It’s a pretty dry week for new releases — the only one really worth your time (though it’s definitely worth it) is the New Zealand vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows, co-starring and co-directed by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement. But one of the finest indies of the ‘80s hits Blu-ray this week via the Criterion Collection, and Netflix, as usual, can help fill in your viewing gaps.
Tig: Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York’s documentary portrait of the wry stand-up comic Tig Notaro — whose brutally candid and brilliantly executed Live set, recorded shortly after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, earned and deserves comparisons with Richard Pryor’s sharpest and most confessional material—tends to betray a bit too clumsily the reality TV background of its creators. But it’s still an informative, entertaining, and remarkably personal look at Notaro’s extraordinary year, with some divine moments and plenty of insight into the day-to-day work of crafting and delivering jokes.
Changeling: Clint Eastwood’s December 2008 release of Gran Torino ended up vastly overshadowing this period drama, which the busy filmmaker had released earlier that fall — a still-puzzling turn of events, as Changeling is approximately seven times the better picture. An Oscar-nominated Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, who takes on the LAPD after her missing son is returned to her, and clearly isn’t her son. Jolie’s performance is powerful, the storytelling is enthralling, and the period details are just right, while Eastwood’s sure-handed, no-nonsense style (which would finally start failing him in the years to come) manages to keep the tale from veering into melodrama. It’s one of Eastwood’s best late-period films, with a Jolie performance that remains under-appreciated.
The Act of Killing (Director’s Cut): When we discussed its follow-up The Look of Silence (out now in limited release), director Joshua Oppenheimer shrugged off the label that’s been applied to the 40-minutes-longer version of his 2012 Oscar nominee; this was, in fact, the original version that he made, “which was later cut down for different versions, TV, American cinema versions, whatever.” And if you’ve only seen the American version, you must see this one as well (perhaps before taking in Silence, if you’re up for a soul-hollowing double feature), which he aptly describes thus: “I don’t think it’s a documentary by the end. It’s a kind of flamboyant, fever dream about escapism and guilt.”
What We Do in the Shadows: “I’m over being a vampire, it’s shit. Don’t believe the hype,” complains one of the vampires at the center of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s clever and frequently uproarious Kiwi comedy. It falls within two overworked but ill-used comedy forms — the vampire spoof and the mockumentary — but their approach is so cheerful and their silliness so infectious that they transcend the moldy tropes of lesser filmmakers. And the fluidity of their invention is commendable; the picture repositions itself and recalibrates its targets and themes throughout the lean 85-minute running time, lest we tire of any of them. It’s smart, it’s wry, and it’s wickedly funny. (Includes audio commentary by Clement and Waititi, featurettes, deleted and alternate scenes, interviews, promotional videos, the original short film, and a poster gallery.)
My Beautiful Laundrette: This 1985 sleeper hit, fresh to the Criterion Collection, was a breakthrough moment for director Stephen Frears and star Daniel Day-Lewis — and it’s easy to see why. Deploying a scrappy, on-the-fly aesthetic and generous doses of earthy, low-down humor, Frears uses the story of a Pakistani-born Brit taking over his uncle’s rundown, neglected laundromat as a vehicle for trenchant commentary on the country’s considerable gaps in class, race, generations, and sex roles. The storytelling is vivid—particularly the rough, clumsy, and sudden yet not unexpected burst of climactic violence — and the performances are graceful and lived-in. But what was most revelatory at the time of its release, remains so: the matter-of-fact way it approaches the sexual relationship between its two male leads. There’s no sensationalism here, and no tragedy, either (the other default setting of the era); these characters find joy in meager and sometimes desperate circumstances, and so does this very fine film. (Includes new interviews and original trailer.)