“Star Trek: Short Treks” (2020, Paramount Home Video/CBS DVD) Nine shorts from CBS All Access, all focused on small but pivotal moments in the lives of characters from “Star Trek: Discovery” and the greater “Trek” universe. A working knowledge of both is helpful but not entirely necessary to enjoying the shorts, which hinge on what could be described as “character building”: Spock (Ethan Peck) learns to balance his human and Vulcan sides, the alien Saru (Doug Jones) breaks with his race’s destructive traditions, and Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) helps an cadet (Amrit Kaur) trust her instincts. The tone largely falls along the hard science/pulp adventure of the “Trek” franchise, though there’s also an appreciable amount of humor (Rainn Wilson plays con man Harry Mudd, and H. Jon Benjamin appears in a riff on “The Trouble with Tribbles“) and even two clever animated shorts. And in keeping with “Trek’s” history, the shorts are strong on inclusivity/diversity in front of the camera (leads include Sonequa Martin-Green‘s Michael Burnham, Michelle Yeoh‘s Philippa Georgiou, Rebecca Romijn‘s Number One), and behind it (writers/producers include Jenny Lumet, Olatunde Osunsanmi and Kalinda Vazquez). The disc includes making-of featurettes and commentary for each episode.
“The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye” (2011, Kino Lorber) Arresting documentary-cum-art piece about the symbiotic romance between the late Genesis P-Orridge and muse Jacqueline Breyer, a.ka. Lady Jaye. Director Marie Losier (“Cassandro, the Exotico!“) toggles between Genesis’s unhappy childhood, co-founding of the pioneering industrial acts COUM, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, and his unique relationship with Jaye, with occasional forays into visual art tableaux that depict them in various states of transformation. These are intriguing, but the film’s core focus – Genesis and Jaye’s attempt to create a single identity, or “pandrogyne,” by altering their appearances (sometimes through surgery) to resemble each other – is the chief selling point, and presented without comment or exploitation. Kino’s DVD includes additional interviews with Jaye and footage of PTV3, including Losier’s energetic 2008 short “Papal Broken Dance.”
“Spring Night, Summer Night” (1967, Flicker Alley) An ill-considered moment of passion provides two half-siblings a brief respite from the poverty, boredom and desperation of life in rural Ohio, but neither is prepared to deal with the emotional fallout. The sole directorial effort of film professor and author Joseph L. Anderson, “Spring Night” earned praise for the raw authenticity of its performances and locations and the stark photography, but failed to land Stateside distribution and eventually saw release as a cheap exploitation title. Decades later, word of mouth about the film’s muted merits led to its rediscovery and a restoration (co-funded by filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn) that’s featured on Flicker’s Blu-ray/DVD set. Viewed today, “Spring Night” is dark material but handled with an intimacy and honesty that underscores its status as a forerunner of the modern indie film scene; the Flicker set includes three short films by director Anderson, behind-the-scenes footage and retrospective featurettes, a comparison between the original film and its grindhouse edit, and detailed liner notes covering its history and restoration.
“Seire Noire” (1979, Film Movement) Door-to-door salesman Patrick Dewaere‘s tough-guy delusions allow him to be drawn into a scheme involving a venomous elderly woman Jeanne Herviale), her conniving niece (Marie Trintignant), and a migrant worker (Andreas Katsulas); this being drawn from a story by noir nihilist Jim Thompson, things end badly for all involved. Your appreciation for Alain Corneau‘s bleak and seedy melodrama hinges largely on your tolerance for Thompson’s talent for mining dark humor and slivers of sympathy from the purest of misanthropy, as well as the nuclear-strength eccentricity of Dewaere’s performance, though he’s well matched in the lost soul department by Trintignant and Bernard Blier as his malevolent boss. Film Movement’s Blu-ray includes a lengthy making-of featurette and interviews with Corneau and Trintignant from 2003, which detail the film’s production and Dewaere’s on-and-off-camera intensity.
“The Mad Fox” (1962, Arrow Films) A combination of strange phenomena, duplicitous court intrigue and the painful death of his true love (Michiko Saga) drive an astronomy student (Hashizo Okawa) out of his mind, which is made exponentially worse by the appearance of and affection from Saga’s twin sister and a fox spirit that also assumes Saga’s form. Remarkable visuals drawn from and made to resemble aspects of Japanese theater, literature and folk stories (mobile sets, puppets, animation) are the highlight of this densely plotted fantasy from eclectic director Tomu Uchida (“Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji“). The deliberately artificial imagery – meant to suggest both the student’s unmoored mind and honor the story’s sources – is frequently imaginative and quite beautiful, and holds the attention when the plot steers into perplexing waters (for Western viewers, at least). Arrow’s Blu-ray offers informative commentary by Japanese film scholar Jasper Sharp.
“Belzebuth” (2017, RLJE Films) Mexican-made supernatural horror with Tobin Bell of the “Saw” franchise as a tattooed ex-priest assisting detective Joaquin Cosio and paranormal investigator Tate Ellington as they investigate a rash of child murders. Director/co-writer Emilio Portes – a comedy specialist – lays out his material as a gruesome police thriller before diving headlong into demonic possession territory; that sea change doesn’t yield anything particularly new (though a final showdown in a drug cartel tunnel is a novel approach), but what does set “Belzebuth” apart from the “Exorcist” crowd are nods towards the everyday violence in Mexico, where massacres like the ones depicted in the film can be commonplace, and how it’s processed on both sides of the border. RLJE’s DVD is widescreen and subtitled.