This week’s roundup features several new films, including “The King of Laughter,” an Italian costume drama with the superb Toni Servillo (streaming); actress Olivia Wilde’s sophomore feature as director, “Don’t Worry Darling” (4K); and “Pearl,” the prequel to another slasher flick, “X” (Blu-ray).
Streaming Release of the Week
The King of Laughter (Film Movement)
Eduardo Scarpetta, one of the biggest Italian actors of the early 20th century—who was beloved by his fans for his clownish, larger-than-life stage persona—is the endlessly fascinating if problematic subject of Mario Martone’s illuminating, vastly entertaining biopic. This lavish costume drama doubles as a warts-and-all character study of an gleefully adulterous artist on his way to becoming irreleveant in a new entertainment world (in one scene, he berates his son for wanting to appear in a movie, then a mere curiosity) with a blistering, detailed performance by the great Toni Servillo as Scarpetta, who gets a final chance at delighting an audience when he’s taken to court for plagiarizing a work by Gabriele D’Annunzio, one of Italy’s greatest writers.
4K/UHD Releases of the Week
A Christmas Story (Warner Bros)
It’s easy to see why this beloved 1983 holiday movie has been a cult item for years: director Bob Clark’s sentimental but heartwarming comedy-drama is off-kilter enough to survive multiple seasonal viewings, including a healthy dose of satiric touches. As the bemused parents, Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon were incapable of giving a bad performance and Peter Billingsley and the other kids are pitch-perfect, while the beloved set pieces—the Red Ryder rifle, the leg lamp, the visit to Santa—are hilarious. The UHD transfer looks terrific; the 4K disc includes a Clark and Billingsley commentary, while the Blu-ray disc includes the commentary and several new and archival featurettes.
Don’t Worry Darling (Warner Bros)
For her sophomore feature as director, Olivia Wilde shows striking visual control but a shaky narrative handle in this overfamiliar “Twilight Zone”-esque story of a ’50s housewife who discovers that nothing is as it seems in her seemingly perfect marriage, friendships and lifestyle. The movie takes forever to set up its plot reveal, and director Wilde stumbles badly, leading to a rather wan conclusion. Still, it all looks antiseptically feverish, Florence Pugh is tremendously good in the lead and even Wilde herself is divertingly sardonic—too bad her real-life beau, someone named Harry Styles, is pretty much a zero as Pugh’s hubby. The UHD images look spectacular; extras are a making-of featurette and deleted scene.
Halo—Complete 1st Season (Paramount)
In this often grim sci-fi drama series, the first to be based on an X-Box video game that’s been popular for two decades, a cyborg supersoldier who goes by the moniker Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) may just well be the last line of defense for earth in a seemingly hopeless battle with the Covenant, a lethal alien threat from other galaxies. It’s as convoluted as it sounds, and the series seems a threadbare knockoff of Dune. Still, its visuals look majestic in 4K; the voluminous extras comprise several hours of making-of featurettes and interviews.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
The Doom Patrol—Complete 3rd Season (Warner Bros)
In the third season of this weirdly watchable superhero series, the “disposable” outcasts once again take on the mantle of saviors and survivors as they do battle with many more otherworldly adversaries. The cast members, which are led by Timothy Dalton, Brendan Fraser and Dianne Guerrero, keep everything tongue-in-cheek throughout, and the shameless blend of sappiness and sarcasm keeps the show from becoming too melodramatic or self-parodic. As always, the series’ 10 episodes look stunning in hi-def; extras include featurettes and interviews.
Entre Nous (Cohen Film Collection)
French director Diane Kurys made this moving 1983 drama about the decades-long friendship between two women—beginning in the 1940s in occupied France—based on her own mother’s story. At times almost too painfully intimate, it’s not only an insightful and perceptive character study but also a stupendous showcase for two great French actresses: Isabelle Huppert and the redoubtable Miou-Miou are magnificent in their emotional but clear-eyed portrayals of these very individual women. The film looks good on Blu; lone extra is an interview with Kurys.
Jeepers Creepers Reborn (Screen Media)
In this latest sequel to a movie I’d completely forgotten about, our young heroes find their way to Horror Hound festival, where they and others are terrorized by an unknown but overly familiar assailant: could it be the return of the Creeper? (I won’t tell.) There are a few amusingly bloody set pieces and a couple of decent scares amid the 85 minutes of director Timo Vourensola’s otherwise predictable flick. There’s an excellent hi-def transfer.
A Knife in the Head (Cohen Film Collection)
In director Reinhard Hauff’s gritty, unsettling 1978 drama, Bruno Ganz plays Hoffman, a German biogeneticist who is shot in the head at a protest and spends the rest of the movie slowly getting his memory back and trying to discover what happened. Meanwhile, the police tag him as a terrorist and the protestors say he was summarily shot by the cops. Hauff’s penetrating study of the merging of the personal and political has highly charged acting, especially by Ganz and the affecting Angela Winkler as his wife. The film has a perfectly grainy look in hi-def; extras are interviews with Hauff and producer Eberhard Junkersdorff.
This prequel to the mediocre slasher film X, which combined porn and the gothic to no discernable end, assumes viewers want to know the killer in the first movie’s backstory: so director Ti West and his cowriter and lead actress, Mia Goth, are going to show us—over and over, to ever diminishing returns. A skewered Technicolor homage to The Wizard of Oz, of all things, Pearl has a bright look that underscores the constant blood flow, about the extent of its cleverness. The aptly named Goth is properly intense, but she holds to that one note—often impressively, just as often impassively—for an inordinately long time. The always hungry alligator is not even the most ridiculous thing here. There’s a terrific hi-def transfer; extras include two making-of featurettes.
Der Ring des Nibelungen (Naxos)
Any time Richard Wagner’s epic “Ring” tetralogy is staged, it’s a big deal, and last year’s Berlin production was no different: but director (and co-set designer) Stefan Herheim went for a no-frills staging, based around a piano at center stage that stood in for, well, everything. But it is musically that this “Ring” thrives, beginning with Donald Runnicles conducting the Berlin Opera Orchestra in a vivid reading of Wagner’s massive four-opera score, while the most of the performers do well: Nina Stemme’s Brunnhilde, Iain Paterson’s Wotan/Wanderer and Elisabeth Teige’s Sieglinde lead the way. The heroic role of Siegfried is punishing for most tenors, and Clay Hilley does at least give it the old college try. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate; extras are making-of featurettes.
DVD Release of the Week
Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam All-Stars (Time/Life)
For several years—from 1992 to 1997 and again from 2006 to 2008—Def Comedy Jam showcased some of the most promising comics performing in front of audiences crowded with even bigger celebrities. This 12-disc, 23-hour-long set contains three dozen episodes, plucked from all the seasons, with standup appearances from, just for starters, Cedric the Entertainer, Dave Chappelle, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, D.K. Hughley, Queen Latifah, Martin Lawrence, Bernie Mac and Tracy Morgan. Extras include a bonus episode, “2 Raw 4 TV”; a bonus DVD comprising Shaq & Cedric the Entertainer Present: All Star Comedy Jam, which includes more standup by the likes of Kevin Hart, Tommy Davidson, Aries Spears and DeRay Davis; and a 24-page collector’s booklet.