“I Love My Dad” (2022, Magnolia Pictures) Patton Oswalt gets a rare and welcome shot at both a lead and a very complicated character as the titular father in star/director/writer James Morosini’s black comedy. Oswalt’s Chuck is actually a miserable failure as a parent but cares about his tenuous connection to Morosini, who has cut him off as part of a personal/psychological purge after a suicide attempt. Chuck’s solution is to pose as an attractive woman via an online profile and essentially catfish his son into communication (a scheme that apparently happened to Morosini in real life). The deceit goes on far too long and leads to numerous gasp- and wince-inducing moments; your appreciation for the film hinges on your tolerance for uncomfortable humor, though Oswalt’s performance and supporting turns by Rachel Dratch and Lil Rey Howery keep the conceit buoyant when Morosini’s script can’t decide to turn towards funny or dark. On Blu-ray, DVD, and major streaming platforms.
“See How They Run” (2022, Searchlight Pictures) The murder of a boorish American producer (Adrien Brody) at the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s play “The Mousetrap” in London is investigated by dogged police inspector Sam Rockwell and newly minted constable Saoirse Ronan. Eager-to-please comedy from director Tom George plays dueling riffs on the complexities and absurdities of whodunits while also paying homage to the UK theater scene of the 1950s (when the film takes place) and various real-life participants. The cast is entirely game to play dress-up detective and suspects, and their enthusiasm fuels the film when writer Mark Chappell’s script runs low on laughs or inspiration. The impressive cast includes Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo, Reece Shearsmith, Tim Key, and Shirley Henderson as Agatha Christie; available now on all major digital platforms.
“Native Son” (1951, Kino Lorber) Long-unseen adaptation of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, with the author himself as his protagonist, a young, naïve Black man pushed into terrible crimes by systemic racism. The story behind the production – lensed in Argentina as a sort of noir-arthouse title by French director Pierre Chenal – is more interesting than the film itself; lengthy liner notes detail its struggles, which included the loss of 30 minutes in order to secure a stateside release. Chenal gives the film visual heft with shadow-stepped photography, but can’t overcome Wright’s well-intentioned but leaden turn or budget paucity. But “Native Son” has significance as a historical artifact, especially in regard to the monumental challenges in making a film about African-Americans; Kino’s Blu-ray features the restored, uncut version by the Library of Congress), drawn from 35mm and 16mm sources, as well as the aforementioned notes by Edogardo C. Krebs of the Smithsonian Institution (which consulted on the restoration) and a re-release trailer.
‘The Connection” (2014, Giant Pictures) The story behind “The French Connection” as seen from the French perspective, with Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) as the judge tasked with halting the sprawling drug trade overseen by “Tany” Zampa (Gilles Lellouche). Director Cedric Jimenez seems besotted by ’70s visual and cinematic tropes, which are emphasized over plot clarity or judicious editing; however, he also has compelling leads with almost supernatural levels of swagger (and remarkable sartorial choices), and a wealth of violent action sequences (none on par with William Friedkin’s work in the ’71 “French Connection,” but Jimenez doesn’t seem interested in competing) that help viewers over the film’s impediments. Giant Pictures’ DVD is subtitled.
“Fanny: The Right to Rock” (2021, Film Movement) Terrific music doc about unsung ’70s rockers Fanny, an impossibly tight and hard-charging quartet of women that, while failing to make a dent in the industry, enjoyed a host of celebrity supporters (notably David Bowie) and an enduring legacy as standard bearers for generations of female musicians. Led by Filipina-American sisters June and Jean Millington, Fanny resisted the conventional wisdom of the music biz, which sought to sell the act with sex appeal, by doubling down on their talents and transforming into a full-bore rock act, as borne out by clips of live and TV appearances fueled by June’s thunderous guitar. Their stance may not have generated chart hits, but it did much to give hope to many women who simply wanted to play music; said number included Bonnie Raitt, Kate Pierson, and Kathy Valentine of the Go-Gos, all of whom testify in talking-head clips (as does Earl Slick, who was married to Jean, and Todd Rundgren, who produced one of their albums). The Millingtons and most of the rotating roster of bandmates, including Patti Quatro and Brie Howard, also speak candidly about their history, which appears to have no conclusion, as evidenced by new footage of the Millingtons and Howard recording together. Film Movement’s DVD includes more than a half-hour of additional scenes.
“Invisible Valley” (2021, Kino Lorber) If you live in California, you know that the wheels that turn its agricultural output are largely Latinx and in many cases, undocumented – hot button topics on both sides of the political spectrum and for the United States in general. Co-writer/director Aaron Maurer puts a face to the migrant issue with his documentary about the Coachella Valley’s farming industry and the workers whose labor keeps money flowing to landowners and the communities at large. It is no surprise that the lives of these workers are extremely difficult, from language barriers to government intervention and the general consensus that due to their illegal status, exploitation of these workers is not only acceptable but a given. But Maurer does well at avoiding broad generalizations (painting wealthy white residents and festival attendees as privileged and the migrants as long-suffering underdogs) and focuses instead on providing a well-rounded portrait of all sides of life in the Valley beyond political and economic slogans.