Aneesh Chaganty‘s Searching is the latest example of a ScreenLife movie – a film set entirely on computer and phone screens, a la Unfriended. While this concept could easily backfire, Searching is the best entry into the subgenre yet. Part of this is due to how engrossing the plot is, in which John Cho plays a widower trying to find his missing daughter, Margot. Cho is charismatic and sympathetic – a movie star, for sure. But the real reason Searching works so well is because Chaganty remembers to make the movie cinematic. The camera isn’t just set up in front of a screen – it moves. It zooms, it pans, it focuses on details. Film is a visual medium, and many ScreenLife movies often feel like screenshots – static, unmoving wide shots of a screen. Searching bucks this trend, and creates something thrilling in the process. At the same time, the film takes the time to set its characters up, and make us care about them. An opening montage – which is clearly inspired by the heart-wrenching montage opening of Up – will suck you in immediately, and might make you shed a tear or two.

Special Features to Note:

Before I get into the special features, I just want to highlight the fact that the Blu-ray menu for searching is set up to look like a laptop screen, complete with a mouse-clicking sound every time you select an option. That’s a nice touch, especially in this day and age when most studios have bland, uninspired menus. In keeping with this theme, pointing the UP arrow button on your Blu-ray’s remote will take you out of the main menu, and into a secret folder that contains a feature called “Searching For Easter Eggs.” Here, writer-director director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian break down some of the many easter eggs hidden throughout the film. For instance: the mascot for Margot’s school is a catfish – a reference to the film Catfish. Some other easter eggs: when John Cho is searching YouTube, in the bottom corner you can spot a video that’s an Honest Trailer of Searching. There are a lot more easter eggs, but almost all of them are big spoilers that help set up the film’s big twists.

In Changing the Language of Film, writers Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian disclose that Searching was originally intended to be an eight minute movie, but the company they pitched it to liked it so much, they wanted it to be a feature. Chaganty also reveals that he quit his job at Google to make the movie, which was obviously a big gamble. That work at Google also inspired the creation of the film – working there taught Chaganty how to “emote” with computers.

Chaganty and company went on to make a complete version of the movie featuring him in every single role, along with screenshots of computer screens, in order to show the rest of the crew the type of film they were trying to create.

Special Features Include:

  • “Changing The Language Of Cinema”
  • “Update Username: Cast and Characters”
  • “Searching For Easter Eggs”
  • “Audio Commentary with Aneesh Chaganty & Sev Ohanian”

Arriving on Blu-ray and Digital 12/11

Lizzie came and went without much fanfare this year. But it’s worth seeking out – primarily for the two lead performances. Chloë Sevigny is Lizzie Borden, the spinster accused of hacking her father and step-mother to death. Kristen Stewart is the family maid, Bridget Sullivan. Lizzie attempts to deconstruct the story, and explain why Lizzie did it (if she did it – she was acquitted of the crime, but virtually everyone agrees she was the killer at this point). As the film explains, Lizzie’s father was an abusive monster who kept his family in terror. Sevigny sometimes seems a bit too modern for this 1800s-set movie, but she brings fire and dignity to the part. Stewart is the real draw here, playing Bridget as timid, shy and awkward. Lizzie theorizes that Lizzie and Bridget were engaged in a love affair, and while that could’ve easily lead to something tasteless or exploitative, Lizzie handles the romance delicately.

Special Features to Note: 

There’s only one feature here: Understanding Lizzie, which delves into the true story of Lizzie Borden, with the actors talking about their characters. Kristen Stewart appears via voice-only for some reason, and very briefly, while Chloë Sevigny gets the most screen time, talking about how the film parallels women’s circumstances today. Writer Bryce Kass goes on to add that Lizzie Borden wasn’t crazy, she was trapped – and she would do whatever it took to free herself. Kass goes as far as to call Lizzie a proto-feminist icon. Make of that what you will. 

Special Features Include: 

  • “Understanding Lizzie” Featurette

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