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Jake Cole

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Jake Cole is a film critic and OFCS member based in Birmingham, Alabama. When he’s not writing, he’s trying to move anywhere else.

The 5 Best DVDs, Blu-rays and New Streaming Films of the Week

It’s Tuesday, meaning it’s time to go over the week’s best home video offerings.

1.) “Tokyo Story” (Yasujiro Ozu) 1953 // Criterion

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The film: Yasujiro Ozu’s riff on Leo McCarey’s “Make Way for Tomorrow” pulls off the feat of making the saddest film in cinema history even more depressing, a film about the generation gap that manages to wag its finger with precision at selfish youth while ultimately finding a place to view all of its characters without judgment. Ozu’s style, with its static, tatami-level camera and unbroken medium-long shots, becomes a kind of emotional horror, its lack of routine cuts preventing the viewer even a moment away from the agonizing pain of an old couple’s separation and loss. Be sure to watch with a box of Kleenex.

The disc: Commentary with Yasujiro Ozu scholar David Desser, editor of Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” /  “I Lived, But . . . ” – a two-hour documentary from about Ozu / “Talking with Ozu” – a 40-minute tribute to the director from 1993, featuring interviews with numerous directors such as Lindsay Anderson, Claire Denis, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Aki Kaurismäki, Stanley Kwan, Paul Schrader, and Wim Wenders / Documentary about actor Chishu Ryu’s career at Shochiku’s Ofuna studios / Trailer / Booklet featuring an essay by critic David Bordwell

Available on combo DVD & Blu-Ray. 

2.) “Assault on Precinct 13” (John Carpenter) 1976 // Shout!/Scream Factory

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The film: John Carpenter’s second film was his first masterpiece, distilling “Rio Bravo” (itself a distillation of classic Hollywood genre filmmaking) into its subatomic parts. A gang deliberately left undefined lay siege to a dilapidated police station, and the divisions between cop, civilian and criminal evaporate in the face of death. The film is crucial for Carpenter auterists, offering the first glimpses of the director’s ‘Scope framing, focus on insoluble, even cosmic evil, and self-penned electronic scores. B-movies don’t get any better, and Shout! Factory continues its trend of presenting definitive editions of Carpenter’s work.

The disc: A surprisingly dry commentary from Carpenter (usually the most amusing man to ever record the things) goes deep on every aspect of production, while sound effects editor and art director Tommy Lee Wallace engages in a lighter commentary track. An old Q&A with Carpenter and actor Austin Stoker and some new interviews with Stoker and Nancy Loomis Kyes round out the usual trailers and radio spots for a fine package.

Available on Blu-Ray.

3. “The World’s End” (Edgar Wright) 2013 // Focus/Universal

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The film: Edgar Wright cements his status as both patron saint and primary critique of the current nerd culture with “The World’s End,” a film that hope a generation forward from the director’s last film to show an obsessive’s hard segue into middle age. The protagonist’s alcoholism, crippling nostalgia and emotional stagnation are all borne out in generic terms by a town filled with robots that symbolize everything from the social homogenization brought on by corporate brand takeover to the pain of being unremembered by a town you thought you were too good for in the first place. An iffy coda is the only wrinkle in what is otherwise yet another step forward for one of the most exciting English-language filmmakers working today.

The disc: To list all of the features included on this set would require an intermission break. To sum up: Three (!) commentary tracks / A picture-in-picture storyboard view / Multiple making-of featurettes / Blooper reels and general goofs / and even a pop-up trivia track a fittingly early-2000s feature for a film about misplaced nostalgia.

Available on DVD & Blu-Ray.

4. “Russian Ark” (Aleksandr Sokurov) 2002 // Kino

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The film: Sokurov’s 2002 opus is famous for its film-length single take, but it transcends mere gimmickry for an absorbing glide through Russian history until just before the Revolution, its own opulent movement imbibing the very courtly ostentation it gently critiques. Yet even in Sokurov’s satire there is an appreciation for the Russia that was, a reminder of its capacity for beauty buried deep in its history of misery and subjugation. That Sokurov’s latest release, {Faust}, received enthusiastic support from Vladimir Putin himself only stresses how crucial it is to remember some part of the Russia that was wiped out by Putin’s 20th century forbears.

The disc: A making-of documentary goes into the film’s unique production, but other than that there is only a theatrical trailer.

Available on DVD & Blu-Ray.

