As the year is wrapping up, there aren’t too many contemporary releases for this week in home video, but there are a host of classics from Criterion, Sony, Kino Lorber, and Twilight Time. Some of these classics include silent film star Harold Lloyd’s last film, a forgotten Frank Capra classic, a renowned propaganda film, and the last film from F.W. Murnau, one of the best film directors in the history of the medium.
Let’s kick things off with one of the few new releases this week Peyton Reed’s addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe “Ant-Man,” starring Paul Rudd as the titular character. The film follows Scott Lang, a former systems engineer at VistaCorp and petty criminal who acquires a suit that allows him to shrink in size but gain superhuman strength as he tries to stop an unethical scientist with a similar suit. Looser, more spritely, and less self-serious than most Marvel films, “Ant-Man” manages to be one of the franchise’s highlights, even after acclaimed director Edgar Wright left the project after creative differences. Critics noted its playfulness as one of the film’s major selling points along with Rudd’s somewhat unexpected superhero turn.
Other new releases this week include the Blu-ray release of season three of Bryan Fuller’s unique horror TV series “Hannibal,” sadly the last season of certainly one of the best shows of this year and the decade. Next, there’s the “Minions” film, the spin-off of the “Despicable Me” franchise that will delight tiny children and irritate any and all adults from here until the end of time. After that, there’s Eli Roth’s erotic thriller “Knock Knock,” starring Keanu Reeves as a hapless man left alone for the weekend and seduced by two young women who then threaten to destroy his life. (You are not wrong to balk at the underlying misogyny of this premise.) Finally, Criterion has “Jellyfish Eyes,” the debut feature from the contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, about a young boy who befriends a jellyfish-sprite in a new town.
On the classic front, Criterion also has Ted Wilde’s “Speedy,” which features silent film star Harold Lloyd in his last starring role. Next, Sony has Frank Capra’s romantic comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” starring Jean Arthur and James Stewart, which won Capra a Best Director Oscar. Then, Synapse Films has the Blu-ray release of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will,” a notoriously controversial film for all the obvious reasons that also demonstrates incredible filmmaking prowess. Kino Lorber has a few films on deck this week: F.W. Murnau’s last film “Tabu: a Story of the South Seas” about two lovers exploited by tribal leaders and Western civilization; Mira Nair’s “Salaam Bombay!” about the day-to-day life of children living on the streets of Bombay, India; lastly, “Moana,” directed by Robert Flaherty (“Nanook of the North”) about the life of people living in Samoa. Finally, Twilight Time has some Blu-rays out this week: Michael Radford’s “1984;” Cy Enfield’s “Mysterious Island” with visual effects by Ray Harryhausen; Delmer Daves’ “Kings Go Forth” starring Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood; and the British drama “Born Free” about a real-life couple who raised an orphaned lion cub to adulthood and then released her back into the wild in Kenya.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Criticwire Average: B-
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com
In any event, the movie Reed has directed offers a remarkably direct through-line; I kept waiting, in dread, for a flashback explaining how the villain got that way, but it never came; instead, we find out what we need to know via dialogue and action, which is very welcome. Despite the movie’s buoyancy, it manages to convey Cross’s villainy and its gravity with an appropriate tone. It’s delightful and almost miraculous the way this movie manages to work as a comic heist picture on a huge scale, and with a comic science-fiction picture blended into it…while managing to cohere to the whole, you know, Marvel thing. Even the usually dreaded training-montage sequence manages to unfold like a compelling dance number. Part of it has to do with the novelty of the training — it’s not many movies that show its protagonist attempting to leap through a keyhole, or get a group of ants to pile sugar cubes into a cup of tea — but it’s also the character work from Rudd, Lilly and Douglas. Also nifty is the size-matters humor the movie works so deftly and unpredictably — there’s an iPhone-centered joke in the middle of a ridiculous (in a good way) climactic action sequence that’s devilishly clever. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B-
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
It’s fitting that the little yellow critters scampering through “Minions” look as identical as genetically modified corn kernels, save for a googly eyeball or two. Franchises operate on an axis of sameness and difference, so it’s amusing that one incorporates that truism into its actual character design. And while “Minions” explores nominally new narrative ground, it folds neatly into a series that now includes two features (“Despicable Me” and “Despicable Me 2”), various shorts, books, video games, sheet music and a theme park attraction. So, you know, different but also the same. Read more.
Criticwire Average: C+
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture (New York Magazine)
But the film collapses, because it doesn’t convince us on a basic level: The characters are driven by convenience, not behavior, and their actions seem like they’ve been manhandled into place to make the plot work. Roth also never captures the dangerous tone required to make us feel in any way invested in what’s happening onscreen. Even at their worst, those grindhouse movies he loves and references had an unhinged quality that made it seem like anything was possible, like in watching them we’d entered a world without any rules. “Knock Knock,” by contrast, is debilitatingly inert. The torture gets worse and worse, and we care less and less. Read more.