1. “The Blue Angel” (Kino)
The film: One of the first masterpieces of sound cinema along with Fritz Lang’s “M,” “The Blue Angel” is a similarly bleak, thoroughly stylized depiction of the dying days of the Weimar Republic, in which Emil Jannings’ self-righteous teacher follows his naughtier students to a nightclub where he becomes enamored with Marlene Dietrich’s dancer. Adapted from a morality story written before the First World War, “The Blue Angel” becomes in von Sternberg’s hands a scathing portrait of a society eating away at itself, its simultaneous urge toward repression and hedonism toying with a superficial denouncement of the wanton lasciviousness that the Nazis would pounce upon even as it hides a harsher critique of deluded moralists within. The Nazis must have picked up on that, for they banned it upon taking power in 1933.
The disc: Losing the commentary from the old DVD set, this “Ultimate Edition” nevertheless ports prior extras over to update last year’s bare-bones release, including footage of Dietrich’s screen test, and various clips of interviews and performances of the film’s songs. This release also brings back the English cut, though one should view that only as an intriguing artifact to go with the fuller, more scathing German version.
2. “Prisoners” (Warner Bros.)
The film: Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” is an inconsistent thriller built around an excessively oversimplified and muddled moral. When it clicks, though, Villeneuve’s level of technical competence cannot be denied, and however predictable this film can be (though no one could have guessed the sheer, hilarious left-turn the film takes when motive is revealed), it can be nail-biting at its best. If nothing else, this film has a number of things in its favor: Roger Deakins’ frosty cinematography, Jake Gyllenhaal’s most natural performance to date, and extensive sequences of Paul Dano’s face slowly being turned into a giant orange through a series of beatings.
The disc: “Prisoners” comes with only two brief featurettes, neither, sadly supercuts of every ridiculous Paul Dano and Melissa Leo moment.
3. “Justified: The Complete Fourth Season” (20th Century Fox)
The film: FX’s acclaimed Elmore Leonard adaptation is slated for a fifth season at the start of the year, great news for fans of original genre television. The fourth season focuses on a mystery that extrapolates from that old lateral-thinking mystery of a man being found dead in a field wearing a pack, a plot that dovetails into the series’ longer-running storylines about mob bosses and the Kentucky justice of its central character, Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). With January typically offering fewer enticing choices at the cinema, the holiday season is a great time to catch up on some TV, and few shows on the air seem worthier of your time.
The disc: Both DVD and Blu-Ray sets come with audio commentaries for most episodes, outtake reels, deleted scenes and assorted featurettes. Those who spring for the Blu-Ray will get two additional features: “Becoming Boyd” and “Script to Screen: The Finale.”
4. “The Lone Ranger” (Walt Disney)
The film: Of all the bad films I saw this year, “The Lone Ranger” has been the hardest one to shake off. Its ideas and execution displayed an ambition so far above that of its peers that even for all my reservations—its irreconcilable tonal shifts often within the same shot, an absurdly bloated climax that proves classically oriented cinema can be as incomprehensible as the modern chaos brand, and the notorious, old-fashioned whitewashing—I cannot help but want to be swayed by its reach for grim satire and a world that obeys only the logic of a mentally broken narrator. Who knows: perhaps, like Disney’s last mega-flop, “John Carter,” a bit of distance will help reveal a reviled film as, well, not great, but better than first impressions would imply.
The disc: Perhaps reflecting Disney’s desire to cut its losses, “The Lone Ranger” arrives on home video with a faithful A/V package and a modest collection of extras, including a brief featurette from star Arnie Hammer’s perspective as he headed out into the West to shoot, as well as a piece on the “Cowboy Boot Camp” that the actors attended. The meatiest of the bunch would by default have to be the feature that focuses on the real trains used in the film’s stunts, detailing one of the production’s more fascinating traits.
