What to watch at home in July

Two Altman gems, a killer shark and an assassin-for-hire are among the best films hitting streaming and physical media this month.


Anton Bitel


Anton Bitel provides a look at six titles heading to streaming and physical media releases this month that you should add to the top of your shopping list.

The Black Demon, dir. Adrian Grünberg, 2023

“Don’t try to understand it,” says Chato (Julio Cesar Cedillo). “Just accept it’s real and alive.” 

The experienced local rigger is talking to company man Paul (Josh Lucas), who has come, along with his Mexican wife and their two children, to inspect a creaky, leaky oil rig off the Baja coast, only to discover that they are isolated and beset by a gigantic megalodon, with the clock ticking.

This shark is not just The Meg, but also supernaturally serving the toothy vengeance of the Aztec god Tlāloc, as well as embodying the imperilled ecology. For while the selachian serial killer is known locally as ‘el demonio negro’, oil is the other black demon here, dredging up humanity’s insatiably self-destructive corruptibility – and it is a human who, as one character explicitly states, is the real ‘monster’ (and also possibly the film’s belated hero).

So Adrian Grünberg’s sharky schlock brings nature’s revenge against corporate rapacity and capitalist disdain for the environment. In this upfront allegory, the outsized creature is also a Godzilla-like Big Symbol™, and Paul’s personal redemption can come only with ‘ultimate sacrifice’, as he overcomes his own superstition and cynicism to face the demon just beneath the surface.

The Black Demon is released on DVD and Blu-ray, 17 July via Signature Entertainment

Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl, dir Katsuhito Ishii, 1999

With films like The Taste of Tea and Funky Forest, filmmaker Katsuhito Ishii established a unique style in which a plastic world, part real, part imagined, is conjured through multimedia interventions and strange CG disruptions. Yet this did not emerge from a vacuum. For earlier works like Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl reveal the strong inspiration of Quentin Tarantino on Ishii’s karmic, crisscrossing approach to ensemble narratives.

Good-natured punk Samehada (Ishii regular Tadanobu Asano) is on the run from the yakuza gang he has just robbed. Shy hotelier Toshiko (Shie Kohinata) is fleeing her controlling, perverted uncle Michio (Youhachi Shimada). When Samehada and Toshiko’s separate paths of flight violently intersect, they form a peculiar alliance, without quite remembering that they have met before. Meanwhile, they are pursued by a rogues’ gallery of improbably fashionable gangsters, and by the childlike, nerdish, monobrowed hitman Yamada (Tatsuya Gashuin) hired to recover Toshiko.

Full of cartoonish, sometimes cool characters who discuss food or their collections of classic enamel posters as much as the matters at hand, this is a vibrant Tarantino-esque clusterfuck whose fugitive unpredictability plays out Toshiko’s self-summation: “I ran away – I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl is released as part of the limited edition 3-disc 6-film digipack Blu-ray set Katsuhito Ishii Collection, 17 July via Third Window Films

Thieves Like Us, dir. Robert Altman, 1974

In 1930s Mississippi, three convicts – bank robbers Chicamaw (John Schick) and T-Dub (Bert Remsen), and younger murderer Bowie (Keith Carradine) – escape their prison and quickly return to crime. As their initially bloodless heists turn violent, and as robbery and even murder become addictions, Bowie is conflicted between two American dreams, and the illusion of choice that they represent: making money fast with the boys, or settling down to a respectable family life with his lover Keechie (Shelley Duvall).

“I should have robbed people with my brain instead of with a gun,” says T-Dub, regretting his failure when he was younger to follow the path of a lawyer or banker. Orphaned, impoverished Bowie never had that option, while Chicamaw is ruled by alcoholism and anger. Accordingly director Robert Altman, revisiting territories already familiar from his critically acclaimed revisionist western McCabe & Mrs Miller, here uses the past – this time the Great Depression – as a prism to America’s present, while finding warts-and-all sympathy for the nation’s marginalised outlaws. 

Adapted from the same Edward Anderson novel that inspired Nicholas Ray’s noir They Live By Night, this uses audible radio dramas and news as an ironising chorus to its inevitably tragic events. 

