This week on home video, most of the good stuff comes from years past, stretching even as far back as the earliest days of cinema. First off, the stuff we won’t be mentioning includes new Blu-ray/3D editions of movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Rio, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Dawn Treader, and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, simply because the draw for those is that they’re in 3D (hooray?). On top of that, there are also some notable Blu-ray reissues, like Top Gun, Good Will Hunting, and Criterion’s Blu-ray of 1969’s If. But let’s move on to what we are featuring this week: our new releases leave a bit to be desired, unfortunately: Tyler Perry’s latest outing as Madea hits shelves, as well as two teen coming-of-age dramas and a thriller/black comedy misfire starring David Hyde Pierce. But beyond that, we’ve got bona fide classics from the likes of the Coen brothers, Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Vigo, and Jean Cocteau, so hopefully there will be a little something for you movie buffs out there. Click through for the full list!
By now, the Tyler Perry story is well-known to those who follow contemporary movies in general: he makes films for a niche audience, and they always do relatively well despite typically tepid critical reception. Perry’s films basically come in two molds: serious family melodrama and screwball family comedy. Madea’s Big Happy Family, in which Perry dons a fat suit, wig, and dress as the titular family matriarch for the umpteenth time, falls squarely in the latter category. This time around, Madea uses her maternal superpowers to help another gaggle of family members work through their personal problems, which range from the pressure of joining the street life to marital discontent to medical problems. Big Happy Family only garnered a 39% Tomatometer score, but that has never mattered to the Tyler Perry faithful, who have stuck by him and his work through at least nine other Rotten directorial efforts (Perry’s only Fresh film is 2009’s I Can Do Bad all By Myself, which itself only barely makes the Fresh cut at 60%). If you’re a fan of his work, then by all means, have at it! If not, you’re probably better off steering clear.
Movies aimed at the teen demographic (not to be confused with movies about the teen demographic) don’t typically strive to break new ground or take viewers too far outside their comfort zones, so it’s safe to say that a Disney Studios movie called Prom is probably exactly what you think it sounds like. Starring Aimee Teegarden, Thomas McDonell, DeVaughn Nixon, and Danielle Campbell, among others, Prom focuses on several intersecting storylines about students preparing for — and stressing out about — the traditional end-of-year high school celebration. Critics were able to appreciate the less cynical and slightly more nuanced take on high school, but they were also a bit disappointed by Prom‘s overreliance on cliché and cornball antics, even if they were half expecting it. In the end, Prom is probably too cute and watered down to be an earnest portrayal of the modern American high school experience, but if you’re looking for an innocent and harmless portrait of teen life with a Disney pedigree, don’t let the 35% Tomatometer stop you.
Ahh, nostalgia. From Adventureland to Hot Tub Time Machine to Take Me Home Tonight (which opened just a few months earlier than Skateland), there have been a number of recent films set in the 1980s, all presented with a certain affection for the decade. Skateland does this as well, and, like Adventureland, the film takes a more serious approach to its material. The story is set in and around the titular Texas roller skating rink, where Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez) works and spends most of his time with his friends. As he tries to figure out what to do with his life, tragedy strikes, and suddenly the future doesn’t seem so certain any more. Many critics enjoyed the performances and the music, but few found much more to praise about the film, and as a result, it currently sports a 42% Tomatometer. You won’t see anything new here, what with Skateland‘s familiar ’80s references and coming-of-age trappings, but you may find something to like in this slice-of-life teen drama.
