Spins and Streams (8/21/2012)

Oscar winner A Separation is this week’s Pick of the Week!

As The Hunger Games continues to rack up massive DVD and Blu-Ray sales, another Tuesday finds an interesting mix of theatrical and television series home video releases.  Whether you still inclined to enjoy Sacha Baron Cohen’s over-the-top garishness in The Dictator, Jack Black’s critically acclaimed performance in Bernie, the introspective and insightful romantic drama Weekend, or one of 2011’s best films and the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Iran’s A Separation, there is something for everyone this week.

More than just another column about new home video releases, we will link to reviews, summarize the film, drop in some factual tidbits, and (naturally) offer you a chance to purchase the film (and support the site in the process!).

Consider it your weekly trip through the video store, both virtual and physical, scouring the shelves and combing the racks to find something you can enjoy at home, no matter what your personal preferences…


A Separation [Blu-ray]
A Separation

Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation was my #4 film of 2011 and the rightful recipient of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this past year.  A searing and extraordinarily brave film from Iran, A Separation is devastating, insightful, powerful, and will stay with you and in your thoughts for days after you experience it.

From my ★★★★1/2 theatrical review of January 6, 2012:

“The spectacle of its creation aside, A Separation is also easily one of the best written, directed, and acted films of 2011, a haunting and compelling ode to human interactions and emotional entanglements. Following Simin and Nader’s marriage separation, other separations, in varying forms, manifest, grow, and become realities. Farhadi’s screenplay opens itself up to an intricate maze of physical and emotional separations which continually make the characters in his film assess and evaluate their lives and the people who exist within it.

A Separation is a film so organically committed to the humanity of its subjects that everything which unfolds, the surprises which come especially in a breathtaking final 45 minutes, are as honest and believable as any filmmaker brought to the screen in 2011. The acting is pure, the situations transcendent of culture and country. But we are not merely bystanders – we are engaged and immersed and riveted with every word, look, and decision that these characters make.

A Separation accelerates more and more expeditiously and urgently in its second half until everything reaches an unforgettable and thought-provoking conclusion. As expertly accomplished as any movie I have seen in quite some time, Asghar Farhadi’s daring gall in questioning various elements of Iranian culture and society – from the judicial system to health care to the expectations levied upon women and men in a modernized Islamic culture, is as engrossing as it is unbelievable.”  Iranian/Drama, PG-13, 123 mins, Dir: Asghar Farhadi

See what else arrives in stores and via streaming services…after the cut!

The Dictator – BANNED & UNRATED Version (Two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
The Dictator – BANNED & UNRATED Version

As home video releases start to arrive for films I missed during a sabbatical I had to take from movies a few months back, The Dictator is a film I missed, but will be watching this week.  Sacha Baron Cohen delivered one of my all-time favorite comedies, Borat…, but then began overstaying his welcome with Bruno.  After a fine turn in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Cohen returns to the vulgar, raunchy, over-the-top comedy that put him on the A-list.  Portraying General Aladeen of the fictitious Republic of Wadiya, a visit to the United States goes terribly wrong and wacky hijinks apparently ensue.  I will report more later this week but critics were split on the film.  Comedy/Satire, R (released in an Unrated/Director’s cut), 83 mins, Dir: Larry Charles

Bernie [Blu-ray]

Richard Linklater’s Bernie is a film I have been waiting to see for awhile.  Jack Black goes against type in this film, based on true events, of a mortician who befriends, seduces, and then murders the wealthiest elderly woman in the community.  Shirley MacLaine plays the love interest, with Matthew McConaughey also reportedly quite good as the small-town Texas sheriff investigating Bernie’s not guilty plea.  Many missed this and Black reportedly has never been better.  Dark Comedy, PG-13, 98 mins, Dir: Richard Linklater

Disneynature: Chimpanzee (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo in Blu-ray Packaging)
Disneynature Chimpanzee (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo in DVD Packaging)

