Digital Week – May 23rd

Blu-rays of the Week

Get Out (Universal)

After nearly $200 million and near-universal critical praise, Jordan Peele’s writing-directing debut can’t hope to live up to such excessive audience and reviewer hype, and it doesn’t—it’s an effective little horror comedy that tries far too hard to hit both its jokey and scary beats, all at the service of a heavy-handed metaphor for current race relations. Such a combo is a tall order for any filmmaker, and Peele, for all his talent, tips his hand far too early and ends up grasping for bizarre and unique moments and settles for well-worn horror-movie tropes, from skittering, atonal music a la The Shining to “normal” suburban dwellers a la The Stepford Wives. The film has a crisp, vibrant look on Blu-ray; extras include Peele’s commentary, Q&A with Peele and cast, making-of featurette, and deleted scenes and alternate ending with Peele commentary.

The Climber / Cops vs. Thugs / Wolf Guy (Arrow)

Say this for Arrow Video: they keep seeking out and finding obscure and, in many cases, forgotten genre films, usually crime dramas or thrillers from Europe or the East. Sometimes, they hit a bulls-eye; others are a near-miss; and still others are whiffed on completely. These new releases—all made, coincidentally, in 1975—are a mix of near- and total miss. The Climber is a no-nonsense piece of Italian gangster cinema with hyped-up action but little resonance, Cops vs. Thugs is a superficially stylish yakuza picture from Japan, and Wolf Guy is a brutal but bloodless Japanese actioner. All three films have excellent hi-def transfers, as always with Arrow; extras include interviews with directors, stars and producers, and video essays.

Dheepan (Criterion)

French director Jacques Audiard makes audacious films that skirt the line between gritty reality and over-the-top melodrama, like his best-known features A Prophet and Rust and Bone; his latest follows a family fleeing war-torn Sri Lanka that finds the Parisian projects they’ve moved into resembles their homeland in more ways than one. Audiard’s sympathetic eye and ear are coupled with authentic unprofessional actors who are often mesmerizing, but Dheepan is too on the nose in its depiction of wartime struggles breaking out in a new, supposedly more civilized, home. The Criterion Blu-ray has a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras include a commentary by Audiard and cowriter Noe Debre, deleted scenes with their commentary, new Audiard interview and interview with lead actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan.

Jacques Rivette Collection (Arrow Academy)

I’ve never been simpatico with the jerky rhythms and crudely improvisatory feel of Jacques Rivette’s films (even if his stature has grown over the years), and this collection of three of his features—1976’s Duelle, 1976’s Noirot and 1978’s Merry-Go-Round—does nothing to upwardly reappraise him: if anything, these scattershot, diffuse, often dreary and seemingly endless pictures drop him down a few more pegs. Aside from La Belle Noiseuse and the two-part Joan of Arc—which, to be sure, were brightened considerably by the presence of magnificent performers like Emmanuelle Beart, Michel Piccoli and Sandine Bonnaire—I’ve found little of substance or interest in nearly every other Rivette film. At least there’s Arrow’s now-expected outstanding presentation— gorgeously-designed boxed set with splendid new hi-def transfers, informative bound book, new interviews with Duelle actresses Hermine Karagheuz and Bulle Ogier, appreciation by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and 50-minute archival Rivette interview.

XX (Magnet)

Omnibus films are almost always hit-or-miss, and this four-parter of creepy tales by a quartet of female directors (a notable feat in itself) is no exception. Best are Jovanka Vuckovic’s The Box, an intense bit of family fright, and Roxanne Benjamin’s straight-out horrific Don’t Fall. Annie Clarke’s debut The Birthday Party and Karyn Kusama’s Her Only Living Son have great payoffs following middling set-ups. Overall an enjoyably unsettling set (connected by Sofia Carrillo’s stop-motion animation), and there’s one great performance: Natalie Brown as the mom in The Box. The hi-def transfer is superior; extras are director interviews and on-set featurettes.

DVD of the Week

Birth of a Movement (PBS)

The outright racism of D.W. Griffin’s 1915 film classic The Birth of a Nation stung right from the start, as this insightful PBS documentary makes clear, along with the still difficult balancing act for many scholars of defending Griffith’s numerous cinematic innovations while dealing with his explicitly anti-black, pro-KKK stance. Talking heads like Spike Lee, Henry Louis Gates and Reginald Hudlin discuss the film’s impact on them both personally and professionally, and many clips from the film itself demonstrate both Griffith’s genius and bigotry.