Movies Till Dawn: Bride of (Mostly) New Movies

On the Basis of Sex” (2018, Universal Home Video/Focus Features) Tracing the arc of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) from Harvard Law School to the groundbreaking discrimination case that would pave her way to the Supreme Court. Directed and penned with good intentions by Mimi Leder and Ginsburg’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, respectively, “Basis” places the once and future RGB on a pedestal, and deservedly so, but that position doesn’t translate into a particularly compelling or revealing film beyond the scope of a polished TV biopic. It’s probably best enjoyed by younger viewers who aren’t as familiar with Ginsburg’s historic career; Universal’s Blu-ray includes making-of featurettes.

The Great Buster” (2018, Cohen Media) Feature-length appreciation of silent comedy pioneer Buster Keaton and his film output by filmmaker and Peter Bogdanovich, who assembles a stellar collection of clips – all digitally restored and culled from the Cohen Film Collection – to illustrate Keaton’s signature brand of fearless physical comedy, deadpan screen persona and practical style of direction. The astonishment his films can generate is underscored by an eclectic group of fans and disciples, including Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Johnny Knoxville, Dick Van Dyke, and Bill Hader. Their contributions add marquee value, but the real draw is Keaton’s work, which still retains the power to amaze and amuse.

Then Came You” (2018, Shout! Factory) Hypochondriac teen Asa Butterfield meets terminally ill Brit Maisie Williams (“Game of Thrones”), who enlists him to help complete her bucket list of eclectic experiences. Viewers with a high intolerance to movie schmaltz may be relieved to know that the sugar content of this comedy-drama is tempered by its likable leads and a supporting cast of indispensable players, which include David Koechner, Tituss Burgess, Ken Jeong and Sonya Walger. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer.

Terra Formars” (2016, Arrow Video) Scientists in the 21st century use a combination of moss and cockroaches (yes, really) to make the planet Mars hospitable for colonization; 500 years later, a crew of criminals discover that the experiment has yielded not a paradise, but colossal humanoid roaches with a strong aversion to outsiders. The solution to this problem – call it fighting bugs with bugs – is one of the more outrageous elements in Takashi Miike’s adaptation of the popular manga of the same name. Miike keeps things lively and gooey by pouring on the violence and CGI effects, which help smooth over the frequent breaks in action to explain character backstories or insect etymologies. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette and interviews with the primary cast.

Iceman” (2017, Film Movement) Origin story of sorts for the Neolithic mystery man Otzi, whose mummified, millennia-old remains were discovered in the Alps in 1991, and who is imagined here as a fur-clad avenger by writer-director Felix Randau. Jurgen Vogel is the right mix of brawn and brooding as the ersatz Otzi, who battles a harsh environment to find the men that murdered his family. The pursuit is marked by brutal violence and (relatively sparse) dialogue delivered in an ancient, untranslated language, but also by remarkable outdoor photography and impressive setpieces that pit Vogel against seemingly insurmountable odds, as well as a brief, always-welcome cameo by Franco Nero as a Stone Age wiseman.

The Last Resort” (2018, Kino Lorber) Bittersweet look at Miami, Florida’s reign as a haven for elderly urban Jews in the ’60s and ’70s, as seen through the color-saturated photography of Andy Sweet and Gary Monroe. The images are the key selling point of director Kelly Reichardt’s film: Sweet and Monroe’s pictures suggest a sort of Technicolor paradise for the alter kocker set, enjoying unlimited sun and freedom from the indignities of modernity and age. What happened to Miami Beach, and to Sweet and his negatives, is also part of “Last Resort,” but it’s the images – and more succinctly, the pleasures they preserve – that retain the attention and the imagination.

Liz and the Blue Bird” (2018, Shout! Factory/GKids) As two high school seniors – both band members – rehearse their duet for the titular piece of music, they realize that its performance may also spell the end of their close relationship. Bittersweet companion piece to the “Sound! Euphonium” manga and anime series – the main characters are peripheral figures in that universe – belies its confectionary trappings and becomes a fairly moving look at the complexities and fragility of teenage friendship and independence, thanks to its delicate artwork (by Kyoto Animation, among others) and direction by Naoko Yamada. The Shout!/GKids Blu-ray is widescreen and offers Japanese (with English subtitles) and English language tracks.

Also: “The Man with the Magic Box” (2017, Artsploitation Films) is clever and stylish science fiction from Poland involving an amnesiac, a clandestine office romance, a vintage radio and time travel. Director Boda Kox brings together the disparate elements and pays affectionate homage to his influences (Ridley Scott, Terry Gilliam) with satisfying results. Style is also central to “Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco” (2017, Film Movement), which chronicles the brief but influential career of the fashion illustrator, who died of complications from AIDS in 1987, through archival footage and interviews with admirers and associates (Jessica Lange, Karl Lagerfeld, Jane Forth). And while I am adverse to end on a dark note, “A Dark Place” (2018, Shout! Factory) is a British drama set and filmed in the American South that rests entirely on Irish actor Andrew (“Sherlock”) Scott’s fine turn as a sanitation worker on the spectrum who attempts to root out a killer in his small town. You can see it in theaters and other platforms starting April 12.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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