From classics to contemporary television, the typical titles and the surprising outsider choices, the year in home video was just as divisive, and delightful, as the rest of our meaningful media.
Father’s Day (Blu-ray)
Mackenzie Murdock, Adam Brooks, Connor Sweeney, Matthew Kennedy, Brent Neale, Amy Groening
40Father’s Day (2011)
It would be easy to say that Father’s Day is the film Grindhouse wanted to be. Of course, that would be assuming that Mr. Tarantino and his pal Mr. Rodriguez had the first clue about what an actual exploitation film truly is. Their attempted recapture of the “glory days” of the drive-in was nothing more than a pair of amplified genre efforts, each one pushing the limits of the premise by throwing as much blood and bombast at the screen as possible. Now, Father’s Day GETS the concept of full blown cinematic sleaze. It doesn’t merely wallow in excess, it redefines it. Where else can you find a film which flawlessly mimics the steady stream of outsider outrage that used to permeate the passion pits from 1955 until 1975. We get blood, guts, gore, death, defilement, sex, splatter, nudity, jokes (both obvious and far inside) and enough jaw dropping invention to make those aforementioned auteurs ashamed of their meager attempt. Bill Gibron
Underdog: The Complete Series
39Underdog: The Complete Series
Unlike most of the classic animated shows that in recent decades became popular through syndication, Underdog has always lingered dangerously between being a beloved, if small, mainstream creation and remaining an obscure, cult show. From 1964, the year when it first aired, and up to the early ‘90s when networks tried to revive it through re-runs (let’s not even mention that live action version from 2007) Underdog has remained present in popular culture without people really knowing why (remember that episode on Friends with the balloon?). It can be said that this little-show-that-could has, well, been trying to overcome the limits of its title. Jose Solis
Rebecca De Mornay, Patrick John Flueger, Jaime King
Mother’s Day is advertised and promoted as a remake of the 1980 cult film of the same title. Thus, the first impression is that filmmakers appear to be running out of fresh ideas. After all, the original is a truly obscure film produced and distributed by the infamous Troma Entertainment. As horror movie connoisseurs know, Troma is identified for its outlandish, bizarre, facetious, gory, profane, subversive, unsophisticated, cheap, shoddy films.
That being said, it’s only fair to say upfront that other than sharing some of the same producers, the title is the only major element that connects the original film to its remake. Indeed, the cast, director, narrative construction, visual structure, production values, and ideological subtexts are completely different in both films. Furthermore, the new Mother’s Day is actually a decent post-millennial horror film that aptly exploits our new fears and anxieties spawned and shaped by the current economic crisis. Marco Lanzagorta
To Kill a Mockingbird
Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, John Megna, Frank Overton, Robert Duvall, Brock Peters, Philip Alford
37To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
I’m a sucker for any movie that releases Academy Award speeches as extras, so I knew the 50th Anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird would be one of my favorites as soon as I read the back cover. The film couldn’t disappoint; not with Gregory Peck leading the way as AFI’s Best Film Hero Atticus Finch. The special features don’t either. There’s not one but two feature length documentaries (one a making-of and one on Peck), feature commentary from the director, and “Scout Remembers”, a touching reflection from Mary Badham on the film and Mr. Peck. In case you couldn’t tell, Atticus Finch and the man who played him are all over this beautiful restoration. Fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tarantino XX (Blu-ray)
Harvey Keitel, Brad Pitt, Uma Thurman, Patricia Arquette, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, John Travolta, Pam Grier, Robert Forster
The provocative Quentin Tarantino celebrated his 20th anniversary in the business with what has been his most divisive film to date. While audiences seem to be loving the unbridled violent joys of Django Unchained, critical reaction has been a little more reserved with some accusing him of falling to Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar-seeking charms and the truth is this boxset in a way felt like an extension of that. Perhaps nothing other than a marketing ploy to bring attention to the auteur’s work, all his movies have simply been repackaged and put together in a set with a new documentary. There is no extended Kill Bill, no director’s cut of anything and yet, one can’t help but fall for the charms of the director and his playful approach to cinema. Having the movies in a single set might only be practical for saving purposes but re-exploring his filmography in a single place feels like he’s closing an era, preparing us for his next XX. Jose Solis
A Dangerous Method (Blu-ray)
Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon
35A Dangerous Method (Blu-ray)
Based on the stage play The Talking Cure, the bitter academic falling out between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung is the dramatic fulcrum of this extraordinary film. Jung’s relationship with his brilliant but disturbed female patient Sabina Spielrein drives a wedge between Freud and Jung and triggers a crisis in the field of psychoanalysis. The two male leads are carefully rendered: Freud is a meticulous scientist yet emotionally remote while Jung is the intuitive artist and mystic. Spielrein is caught between the two rivals in a merciless chess match. The superb cast of Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Kiera Knightley reveals the human costs involved in a towering battle of intellects. John Grassi
George Harrison: Living in the Material World
George Harrison, Ring Starr, Olivia Harrison, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Eric Clapton, Dhani Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Phil Spector.
34George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Perhaps the most remarkable element of this epic documentary from Martin Scorsese is how well the Hollywood veteran finally makes George Harrison, the Quiet Beatle, a fully realized character in the eyes of fans and of the world. It’s a deeply intimate film about a man who favored his privacy and a very public celebration of a man who spent his final years eschewing the trappings of fame and celebrity. There’s a tendency to see Harrison as the gentle peacenik who devoted himself to all matters spiritual and serene and who, like his bandmate Ringo Starr, endured a place in the shadows in the Fab Four. But that’s only part of the story.
Living in the Material World follows Harrison from his early life in Liverpool until his last breath in 2001. Fans, especially those who devoured the Anthology series in the ‘90s, might bristle at one more telling of how the Beatles became The Beatles and then came undone, but it’s all a necessary part of Harrison’s biography and here, that story is not just standard rock doc fare—those elements are, after all, in the hands of one of the great storytellers. Jedd Beaudoin
Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Katy Mixon, Shea Whigham, Kathy Baker, Ray McKinnon, Lisa Gay Hamilton
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories) and anchored by a magnificent, Oscar-worthy performance by lead actor Michael Shannon, Take Shelter tells the story of a stoic Midwestern family man struggling to deal with what he believes to be visions prophesying a coming apocalypse, but what appear to the rest of the world as the sudden onset of paranoid schizophrenia. His eerie visions of anarchic death and destruction are deeply troubling and extraordinarily well-rendered by Nichols, and his increasingly desperate attempts to cope with them are portrayed with heartbreaking compassion and vulnerability by Shannon, a criminally underused and underrated actor. With an equally strong supporting performance by Jessica Chastain as Shannon’s wife, Take Shelter is a gripping and intense drama that raises profound questions and will stay with any viewer for a long time afterward. Pat Kewley