Only a few new home video releases this, but we’re leading off with the Hungarian drama “White God.” Directed by Kornél Mundruczó, “White God” follows a young girl Lili (Zsófia Psotta) who takes care of a mixed-breed dog named Hagen. When she moves in with her father (Sándor Zsótér), he abandons Hagen on the street because he doesn’t want to pay the “mongrel” fine imposed by the government. Refusing to accept that Hagen’s gone, Lili sets out to save him, but little does she know that Hagen has befriended other dogs and witnessed human cruelty firsthand. While Lili tries her to best to find Hagen, him and the other dogs of the Budapest rise up and try to overthrow their human oppressors. “White God” is a sentimental tale about a child and her dog, as well as a political metaphor about, well, anything from income inequality to social marginalization, and has garnered critical acclaim for its practical effects, disorienting editing, and cold-fashioned classical style and narrative.
Next, we have DreamWorks Animation’s “Home,” starring “The Big Bang Theory’s” Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, and Steve Martin, arguably the craziest on-paper cast of the year so far. “Home” features a friendly alien invasion by the Boov species on planet Earth; when the Boov banish one of their more excitable, mistake-prone members Oh (Parsons), he goes on the run with Tip (Rihanna), a pre-teen girl who has been separated from her mother (Lopez). Though “Home” received a mixed critical attention, but was a box office success, plus it has a soundtrack with songs by Rihanna, Charli XCX, and Jennifer Lopez. Then, there’s Russell Crowe’s directorial debut “The Water Diviner” about an Australian farmer (Crowe) who travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli to try to locate his three presumably dead sons so as to bury them back in their homeland. After that, there’s Joe Angio’s documentary “Revenge of the Mekons” about the legendary British group that’s been called the one band “that took punk ideology most seriously”; the documentary features testimonials from Jonathan Franzen, Fred Armisen, and Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Finally, the sole classic release this week, Kino has Michael Ritchie’s “Prime Cut,” starring Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman, and Angel Tompkins, about a Chicago mob enforcer sent to Kansas to collect a debt from a meatpacker boss. “Prime Cut” was controversial at the time of its release for depiction of female slavery and the implied homosexual relationship between two brothers.
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
In classic narrative fashion, Mr. Mundruczo works the setup like a burlesque fan dancer, teasing out the reveal bit by bit. He introduces Lili and Hagen together while they’re sharing the frame and playing a quietly portentous game of tug-of-war. Lili’s mother has gone off on a lengthy trip with her husband, leaving the girl with her father, who Lili demonstrably doesn’t much like. Mr. Mundruczo at first seems to share Lili’s aversion; at the very least, he knows how to stack the story decks: Daniel isn’t just a dour, unsmiling sad sack, he’s also a fallen man who now works as a slaughterhouse inspector. You first meet him in an antiseptic room in which, after workers gut and skin a dead cow, he plunges a gauge in the innards, declaring it fit for consumption. Unblinkingly gory, this evisceration foreshadows other violence to come. It’s a tough but critical scene because, while Mr. Mundruczo has a sharp sense of humor, evident especially in his use of horror-movie tropes, “White God” isn’t a comedy or a Disney-like anthropomorphized romp. The camera gets down on all fours, metaphorically, and shares Hagen’s point of view, showing you what the world looks like around our knees. Yet Hagen isn’t a wee human in a fuzzy costume; he doesn’t have a digital mouth, talk to other animals or share his thoughts. The radicalness of the movie is that it asserts he doesn’t need to be like a person for you to be on his side. He is a dog, and that’s all he needs to be. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B-
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture
Still, one might ask if there’s anything else to distinguish “Home” from the countless other animated films out there that mix action spectacle, family-focused story lines, and humor of varying degrees of irreverence. Each movie figures out its own blend of these elements; “Home” errs on the side of sentiment, and that’s not a bad thing. There’s a lot of goofiness, to be sure, much of it having to do with Oh and the Boov’s silly syntax. But the film pulls back at points where others might double down. Instead, Tip’s longing for her mother and Oh’s longing for acceptance start to weigh more heavily on the plot, and the film gradually captures a sense of gentle, but very real, desperation. Warming hearts and jerking tears are par for the course in kiddie flicks. But it’s rare to find one that has this many emotional crescendos — and manages them all gracefully and cinematically. It also probably helps that the film features a wonderful soundtrack, which includes Rihanna’s otherworldly “Towards the Sun.” The song works well, particularly with the finale’s images of apocalyptic grandeur. “Home” is a corny movie, but the corniness never feels cheap or opportunistic. Read more.
“The Water Diviner”
Criticwire Average: B-
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club
“The Water Diviner” seems bent on giving its protagonist every experience under the sun: grief over having to bury his wife and children, an unlikely friendship with a commander from the opposing side, a bond with a boy growing up without a father, a late-in-life romance, a chance to show up cartoonishly snooty Brits, and to have a “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”-style adventure in the company of Turkish nationalists. (The movie’s U.S. release on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide is mistimed, to put it mildly.) Connor has a gift for digging wells and dreams of whirling dervishes that lead him to believe that one of his sons survived Gallipoli — a mystical theme for which the movie never finds a use. There are references to magic carpets and “Arabian Nights,” and passages of visual exotica, the camera always tilting up as it passes under a mosaic ceiling or a stained glass dome. Crowe knows good acting, but he over-elaborates; here, every character gets a monologue and every subtlety is canceled out by an extra close-up or a burst of stuttering, step-printing-style slow motion. Read more.
“Revenge of the Mekons”
Criticwire Average: B+
Noel Murray, The Dissolve
“Revenge of the Mekons” has none of the raggedness of the band’s best songs, and the movie only occasionally gets to that very Mekons place that novelist Jonathan Franzen describes in the film, where despair and rage over the world’s pervasive injustice resolves into something blackly humorous, and even triumphant. But Angio hasn’t made a glancing, broadly outlined fan-doc, either. “Revenge of the Mekons” spends time with the band’s scattered members — current and retired — and honestly asks how they pay the bills between making poor-selling records and embarking on underattended tours. Angio has rounded up an impressive slate of critics, fellow travelers, and famous fans, who talk about what The Mekons mean. Writer and critic Luc Sante hails the band’s members for finding honest ways to make a living that haven’t required them to turn into “a commodity.” Filmmaker Mary Harron recalls her early days writing about the punk scenes in England in New York, and how she admired The Mekons’ “amateur night meets the avant-garde” aesthetic, but couldn’t figure out how they could ever turn that into a career. Read more.