is a demanding work, in every sense of the word. But it also gives back as much as it wants from you. Read more.
“Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter”
Criticwire Average: B+
Scott Tobias, The Dissolve
The Zellners are as obsessed with “Fargo” in their own way as their heroine, but they’re smart enough to get some separation where it matters. “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” is “Fargo’s” slow, contemplative, quizzical counterpart, stripped of all but the most basic narrative elements, and focused entirely on one character’s peculiar destiny. It’s proof that reference can be a springboard to originality. Read more.