The Conformist (Raro)
Bernardo Bertolucci’s art deco thriller stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as an Italian who accepts an assignment from the secret police to assassinate his former mentor. As an exploration of the psychology of fascism, this is often facile, but as purely sensory experience, it’s brazen, popping with off-kilter compositions and tightly controlled lighting schemes. Raro’s Blu-ray preserves the grain of the original film stock—an essential element of a film that’s all about surfaces, visual and social.
A three-disc treasure chest of shorts by the eclectic, free-spirited documentarian, each showcasing his distinctly humane perspective, his curiosity, and his eye for local flavor and color. These 22 films—14 of them newly restored—cover a diverse array of subjects, ranging from garlic and gap-toothed women to Lightnin’ Hopkins and Francisco Aguabella. Warning: Many of the films may make the viewer insatiably hungry for Southern cooking.
One of the most revered products of television’s post-Golden Age adolescence, The Twilight Zone has never been far from viewers’ reach. Fortifying its undying syndication package, multiple full-series DVD releases, and a comprehensive Blu-ray release, The Twilight Zone: The 5th Dimension journeys into a wondrous land heretofore undiscovered on home video: Rod Serling’s classic supernatural anthology side by side with its 1980s revival. Forty-one discs contained within an alluring black monolith, The 5th Dimension collects the full run of both series, giving obsessives a more convenient way of comparing and contrasting both versions of the drunk-Santa classic “Night Of The Meek.”
L’Avventura (Criterion): Michelangelo Antonioni’s seminal masterpiece, which A.V. Club film editor A.A. Dowd recently covered in his Palme Thursday column. Despite its reputation as milestone of chilly modernism, this is a movie of almost novelistic sprawl—a cross-section of European society circa 1960.
The Long Goodbye (Kino Lorber): The definitive offbeat detective movie. For all of its apparent meandering, this is actually one of Robert Altman’s most thickly plotted, cleanly structured films, thanks to a script by Leigh Brackett, who co-wrote The Big Sleep.
Masque Of The Red Death (Scorpion): The Roger Corman-produced 1989 remake of Corman’s own Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, as stolid and airless as the original was feverish.
Shock Waves (Blue Underground): The original Nazi zombie movie, and still the best. Shot on super-grainy Super 16 mm on the Florida coast, this B-horror gem uses limited budget and a handful of locations to memorably creepy effect.
Thieves Like Us (Kino Lorber): Robert Altman’s follow-up to The Long Goodbye, a remake of Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night, suffers from de-centered, pessimistic direction—the same quality that gave Goodbye and McCabe & Mrs. Miller their auras, oddly enough.
The great Chilean-born filmmaker Raúl Ruiz died before he could begin shooting this sprawling Napoleonic Wars drama. His widow (and longtime editor), Valeria Sarmiento, stepped in to direct, and though the result never achieves the texture of her late husband’s work, it still has a sharpness and personality that puts most other costume dramas to shame. Composed in long, fluid takes, the film feels at once situated in a distant past and vividly, mysteriously alive.
Joe Carnahan’s demented, low-budget action-comedy stars Patrick Wilson as a limo driver who takes a job chauffeuring a reclusive pyromaniac billionaire (an unrecognizable Chris Pine) across a version of nighttime Los Angeles so outlandish that it borders on Southland Tales sci-fi. A viewer can’t help but view the film—which was dropped by its studio—as an attack on everything Carnahan hates about the film business.
The Expendables 3 (Lionsgate): Less gory than its predecessors, the third entry in the Sylvester Stallone-led retirement-age action franchise plays like a live-action G.I. Joe cartoon.
The Giver (Anchor Bay): Phillip Noyce directed this adaptation of Lois Lowry’s young-adult sci-fi classic. In his review of the film, A.A. Dowd wrote: “In twisting The Giver to resemble a more modern class of YA bestseller, the filmmakers risk stripping it of its individuality.”
Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Kino Lorber): Mohammad Rasoulof—one of several Iranian filmmaking officially banned from making movies in their home country—secretly directed this risky, allegorical thriller, about a couple of thugs trying to recover a manuscript that implicates the government in an attempt to assassinate a group of dissidents.
A Merry Friggin’ Christmas (Peace Arch Trinity): One of Robin Williams’ final roles. He made some terrible movies, but he never phoned them in. On both counts, this one’s no exception.
The November Man (20th Century Fox): Longtime studio journeyman Roger Donaldson directed this Pierce Brosnan spy flick. When The November Man stays pulpy, its cheesier aspects—like a low-rent supporting cast and a gratuitous sex scene—seem like par for the course. When it turns more serious, so do its failings.
Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (Lionsgate): One of the better entries in Perry’s schizoid, ham-fisted Madea cycle, though that isn’t saying much.
What If (Sony): Michael Dowse’s strictly conventional rom-com—about two twentysomething friends who can’t admit their attraction to one another—is carried along by the charm and rapport of its cast and an uncommonly romantic vision of Toronto.