Jane Fonda Stands Out In Our Pick of the Week

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Pick of the Week

Klute [Criterion Collection]

What is it? A prostitute in NYC holds the key to a murder investigation.

Why see it? Sometimes you hear nothing but praise for a film but still it eludes you. Such was the case with Alan J. Pakula’s 1971 dramatic thriller, but having finally watched it I’m happy to say it more than lives up to its reputation. Pakula’s 70s tales of paranoia and dread are some of the decade’s best, and this beautifully crafted film sits towards the top. From the gorgeous cinematography, to the haunting score, to Pakula’s mastery of pacing, it’s just brilliant. Character is the focus here, and while the performances are aces across the board it’s Jane Fonda who sears her way into your heart and soul as a woman struggling to be honest with herself and others. The film may be named after the man, but it’s the story of a woman. Criterion’s new Blu-ray gives the film the presentation it deserves with both its restoration and extras. This is a must-own release.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 4K transfer, interviews, excerpt from upcoming documentary on Alan J. Pakula, documentary, booklet]


The Best

Attack of the Robots

What is it? An Interpol agent is assigned a case involving killers, women, and killer women.

Why see it? I honestly never thought the day would come that I found a Jess Franco film that I enjoyed — I’ve watched nearly two dozen with no luck! My search ends now, though, as this weirdly fun and very funny riff on James Bond films is a delight. The humor runs the gamut from physical gags to witty banter, and Eddie Constantine’s dry wise-cracks are a constant delight. There are thrills and action as well, but it’s a film you enjoy for the laughs and smiles.

[Blu-ray extras: Commentary by Tim Lucas]

Fast Color

What is it? A young woman with extraordinary powers heads home where it all began.

Why see it? “Superhero” films are standard fare these days with rarely a week going by without one occupying theaters, but sometimes the best are unfortunately the least seen. This gem of a tale features a fantastic performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the woman on the run, and it’s a powerful story about family, responsibility, and more. It’s also a genre film focused on black women which is another rarity worthy of recognition. The film earns its praise, though, with its smart and affecting script, powerful performances, and invigorating tale. Seek this one out people.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of]

Moon – 4K UltraHD

What is it? A man working alone on the moon prepares to return home before discovering a shocking revelation.

Why see it? Duncan Jones’ feature debut remains a stunning sci-fi tale blending thrills, loneliness, and thoughts on humanity into a terrific film. Sam Rockwell carries the bulk of the film and does tremendous work, and it’s the kind of sci-fi film you wish would be made more often — intimate, inquisitive, intelligent. This new 4K re-release offers the expectedly gorgeous and sharp visual upgrade, but Sony has also included some brand new extras available only on the 4K disc. The highlight there is a new look back by Jones at the film that started his career.

[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Retrospective (4K only), deleted scenes (4K only), featurette (4K only), commentaries, short film, making of, featurette, Q&As]

Noir Archive: Volume 2 – 1954-1956

What is it? Nine noirs!

Why see it? While this collection doesn’t include any flat-out noir classics, it features more than a few good to great ones making for a fantastic release. The films included are Bait, The Crooked Web, The Night Holds Terror, Footsteps in the Fog, Cell 2455 Death Row, 5 Against the House, New Orleans Uncensored, Spin a Dark Web, and Rumble on the Docks. It’s a great set for the price for both fans and newcomers to noir, and the films feature the likes of Kim Novak, Brian Keith, John Agar, Jean Simmons, Robert Blake, and more.

[Blu-ray extras: None]

Shazam!

What is it? A teenager gains the ability to become a poorly dressed man simply by saying “Shazam!”

Why see it? It’s not news that DC’s cinematic adventures have been a mix of rare successes and weirdly bad failures, but they’ve landed on a winner here, and part of the reason why is that it comes with little to no expectations. Shazam (aka Captain Marvel, look it up) is new to most audiences, and pair that with its comedic, light touch and you have a film that entertains whether you’re a comic junkie or not. Zachary Levi is having a blast in the lead role, and it’s infectious fun, and while there are more than a few bumps along the way it’s a crowd-pleaser through and through.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Motion comic, deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes]


The Rest

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

What is it? Family fun unfolds on a farm.