Thieves Like Us is released on Blu-ray, 17 July via Radiance

O.C. and Stiggs, dir. Robert Altman, 1987

Before Bill and Ted, before Beavis and Butthead, Robert Altman brought us these two tight teenage friends, very much products – and disruptors – of their times. 

Over a long summer in Phoenix, Arizona, O.C (Daniel H. Jenkins) Stiggs (Neill Barry) engage in an obsessively vindictive campaign of escalating pranks against Randall Schwab (Paul Dooley), the well-heeled if vulgar insurance man whose company has reduced O.C.’s ex-cop grandfather (Ray Walston) to poverty. 

This is also, of course, a resistance, sometimes armed, to the prevailing ideology, as the two young men (the future!) join forces with those left behind by the Reagan era: African-Americans (and actual Africans), the homeless, Vietnam veterans (Dennis Hopper reprises his rôle from Apocalypse Now), although curiously not gays. For these boys, despite their homosocial bonding, are overtly homophobic – and misogynists to boot. 

Yet even as O.C. and Stiggs bring down their neighbourhood capitalist, they themselves end up beneficiaries of Reaganomics, in an ensemble film that uses layers of dialectic to expose the contradictions of the age. The problem, though, is that most of its jokes misfire. As Michelle (Cynthia Nixon) puts it to O.C., “I don’t care how funny you think you are, sometimes you’re not.”

O.C. and Stiggs is released on Blu-ray, 17 July via Radiance

The Iron Prefect (Il prefetto di ferro) dir. Pasquale Squitieri, 1977

The basic plot of Pasquale Squitieri’s historic drama is laid out in the ballad which opens it, promising that real-life Prefect Cesare Mori, sent to Palermo by Mussolini to eliminate the local Mafia, finds out that he is “the unwitting servant” of Fascist power play. 

An Italian Eliot Ness, Mori (Giuliano Gemma) is upright and incorruptible, though compromised by the prevailing order of his times. A hands-on crime fighter, he proves all too good at his job, fearlessly bringing down, one after the other, the criminal echelons that have insinuated themselves into every aspect of Sicilian society – until, that is, his investigations lead all the way to Mussolini’s own underlings, and he finds his actions no longer welcome.

So as well as being a tense poliziottesco avant la lettre, this dissects the limits of justice in an unjust world – and while it might be set in the second half of the 1920s, its political and ethical preoccupations were just as relevant during the chaotic Years of Lead when the film was made. Here Mori is certainly the hero, but there is more than one villain, and the Mafia prove not just the Fascists’ enemies but their rivals in criminality.

The Iron Prefect is released on Blu-ray, 17 July via Radiance

Golgo 13, dir. Junya Sato, 1973

First appearing on the printed page in 1968, assassin-for-hire Duke Togo, aka Golgo 13, is the protagonist of a long-running Japanese manga by Takao Saito, and has crossed media variously to anime (both feature-length and TV series), video games and radio dramas. Ken Takakura plays Golgo in this, his first live-action outing, directed by Junya Sato. 

“Women are just lubricating oil to your killing machine, aren’t they?” says Catherine Morton (Pouri Banayi), assigned to be Golgo’s guide in Tehran and to “play the part” of his wife (an arrangement pleasing her more than him) as this cold, laconic killer hunts down the elusive leader (Ahmad Ghadakchian) of an international crime syndicate that smuggles guns, drugs and – more recently – abducted women out of Iran.

So with its sex and violence, its chases and fights, and its ‘exotic’ locations, this is closely akin to a James Bond film – although viewers may be surprised by the way that the desert duels, Chuji Kinoshita’s score of horns and jew’s harp and Golgo’s (multiple) departures into the sunset also make this Eastern-looking man of mystery resemble the (anti-)hero of a Western. Meanwhile, there is plenty of tight, taut, cartoonish action. 

Golgo 13 is released on Special Edition Blu-ray, 17 July via Eureka!

Published 5 Jul 2023

Tags: Adrian Grunberg Junya Sato Katsuhito Ishii Robert Altman

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