As its title suggests, “Super Dark Times” (2017, The Orchard) focuses on the bleaker aspects of growing up aimless in a dead-end town. First-time director Kevin Phillips and screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski understand teenage language and behavior and the emotional effect on them by an ever-present gloom in the Northeast during winter, and their talented if largely unknown cast does well in portraying the varying shades of outcasts that populate the edges of such places. Where the film loses some its footing is a second-half plunge into genre territory – specifically, from character/mood piece to something closer to psychological horror – but the impression left before that shift has a more lasting impact than any of the violence. Phillips – a director who, based on this initial effort, may prove worth following – provides commentary for The Orchard’s DVD-R.
Somewhat lighter fare (though not lightweight) can be found with Magnolia’s release of “Lucky” (2017), which Christy Kane reviewed here during its theatrical run. The film, which marked the directorial debut of character actor John Carroll Lynch, is best appreciated as the final screen appearance of the legendary Harry Dean Stanton, who remains idiosyncratic and compelling to the end, though the film’s meditative pace and supporting cast, which includes such always-watchable players as Ron Livingston, Ed Begley, Jr. and David Lynch, among others, are additional assets. Interviews with Stanton and Carroll round out the disc.
There is also an abundance of great character actors on display in “Dolores Claiborne” (1995, Warner Archives Collection), Taylor Hackford‘s visually and emotionally potent adaptation of the Stephen King novel about a Maine woman (Kathy Bates) accused of murdering her employer and an investigation into the case by her estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Both actors- who are often the high point of less-than-stellar material – are given great material by screenwriter Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton,” “Rogue One”) to exercise their talents, and they’re supported by Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, Eric Bogosian and David Strathairn in a particularly unpleasant role. WAC’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Hackford, which discusses both the technical aspects and working with King.
Also: “Afterimage” (2016, Film Movement) is the final film from Andrzej Wajda, a major figure in the Polish new wave during the 1950s and 1960s; this meditative and beautifully photographed biopic, about acclaimed Polish artist Wladyslaw Strzeminki (played by Boguslaw Linda) and his struggle with censorship under his country’s Communist regime, is in line thematically with some of Wajda’s best-known work, including “Kanal” and “Ashes and Diamonds.” Film Movement also has Koji Fukada‘s slow-boiling “Harmonium” (2016), which won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes; it initially suggests a standard-issue revenge picture, with Tadanobu Asano (Marvel’s “Thor” franchise) as the ex-convict who disrupts machinist Kanji Furutachi’s dreary life, but becomes a far more unsettling drama as both parties slowly reveal their past actions.
Arrow Video has another Cannes winner, “Legend of the Holy Drinker” on Blu-ray; the Italian feature by Ermanno Olmi, which earned the Golden Lion in 1988, stars Rutger Hauer as an alcoholic whose attempts to repay a loan from a stranger (Anthony Quayle) is met with both frustration and personal revelation. The film’s flirtations with magical realism will define your appreciation of Olmi’s effort, but Hauer’s excellent turn in a difficult role makes it watchable; he’s front and center, and honest about the ups-and-downs of his acting career, in an interview on the Blu-ray, as is co-writer Tullio Kezich. Arrow also has the much lighter “Whisky Galore!” (2016), a remake of the much-loved 1949 Ealing Studios comedy, with Eddie Izzard as a Army captain charged with preventing the residents of a small Scottish island – reeling under WWII rationing – from making off with 50,000 cases of whisky stored in a cargo ship beached on its shores. Breezily directed by Gillies MacKinnon (“Hideous Kinky”), it won’t make anyone forget Alexander Mackendrick‘s original, but fans of genteel UK comedy might be charmed.
And if the younger members of your household need new viewing material (or at least, an alternative to binge-watching Cartoon Network programming), may I suggest Shout! Factory’s “Mysteries of China” (2017)? Though brief (just 37 minutes), the IMAX documentary provides history for and exceptional imagery of the army of terracotta warriors discovered during a 1974 archaeological dig in the tomb of China’s first emperor. The emphasis is more on the latter than the former, which occasionally tend towards flat recreations, but the IMAX visuals and narration by Avery Brooks are top-notch.
There’s also the two-disc “Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson” (2015, MPI), which compiles unaired pilots for live-action and animated UK television series by the creator of the cult kids’ favorites “Thunderbirds” and “Stingray,” among others. It’s understandable why some never made it to air, like “The Investigator,” about human teens transformed by an alien into eerily glamorous Supermarionation-style dolls to fight international criminals, but others, like “The Day After Tomorrow,” a “Lost In Space”-styled family adventure made while Anderson worked on “Space: 1999,” showed potential. While the special effects are probably too quaint for most school-age audiences, younger-minded viewers of a certain age might enjoy this visit to the unseen corners of Anderson’s unique TV universe.