This week in home video is chock full of interesting new releases and some pretty killer classic ones as well. There’s an acclaimed indie dramedy, the new Judd Apatow film, a documentary about a legendary rocker, the first season of an accomplished spin-off, and two Blu-ray releases of films from acclaimed foreign directors.
Let’s start with Sean Baker’s “Tangerine,” the story of two trans woman sex workers, Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) navigating the streets of West Hollywood while they search for a “fish,” a cisgender woman, who’s been cheating on Sin-Dee’s boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransone). Baker shoots the entire film on an iPhone, imbuing “Tangerine” with a gritty, underground feeling that engenders a frenetic unpredictability. Though the film can be boisterous and exaggerated, it’s also unapologetically heartfelt and sincere. Baker has sincere affection for his characters and tells their story with honesty and respect. One of the most audacious American indie releases in years, “Tangerine” is bold, groundbreaking art that tries to stay true to itself over anything else.
Other new releases this week include Judd Apatow’s funny-but-flawed “Trainwreck,” starring Amy Schumer as a fiercely independent woman navigating uncomfortable territory in a new relationship with a young doctor (Bill Hader). Then, there’s Brett Morgen’s documentary “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” the first to have been given access to Kurt Cobain’s personal archives, that strives to portray the rock star as a human being struggling to understand the world around him. After that, there’s “Terminator Genisys,” the fifth installment in the “Terminator” franchise, involving John Conner, an alternative timeline, and Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the franchise. Next, the Ian McKellen vehicle “Mr. Holmes” about the retired sleuth solving one more mystery, and “Self/Less,” the Ryan Reynolds-Ben Kingsley film about an aging billionaire transferring his consciousness into a younger body. Finally, there’s the first season of Vince Gilligan’s “Better Call Saul,” a spin-off of “Breaking Bad” featuring lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) before he broke bad and became Saul Goodman.
On the classic side, Criterion has Michael Haneke’s awesome vignette-style “Code Unknown,” about the lives of several characters on the streets of Paris and how they intersect and diverge. “Code Unknown” takes a hard look at racial inequality and cultural miscommunication in a distinctly modern urban setting. Next, Kino has Alain Resnais’ “Je t’aime je t’aime,” that combines romantic obsession and time travel, depicting how personal tragedy perpetuates itself over time, and was a major influence on “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Warner Bros. has Michael Curtiz’s “Passage to Marseille” starring Humphrey Bogart, who previously worked with Curtiz on “Casablanca,” a gunner in the war whose story is told by a journalist in successive flashbacks. Finally, Twilight Time has a host of new releases: Edward Dmytryk’s “Broken Lance,” starring Spencer Tracy; Ken Loach’s “Fatherland”; Michael Winner’s “Scorpio”; Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility”; and Woody Allen’s German expressionist “Shadow and Fog.”
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Criticwire Average: A-
Matt Prigge, Metro
The early ’90s saw progressive-minded indie filmmakers using limited resources to flood the market with movies earnestly, sincerely, preachily speaking truth to LGBT power. They tended to be coming out stories and they made up for their occasional lack of artistry with how they chipped away at intolerance, helping to pave the way for the great strides that came. They also generally avoided the T part of LGBT. “Tangerine” recalls that era: It was shot with an iPhone 5, and it effectively exists to show than trans people are people too. But it looks better than most of those old films; this is director Sean Baker’s fifth feature (after, most recently, “Starlet”), and the images are at once chaotic and precise (and expensively color-corrected). And it holds back on bald sincerity, at least until the final minutes, when its impact will be all the more effective. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B+
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
In “Trainwreck,” Ms. Schumer plays, well, Amy, a more vanilla version of one of her comically flawed women, who aren’t as remotely together as they think or may appear to be. The movie, which was directed by Judd Apatow from her script, is often extremely funny, even if it never approaches the radicalness of her greatest, most dangerous work. Mr. Apatow’s talent as a movie director is opening up a space on screen in which comic performers (and some total stiffs) can be effortlessly funny together. In “Trainwreck,” he creates a roomy, comfortable vehicle stuffed with second bananas (both professional zanies and guest-starring squares), who support Ms. Schumer as she tosses out jokes, pops her eyes, deploys her deadpan and shows off her gift for old-school physical high jinks, often in heels and minis. Read more.
“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck”
Criticwire Average: A-
Scott Tobias, The Dissolve
Covering a sprawling — and ultimately too long — 132 minutes, “Montage Of Heck” has the expected birth-to-death arc, though it chooses a thoughtful stopping point and uses its conventional structure to free up thrilling bursts of expression. Though interviews carry much of the story, Morgen selects his talking heads carefully, giving most prominent voice to Cobain’s mother, father, and stepmother, his wife Courtney Love, and his bandmate Krist Novoselic. (Dave Grohl is conspicuously absent.) But there are times, too, when audio snippets of Cobain telling his story are laid over animated re-creations. Morgen finds the right balance throughout between moving the narrative forward and giving himself enough room to scribble around in the margins. In that way, “Montage Of Heck” is a marriage of form and content, like a Cobain scrapbook come to life. Read more.
Criticwire Average: C
A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
The film moves so fast — an explanatory prologue, a big battle scene, and Reese jumping through time are all covered before the opening credits have finished rolling — that it’s easy to overlook how weightless most of it is. Director Alan Taylor, who made the second “Thor” film and several episodes of “Game Of Thrones,” keeps the conveyor belt of CGI-abetted action running at all times; those who come hoping to see a bus do a flip or a shape-shifting robot melted by acid won’t leave disappointed. But Taylor lacks Cameron’s sheer virtuosity, his gift for integrating digital spectacle into a physical world — which wouldn’t be such a huge deal if the film wasn’t constantly tweaking and re-staging key set pieces from “Terminator 2.” Again, we’re in “Jurassic World” territory here, with a director nodding to a seminal special effects movie he hasn’t the chops to equal. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B-
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
Has there ever been a more durable, more adaptable fictional character than Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated Sherlock Holmes? The great detective has been played by dozens of actors in every medium, and modern authors have placed him in new adventures set in locales as far from London as India, Montana, even north of the Arctic Circle. Doing something completely different with this character, then, is no easy task, but the beautifully done “Mr. Holmes” has made it happen. Maneuvering shrewdly within the boundaries of the traditional canon and aided by the impeccable performance of Ian McKellen, Bill Condon directs an elegant puzzler that presents the sage of Baker Street dealing with the one thing he’s never had to contend with before: his own emotions. Read more.