This week in home video has a host of interesting releases, including one of 2015’s most fascinating documentaries, an adaptation of a sci-fi classic, the third highest-grossing film of all time, four films from a horror master, and much, much more.
Let’s kick things off with “The Wolfpack,” a documentary film about a family who homeschooled their seven children, confining them to a small apartment on the Lower East Side, and how their love of pop culture helped them escape the monotony of their existence. The Angulo family spent hours reenacting scenes from their favorite films, like “The Dark Knight” and “Reservoir Dogs,” because their father demanded that they avoid the outside world, but when one brother decides to go against their father’s wishes, the entire family decides to explore life outside their apartment. “The Wolfpack” has garnered critical acclaim for its haunting, “Grey Gardens”-like exploration of family dysfunction, but has also garnered criticism for the dodgy ethics of filming young children without examining the nature of the access.
Other new releases this week include Craig Zobel’s post-apocalyptic drama “Z for Zachariah,” based on the 1974 novel of the same name, which follows the relationship between three survivors (Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Chris Pine) and the difficulties that arise when they inevitably grow feelings towards one another. Next, there’s Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World,” the fourth installment in the “Jurassic Park” franchise and one of the highest-grossing films of all time, about a genetically-modified dinosaur running amok in yet another theme park (shocker!). After that, there’s the second John Green-adaptation “Paper Towns,” about a coming-of-age story of a young man learning that his projections don’t always match up with reality. Finally, there’s the World War I drama “Testament of Youth” and the supernatural horror film “The Vatican Tapes.”
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On the classic front, the big release this week is Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray box set “The Larry Fessenden Collection,” which brings together four films from one of the unsung masters of horror (“No Telling” (1991), “Habit” (1995), “Wendigo” (2001), “The Last Winter” (2006)) as well as a 24-page booklet with never-before-seen photos and storyboards, plus liner notes by Fangoria’s Michael Gingold. Then, there’s Universal’s “Back To The Future: The Complete Adventures” Blu-ray box set in honor of the acclaimed trilogy’s 30th anniversary. The set includes all three films on Blu-ray, the Complete Animated Series on Blu-ray, an all new bonus disc with two hours of content, and a 64-page visual history book. Criterion has Masaki Kobayashi’s original three-hour cut of “Kwaidan,” a quartet of ghost stories, which has never been released in the United States before. Kino Lorber has G.W. Pabst’s 1929 “Diary of a Lost Girl” starring Louise Brooks as the daughter of a middle class pharmacist who is sent to a repressive home for wayward girls. Finally, Icarus Films has Allan Sekula and Noël Burch’s essay film “The Forgotten Space” about a container box’s journey through the international supply chain.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Criticwire Average: B+
Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian
While the kids, who all have wide smiles and deep voices, are bursting with kindness, it is clear there is tremendous unease roiling beneath the surface. These are smart, self-aware people, and they are trying to figure out how to leave the nest. It is implied that Oscar has been violent in the past, and now spends most of his time drinking in solitude – though it is quite difficult to find solitude in a dwelling so small.Not since “Grey Gardens” has a film invited us into such a strange, barely-functioning home and allowed us to gawk without reservation. This is a nosy movie, but it is altogether fascinating. And, like “Grey Gardens,” it’s a story where every answer just spawns new questions. “The Wolfpack” won’t just “find an audience,” it will inspire people to revisit and peck for clues. Read more.
“Z for Zachariah”
Criticwire Average: B
Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
Zobel’s direction, and Tim Orr’s knockout cinematography, keep the stakes clear. It’s a beautifully photographed vision of what could be a utopia, if only it were about a third less crowded. Heather McIntosh’s score, heavy with dread and noodling violins, amps up the considerable tension — more than you might expect for a movie that amounts, basically, to three people talking. But what they say, and don’t say, carries plenty of weight. “Z for Zachariah” is a film of ideas, but those ideas never overpower the people it’s about. One complements the other, which makes this one of the most satisfying movies of the summer. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B-
Sean Burns, Spliced Personality
“Jurassic World” doesn’t so much win you over as it pummels you into submission, piling one big set-piece after another with no breathing room, enabled by nonsensical character decisions. (Nothing that happens here makes any fucking sense.) Director Colin Trevorrow got the gig thanks to his lame Sundance smash “Safety Not Guaranteed,” but you can feel the big fingers of exec producer Steven Spielberg on his shoulder during every (not bad) set-piece. It’s a great-looking film, with colors that pop and gliding crane shots during which composer Michael Giacchino re-purposes John Williams’ original score to at first ecstatic and then ever-diminishing returns. But it’s oddly hostile to the audience, always intertextually insisting that the numbing procession of mayhem is just “what people want.” The picture has a crappy attitude about being a popcorn blockbuster – as if the fourth “Jurassic Park” movie could be anything but. When it was over I just felt tired and was in a lousy mood. There’s a high level of craft going on here but also a cynical shrug. The movie delivers the goods, then acts all shitty and sore about it. Read more.
Criticwire Average: C+
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture
There’s a common language to these types of romantic teen flicks, and “Paper Towns” hits all the requisite notes: The soft indie-pop comes in at just the right moments, and the light comedy plays well without stepping on the sensitive feelings being expressed. That might make it easy to mistake the film for humdrum genre work, but there’s something bold here, too: “Paper Towns” needs to explode its own mystique in order to make a point. It has to acknowledge that underneath all the melodrama these are just confused kids. The film could easily continue down its dreamy path but it has the cool idea of putting us under a spell and gradually, imperceptibly pulling us back to the world of the real. The result isn’t an all-the-feels, drown-us-in-tears kind of experience, but something rooted in wisdom and clarity. It’s the rare movie that can sacrifice the clean lines of fantasy and melodrama for the messiness of ordinary life — that neither burnishes nor condemns the up-down turmoil of the teenage soul, but rather lets it be. Read more.
“Testament of Youth”
Criticwire Average: B-
Godfrey Cheshire, RogerEbert.com
An intimate epic, “Testament of Youth” has great historical sweep yet remains focused on the human vicissitudes experienced by Vera and her circle. Making his feature debut after work in television and documentaries, director James Kent proves exceptionally skilled in supplying the film with a hauntingly poetic visual sense and eliciting fine, exacting performances from his able cast. While all of the actors’ work deserves commendation, special praise must be given to Alicia Vikander, a Swedish actress who does an amazing job conveying one young Englishwoman’s strength, resilience, intelligence and vulnerability. Considering the horrors and tragedies the war rained on Vera Brittain, it’s perhaps surprising she survived with her mind intact. Yet Vikanker’s performance clearly suggests the inner resources and tremendous determination that allowed her not only to pull through, but also to write an enduring testament to those who suffered and died. Read more.