This is an interesting week for this week in home video, with some highly acclaimed new releases and some long-awaited classics as well. There’s a riveting, disturbing documentary, an inspiring space survival story, the latest Woody Allen film, and the first season of one of 2015’s most acclaimed TV shows.
Let’s start with Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Look of Silence,” a companion piece to his equally acclaimed 2012 documentary “The Act of Killing.” The film focuses on Adi, a middle-aged Indonesian optometrist whose brother was murdered in the brutal 1965 purges. He gains access to the perpetrators of the genocide under the guise of eye exams and bluntly grills them about their involvement in the massacre. The result is a brutal, essential film about small-scale political rebellion and confronting violence head on with uncomfortable truths. In addition to being one of the most acclaimed films of the year, “The Look of Silence” placed first in the Best Documentary section in the Indiewire 2015 poll.
Other new releases this week include Ridley Scott’s newest film “The Martian,” starring Matt Damon as astronaut/botanist Mark Watney who gets left behind on Mars and must struggle to survive while the crew on Earth make a plan to rescue him. Then, there’s Woody Allen’s latest film “Irrational Man,” about a philosophy professor (Joaquin Phoenix) who is in the midst of an existential crisis and enters into a relationship with one of his students (Emma Stone). After that, there’s the animated film “Hotel Transylvania 2,” the often dull, occasionally funny sequel to “Hotel Transylvania.” Finally, the first season of Sam Esmail’s USA series “Mr. Robot” about a young cybersecurity engineer (Rami Malek) who is recruited by an anarchist group whose goal is to cancel all debt and bring down one of the largest corporations in the world.
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On the classic end, Criterion has two new releases: First, there’s Wim Wenders film noir “The American Friend,” a loose adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel “Ripley’s Game,” about an amoral art dealer (Dennis Hopper) and a German everyman (Bruno Ganz) who become entangled in a murder plot; second, Giuseppe De Santis’ neo-realist “Bitter Rice” about a rice-field worker (Silvana Mangano) who falls in with a criminal (Vittorio Gassman) who plans a crop heist. Image Entertainment has Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” based on Stoppard’s play of the same name, about the two titular minor characters in “Hamlet” as they travel to Elsinore and contemplate the meaning of existence. Finally, Kino has a host of classic releases this week: First, there’s Jacques Rivette’s long-awaited magnum opus “Out 1,” which our own Sam Adams has written about for Criticwire, and a trio of films by Richard Lester: “The Bed Sitting Room,” “How I Won the War,” and “The Knack… and How to Get It.”
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
“The Look of Silence”
Criticwire Average: A
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
The mood of “The Look of Silence” is tranquil. Its settings — modest houses and sun-dappled gardens, far from the urban bustle of “The Act of Killing” — are peaceful, and Mr. Rukun is a quiet man, contemplating his family’s tragedy more in sorrow than in anger. But this atmosphere has the effect of making the violence at the film’s heart all the more shocking. Movies have helped make even extreme brutality seem banal (that was part of the message of “The Act of Killing”), but hearing a simple, factual account of an atrocity can be almost unbearable. “After such knowledge, what forgiveness?” T. S. Eliot asked that question, in his poem “Gerontion,” almost a century ago, and it has hovered over much subsequent history. Mr. Oppenheimer and his collaborators pose it with renewed urgency and poignancy, and also suggest the ways that, in Indonesia, forgiveness is still premature. The silence they discover is not a failure of acknowledgment, but the refusal of apology. Read more.
Criticwire Average: A-
Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club
There are those that like to assert that science is a religion of its own. That’s utter nonsense, for a variety of reasons that would require this entire review to unpack, but “The Martian,” in which an astronaut accidentally stranded on Mars decides he’s going to “science the shit” out of his dilemma, comes close to serving as the secular equivalent of faith-based inspirational films like “God’s Not Dead” and “90 Minutes In Heaven.” Thankfully, it’s not as ham-fisted as that genre, and understands that any message should reside beneath a protective atmosphere of pure entertainment; the film works superbly as an adventure/disaster flick, albeit one that’s unusually focused on technical matters. Still, at its heart, “The Martian” is an unapologetically stirring celebration of our ability, as a species, to solve even the most daunting problems via rational thought, step by step by step. It’s basically “Human Ingenuity: The Movie.” Read more.
Criticwire Average: C+
Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Woody Allen’s light-toned, dark-themed comedy begins with duelling voice-overs, which keep wrangling throughout the film: those of Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), a philosopher with a taste for trouble, and Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), his disciple and admirer. Abe arrives at a small Rhode Island liberal-arts school in a funk. Depressed, reckless, and isolated, he instructs his students (especially the gifted Jill) in the futility of a life of the mind, and begins an affair with Rita Richards (Parker Posey), a colleague with romantic dreams. But a chance encounter in town with a victim of local misrule inspires a debate with Jill that prompts Abe to take action, turning the skit-like satire into an eerie and suspenseful thriller. As taboos fall away, so does Abe’s resistance to Jill’s flirtations. Allen’s sketch of the campus owes nothing to observations of real students or teachers; the setup is an abstraction that the actors fill with their own vitality. But when the Dostoyevskian drama kicks in, Allen’s venomous speculations bring to the fore a tangle of conundrums and ironies, as if the director, nearing eighty, already had one foot in the next world and were looking back at this one with derision and rue. Read more.
“Hotel Transylvania 2”
Criticwire Average: B
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture (New York Magazine)
Sandler’s live-action career has stumbled somewhat of late, not because his jokes have gotten stale — they were never all that original — but because a kind of glacial ennui has settled over his work, replacing the restless, angry, self-loathing vitality of his earlier films. But here, in animated form, he springs back to life. Yes, every joke in the film is low-hanging fruit, but not a single one is left unpicked. (Dennis gets a toy called “My First Guillotine” as a birthday present; Drac takes exception to a Cookie Monster–like TV character called Cakey the Cake Monster; Bigfoot makes a great soccer goalie; urged to use Bluetooth, Drac calls over a giant Blue Tooth; the Invisible Man pretends to have an invisible girlfriend.) It’s not exactly inventive, but it’s filled to bursting with sight gags and puns. And perhaps most important, director Genndy Tartakovsky keeps things moving at an even faster clip than the first film, restoring the verve that once made Sandler’s buffoonery interesting. “Hotel Transylvania 2” is minor, to be sure, but given the comedian’s recent work, it still counts as a pleasant surprise. Read more.