One of the year’s most wrenching documentaries, “Amy” (2015, Lionsgate, R, $20) chronicles the rise and fall of the enormously gifted singer Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning in 2011 at the age of 27.
Director Asif Kapadia talks to nearly everyone in Amy’s life and weaves together those interviews with remarkable footage of the singer trying to navigate her way through overnight stardom.
Winehouse’s drug addiction and tempestuous marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil are explored but “Amy” seems to exist to restore Winehouse’s reputation as a vocal powerhouse. It’s unmissable. Extras: deleted footage, featurettes and Kapadia commentary.
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Ricki And The Flash: (2015, Sony, PG-13, $30) Meryl Streep as a bar bad singer in Tarzana, California? It shouldn’t work but it does. Dropping her voice an octave or two and dressing in tight leather jackets, Streep brings a lot of dimension to Ricki Rendazzo, a woman who’s paid a high price for following her dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom. The movie’s best sequences involve Ricki returning to Indiana where her daughter (Streep offspring Mamie Gummer) is in the midst of a nervous breakdown. Part character study, part family dramedy and part concert movie, “Ricki” mostly strikes all the right notes. Extras: deleted scenes and featurettes.
Goodnight Mommy: (2015, Anchor Bay, R, $22) From the very first scenes of nine-year-old twins Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwartz) playing hide and seek in a corn field and scampering across a spongy bog, this Austrian thriller exudes a haunting, nightmarish vibe. The boys are awaiting their mother’s (Susanne Wuest) return from the hospital but once she arrives, fully bandaged, they are convinced she’s an imposter. Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala are masters at uncorking sinister images. Wholly unpredictable and stocked with shots that take full advantage of both the landscapes and the boys’ pet cockroaches, “Goodnight Mommy” is guaranteed to give you a good case of the cold shivers. Extras: featurette.
American Ultra: (2015, Lionsgate, R, $20) In this tiresome, one-joke action comedy, Jesse Eisenberg plays a pot-smoking slacker who also happens to be the CIA’s best sleeper agent. After he’s activated by another agent (Connie Britton), mayhem ensues involving rival spies (Topher Grace, Walton Goggins), drug dealers (John Leguizamo) and Eisenberg’s girlfriend (Kristen Stewart). In the film’s few quiet scenes, Eisenberg and Stewart demonstrate crackerjack chemistry. Too bad the film rarely focuses on their relationship, preferring to serve up one gory bloodbath after another. Extras: featurettes, gag reel and commentary by director Nima Nourizadeh.
The Hunting Ground: (2015, Anchor Bay, PG-13, $22) After exposing the military for its cover-up of sexual assault in the Oscar-nominated “Invisible War,” director Kirby Dick finds a sadly similar pattern involving college campuses. In this absorbing – and infuriating – doc, countless undergrads describe how their rapes were swept under the carpet by their schools. Particularly troubling are the cases involving athletes who are deemed too valuable to investigate, let alone prosecute. Dick finds hope, though, in the efforts of assault survivors who have pursued justice via the Department of Education. Extras: featurette and deleted scenes.
No Escape: (2015, Anchor Bay, R, $30) Sure, this movie has a bad case of xenophobia but if you can look past that – and that’s a big if – you’ll discover a real pulse-pounder about an American engineer (Owen Wilson), his wife (Lake Bell) and two daughters who arrive in an unnamed Southeast Asian country and find themselves in the midst of a violent coup. There’s a riveting scene involving Wilson and his family jumping between buildings to flee a pack of thugs and an effective turn by Pierce Brosnan as a scruffy spy. “No Escape” isn’t going to win any awards for political correctness but it does deliver the action movie goods. Extras: deleted scenes and commentaries.
1971: (2015, First Run, unrated, $30) Decades before Edward Snowden began leaking documents, eight ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania on March 8, 1971, and stole hundreds of secret files which exposed the illegal activities of the agency. Director Johanna Hamilton re-enacts the crime to thrilling effect and also probes the aftermath of the incident thanks to interviews with the participants. Something of a companion piece to Anthony Giacchino’s “The Camden 28,” this doc is essential viewing for anyone who doubts that citizen activism can change the course of history. Extras: featurette.
