There’s a little something for everyone in this week’s new video releases: horror fans get Annabelle, families get The Boxtrolls, Tom Hardy aficionados and James Gandolfini mourners get The Drop, and anthropologists of Terry Gilliam’s bald protagonists get The Zero Theorem. But for this edition of our new, weekly spotlight on the best of at-home movie-watching, we showcase two classics from Criterion (one vintage, one modern), a surprisingly robust bit of ‘80s Oscar bait, a recent critical darling featuring your favorite Brits, and the nuttiest hit of the summer.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Netflix Instant may be the very best home for Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 adaptation of John le Carré’s novel — if for no other reason than because the damn thing is so complicated that it takes at least a couple of viewings to unravel it. Not that it’s not enjoyable even if you’re lost in it; Alfredson masterfully creates tension and suspense even in the simplest scenes of people in dour rooms talking quietly. And it’s got a bonkers cast of great British character actors, from old standbys like Gary Oldman and Toby Jones to current faves Colin Firth and Mark Strong to future brainy-people heartthrobs like Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch. Queue it up, rent the more recent (and also exquisite) le Carré flick A Most Wanted Man, and settle in for the night.
Lucy: Universal pulled one of the summer’s biggest bait-and-switch jobs, promoting the latest from Luc Besson as the Scarlett Johansson badass shoot-‘em-up we’ve been waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for, yet delivering a batshit crazy bit of sci-fi mumbo jumbo with some action beats. But it made a fortune, because there’s such an under-served audience hungering for the movie it was packaged as (and occasionally succeeds at being); and aside from all of that, it’s also quite a lot of fun — a trim, sleek, energetically directed corker.
The Palm Beach Story: Preston Sturges’ 1942 screwball comedy (out on Blu-ray for the first time, via the Criterion Collection) opens like a film already in progress, with an innovative opening credit sequence recapping a madcap wedding that’s barely referenced again. “And they lived happily ever after,” announces the title card, “or did they?” Jumping ahead five years, Sturges finds our protagonists Gerry and Tom (Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea, both smashing) stuck in a rut and contemplating a kind of divorce of convenience, which begins to make more sense when Gerry runs off and catches the eye of a Rockefeller-style millionaire (Rudy Vallee). It’s a sparkling, zizzy treat, as Sturges packs his brilliantly constructed script with rowdy narrative logic, slam-bang dialogue, and purring sensuality, pitching headlong into a wrap-up that’s sheer perfection.
My Winnipeg: Innovative fantasist Guy Maddin helmed this 2007 reflection (also new on Blu from Criterion) on his hometown, “snowy, sleepwalking Winnipeg,” using moody black-and-white photography and hard-case voice-over to create something of an existential noir, with a healthy dose of searching, stream-of-consciousness therapeutic exploration thrown in for good measure. His technique is astonishing, the poetic narration underscored by repeated words and images (and words that become images), augmented by melodrama-style re-enactments and could-this-be-true historical detours. It’s hard to summarize, in other words, both in terms of narrative and the tone it evokes: funny, bizarre, striking, unpredictable, and frequently wonderful.
On Golden Pond: In the years since Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn won their final Oscars for Mark Rydell’s 1982 drama (debuting on Blu-ray from Shout Factory), the title has become a kind of shorthand for “middlebrow Oscar movie”; lots of plinky music, purty fowl and foliage beauty shots, carefully composed dialogue (Ernest Thompson adapted his own play), and big speeches for its legendary stars. And it occasionally lives up (or down) to that reputation, particularly in its second act. But there’s much to treasure here, even — especially — if you approach Pond as an old-fashioned movie star vehicle. Fonda and Hepburn put across their comfort and affection effortlessly, and Thompson’s writing is frequently funny and sharp, particularly in a spiky encounter between Fonda and Dabney Coleman. And there’s no discounting the fascinating voyeurism of watching Fonda and daughter Jane play their notoriously prickly relationship for fictional drama — when she tells him, misty-eyed, “It just seems like you and me have been mad at each other for so long,” there’s something powerful going on, between both of them, that’s beyond mere acting.