“Zoot Suit” (1981, Kino Lorber) Filmed version of Luis Valdez’s , based largely on the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder case in Commerce and the ghastly racial animus that infected the subsequent trial. Valdez himself directs in a style that combines staged scenes from the production at the Aquarius Theater on Sunset (the former Moulin Rouge and Kaleidoscope clubs and home of Nickelodeon Studios) and sequences shot for the film; the approach is not entirely successful in translating the energy of the original production (which debuted at the Mark Taper Forum before moving to the Aquarius), but does capture the film’s fearsomely elegant core – Edward James Olmos’s starmaking turn as the narrator alter ego/conscience of chief defendant Henry Reyna (Daniel Valdez) – which remains the film’s chief selling point. Music by Lalo Guerrero and Valdez; co-starring Tyne Daly and Charles Aidman as the defense attorneys, John Anderson as the trial judge (who refused to let the defendants sit with their representation), and the great Tony Plana as Reyna’s brother. Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray bundles new commentary by historian Daniel Kremer and a new interview with Valdez.
“Silent Night” (2021, RLJE Films) Upwardly mobile UK couple Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode invite a cross-section of friends and family to their posh estate for a lavish Christmas dinner with a twist: the festivities will conclude with government-sanctioned suicide to avoid a horrible death from a Russian gas cloud sweeping a lethal across Europe. Black comedy from first-time feature writer/director Camille Griffin amasses an impressive cast, including her own son, Roman Griffin Davis (from “JoJo Rabbit”), Annabelle Wallis, Lucy Punch, and Lily-Rose Depp, and gives them biting dialogue to ward off the increasingly desperate situation. Griffin fares better with the humor than the horror, and the broad characterizations blunt some of the intriguing questions brought up by her script (the validity of government experts, self-preservation vs. family, etc.). RLJE’s DVD includes deleted and extended scenes and an alternate ending.
“American Gods” (2017-2021, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) Sprawling and inspired adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel about an ex-con (Ricky Whittle) who discovers that the gods of ancient myth not only exist, but are also locked in a struggle with the New Gods – an alarming pantheon of deities devoted to technology, media, and other world-warping issues. The story’s sweep and delivery suggests a gleefully profane Western/road movie with a trailer park/dive bar visual palette, but it’s the cast of unrepentant scene stealers that carries the series: Ian McShane (“Deadwood”) as Mr. Wednesday/Odin, Gillian Anderson (who, as the Goddess of Media, appears at one point as David Bowie), Crispin Glover, Cloris Leachman (the Slavic god Zorya), Peter Stormare, Danny Trejo, Kristin Chenoweth, and Pablo Schreiber as a deranged leprechaun (which is better than it sounds). Lionsgate’s nine-disc set compiles the entire three-season run with a staggering amount of extras, including multiple commentaries, a making-of doc, numerous featurettes on cast, characters, and storyline, and observations by Gaiman himself.
“To Sleep So As To Dream” (1986, Arrow Video) At the behest of an aging screen star, a pair of detectives – a gumshoe type with a taste for hardboiled (natch) eggs and his stoic, karate-fighting sidekick – track down her daughter, who may have been trapped in a damaged print of a silent ninja movie by the nefarious Pathe criminal organization. Though “dream-like” is the term most often applied to the frequent reality shifts in writer-director Kaizo Hayashi‘s film, it’s also quite playful, especially in regard to audience expectations for film genre (noir) and film period (American and Japanese silents). The black-and-white visuals (by Yuichi Nagata) and ornate sets are gorgeous but also underscore the melancholy streak of longing (romantic but also wistful) that runs underneath the silly gags and stellar visuals. Arrow’s Blu-ray – which marks the film’s first home video appearance outside Japan – offers two commentaries: one with historians Jasper Sharp and Tom Mes (both always on the money) and another with Hayashi and actor Shiro Sano, who plays the egg-loving PI. Sano is included in a separate interview featurette, while silent Japanese cinema – much of which is largely lost – is explored (with plenty of rare clips) in others.
“Privilege” (1967, Scorpion Releasing) In an England “sometime in the near future, a documentary crew details the use of a pop singer (Manfred Mann frontman Paul Jones) to persuade the public to consume, conform, and swear blind allegiance to the nationalistic one-party government. Jones’s stage act – in which he’s dragged on stage by jackbooted cops beaten and caged before unleashing his signature tune, “Set Me Free” (which Patti Smith covered on “Easter”) to a frenzied crowd – remains as chilling an example of pop culture as mass manipulation today as it did when former TV director Peter Watkins (the Oscar-winning “War Game”) released the film at the height of ’60s counterculture in Swinging London. Received poorly at the time, “Privilege” is eerily prescient today; we don’t have pop stars driving throngs to mania, but more than our share of ephemeral celebrities supercharged to keep the public angry, dumb, and glued to their destructive antics. With Jean Shrimpton and music by Mike Leander and Mark London, who also appears as Jones’ PR flack; Kino’s Blu-ray includes new commentary by historian Daniel Kremer (which details Watkins’ blend of documentary and feature filmmaking and his politics) and the theatrical trailer.