It’s a busy week for this week in home video with some bona fide classics, some interesting new releases, and a few important anniversaries. On the roster, there’s David Lynch, Joel Edgerton, Stephanie Lafleur, George Cukor, Sam Raimi, and Terry Gilliam.
Let’s kick things off with the long-awaited Criterion Blu-ray release of David Lynch’s masterpiece “Mulholland Dr.” The non-linear neo-noir follows an aspiring actress (Naomi Watts) and her relationship with an amnesiac woman (Laura Harring), but that description doesn’t do the film justice. In fact, no description will do the film justice. It adopts a cut-up vignette style that constantly removes the floor from its viewers’ feet, hinting at coherence only to pull it away at the last minute. “Mulholland Dr.” operates under dream logic, abruptly shifting between beautiful visions and a nightmarish Hell, and it’s best to see it completely cold for a first-time viewing. It will shock, move, and unsettle viewers to their core, and it’s one of Lynch’s best works to date.
For new releases this week, there’s Joel Edgerton’s “The Gift,” a psychological thriller about a married couple (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) whose lives are turned upside down by the return of an old high school classmate (Joel Edgerton). With debts to films like “Fatal Attraction” and “Cape Fear,” “The Gift” has garnered critical acclaim for its sharp filmmaking and Jason Bateman’s performance. Next, we have the Happy Madison vehicle “Pixels” about an alien invasion that can only be combatted by arcade champions. If you like Adam Sandler fighting off video game characters like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, this film is for you. If not, literally watch anything else. After that, there’s the Jake Gyllenhaal boxing film “Southpaw,” directed by Antoine Fuqua of “Training Day” fame, about a retired fighter who loses his wife in a tragedy and must fight to win back his daughter. Finally, there’s the wonderful “Tu Dors Nicole,” a mood piece starring Julianne Côté as a young woman stuck in a post-grad malaise in her small town.
For classics, there’s the 50th anniversary of “My Fair Lady,” George Cukor’s eight-time Academy Award-winning musical about a linguistics professor (Rex Harrison) trying to teach a poor Cockney flower seller (Audrey Hepburn) “proper English.” It should be noted that the new restoration has been done by film historian and preservationist Robert A. Harris, who was very critical of the old DVD release. Next, Scream Factory has a Collector’s Edition of Sami Rami’s beloved cult classic horror comedy “Army of Darkness,” the third installment of the “Evil Dead” franchise, in which Ash (Bruce Campbell) returns to face legions of the undead yet again. Then, there’s the 40th anniversary edition of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” a comedy classic so popular that its entire film can be quoted at length by nerds around the world. Warner Bros has their Special Effects Collection Blu-ray box set containing such monster flicks like “The Son of Kong,” “Mighty Joe Young,” “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” and “Them!” Finally, there’s two debut features finally available on DVD: First, Olive Films’ stunning long-awaited Blu-ray release of Saul Bass’ only feature “Phase IV,” about a scientific team’s struggles against a hive mind ant colony, and second, Tsai-Ming-liang’s “Rebels of the Neon God” from Big World Pictures.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Criticwire Average: —
Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com
This is a movie to surrender yourself to. If you require logic, see something else. “Mulholland Drive” works directly on the emotions, like music. Individual scenes play well by themselves, as they do in dreams, but they don’t connect in a way that makes sense — again, like dreams. The way you know the movie is over is that it ends. And then you tell a friend, “I saw the weirdest movie last night.” Just like you tell them you had the weirdest dream. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B-
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture
But the real star of this show is Edgerton. First, there’s his performance: In others’ films, he often vanishes off the screen, and not always in a good way. Here, he puts that blankness to good use — Gordo is, for much of the film, thoroughly unreadable, his character determined as much by the changing dynamics of Simon and Robyn’s marriage as by anything the actor himself does. Second, and most important: This is an exceedingly well-written and directed film. As a screenwriter, Edgerton clearly has an eye and ear for small, revealing details, even manners of speech that hint at characters’ true intentions. And he rarely goes for the easy way out. It’s rare for one of these types of movies — let’s call it the Creepy Friend or Neighbor genre, with examples ranging from “Pacific Heights” to “Fatal Attraction” to, well, “The Cable Guy” — to keep this level of suspense and uncertainty going for this long. Usually, we figure out everybody’s true nature by a certain point, and the films just degenerate into chase scenes or violent set pieces. “The Gift,” instead, maintains its aura of nerve-racking tension throughout, keeping us guessing not just as to what will happen next, but as to who, at heart, all these people really are. The film certainly has its share of real frights — including a couple of terrific jump scares — but its real terrors are in the mind. Read more.
Criticwire Average: C
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
But the truly mystifying thing about the movie is how desperately it caters to Gen-X junk nostalgia without bothering to think that maybe those Reagan-era kids have grown up a bit. “Pixels” plays the “Ghostbusters” card hard, clothing its warriors in matching jumpsuits and swarming them with cheering New York crowds. But these gestures feel unearned. The movie’s graphics have a blockiness that registers as cheap, not sly, while even the presence of Peter Dinklage as a vain video game champ can’t help but play like a casting stunt. Sandler’s exhaustion is obvious. How many extra lives does the guy get? Read more.
Criticwire Average: B-
Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle
The screenplay by Kurt Sutter, creator of TV’s “Sons of Anarchy,” offers little that we haven’t already seen in the “Rocky” saga, “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” “Raging Bull,” “Million Dollar Baby,” and dozens of lesser boxing dramas. The trajectory is almost always the same throughout these films. What distinguishes them is the manner in which they’re done. Add to the spot-on performances in “Southpaw” 50 Cent’s flawless delivery as a boxing promoter and Billy’s manager. “If it makes money, it makes sense,” is his emotionally detached mantra. Also practically flawless are the numerous fight sequences, which Fuqua’s cinematographer Mauro Fiore films in a fly-on-the-ropes fashion. The sequences seem continuous rather than choreographed and give viewers the sense of sitting in the front row with the fight judges and swells. Adding to the verisimilitude is Fuqua’s use of genuine boxing announcers and referees, who already know what to do in the ring. Eminem (who was originally tapped to play Billy Hope, but declined) contributes the film’s fight song “Phenomenal,” while the music score by the recently deceased James Horner gently layers the film with a warm ambience. Ultimately, “Southpaw” may not punch above its weight, but the film has an aim that’s true. Read more.
“Tu dors Nicole”
Criticwire Average: B+
Mike D’Angelo, The Dissolve
None of this would work were Lafleur not doing gorgeously expressive work behind the camera. His puckish sensibility is evident from the film’s first seconds, as the sound of trickling water heard during the opening credits (white text on a black screen) continues over the first shot: a tacky photograph of a waterfall. When Nicole arrives home, she slumps onto a chair, her feet dangling over its arm at the far left edge of the frame; Lafleur then cuts to some time later, with Nicole now lazing on a couch at the far right edge of the frame. Sound is likewise expertly calibrated, with conversations between Nicole and Véro accompanied by the band’s efforts at ideal microphone placement in three separate rooms of the house. (Among other virtues, “Tu Dors Nicole” boasts one of the most realistic garage bands the movies have ever seen.) One problem with such lovely aimlessness is that Lafleur, almost predictably, never finds an ending; what he comes up with feels a bit petty and small-minded, almost beneath Nicole. But that’s an easy weakness to forgive in a film that at one point has Rémy talking with Nicole in the backyard, suddenly walking off into the darkness, visible only by the tip of his lit cigarette, then returning, holding a chirping cricket in his hands. It’s hard to build a story entirely on grace notes, but Lafleur comes close. Read more.