The murder-suicide pact of poet Heinrich von Kleist and Henriette Vogel is the jumping-off point for director Jessica Hausner's potent dissection of passion, madness and art: her obvious antecedent is Eric Rohmer's minimalist 1976 adaptation of Kleist's novella The Marquise of O, with its unadorned editing and camera setups, affectless acting and no musical soundtrack. But Hausner doesn't slavishly ape that blueprint, which was a way of creating theater on film; instead, she has created an intelligent and robust work of art punctuated by bursts of onscreen music-making that underscore the art and artistry in her story and in Kleist’s life. The movie looks striking on Blu; extras are deleted scenes, Hausner interview and commentary, and her short film, Oida.
Tenderness of the Wolves
In Arrow's most attractive-looking set to date, two films loosely based on an Edgar Allan Poe story are brought together. Lucio Folci's The Black Cat (1981) and Sergio Martino's Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) are both definitively of their era, with mainly schlocky shocks, but Cat's cast (led by that consummate ham Patrick Magee) and Vice's femme fatale Edwige Fenech (so enticing that she gets her own bonus featurette as a ‘70s sex symbol) make these true guilty pleasures.
Ulli Lommel's 1973 Tenderness, conversely, is similar to the campy films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who appears in, but supposedly disliked, the film); Lommel's dramatization of a grisly real-life murderer who seduces then kills young men, cuts up their bodies and sells the parts to restaurants is clinical in the extreme, yet never comes to sickening life. All three films have been beautifully restored; extras include featurettes, interviews, location featurettes and commentaries.
Apparently this is a sequel to The Haunting of Molly Hartley, which I either missed or completely forgot about: in any case, this is little more than a brazen Exorcist ripoff, with an opening scene that, astonishingly, closely follows the climax of William Friedkin's 1973 classic. The rest of the movie follows the worn-out formula of medicine failing to cure the unfortunate young woman, and religion comes to the rescue. Sara Lind (Molly) and Gina Holden (psychiatrist) could be persuasive under far better circumstances. The film looks fine on Blu; extras include featurettes and hidden-camera footage.
Writer-director-actor Joel Edgerton’s Fatal Attraction-type thriller, which thrives too readily on the inconsistencies that populate the genre, smartly stars Edgerton himself, who plays the villain with a nervy mix of nastiness and shyness, and Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, who bring an appealing realism to the terrified couple, which helps smooth over many implausible moments. The nastiness, eventually involving possible rape and impregnation, piles up illogically, but it's done so slickly that most viewers won't mind. The movie has an excellent Blu-ray transfer; extras include Edgerton's commentary, featurette, a less effective alternate ending and deleted scenes.
In what's Pixar's cleverest conceit yet—with a big (uncredited) assist to the hilarious orgasm segment of Woody Allen's classic Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex—this gorgeous animation concerns a young girl whose life is uprooted by moving to a new neighborhood and new school, as her various emotions battle one another inside her brain’s control center. The 95-minute movie wears out its welcome (75-80 minutes would have sufficed), but inventive animation and stand-out voice cast (Diane Lane as Mom and none other than Lewis Black as Anger take top honors) make this a worthwhile watch. The hi-def transfer is splendid; extras include two shorts, Lava and Riley's First Date?, and several featurettes.
This set of four films from the primitive era of special effects—1933’s Son of Kong, 1949’s Mighty Joe Young, 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and 1954’s Them!—might not mean much to anyone who's grown up on (or been spoiled by) today's CGI, which renders nearly anything possible onscreen. But for anyone who wants to relive the days of really cheesy visual effects—whose shoddiness is accentuated by Blu-ray's greater resolution—then by all means watch these often risible but entertaining thrillers of yore, filled with giant apes, radioactive giant dinosaurs and mutant ants. Extras include commentaries and featurettes.
Any list of unnecessary reboots includes the comic adventures of the Griswold family as they travel to the infamous Walley World: Ed Helms and Christina Applegate take over the roles closely related to those originally played by Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo in the far-from-classic 1985 original. Writers-directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley manage to come up with some bad-taste 2015 comic equivalents, but they desperately end up resorting to Chase and D’Angelo cameos to save their movie. The film looks sharp on Blu; extras are featurettes, gag reel and deleted scenes.
The Civil War—A Film by Ken Burns
Ken Burns' classic mini-series, which brought his signature documentary style to the masses with its nine-hour exploration of the destructive War Between the States, celebrates its 25th anniversary with a long-awaited restoration, allowing Burns' now iconic visuals to be seen in a way they never have. In addition to the original series, the six-disc DVD set includes a 16-page collectors' booklets and several hours' worth of extras, including the featurettes Making The Civil War: 25 Years Later and Restoring The Civil War; complete interviews with historian Shelby Foote in high definition; and additional interviews that didn't make the final cut.
Do I Sound Gay? is director David Thorpe's exploration of his own (and others’) voice: is there such a thing as a gay voice, and if so, why? He speaks with Dan Savage, Tim Gunn and David Sedaris, voice counselors and other experts, and even though the results are equivocal, Thorpe goes on interesting tangents, such as showing long-time stereotypes in the entertainment world, from swishy minor characters to Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares. In Seymour—An Introduction, a diverting portrait of octogenarian Seymour Bernstein, director and admirer Ethan Hawke follows the chatty, personable pianist as he discusses his life, career, art and teaches his students: there’s also, not coincidentally, a lot of good music, as Seymour performs (and talks about) Schubert, Brahms and Beethoven, and even his own compositions, both in the film and in the welcome 45-minute bonus recital.
In Robert Mandel's 1983 drama Independence Day, restrained, believable performances by Kathleen Quinlan and David Keith overcome cliched, tepid writing as two small-towners who find each other look to escape their constricting lives; also memorable is a newcomer named Dianne Wiest, heartbreaking as Keith's put-upon married sister. Rapa Nui, Kevin Reynolds' 1994 historical epic, gains points for authenticity—it was shot on location on Easter Island—Sandrine Holt's beautifully modulated portrayal and the impressive physical production, which compensate for a trite story and other wooden actors.