“Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton” (2017, IFC Films) The visuals are, quite literally, the high water mark in this documentary about the surfing legend by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Rory Kennedy. The major points in Hamilton’s three-decade career are given ample screen time, and rightly so: his achievements in big wave surfing, including the 2000 ride on the “Millennium Wave” in Tahiti, approach bona fide myths. The man himself is less clearly detailed – Hamilton prefers to underplay his past, and conversations with friends and competitors are fairly cagey, though his wife, Gabrielle Reece is frank about the challenges of being married to someone with a reputation for emotional distance, single-minded focus and a disregard for potential danger. So if you’re looking for depth in “Take Every Wave,” you’ll find it in the surfing footage; the man himself appears to be too busy, still chasing waves in his mid-50s, to go very deep for Kennedy. MPI’s DVD is widescreen.
“Old Stone” (2017, Kino Lorber) Taxi driver Chen Gang enters the circle of hell reserved for those who attempt to do the right thing when a drunk passenger causes him to plow into a motorcyclist. Chen brings him to a hospital, where he discovers that because the man did not die, he is required by Chinese law to pay for all medical bills for as long as the man is hospitalized. The first half of “Old Stone” unfolds like a existential nightmare, with Chen watching the motorist linger in a coma while the bills consume his savings, his relationship with his wife (producer Nai An), his job and finally, his sense of right and wrong; first-time writer-director Johnny Ma‘s solution to Chen’s problem shoehorns the film into a traditional (and less interesting) violent format, but his depiction of the corruption – both moral and financial – just below the surface of Chinese city life, and Chen’s hardening of the heart, are a compelling mix of noir fatalism and social commentary. Kino’s Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, behind-the-scene footage and Ma’s unique short “Grand Canal,” which he described as a Greek tragedy set to Chinese pop music.
“A Trip to the Moon” (1902, Flicker Alley) Being the adventures of Professor Barbenfouillis (director Georges Melies), who defies science and logic by landing on the moon – specifically, in the Man in the Moon’s eye – and by surviving an assault by its chitinous inhabitants, the Selenites. Landmark silent film in nearly every way, from its ambitious special effects to its focus on narrative over pure spectacle, which would influence film storytelling, popular culture (Smashing Pumpkins’ video for “Tonight, Tonight,” for one) and the science fiction genre as a whole. Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray offers two versions of the film – a miraculous color version, painstakingly restored, frame by frame, from a recently discovered, sole surviving print by Lobster Films, Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, and a 35mm black-and-white version with multiple audio tracks, including two music scores and actors providing dialogue as they did at the original screenings. They’re paired with a 55-minute documentary, “The Extraordinary Journey,” which recounts the discovery and repair of the Grail-like print, with comments by fantasy-minded filmmakers like Michel Gondry and Jean-Pierre Jeunet on Melies’ legacy.
“Scarecrow” (1973, Warner Film Archive) Hot and cool drifters Gene Hackman and Al Pacino meet in California and decide to head East, where ex-con Hackman has money to start a car wash, and Pacino, a discharged sailor, has a girlfriend and possibly a child he’s never seen. The trip reveals their strengths and limitations – Hackman is tough but insecure, Pacino naïve but trusting – which are tested by a stint in a prison farm and later, their respective destinations, where things are not as hoped for. Pacino, fresh from “The Godfather,” reunited with his “Panic in Needle Park” director, Jerry Schatzberg, for this ambling character study that works best in small measures – conversations and quiet moments that reveal volumes about the characters, thanks to the excellent performances, which include a terrifying Richard Lynch and Eileen Brennan. But the finale, meant to be powerful, feels unrelievedly grim and fits awkwardly with the rest of the film. Warner Archive’s Blu-ray, which provides Vilmos Zsigmond’s dusky cinematography with a lustrous showcase, includes a vintage making-of short with behind-the-scenes footage and the theatrical trailer, which suggests a much funnier experience than the actual film.
“Macon County Line” (1974, Shout Factory Select) Joyriding pals Chris and Wayne (real-life siblings Alan and Jesse Vint) have the unfortunate luck to run into car trouble in the titular Georgia county at the same time that the local sheriff (Max Baer, Jr. of “The Beverly Hillbillies” fame, who also wrote and produced the film) is hunting for two men who have murdered his wife. A huge hit on the drive-in circuit for American International Pictures, “Macon County” operates on some of the same don’t-get-stuck-in-the-South tropes that spelled box office success for “Walking Tall,” “Deliverance” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” and spawned numerous and decidedly inferior knockoffs for all four (there’s also an unrelated sequel, “Return to Macon County”). Like those films, “Macon County” can also be appreciated by cult-minded and mainstream audiences alike, thanks to a satisfying degree of thrills and (largely suggested) violence, and a script that cleverly subverts viewer expectation about its characters – Baer is not just a redneck lawman, and the Vint brothers and their hitchhiking passenger (Cheryl Waters) are not just unlucky innocents. That depth of character and story, along with Richard Compton‘s lean and efficient direction, puts “Macon County” closer to neo-noir than exploitation, and as such, remains rewarding (and surprising, especially in its jaw-dropping closer) in a way that many of its carbons and contemporaries have not. Shout Select’s Blu-ray ports over many of the extras from an Anchor Bay DVD release, including commentary by Compton and a lengthy retrospective featurette with Baer and members of the cast and crew, while adding an interview with editor Tina Hirsch, who would go on to edit many of Joe Dante‘s films.