The 5 Best Discs & Streaming Films of the Week (1/7/2014)

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PHYSICAL MEDIA:

1. “The Wicker Man - The Final Cut” (Lions Gate)

The Film: One of the best horror movies of all time had its 40th anniversary celebrated last year with a well-received British bluray — an occasion for jealousy from US cinephiles if there ever was one. Thankfully, Lionsgate has decided to port that disc over for stateside release in a new special edition, and it’s cause enough for celebration. 2014’s home video release schedule is all downhill from here.

The Disc: Though not as elaborately packaged as its UK counterpart — and only featuring one cut rather than the UK disc’s exhaustive three — the basic materials are as top-notch as the precedent suggested.

2. “For Ever Mozart” (Cohen Media Group)

The Film: A hallmark of Jean-Luc Godard’s late period, the director’s rarely seen mid-90s coup “For Ever Mozart” finally arrives on home video in North America after a too-long absence. Difficult, oblique, but deeply rewarding, this is a film that demands repeat viewings. Be thankful we finally have that chance.

The Disc: In addition to a sparkling 1080p transfer and a 5.1 HD Master Audio soundtrack, the Cohen Media Group’s “For Ever Mozart” disc includes an audio commentary from film critic and TIFF programmer James Quandt.

3. “Hail Mary” (Cohen Media Group)

The Film: Another of Godard’s great, unheralded late-period films, “Hail Mary” has been notable for years primarily for the controversy its original release entrained. Today that mystique has largely vanished, but what emerges instead is more significant: further mastery from a master.

The Disc: Like most of Godard’s late films, this has long been unavailable on home video in any capacity, so an HD release is nothing short of a godsend.

4. “The Act of Killing” (New Video)

The Film: Among the most acclaimed documentaries of this or any other year, Joshua Oppenheimer’s radical “The Act of Killing” is certainly bleak — in fact it’s hard to thinking of a recent viewing experience more disturbing in its revelations. But that’s precisely the source of its power.

The Disc: As if an audio commentary track from Werner Herzog were not appealing enough, this disc also includes a conversation on the film between Herzog and director Errol Morris. Need we say more?

5. “Throne of Blood” (Criterion Collection)

The Film: The theatrical conventions of the East meet the dramaturgy of the West in “Throne of Blood”, now on Bluray from Criterion. One of the most visionary takes on “Macbeth” comes to us, naturally, via Akira Kurosawa, who transplants the action to feudal Japan and pushes the violence and treachery to a very visceral ten.

The Disc: The high-calibre transfer expected of Criterion — this one done in 2k — is here embellished by a slew of exceptional special features, from two alternate subtitle tracks to a rare documentary on the making of the picture.

STREAMING:

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1. “The Act of Killing”

Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing” arrives on VOD the same day as it does on home video, so those inclined to watch in the cloud have one of the year’s best films covered.

2. “Birth of the Living Dead” 

George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” proved a radical departure for American horror cinema, and while its influence on popular culture continues to be felt, few know the story of its genesis. This documentary aims as a corrective to that end, exploring how the classic zombie film came to be.

3. “The Wolverine”

Well, it’s no “X-Men 2”, but as summer blockbusters go you could do considerably worse than James Mangold’s “The Wolverine”. In a year of over-long and overblown action extravaganzas it seemed a relief, come August, to find one content to play like an old movie serial, and it’s sure to play as well at home as did on the big screen.

4. “Insidious Chapter 2”

The second of two James Wan horror flicks this summer, “Insidious Chapter 2” failed to garner the critical acclaim of “The Conjuring” — but we’re starved enough for muscular horror movies that even a second-rate sequel like this can prove oddly satisfying.

5. “Closed Circuit”

A somewhat hokey international thriller of the sort rarely seen since its heyday in the mid-1990s, “Closed Circuit” didn’t make much of a splash when it arrived in theatres this August, but perhaps this is the kind of low-key thing that needs to be seen at home.