New on DVD & Blu-ray: July 15-21

Posted on July 15, 2014
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“Under the Skin” is kind of a 21st century version of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” in which an extraterrestrial finds itself out of sync with the humans around it, but here with a different goal than Nicolas Roeg’s Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie): An alien takes over the body of a voluptuous woman (Scarlett Johansson) and travels the highways and backroads of photo for Under the Skin Scotland to lure unsuspecting men into an otherworldly lair where their flesh is harvested for unknown reasons. The film slowly and quietly follows the alien on her hunts until she grows too comfortable in her borrowed skin and begins to understand what it means to be human. A tour-de-force for Johansson and director Jonathan Glazer, who have built a minimalist existential gem. Extras include a “Making of Under the Skin” featurette. From Lionsgate.

“Rio 2”: This animated sequel finds Jewel (Anne Hathaway), Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and their three kids leaving their domesticated life in that magical city for a journey to the Amazon. There they encounter a menagerie of characters who are born to be wild, Blu goes beak-to-beak with the villainous Nigel, and meets the most fearsome adversary of all: his father-in-law. With the voices of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Jemaine Clement, Tracy Morgan, George Lopez, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Jake T. Austin, Jamie Foxx, Kristin Chenoweth, Rita Moreno. From Fox.


There’s two superb films due this week from The Criterion Collection, both in Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD Combos:

“Scanners” (1981) introduced me to the crazy, over-the-top world of David Cronenberg, a world of exploding heads, melting bodies and transmogrified flesh (a world that reached it’s apex in his masterpiece “Videodrome”), and made me dig up copies of his earlier films, “Shivers,” “Rabid” and “The Brood.” What these — as well as his version of “The Fly” — all had photo for Scanners in common were mutations of the flesh and the mind, themes that would never really leave Cronenberg’s films, though his later outings certainly have been tamer and less powerful than his first go-rounds. “Scanners” — his breakout hit and one of the first Canadian films to top the U.S. boxoffice charts — follows the journey of young man with frighteningly destructive telepathic powers who is kidnapped by agents from a mysterious rogue corporation that want to use him to bring down another organization of “scanners” bent on world domination. The special effects — in a pre-digital age — are nothing short of spectacular, and the soundtrack, by Howard Shore, is suitably ominous and well-wrought. New, restored 2K digital film transfer, supervised by Cronenberg, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include an absorbing documentary on the film’s special effects, “The Scanners’ Way”; a new interview with actor Michael Ironside; “The Ephemerol Diaries,” a 2012 interview with actor and artist Stephen Lack; excerpt from a 1981 interview with Cronenberg on the CBC’s “The Bob McLean Show”; and “Stereo” (1969), Cronenberg’s first feature film, also on telepathy. Don’t forget, “thoughts can kill!” A must-have.

“Pickpocket” (1959): This incomparable story of crime and redemption from French master Robert Bresson follows Michel, a young pickpocket who spends his days working the streets, subway cars, and train stations of Paris. As his compulsive pursuit of the thrill of stealing grows, however, so does his fear that his luck is about to run out. Along with “A Man Escaped” (1956) — a finely detailed portrait of a French Resistance activist, imprisoned by the Nazis, who devotes his waking hours to planning an elaborate escape — “Pickpocket” showed the director at the height of his powers. It’s an elegantly crafted, tautly choreographed study of humanity in all its mischief and grace. Bresson was one of the main figures who influenced the French New Wave — Godard famously said that “Robert Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is the German music” — and his films were noted for their minimalist plotting and acting, meticulous attention to detail, and an emphasis on spirituality, salvation and redemption. “Pickpocket” is presented here in a new, 2K digital film restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray.


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