DisneyNature’s biggest success to date, Chimpanzee is a nature documentary, narrated by Tim Allen, which reportedly captures the first incidence of a chimpanzee adopting another chimpanzee as their own ever on film.  Centered around Oscar, a toddler chimp whose mother is injured and then separated from her son, the young chimpanzee strives for acceptance with other chimpanzees.  Well received by critics and audiences alike, Chimpanzee is the biggest grossing documentary thus far in 2012. Documentary/Family, G, 78 mins, Dir: Alistair Fothergill, Mark Linfield

Good Will Hunting: 15th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]

The Academy Award-winning Good Will Hunting is still a film that resonates deeply for me.  A huge fan of the Gus Van Sant film when it was released in 1997 and subsequently nominated for 9 Oscars, with two wins including Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Original Screenplay and Robin Williams for Best Supporting Actor, Good Will Hunting is a powerful drama that reminds us of a great number of truths in dealing with human emotions.  Damon’s titular character is a janitor at MIT and secretly a genius, tortured from past situations in his life who tries to hide behind seemingly insurmountable walls of pain and anger.  When he meets British exchange student Skylar (Minnie Driver), Will ignites with Skylar’s endearing, well-meaning, and heartbreakingly naive innocence.  Affleck is strong as Damon’s best friend but Damon finds extraordinary chemistry with Robin Williams’ counselor, Sean, leading to an iconic, oft-repeated scene where Sean and Will move from counselor/patient to friends to enemies to something akin to father and son.  Watching this again for the first time in years, I fell in love all over again with the rich dialogue, engaging wit, and moving story that made me prefer Good Will Hunting over that year’s eventual 11-time Oscar winner, Titanic.  Now is the time to find this and see it.  The film has held up extremely well these last 15 years and I promise, you will not be disappointed.  Drama, R, 126 mins, Dir: Gus Van Sant


Wargames [Blu-ray]

From 1983, WarGames is a bit of a novelty now but still a compelling snapshot from a world not that far in the past.  Truth be told, much of the film still can connect with audiences almost 30 years later as a hacker (Matthew Broderick) infiltrates a top secret government nuclear war test program and thinking he is playing a video game, unwittingly brings the world to the doorsteps of a nuclear World War III.  Set here in the Pacific Northwest, a pre-Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick and a pre-Breakfast Club Ally Sheedy are terrific getting caught up in things they have no business being involved in and the film is still quite a good thriller.  I was literally 9 years old when the film opened and saw it frequently throughout my teenage years.  Finally on Blu-Ray, I hope to catch up to it again and revisit a fond memory of my childhood. Science-Fiction, PG, 114 mins, Dir: John Badham.

Weekend (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Weekend (Criterion Collection)

Few films are as bold and yet unassuming as Weekend, an engrossing and fearless story which tells the story of Russell and Glen (Chris New and Tom Cullen, respectively) who meet in a club, head home for what is presumed to be another one-night stand for each of them, and then find something between them that neither could have expected.  Frank and direct, while retaining a compelling and fascinating pace, Weekend is a film that does not shy away from its subject matter, its characters, or their lives.  Amidst the carefree use of drugs and alcohol are moments of extended and almost poetic dialogue between the two men falling fast for one another.  Admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea, those with an interest and open mind, will uncover one of the more honest, genuine, and intriguing character studies of recent memory.  Available on Netflix Instant Watch for months, Andrew Haigh’s stunning breakthrough receives a well-deserved Criterion release.  Drama/Romance, Unrated, 97 mins, Dir: Andrew Haigh.


Bonsai just arrived in the mail on the day I am writing this and this Chilean romantic dramedy received near unanimous praise from critics.  Detailing an unemployed writer’s current relationship juxtaposed with the past love he let slip away, Bonsai looks an interesting little discovery.  I will report back.  Chilean/Romance, Unrated, 92 mins, Dir: Cristian Jimenez.

Hide Away

Struggling with life, an alcoholic businessman (Josh Lucas) invests his last resources in a boat, moves into a harbor, and attempts to turn his life around.  This apparently had a modest theatrical run in April and May of this year, but I clearly missed it.  Drama, PG-13, 83 mins, Dir: Chris Eyre.





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