Sweet Adeline: (1934, Warner Archive, unrated, $20) The always beguiling Irene Dunne sings her way out of a Hoboken beer garden in this charming musical comedy enlivened by a lovely Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein score. The action alternates between rehearsals for Dunne’s Broadway debut in a musical comedy bankrolled by a shady war hero (Louis Calhern) and a bizarre spy yarn involving a spiteful diva (Winifred Shaw.) Disregard the occasional silliness because when Dunne sings “Why Was I Born?” and “Don’t Ever Leave Me,” this songfest soars. Extras: none.
Kid Blue: (1973, Fox Cinema Archives, PG, $20) Set in the Old West, this easy-going comedy pivots on a proto-hippie (Dennis Hopper) who decides to give up train-robbing for a respectable life in Dime Box, Texas. As hard as Kid tries to go straight, he can’t succeed thanks to a sheriff (Ben Johnson) who hates his guts. Directed by James Frawley (“The Monkees” TV show), “Kid Blue” is less a western than a commentary on the counterculture. It doesn’t always work but it has its heart in the right place. Extras: none.
Black Widow: (1987, Twilight Time, R, $30) You might expect that the filmmaker behind “Five Easy Pieces” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” would turn this look at a femme fatale (Theresa Russell) on the prowl for new prey into something dark and twisted. But, in fact, Bob Rafelson’s eye-grabbing, new-to-Blu-ray thriller is marked more by wit and mischief. Debra Winger plays a Justice Department data-cruncher who tracks Russell to Hawaii where she’s spinning a web around her latest victim (Sami Frey). One of the reasons the cat-and-mouse game between the two women is so fascinating is that they seem equally repelled and attracted by each other. Don’t miss this underrated gem. Extras: commentary track.
A Black Veil For Lisa: (1968, Olive, unrated, $25) Shot in Germany by Italian filmmaker Massimo Dallamano, the new-to-Blu “Black Veil” is a bizarre crime thriller that pivots on a police detective (John Mills) who’s more obsessed with his much younger wife’s possible infidelities that he is in arresting a drug trafficker. Mills works himself up into such a lather that he hires a hitman (Robert Hoffman) to assassinate his beloved. Lacing a mystery with so much marital dysfunction distinguishes it from the pack. It’s not a great movie but it’s a wildly entertaining one. Extras: none.
One Deadly Summer: (1983, Bayview, unrated, $40) Isabelle Adjani won a Cesar award for her turn in this new-to-Blu-ray psychological thriller set in a deceptively quiet, pastoral French village. Unfolding “Rashomon”-like from the perspective of several participants, “Deadly Summer” focuses on a young woman (Adjani) on a misguided mission to find the three men who violently raped her mother decades earlier. She takes up residence with an Italian mechanic (Alain Souchon) whom she imagines is linked to the crime. After a slow beginning, “Deadly Summer” begins twisting and turning in ways you don’t see coming. Holding it all together is Adjani who is, by turns, petulant, determined, tender and unhinged. Extras: featurettes.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 – XXXIV: (1956-1958, Shout Factory, unrated, $60) Monster movies from the 1950s get the snark treatment from the MST3K gang in this four-disc set that boasts a quartet of godawful entries from American International Pictures. On tap: “The Saga of the Viking Woman,” War of the Colossal Beast,” “The Undead” and “The She-Creature.” Let the riffing begin. Extras: new intros, featurette and mini-posters.
Foyle’s War – The Complete Saga: (2015, Acorn, unrated, $199) Over the course of 29 discs and eight seasons, crackerjack detective Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) investigates both crimes on the home front during WWII and counterintelligence threats at the dawn of the Cold War. The series is enlivened by terrific guest spots from a bevy of fine actors, including “Gone Girl’s” Rosamund Pike and “X-Men’s” James McAvoy, as well as a delightful supporting turn by Honeysuckle Weeks as Foyle’s trusty driver. Extras: over six hours of bonus features including featurettes and introductions.
Fear The Walking Dead – Season One: (2015, Anchor Bay, unrated, $40) For this uneven prequel to the AMC hit “The Walking Dead,” the focus is on a single extended suburban family (Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis) as they deal with zombies overtaking Los Angeles. After a few promising early episodes, the show takes a turn for the clichéd when L.A. becomes a militarized zone. A second season is in the works but it’ll have to be a whole lot sharper before it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the original series. Extras: featurettes.
Story by Amy Longsdorf/Digital First Media