What is it? The world is a miserable place and can’t be saved.
Why see it? Phil Tippett kicked off his visual effects career with little films like Star Wars and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom before striking gold with his work on Robocop, Jurassic Park, Starship Troopers, and many more. In his down time, though, he spent thirty years making his own passion project — a stop-motion animated feature about vile creatures, mechanical doom, and the endless quest for a solace that will never come. Mad God is a beautiful movie filled with ugliness, foul imagery brought to exquisitely crafted life. Marketing claims the entirety is made via stop motion, and while that’s not entirely true (Alex Cox shows up as a weirdo at one point), the vast majority is painstakingly animated by Tippett. There’s no real dialogue here, and instead it’s a story less about narrative than tone, atmosphere, and commentary on this hellscape we call home.
[Extras: Commentaries, interview, featurettes]
Adaptation [4K UHD]
What is it? A screenwriter struggles with his latest project.
Why see it? It’s not easy delivering a successful meta film, but leave it to writer Charlie Kaufman to “adapt” a non-fiction bestseller about orchid thieves into a look at screenwriting creativity. As an adaptation it’s wildly detached from the source material — and kudos to Susan Orlean for allowing her book to reach the screen this way — but as its own wildly inventive creation, it’s genius. Nicolas Cage gives a stellar turn as both Charlie Kaufman and his twin brother, Donald, as the former tries to adapt Orlean’s book. Fiction and reality intertwine (we even visit the set of Being John Malkovich) resulting in a dizzying, funny, and insightful look at the art of creation.
What is it? Time travel, alien prisoners, and action/comedy come together.
Why see it? Writer/director Choi Dong-hoon has a filmography filled with fun, fast-moving action/thrillers, and his shift into epic sci-fi is every bit as successful. The story shifts between the present and centuries ago, with a high-tech alien angle connecting the two. It’s funny and delivers big action set-pieces and plenty of thrills as it jumps between times and situations. The CG is rock solid, and while it tells a complete tale the setup for what comes in the already filming part two is strong enough to leave viewers excited for what’s to come.
What is it? A warlord is good at his job.
Why see it? This little period action film came and went earlier this year with little notice, but it deserves more than that. Action fans in particular will want to seek it out as director Petr Jakl creates a compelling historical adventure with a viciously capable Ben Foster in the lead. It’s a look at his late career as a man in service to those in power, and his conquests in their name grow increasingly challenging and questionable. A solidly gritty flick that gives Foster the rare opportunity to not only play lead, but to play a protagonist worth cheering for too.
Pulp Fiction [4K UHD]
What is it? One of Quentin Tarantino’s ten best films.
Why see it? Reservoir Dogs was Quentin Tarantino’s first film, but it was Pulp Fiction that truly put him on the map with international audiences. It remains his most popular for many (although my tastes put Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Inglourious Basterds well ahead of it), and even if its structural innovations feel less fresh these days the film itself remains strong. A myriad of threads, told out of order, tie together into a fun, violent, and occasionally audacious tale of girls, gold watches, and everything. It’s a sharp looking film, too, with slick production design and intentional color choices, all of which finds a welcome home on UHD in 4K.
[Extras: Featurettes, interviews, deleted scenes]
What is it? An abundantly cast misfire.
Why see it? David O. Russell’s had his ups and downs as a filmmaker, from acclaimed hits to disappointing duds to underappreciated gems. None compare to the underwhelming misfire that is Amsterdam. The cast is immense and filled with talent — Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Robert De Niro, Rami Malek, and Taylor Swift to name a few. It’s all for nought, though, as the story is so dully convoluted, the performances so performative, and the filmmaking so uninteresting. The highlight is Swift’s character being run over by a car via shoddy CG.
Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman [Warner Archive]
What is it? An alien visitor turns a scorned woman into a 50-foot terror.
Why see it? It’s unfortunate but expected that an early film featuring a female “villain” sees her rage fueled by romantic betrayal. Nancy is screwed over by her husband and exposed to alien radiation in the same week, but when it makes her grow to enormous size she sets her sights on punishing the man and his floozy. It’s a creature feature with a sci-fi angle and domestic character drama. The film is more B-movie curiosity than genre classic, but it’s a fun enough ride.
What is it? A second sequel to an indie success story.
Why see it? Kevin Smith’s filmography may be a mixed bag of chatty, humorous, visually unexciting movies, but it all started with a little black & white indie that stormed Sundance and became a hit on home video. Clerks gave birth to Smith’s View Askew universe, for better and worse, and its parts have found a home in numerous other projects. This third sequel offers up an introspective, meta approach in that one of the keys has a life-altering heart attack (like Smith) and decides to make a movie — that’s essentially that first Clerks film. It’s a lowkey film, but it has some laughs and mid-life observations that make it worthwhile. Better than the film, though, are the documentaries exploring the Clerks history.
[Extras: Commentary, documentaries, deleted scenes]
The Night of the Iguana [Warner Archive]
What is it? A disreputable priest has a bad time in Mexico.
Why see it? John Huston directs from a Tennessee Williams play, a film starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, and Deborah Kerr. The talent here is undeniable, and while it’s one of Williams’ less popular plays, the film becomes a memorable drama about one man’s journey of self-pity and self-hatred. There’s some histrionics in the performances, but for most part it’s a steady drama fueled by poor character choices that lead an unlikely duo together. It’s Burton’s show, but Kerr nearly steals it with her performance as a woman who crosses everyone else’s paths.
Also out this week:
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Better Call Saul – Season Six, Burial, The Leech [Arrow Video], Michael Haneke: Trilogy [Criterion Collection], Nightmare at Noon [Arrow Video], Old Man, Operation Seawolf