The Best New DVD & Streaming Films of the Week: August 27, 2013

It’s Tuesday, which means that it’s time to run down the best home video offerings of the week. Here are films that you'll want to catch at any price. See what I did there? No? You will:

DVD & BLU-RAY

1.) "TO BE OR NOT TO BE" (Ernst Lubitsch) 1942 // Criterion Collection

The Film: This week sees the curtains once again parted for Ernst Lubitsch's tragicomic masterpiece "To Be or Not to Be", which finally receives the deluxe home video treatment that it so obviously deserves. Playing like a giddy flirtation between Lubitsch and early Hitchcock, the film – which stars Carole Lombard in her final screen performance – wraps a silly but sweet comedy of errors around a light but deadly serious spy story that creeps around the darkest moments of WWII. Lombard and Jack Benny play dueling (read: "married") thespians whose efforts to mount a show are routinely frustrated by Nazi actions, until Hitler's insidious campaign comes to provide them with the greatest roles of their lives. As perfect a film as Hollywood has ever produced, the Lubitsch touch never felt so good.

The Disc: 

  • New, restored 2K digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New audio commentary featuring film historian David Kalat
  • Pinkus’s Shoe Palace, a 1916 German silent short directed by and starring Ernst Lubitsch, with a new piano score by Donald Sosin
  • Lubitsch le patron, a 2010 French documentary on the director’s career
  • Two episodes of The Screen Guild Theater, a radio anthology series: Variety (1940), starring Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert, and Lubitsch, and To Be or Not to Be (1942), an adaptation of the film, starring William Powell, Diana Lewis, and Sig Ruman
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and a 1942 New York Times op-ed by Lubitsch
Available on DVD & Blu-ray.2.) "ECLIPSE SERIES #39: EARLY FASSBINDER" (Rainer Werner Fassbinder" 1969 - 1970 // Criterion Collection600full-rainer-werner-fassbinderThe Films: In his piece ranking all of Fassbinder's films, Film.com's Daniel Walber wrote that exploring Criterion's Eclipse set of Early Fassbinder "feels like spending a week with a repertory theater company", and noted that the films contained in this DVD set are "reminiscent of the French New Wave, filtered through American Film Noir and spiked with the acidic flair of Pier Paolo Pasolini." Fassbinder's first feature, "Love is Colder than Death", is a particular favorite, as spare as anything you'll ever see but absolutely drowning in mood and pathos, its a fine testament to how much the cinema can accomplish with very little, making it a valuable reference point for upstart filmmakers today.

The Disc: The films are the thing in Criterion's Eclipse sets, though given their prior scarcity that is more than enough.

Available on DVD.

3.) "AT ANY PRICE" (Ramin Bahrani) 2012 // Sony Pictures Classics

at-any-price-zac-efron-1

The Film: Ramin Bahrani, known for his searingly perceptive neo-realist American portraits, takes a deceptively sharp hairpin turn into more conventional melodrama with this story of a farming family divided by dwindling tradition and growing corruption. Dennis Quaid gets his meatiest role in years as the patriarch trying to hold everything together, while Zac Efron gets his meatiest role ever as the son being groomed for the next generation of agriculture, trying to make sense of the modern world from behind the wheel of a raccecar. Of all the films hitting home video this week, the undervalued "At Any Price" is the only one to feature a scene in which Zac Efron has sex with Heather Graham inside of a corn silo.

The Disc: The big bonus here is a commentary track from Bahrani (who I can tell you from personal experience is a commanding speaker) and Dennis Quaid. Also included is rehearsal footage and video of the film's press conference from last year's Toronto Film Festival.

Available on DVDBlu-ray.

STREAMING

1.) "UNA NOCHE" (Lucy Mulloy) 2012

Over a year after it debuted on the festival circuit, Lucy Mulloy's film about Cuban siblings attempting to survive a trip to America aboard a makeshift raft is finally being released, and thus will have the opportunity to escape its own legend. See, the film – which is a compelling piece of cinema, worthy of your time regardless of the circus surrounding it – was overshadowed before it even had a chance to debut at 2012's Tribeca Film Festival, because the film's stars Anailin de la Rua and Javier Nunez both vanished from the Miami airport on their way to the film's NYC premiere. It was immediately suspected and subsequently confirmed that the actors were seeking political asylum, their wishes dovetailing with those of the characters they portray in Mulloy's movie. Now that "Una Noche" is in theaters and on iTunes, you can see them act in the story of their lives, a story they share with so many unnamed Cubans that continue to act it out beyond the reach of a camera.

Rent "Una Noche" on iTunes.

2.) "STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS" (J.J. Abrams) 2013

star trek into darkness enterprise

Recently voted the worst Star Trek film ever made by an unruly mob of Trekkies (lead, of course, by Film.com's very own Jordan Hoffman), J.J. Abrams inexplicably titled Star Trek sequel was certainly a disappointment for the devoted, its pleasures fleeting and unlikely to withstand the scrutiny of repeat viewings. Be that as it may, "Star Trek Into Darkness" maintains an undeniable appeal for people who are contentedly unfamiliar with Gene Roddenberry's sci-fi universe (i.e. yours truly), applying the relentless, incident-oriented approach that Abrams took to (the far superior) "Mission Impossible III" to the adventures of Kirk and Spock. Buy it on iTunes – your friends don't have to know.

Buy "Star Trek Into Darkness" on iTunes.

3.) "THIS IS MARTIN BONNER" (Char Hartigan) 2013

Okay this popped up on iTunes last week (and it's already available to stream on Netflix), but it's just so dang good.

Rent "This is Martin Bonner" on iTunes.