DVD RELEASES 2009/8/18

Recently, it’s become difficult to pick even three worthy selections for our weekly new release column, but today has arrived to turn that frown halfway around (and suck some funds from your bank account, if you’re the buying type). This week, there are so many canonical titles that it actually feels like a “best of the month” list. Keep ‘em comin’, distributors, keep ‘em comin’…

Husbands (Extended Cut) (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) — John Cassavetes subtitled his first color film “A Comedy About Life, Death and Freedom,” and while there are laughs to be had, they are shoved inside a burning, stinging drama about three best friends—Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, Cassavetes—who go on a bender when their buddy dies. Husbands is an unflinchingly honest dose of male mourning that remains one of Cassavetes’ most explosive works. Buy the DVD at Amazon.

Julia (Magnolia Pictures) — Speaking of Cassavetes, Erick Zonca’s homage to Gloria provides a full-throttle jolt of cinematic adrenaline. Tilda Swinton is even more electrifying than usual as a raging LA alcoholic who kidnaps a child and digs herself an impossibly deeper hole with every new wrong decision she makes. This is the type of performance that end-of-the-year awards were made for, yet I assume that the Academy won’t even remember Julia by the time December arrives (note to Academy: remember). Read Tom Hall’s review here, then buy the DVD at Amazon.

Playtime (Criterion) — Jacques Tati’s impeccably constructed work of architectural slapstick is as artful a comedy as has ever graced the screen. Over the course of a long day in a futuristic Paris, a pretty American tourist, the infamous Monsieur Hulot (Tati himself), and many other citizens cross paths in clever new ways. Playtime is a masterfully choreographed human carnival set inside a rigidly, immaculately designed world. If this film doesn’t make your jaw hang just a little bit lower, you might want to give up on movies once and for all. Buy it on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.

Kagemusha (Criterion) — I confess to not having seen this Akira Kurosawa classic, but Kurosawa + Criterion = Mandatory Selection For This List. Buy it on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.

The Garden (Oscilloscope Pictures) — Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s Oscar-nominated documentary about a group of poor South Central residents who band together to try to save their community garden is an infuriating example of the American political system at its most merciless, but the sheer determination of these individuals keeps the film from succumbing to complete-and-utter hopelessness (though it comes close). Read my full review here, then buy the DVD at Amazon.

Tyson (Sony Classics) — I wrote this after seeing the film at this year’s Sundance: Even taking into account the occasional stylistic missteps (Mike walking alone on the beach at sunset set to poetry?), James Toback’s portrait of his friend and occasional actor (rent Black and White *right now*) filled me with a burst of rejuvenation. It reminded me of being a teenager and desperately anticipating the next Tyson fight, wondering how quickly he would knock down his next opponent. Wisely, Toback lets Tyson do pretty much all the talking, which is what needed to happen. Tyson is one of the most intriguing characters in modern sports. At times, he has the tenderness and sensitivity of a small child; at others, he has the capacity to unleash the anger of a crazed beast. Tyson is on point. Buy the DVD or Blu-ray Amazon.

Last House on the Left (Universal Home Entertainment) — Rather than recommending this remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 shocker—which I haven’t actually seen, truth be told—I figured I’d point you in the direction of the film that inspired it. I really wish I hadn’t been so blown away by Alexandre Aja’s 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes, because that makes it harder for me to take the firm stance that I so desperately want to take with regards to the pathetically lame Hollywood Remakes Every Movie That Did Even Somewhat Okay At The Box Office New Wave. But even taking The Hills Have Eyes into account, I would still rather re-watch Craven’s Last House on the Left—not a perfect movie by any stretch of the disturbed imagination—than yet another spruced up remake, no matter how “surprisingly not bad” it might turn out to be. Buy the Unrated Collectors Edition DVD of the original Last House on the Left at Amazon.

Hannah Montana The Movie (Walt Disney) — A generation defining teeny-bopper masterpiece if there ever wa… um, just kidding. But just in case, buy it on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.

— Michael Tully

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