This week’s new releases for home viewing are a real variety pack: a new Duplass-produced Netflix premiere, one of last year’s best comedies, a charming bio-doc, an epic romance, and a Criterion release of a classic thriller. Dig in — this is a four-star bunch.
6 Years: Hannah Fidell (A Teacher) writes and directs this story of a longtime couple — six years, in fact — who seem still in the joyful thrall of young love. But they’re drifting ever so slightly apart, in (at first, anyway) small ways; the behavioral performances by Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield, and Fidell’s keen ear for offhand dialogue, masterfully capture the way teeny, tiny slights grow out of control, and minor temptations begin to make themselves known. I’ve rarely seen so accurate an evocation of the way it feels when a relationship is unraveling — the all-encompassing, end-of-the-world desperation of it — and the speed with which the vultures circle as it happens. A homey, lived-in movie; like Creep, part of the Duplass Brothers’ distribution deal with Netflix, with an intimacy that works for home viewing.
ON NETFLIX/ AMAZON PRIME
Dear White People: Writer/director Justin Simien takes on race relations in the Ivy League with this dagger-sharp, bomb-tossing satire. If such violent metaphors contradict the generally tongue-in-cheek tone, it speaks mostly to the combustible quality of the topics here; like Network or Putney Swope, this is a story of quiet artists spurred into action. It’s a joyfully confident picture, sophisticated, sexy, and wicked smart. Simien is a righteous filmmaker, but his bitterness is exhilarating, and at its best, Dear White People vibrates with the visceral thrill of watching a gifted new voice get away with something.
ON AMAZON PRIME
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story: People know his creations — specifically, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch — but nobody knows Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer behind them since the debut of Sesame Street, 40-plus years ago. Seventy-nine years old and still at it, Spinney tells his story: a rough childhood (the nature of his parents, one sweet and one sour, goes along way towards explaining the yin and yang of his two iconic characters), a chance discovery by Jim Henson, formative trips to China, an unforgettable moment at the Henson memorial. Even better is the surplus of current and vintage footage from the Sesame Street set, a fascinating peek at the logistics of the show and the organization, and how both have changed. It’s a a tearjerker documentary with the style and score to match, but it’s hard to grouse too much about such a charming movie, about such a charming guy.
The Age of Adaline: Lee Toland Kreiger’s drama was mostly dismissed as a gender-swapped Benjamin Button when it hit theaters last spring, but it’s worth a look: crisply photographed, intelligently written, and nicely played by Blake Lively, Ellen Burstyn, and Harrison Ford (more heartfelt and connected than I’ve seen him in a movie for years). The middle hour gets too bogged down in our heroine’s unexceptional romance with a nice fella (Michiel Huisman, from Treme), but the logistics and explanation of the opening scenes are fascinating, and by the time her meeting with his dad becomes an unexpected reunion, the emotional complications and implications are overwhelming. The conclusion is either beautifully poetic or over-the-top silly, depending on your disposition; I found it the latter, and Adaline to be a little lumpy, but lovely all the same. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, and deleted scenes.)
Dressed to Kill: It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the #problematic elements of Brian De Palma’s 1980 cause célèbre (new on Blu from Criterion); it’s just as easy to recognize that, as with any film whose opening credit is “Samuel Z. Arkoff presents,” it’s proudly disreputable and leave it at that. DePalma takes on the puzzle of female sexuality as he took on most themes: by liberally borrowing from Hitchcock (in this case Psycho, from the wink-wink shower scene to the dispatching of our ostensible heroine early on to the “cross-dressing killer” to even the thudding exposition of the resolution) and overwhelming the viewer with his virtuoso style. Pound for pound, this may be the most De Palma-ish of De Palma movies, so marvel in the sheer inventiveness of his deep-focus compositions, the obsessiveness of his surveillance scenes, the ingeniousness of his split-screens, and the holy-shit deliciousness of his set pieces; the elevator and the subway sequences are among the best he ever did, which is to say among the best anybody ever did. (Includes new interviews, featurettes, trailer, and a 44-minute “making-of” documentary.)