5. “The Bells of St. Mary’s” (Leo McCarey) 1945 // Olive

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The film: Infused with the optimism of a country emerging from war, “The Bells of St. Mary’s” is like a good-natured “Doubt,” in which the conflict between an unorthodox priest and a more conservative nun is rendered in a playful rivalry that plays out in ways the benefit the congregation and community. Even when one of the characters is transferred, it is for reasons other than petty jealousy. If nothing else, the film offers the chance to see Ingrid Bergman play a nun under happier circumstances; the next time she played an explicit religious figure, it would be as Joan of Arc, being burned at the stake in a metaphor for her public denouncement in the ‘50s.

The disc: No extras, as is Olive’s wont.

Available on DVD & Blu-Ray.

***STREAMING***

1. “Muscle Shoals” (Greg “Freddy” Camalier) 2013

Few recording studios can lay a claim to have been the recording spot for half as much influential music as Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. It’s where Aretha Franklin broke out of a stultifying early contract with Columbia with the earth-shattering soul she made her trademark, where Duane Allman got his own start as a session player, and where legends like Wilson Pickett, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones produced their most deeply, ineffably American-sounding work. “Muscle Shoals” is a paean to that studio’s legacy, and if it only exists, like so many music docs, to just be a showcase for the tunes, it helps immeasurably that those songs are among the greatest ever recorded.

Rent on iTunes.

2. “Dirty Wars” (Rick Rowley) 2013

“Dirty Wars” is the rare political documentary that nearly transcends the format’s inherent didacticism. Indeed, the film often plays less as an audiovisual exposé of Jeremy Scahill’s many scoops than as a portrait of the journalistic process, the agonizing but necessary steps a true journalist must take to corroborate everything. Sometimes this angle wrings a bit too much conventional drama out of Scahill’s experience, as when it plays up Scahill’s shock over the darker political ramifications of a contracting firm’s casual admission of something he’d been slowly drawing out of deep cover sources for months. Nevertheless, in an age when journalism is either too craven to challenge the official response (or, in VICE’s case, making a mockery of the profession with their unprepared, yellow-journalist human interest pieces), “Dirty Wars” showcases what a powerful instrument it can still be when wielded by someone who does their job.

Buy on iTunes, Rent on iTunes.

3. “Violet & Daisy” (Geoffrey Fletcher) 2013)

If you can get past the treacly “Boondock Saints” tone that the film adopts in its first 10 minutes, you’ll be rewarded with a character study that brings out the best in its three lead actors. Saoirse Ronan plays a bubbly, insecure hitwoman not like a cynical adult but as a true, innocent child in a strange occupation, while Alexis Bledel hasn’t given her rushed, huffy delivery such force since her best work on “Gilmore Girls.” And then, there’s James Gandolfini, whose role as a target eager for death can play in retrospect as a self-penned eulogy but whose unforced humor and cheer, to say nothing of his acute replication of stagnant, unexaggerated depression. Any new Gandolfini performance is justification enough for a film now, and the work he does here is yet another awful reminder that we lost one of the best.

Buy on iTunes, Rent on iTunes.

4. “Prince Avalanche” (David Gordon Green) 2013

Working his way back from stoner comedies back, perhaps, toward the dramas that introduced him to the art-house circuit, David Gordon Green won plaudits out of Sundance for “Prince Avalanche,” and those of us who missed the chance to see it in a theater may still cling to such hope for Green’s revival that even the highly dubious prospect of Sundance buzz can be enticing. If nothing else, what appears to be a version of “The Road” with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch cannot help but be worth one watch, at least.

Buy on iTunes, Rent on iTunes.

5. “Fast and Furious 6” (Justin Lin) 2013

Inexplicably delayed on the home-video front in North America despite getting its release everywhere else, “Fast and Furious 6” is at last coming to DVD and Blu-Ray next month. But if you just can’t wait for its parade of muscle, its shamelessly thick dialogue and impossibly long runway chases, you can get it now early on iTunes.”Fast and Furious 6” caps off a surprisingly solid run for the franchise prompted by Justin Lin’s involvement, and for the many, glaring flaws of the film, its endearing qualities only expand: only Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil” movies expand with greater ambition with each franchise entry, and no other current Hollywood series so convincingly creates a sense of family, where even enemies can become members of that family. Not a masterpiece of modern American action; more like the film that should mark the base level of what Hollywood filmmakers should attempt to do with their absurd budgets.

Buy on iTunes.


Categories: Columns, Streaming/On Demand

Tags: Assault on precinct 13, Blu-ray, Criterion collection, Dvd, Fast and Furious 6, Jake Cole, New on DVD, Streaming, Tokyo story