Movies Till Dawn: More Quarantine Queens

The Invisible Man” (2020, Universal Home Entertainment) After fleeing abusive boyfriend Oliver Jackson-Cohen – a ruthless, Musk-esque billionaire in the “optics” field – Elisabeth Moss is convinced that the news of his subsequent suicide was a ploy to divert attention from his plan to terrorize her using a suit that renders him invisible. Director Leigh Wannell (“Saw,” “Insidious”) and Blumhouse Productions do far better with this update of the venerable Universal horror title than the studio’s efforts to franchise them (“The Mummy“), though this is due entirely to Moss’s no-holds-barred performance as a woman whose desperate attempts at survival are thwarted or dismissed simply because the evidence of her abuse isn’t (quite literally) visible. Her turn boosts the film above a modestly effective, SFX-fueled thriller and into more disquieting territory about the uphill battle often faced by women in abusive scenarios, which lingers longer than the violent set-pieces; Universal’s Blu-ray/DVD set includes commentary by Wannell, deleted scenes, and featurettes on Moss’s fierce performance, the special effects and the cast’s challenges of interacting with their unseen co-star.

Emma.” (2020, Universal Home Entertainment) Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Witch”) is Jane Austen’s vexing heroine in this refreshingly funny adaptation by photographer turned filmmaker Autumn de Wilde. Here, as before, Emma is a world-class meddler – specifically, in the affairs of a downtrodden friend (Mia Goth), whom she attempts to link with the local vicar (Josh O’Connor) – and her realization (with the brusque help of Johnny Flynn’s Mr. Knightley) that her grasp of human nature is not as keen as she believed, remains at the heart of the film. But de Wilde makes bold choices – specifically in regard to tone, which hews closer to breezy screwball comedy, and the depiction of Jane as both charming and a total pill (thanks largely to Taylor-Joy’s performance) – and these elements, along with a candy-colored visual palette, lend humanity and humor that elevate “Emma” out of the Classics Illustrated ditch. Universal’s Blu-ray includes commentary by de Wilde, writer Eleanor Catton and cinematographer Christopher Blauvet, as well as several making-of featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Buffaloed” (2019, Magnolia Home Entertainment) Zoey Deutch‘s performance as a relentless opportunist is the chief selling point for this fitfully amusing meditation on American ambition and the dark flipside of the side hustle. Sent to prison for scalping tickets, Deutsch’s Peg emerges determined to rise out of her social and financial morass. Debt collection provides her with a platform to make money using her talent for fast talk and complete lack of a moral compass; Deutsch, who also co-produced, is brazenly funny and compelling, and she’s well matched by Jermaine Fowler as her former prosecutor turned potential love interest and Jai Courtney as her vile employer, but the script by actor Brian Sacca and direction by Tanya Wexler trades too often in easy targets and broad stereotypes. Also available on demand.

Sweet Bird of Youth” (1961, Warner Archives Collection) Though Tennessee Williams’ play was watered down for this film adaptation by Richard Brooks, the bitter tang that flows through each of the characters is still palatable. Paul Newman, Geraldine Page and Rip Torn reprise their roles from the play’s Broadway run as (respectively) a small-town Florida hustler, the faded movie star that becomes his lover/dependent, and the venomous son of town boss Ed Begley (who won an Oscar for his performance); Shirley Knight, who died in April 2020, is another of Williams’ potent symbols for faded innocence as Begley’s daughter, whose much-vaunted purity has been defiled by both Newman and her father in their ruthless ambitions. Even its truncated form, “Sweet Bird” is prime Williams: hot-blooded, overripe to the point of near-camp, and frequently poignant in its depiction of small lives made smaller by greed, ego and repression. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray boasts a sparkling new master as well as vintage extras, including a making-of doc from 2006, Torn and Page’s screen tests – the pair would be married a year after the film’s release – and a go-for-broke trailer that plays up the film’s “adults only” status.

Goldie” (2019, Film Movement) Bronx teenager Goldie (Instagram star Slick Woods) believes that an appearance in a music video will grant her not only fame and fortune but also a much-coveted yellow fur coat, but real life works overtime to prove her wrong on both fronts. Indie feature by songwriter/producer turned filmmaker Sam de Jong has energy that literally leaps off the screen via bright, kinetic animation, and a an impressive turn by Woods, who has exceptional reserves of both joy and grit, both of which make the story’s frequent dive into downbeat territory palatable. Film Movement’s DVD includes the LGBTQ-themed short “We Love Moses” (2016).

Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter: The Complete Series” (2014-2015, Shout! Factory/GKids) The magical childhood of young Ronja, the only daughter of a clan of thieves in medieval Scandinavia, is upended when she befriends a boy her own age who happens to be the son of another band of robbers who are sworn enemies of her family. Studio Ghibli – making its first foray into television – used a mix of CGI and traditional cel animation to bring Astrid (Pippi Longstocking) Lindgren’s heroine to life; the result is typically charming, with plenty of woodland creatures and lighthearted adventure over the course of 26 episodes, but also offers some more serious (but palatable) lessons on growing up and establishing one’s own identity. Shout/GKids’ Blu-ray set includes the entire series run on four Blu-rays with both Japanese and English-language tracks (Gillian Anderson serves as narrator for the latter) and includes an interview with director Goro Miyazaki and a making-of doc.

A Good Woman is Hard to Find” (2019, Film Movement Plus) Already at wits’ end after the violent death of her husband and daily affronts from her disapproving mother and suspicious neighbors, council flat resident Sarah Bolger decides that playing the victim to a home-invading hood (Andrew Simpson) and his drug-lord boss (Edward Hogg) is not in the cards, and takes appropriately forceful (read: blood-soaked) contrary action. Though the pieces fall together too conveniently in this British-Belgian thriller, Sarah Bolger is impressive as a woman pushed beyond her limits, director Abner Pastoll delivers in the grisly moments, and the script by Ronan Blaney echoes “The Invisible Man” by highlighting the lasting injustices faced by survivors of violent crime (especially women). Available on demand and via digital platforms.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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