Why see it? Ernest & Celestine is a sweetly animated tale about friendship, and now the filmmakers have returned with a slightly livelier film continuing those themes. Characters here are both family and friends, but the sweet fun remains. It’s a bit more energetic than its predecessor with physical gags and humor, but the warmth remains a focus across the numerous interactions and stories.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, interview, Q&A]

Breakthrough

What is it? A boy in a coma has family fighting and praying for his recovery.

Why see it? Religious films — movies made specifically for the modern-day faithful — get a bad rap for one reason. They’re typically pretty bad. Too often the films and filmmakers rest on the faith/religion angle and forget to actually craft a compelling story with engaging characters, and that’s the case here. There’s drama in a child’s near death and his family’s trauma, but the narrative puts so much of the weight on prayer (understandably given the film’s intent) that it negates the rest.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scene, commentary]

Bronco Billy [Warner Archive]

What is it? A modern day cowboy finds a bumpy road running a traveling wild west show.

Why see it? Clint Eastwood’s filmography is more varied than people sometimes give it credit for, and this oddball entry is one of those outliers. That said, its themes are familiar as Billy is an outsider in a world that’s passing him by, and he’s forced to fight for his own. There’s romance, action, and humor, although I’d argue that they don’t all work necessarily, and with Sandra Locke along for the ride you know there will be an attempted rape scene. It’s a fun enough film for fans.

[Blu-ray extras: None]

The Chill Factor [Arrow Video]

What is it? Friends find frozen fear.

Why see it? This late 80s chiller — ha! — is both familiar and fresh thanks to a story that isn’t quite sure of what it wants to be. Friends head to a remote cabin after one of them is injured, and the terror begins with devilish forces pushing them towards death. It’s silly at times and not well acted, but on the bright side the opening voiceover has made me a fan of narration again. It is ludicrous! We get some brief bloody bits, a snowmobile chase (!), and a cursed board game, so it’s not all bad. Definitely worth a watch for fans of forgotten but questionable horror.

[Blu-ray extras: New 2K restoration, commentary, interviews, VHS workprint, booklet]

Hold Back the Dawn [Arrow Academy]

What is it? A man’s attempt to use a woman for citizenship backfires when he falls in love.

Why see it? Immigration continues to be a focus even today, but this film’s approach is less about the controversy and more about the humanity. It’s a romantic drama infused with melodrama and commentary on the American dream, and it succeeds at plucking the heart strings at times. I’m not too keen on the ending which cuts away before what would have been a emotionally rewarding beat, but it’s an engaging drama all the same. Billy Wilder co-wrote the script as well.

[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, appreciation, audio interview, radio adaptation, booklet]

Relaxer

What is it? A man’s determination and shame keeps him on the couch through extraordinary circumstances.

Why see it? Slacker comedies don’t get much more literal than this as a young man named Abbie spends nearly the entire run of the film seated on a couch. It starts as a challenge but becomes a conviction, and the film keeps things lively and weird with the arrivals and departures of friends, family, and strangers alike, all while Abbie focuses on a video game and staying alive. It’s pretty damn nutty, but there’s a charm to its unpredictability as the directions it goes aren’t always expected for a single-location comedy.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scene]


Also out this week:

Abduction, Ash Is Purest White, The Baker’s Wife [Criterion Collection], Blood Paradise [Artsploitation Films], Grace Quigley [KL Studio Classics], Head Count, Hello Again [KL Studio Classics], Little Woods, Mumford [KL Studio Classics], Murder Rock [Scorpion Releasing], The Psychic [Scorpion Releasing], Satanis: The Devil’s Mass + Satan’s Children [AGFA], Shortcut to Happiness, Space: 1999 – The Complete Series, Strays [Scream Factory], Teen Spirit, Titans – Season 1

Rob Hunter: @FakeRobHunter "Rob is great. He likes movies. He writes about them. And he's a good person."