Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Two Frank Borzage classics, and a not-so-amazing Spider-Man arrive on Blu-ray

Here’s what’s new to DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD this week.

Top Pick: Classic

Magnificent Doll (Olive) / That’s My Man (Olive)
Frank Borzage was one of the great-greats of Hollywood’s golden age, a lush metaphysical romantic who was both the most overtly sensual and the most sincerely religious American-born filmmaker of his generation. Magnificent Doll and That’s My Man were made back-to-back with Borzage’s two finest later films, Moonrise and I’ve Always Loved You, both of which remain unavailable in the U.S. Borzage at his second-best is still better than most filmmakers at their peak; for proof, look no further than the miscast Dolly Madison biopic Magnificent Doll, a routine studio assignment in which Borzage’s graceful direction manages to humanize the characters even as Irving Stone’s script tries to steer the movie toward hagiography.


Other classic releases

After making his debut at Keystone in early 1914, Charlie Chaplin became a pop-culture sensation; by the end of the year, the studio could no longer afford him, and he decamped to Chicago-based Essanay. By 1916, Essanay couldn’t afford him either, and he jumped ship to Mutual, who offered him a contract that provided complete creative freedom and made him the highest-paid entertainer in the world. Chaplin’s Mutual Comedies (Flicker Alley) collects all 12 of the two-reelers he made there, sourced from new restorations. It’s joined by The Mack Sennett Collection, Volume One (Flicker Alley), a three-disc Blu-ray set that includes 50 films produced by the Keystone founder.

Sorceress (Scorpion / Kino Lorber) belongs to a disreputable subgenre pioneered by Roger Corman: the ’80s fantasy film that can never live up to its poster. Writer-director Jack Hill—the creative force behind such exploitation classics as Foxy Brown and Switchblade Sisters—has long blamed the movie’s overall crappiness on a severely reduced budget and Corman’s post-production meddling.

It’s Spanish-Language Sex Comedy Week over at the Criterion Collection. Today, the label releases dual-format editions of Alfonso Cuarón’s career restarter Y Tu Mamá También and Pedro Almodovar’s Stockholm-syndrome romance Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! The latter is one of Almodovar’s weakest features, though if anyone could make a case for it, it would be the ever-persuasive Kent Jones, who contributed a back-and-forth with Almodovar superfan Wes Anderson to the booklet. Not to be outdone, Lionsgate is putting out a Blu-ray of the food-metaphor extravaganza Like Water For Chocolate; coincidentally, the film—a big U.S. hit in 1993—gave American moviegoers their first taste of Emmanuel Lubezki, the virtuoso cinematographer whose work would become closely associated with Cuarón.


The double-feature release 20 Million Miles To Earth / It Came From Beneath The Sea (Mill Creek) showcases the creature designs and stop-motion effects work of Ray Harryhausen—one of the true effects artists, and a man who could elevate the flimsiest sci-fi cheapie with his ingenuity and imagination.

Gordon Hessler’s very late-’80s thriller The Girl In A Swing (Kino Lorber) is a largely unsuccessful attempt at recreating the ambiguous suspense of classic Val Lewton horror films; as they say, it “isn’t without its moments.” That’s more than can be said about ABC’s 1998 made-for-TV remake of Rear Window (Echo Bridge), the only pleasure of which lies in knowing that Christopher Reeve and Robert Forster got paid.


Top Pick: Catch-up


Only Lovers Left Alive (Sony)

Opening with a slow, churning cover of Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel Of Love” and a series of hypnotic, spiraling camera movements, Jim Jarmusch’s vampire mood piece is composed of circular patterns: go-nowhere debates about the value of Luddism in a digital world; scenes of a fragile, centuries-long romance rekindling; the afterlife of Detroit, where an industrial landscape is shown reverting into a nocturnal wilderness; cycles of hunger and feeding, sleep and alertness.


Other catch-up releases

In recent years, Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab has become one of the world’s most exciting film workshops, developing and producing form-conscious avant-garde documentaries that emphasize immersion over information. Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’ Manakamana (Cinema Guild)—a typically atypical product of the SEL—is equal parts structural experiment and ethnographic record; the film is composed of eleven long, static Super 16mm takes, showing the interior of a cable car as different passengers travel to the titular Nepalese temple.


Grigris (Film Movement), Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s follow-up to his Cannes Jury Prize winner A Screaming Man, was indifferently received when it premiered at the 2013 festival. Considering the movie’s fondness for hokey underdog and crime movie clichés, it’s not hard to see why. Still, the title character—a wiry monoplegic dancer, played by non-professional Souleymane Démé—makes for a consistently interesting physical presence.

The week’s other non-theatrically distributed foreign releases include the Quebecois farmland drama The Auction (Film Movement) and the World War I-set Silent Mountain (Entertainment One). Aarón Fernández Lesur’s The Empty Hours (Strand)—a coming-of-age movie set around a seedy motel in Veracruz—technically doesn’t qualify for this category; still, its New York City run was so under-the-radar that it might as well have gone straight to video.


John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo (Millennium)—in which Turturro plays an unlikely male prostitute and Woody Allen plays his pimp—finds the actor-writer-director working in a Bertrand Blier vein. Complicated observations about class and sexual fantasy are nestled within an intentionally ludicrous scenario that seems to be playing out in an alternate universe.

Ti West’s Jonestown-inspired found-footage flick The Sacrament (Magnolia) may not have the steadiest grip on its central gimmick, but it‘s carried along by its director’s typically strong sense of mounting dread and a who’s-who cast of micro-budget indie regulars. As is often the case with West’s work, which privileges queasy atmosphere over first-act shocks, the fun lies in the build-up rather than the denouement.


Go For Sisters (Freestyle Digital Media) is the latest in a long line of undercooked, overlong John Sayles movies; it does, however, boast a fine performance from Yolonda Ross as a recovering junkie and a surfeit of interesting background details.

Direct-to-video sequels don’t get more unlikely than Jarhead 2: Field Of Fire (Universal), a spin-off of the largely forgotten 2005 Sam Mendes Gulf War drama helmed by Don Michael Paul (Who’s Your Caddy?) and produced by Phillip “No, Not That One” Roth, the man behind such B-movie time capsules as Prototype, Total Reality, Darkdrive, Velocity Trap, Interceptor Force, Digital Man, and Fatal Revenge. Also coming in on the direct-to-video front: Uwe Boll’s Rampage Capital Punishment (Phase 4) and P-51 Dragon Fighter (Monarch), a movie that—much like the Roger Corman fantasy flicks mentioned above—can never possibly live up to its advertising.


Also out this week: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Sony), the fandom doc A Brony Tale (Virgil Films), and Septic Man (Anchor Bay).

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