It can be risky business to mix genres when the genres in question don’t easily mesh, and The Perfect Host takes a stab at it by combining the tension of a psychological thriller with the humor of a black comedy. It’s not impossible to accomplish, by any means, but it is difficult, being that the balance between humor and tension must be managed carefully, or else one threatens to undo the other. Unfortunately for The Perfect Host, critics just didn’t buy it. Clayne Crawford plays John Taylor, a bank robber on the run who fibs his way into the house of gracious host Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce), who is preparing for a dinner party. Unfortunately for John, Warwick isn’t quite who he seems to be either, and over the course of the evening, the two battle it out in a war of wits and nerves. Critics largely felt that the acting was quite solid, but also that the relentless onslaught of plot twists served to undermine the film’s plausibility at every turn. At 36%, The Perfect Host will keep you guessing so much that you may get tired of it. (Also, feel free to check out David Hyde Pierce’s Five Favorite Films interview here.)
Joel and Ethan Coen make up one of the most consistent filmmaking duos, with only two Rotten films to their names and more Certified Fresh movies than many others have directed, period. If you’re a fan, chances are you probably already own one or more of the films contained in this collection, but if you don’t, this would certainly make a nice little addition to your shelf. The set includes Blood Simple (their first feature film), Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, and the Oscar-winning Fargo (Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress for Frances McDormand), four of the Coens’ earliest films that nevertheless chronicle their growth as filmmakers. All four are crime movies of a sort, all feature the Coens’ trademark quirky style, and all are Certified Fresh at 90% or above, so it’s pretty difficult to say you’ll go wrong here. The one possible drawback to the set is that it’s a bit light on extras (Raising Arizona, for example, only contains a few trailers), but the quality of the transfers and the films themselves will probably prove worthy of your private collection.
Most film buffs know Sergei Eisenstein as the father of montage, or the art of juxtaposing unrelated images to provoke an intended implication or emotional response. Sure, much light has been made of the technique (e.g. Team America‘s “Montage” sequence) in modern cinematic terms, but it helps to remember not only that Eisenstein was pioneering the use of montage during the Silent Era almost 90 years ago, but also that he was using it in ways very different from how contemporary audiences have become accustomed to seeing it. Remember that rather disturbing cattle slaughter scene in Apocalypse Now? Eisenstein’s Strike is the film that directly inspired it. Made just before his classic Battleship Potemkin (which features another famously duplicated montage scene), Strike was produced as a propaganda film for the Soviet government and depicts the events surrounding a massive labor strike in a Russian factory after one of the workers commits suicide. It was Eisenstein’s first full-length feature, but it demonstrated the director’s creative flair for storytelling and introduced cinematic elements that would influence the generations of filmmakers to come. It’s available for the first time on Blu-ray with a stunningly rendered high definition transfer and a newly recorded score, and its bonus features include Eisenstein’s first film ever (a short), a discussion on Eisenstein’s cultural relevance led by historian Natacha Laurent, and a trailer for Battleship Potemkin. Definitely worth a pickup for you cinephiles out there.
Poet, novelist, playwright, artist, filmmaker — Jean Cocteau could do it all. Orpheus offers compelling proof of this renaissance man’s cinematic prowess — it’s a modern take on the ancient myth, complete with a killer jazz score and leather-clad bikers acting as emissaries of the underworld. Cocteau didn’t make many movies, but his filmography is filled with weird, delightful moments of peerless visual invention, and Orpheus is no exception. A new Criterion disc comes loaded with extras, including several archival interviews with Cocteau, a feature length documentary about the director, and interviews with key collaborators.
The great Jean Vigo only directed four films in his short life, but his work continues to dazzle and inspire. His surrealistic, anti-authoritarian schoolhouse dramedy Zero For Conduct has influenced everyone from Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows to Rock and Roll High School, while the achingly poignant, dreamlike-yet-gritty L’Atalante is often cited as one of cinema’s greatest achievements. A new Criterion box set contains those titles, plus two short documentaries — Taris, which gets in the pool with a French swimming champ, and À propos de Nice, a breathtaking look at the coastal city — that comprise Vigo’s compete work (he died of tuberculosis at 29 shortly after completing L’Atalante). In addition, the set includes several making-of docs, bonus footage, discussions of Vigo’s work from Truffaut and others, and an animated tribute from Michel Gondry.