5. “Elysium” (Sony Pictures)
The film: Neill Blomkamp follows up his sleeper hit debut “District 9” with an even more explicitly political work, “Elysium,” in which the 1 percent live in a sanitized, perfect space station as the peasantry starve and corrode on the Earth below. When a lethally irradiated parolee (Matt Damon) is recruited by radicals to infiltrate that floating paradise, the precarious class imbalance threatens to collapse. Released to a muted reception, “Elysium” nevertheless offers the chance to see how Blomkamp, whose low-budget debut looked more sterling than most blockbusters with 10 times its budget, can handle that kind of money, or how Sharlto Copley’s years in Hollywood transformed a naturalistic performer into an exaggerated character actor.
The disc: A fairly hefty set of extras, especially compared to some of the week’s other offerings. A host of features cover everything from the film’s pre-production to its effects and the metaphorical properties thereof. Also included are various bits of concept art, 3D models and effects rendering that further flesh out how the filmmakers created their world.
Also out this week: the individual Blu-Rays of the original “Indiana Jones” trilogy (Paramount), for those who did not feel like buying “Crystal Skull” to own them; “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (IFC Films), a Malickian lovers-on-the-lam film starring a brood-heavy cast of Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster; and “Mischief Night” (Image Entertainment), a film about the night before Halloween that may be coming out past-season, but that only better primes it for consumption by those who prefer their Christmas viewing to be a little less jolly.
1. “Hours” (Eric Heisserer)
Whatever jokes one might have made about Paul Walker’s Ken-doll looks and plastic screen presence in his early days (Lord knows I made a few), he was up until the point of his recent, untimely death building an increasingly strong case for himself as a more reserved leading man. His work on the “Fast and Furious” franchise, in which he originally stood out like a sore thumb before maturing to blend in even as the cast grew ever more diverse around him, is best proof of this, but “Hours,” in which Walker plays a new father who must keep a hospital generator running during Katrina to provide care to his newborn child, sounds like the perfect Walker vehicle, a small but emblematic part that digs out moral insights from thriller setups. It won’t be the last film to feature Walker, thankfully, but it’s a bizarrely fitting send-off for an actor who found his best dramatic chops in genre films.
2. “Sightseers” (Ben Wheatley)
Ben Wheatley already has a new feature touring the festival circuit (the excellent, psychedelic Dark Ages riff “A Field in England”), but let’s not let this wonderfully acidic comedy about a pair of working-class losers entangling themselves in a crime spree get lost in the shuffle. The description naturally recalls any number of lover on the lam pictures, but Wheatley mercilessly gives that quintessentially American genre of hiding out in the expanse of Americana a cramped, English feel, with the couple tooling around various campgrounds in a rickety caravan. Naturally, a class-consciousness reveals itself, albeit in such a self-consuming way that it is the violent social aspirant, not his bougie victims, who is revealed as the true evil, making this a fitting double bill with Kim Ki-Young’s seminal “The Housemaid” (recently reissued in Criterion’s World Cinema Project).
3. “The Angels’ Share” (Ken Loach)
Ken Loach’s name typically conjures images of bleak social-realist drama, so imagine my surprise when I learned that “The Angels’ Share,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Festival, was billed as a comedy. To read its description, however—man who narrowly avoids prison vows to redeem himself in order to be a good father to his newborn son—is to be reassured that, yes Virginia, this sounds like a Ken Loach film, all right. But still, Loach is, whatever his hit/miss ratio when it comes to excessively one-sided, reductive politics, one of the more noteworthy social filmmakers still working, and to see him lighten up would be a special pleasure.
4. “Charlie Countryman” (Fredrik Bond)
This is already getting negative reviews, but can a film in which Mads Mikkelsen beats up Shia LaBeouf be considered all bad?
5. “Here Comes the Devil” (Adrián Garcia Bogliano)
For all those who love to celebrate the season of giving and family with horror films, why not check out this Spanish-language film about a married couple who must contend with the sudden reappearance of their lost children. I don’t have much information on this film, but the Village Voice’s description, of a horror film that targets a domestically acceptable couple for criticism over the usual promiscuous victims of slashers sounds like an intriguing change-up. Besides, if you’re watching this over Christmas break, you’re probably letting off steam related to your parents, anyway.