The two biggest titles on the new release shelf this week find comic heavyweights playing against type, and effectively at that. Meanwhile, an ‘80s fave hits Blu-ray, a documentary master makes her narrative debut, and a compelling documentary (new to Netflix) examines cinema’s most overlooked art.
Casting By: Tom Donahue’s documentary history and appreciation of motion picture casting directors may sound too inside baseball for casual moviegoers, but it’s got a trailblazing hero (Marion Dougherty, the eagle-eyed legend who revolutionized the profession), a mustache-twirling villain (DGA president Taylor Hackford, who does not come off well), and delicious footage of countless stars when they were impossibly young up-and-comers. Donahue explains the ins and outs of a job frequently misunderstood (even by movie buffs), and mounts a convincing case for Oscar inclusion as well. A movie lover’s movie, pulsing with love for the form and the people who make it happen.
True Story: Jonah Hill stars as New York Times journalist Mike Finkel, freshly discredited and dismissed when he discovers accused murderer Christian Longo (Franco) has been using his name while on the run. Finkel realizes Longo’s grisly crime can be spun into an opportunity — and at a moment when he’s unemployable, it’s the one story only Finkel can write. Based on Finkel’s 2006 memoir and vividly (sometimes upsettingly) dramatized by first-time director Rupert Goold, True Story is by turns cynical, thoughtful, and tense, exploring the always-compelling themes of of truth, deception, and exploitation. And its stars are both working at top skill, particularly in a series of effective duet jailhouse scenes that explore those themes without soapboxing them. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, and alternate ending.)
Adult Beginners: Nick Kroll, fresh off the conclusion of his sketch show, wisely aligns himself with the Duplass Brothers (here credited as executive producers) to reconfigure himself as an indie movie leading man. The story — of a selfish tech-bro who rediscovers his humanity by reconnecting with his roots — is not exactly earth-shattering in its originality. But Kroll brings along an enviable supporting cast (including Bobby Cannavale, Joel McHale, Jane Krakowski, and Rose Byrne — who should just be in everything) and a wise screenplay that burrows deep into the complicated dynamics of adult siblings and in-laws, examining how they breed tension, indifference, and resentment. The comedy is low-key and character-based, and the dramatic beats are believable. It’s a modest movie, and that might be its best quality. (Includes featurette.)
Every Secret Thing: Documentarian Berg (Deliver Us From Evil, An Open Secret) makes an impressive transition to fiction with this adaptation of Laura Lippman’s book, scripted by Nicole Holofcener (herself working well out of her usual genre) and featuring fine performances by Elizabeth Banks, Diane Lane, Nate Parker, and (especially) Dakota Fanning. On the surface, it’s a crime story, but the emotional stakes are significant; Berg is exploring how human personalities are set and locked early on, and how those experiences define the transactions between the past and the present. It looks and sounds like a police procedural, but at the end of the day, it’s a horror movie — filled with uneasy dread and everyday terror, crisply told and emotionally gutting. (Includes deleted scenes.)
Innerspace: Joe Dante’s sci-fi/action/comedy (new to Blu) was a box office disappointment in the summer of 1987 — surprisingly, as it bore the valuable “Steven Spielberg Presents” label and a story (a test pilot’s miniaturization experiment goes awry, and he winds up inserted into a hypochondriac nobody) concocted of equal parts Fantastic Voyage, All of Me, and Back to the Future. Such schematization occasionally mars the final product, which has a bit too much flab and car chase action, but it’s a likably goofy buddy movie that offers up slapstick opportunities for co-star Martin Short, showcases for several ace character actors, some knockout special effects — which won a richly deserved Oscar — and a light touch from director Dante, who doesn’t take the elaborate machinations of the plot too seriously. (Includes commentary and theatrical trailer.)