Look, I don’t know what to tell you. We do our best to keep our weekly new release guide to a crisp five titles, and we’ve occasionally given one more a pass, but this week’s shelves are just too packed — we’ve got seven, and I make no apologies for it. So read on, to find recommendations of a big summer blockbuster, three ace indie flicks of the season, a terrific film geek documentary, and two modern classics getting the Criterion treatment.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films: Director Mark Hartley has become our documentarian of choice for exploitation cinema; in films like Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed, he manages to balance affection for these low-budget programmers without deluding himself (or anyone else) as to what they really are. That’s a helpful approach when documenting the rise and fall of Yoram Globus and Manahem Golan, who created a factory for action schlock in the ‘80s, releasing Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson vehicles as quickly as they could make them. Hartley’s fast, funny, entertaining jaunt gathers various co-conspirators and innocent bystanders, who lay out exactly how the Cannon business model worked, and why it stopped working — and how it was repurposed into the way far bigger fish make movies today. (Includes 25 minutes of deleted scenes and, best of all, over 30 minutes of vintage Cannon trailers.)
The Duke of Burgundy: Writer/director Peter Strickland hand-crafts a loving, sexy, fragrant (no, seriously, there’s a perfume credit) ode to the Euro-sex era, when artisans like Radley Metzger and Jess Franco were making softcore films that were loaded with eroticism, yet often short on explicit sex. Here, he delves into a sub-dom relationship between an older and younger woman, examining how a dynamic that initially seems to add spice ultimately becomes an obligation. It’s a bit of a miracle, really; he makes a film that takes these women and their relationship seriously, while still delivering the required doses of lingerie-clad goodness. (Includes audio commentary, interview, deleted scenes, short film, still gallery, music promo, and trailer. Also streaming on Netflix.)
Spy: The ads for the latest from director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy made it look like two hours of one joke: Wouldn’t Melissa McCarthy be a funny spy, haw haw, lookit her fall down! Feig thankfully thinks past the obvious joke, to the more interesting one: wouldn’t it be funny if Melissa McCarthy were a great spy? He ends up with an honest-to-goodness action/ comedy, and one where each element complements the other, rather than taking an either/or approach; he also sneaks in a fair amount of sly commentary on lookism and women in the workplace. And as a performer, McCarthy is clearly energized by his confidence; she takes over rooms, thinking on her feet and riffing her way out of tight situations, like Eddie Murphy in a Beverly Hills Cop movie. Maybe we know the next ‘80s franchise Feig and McCarthy should remake? (Includes unrated cut, deleted and alternate scenes, gag reel, featurettes, and commentary.)
Unexpected: A deceptively modest affair from writer/director Kris Swanberg, who tells the story of a 30-year-old white inner city teacher (Cobie Smulders) and the 17-year-old black student (Gail Bean) she ends up connected to via their unplanned pregnancies. You can see, from that description, the kind of white-savior land mines a picture like this could set off; Swanberg sidesteps them gingerly, and addresses the underlying issue itself, both in a head-on confrontation and in the way she juxtaposes their experiences. It’s a remarkable juggling act, lending equal weight to the thorny questions her older protagonist must weigh about staying at home vs. working motherhood, while also reminding us that for some mothers, even the question is a luxury.
Cop Car: Kevin Bacon moves effortlessly into grizzled character-actor mode with an effective turn in this tense little potboiler. He’s a dirty deputy whose squad car gets lifted while he’s doing dirt — by two preteen boys, no less, who see it as the ultimate good-time play-toy. But that good time comes to a quick end when the ruthless cop picks up their scent, and the cat-and-mouse game gets ugly fast. Co-writer/director Jon Watts not only has a way with atmosphere and suspense; he’s got a good ear for how these kids talk, and how they — and their antagonist — might actually react to this rather extraordinary situation. (Includes featurette.)
A Room with a View: Criterion’s really been going after the Daniel Day-Lewis back catalogue these days — they put out My Beautiful Laundrette back in July, and here’s a sparkling new edition of Merchant-Ivory’s sleeper hit from 1986. The future Oscar winner — wonderfully loathsome as a boater-wearing fancy lad who kisses our heroine like she’s his grandmother — wasn’t the only rising star in its impressive cast; Helena Bonham Carter shines in a rare, straight-up ingénue turn, while Julian Sands smolders impressively. Anglophiles will also drool over the pairing of Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in supporting roles, while Denholm Elliot shines as Sands’ kindhearted and socially awkward father. It’s got the period trappings and formal (read: slow-ish) style of your usual Merchant-Ivory production, but there’s plenty happening under the delicate surface, as Carter struggles with the eternal partner-choosing question of steadiness or passion. (Includes interviews, vintage television segment, and trailer.)
The Honeymoon Killers: Criterion’s also giving the Blu-ray upgrade to Leonard Kastle’s complex and fascinating 1969 true crime tale. Shot in tabloid-friendly black-and-white and framed like a lurid exploitation movie — which it was originally marketed as — this “incredibly shocking drama… based on newspaper accounts and court records” (per the opening crawl) crosses the real-life crime spree angle of the recent sensation Bonnie & Clyde with a decidedly Cassavetes-influenced surplus of brooding and yelling. Tracking Martha, a shy, humorless nurse who’s “a little on the heavy side,” and her con-man boyfriend Ray, who marries rich women and takes them for their money, Kastle keys in on how jealousy fuels their sexual tension, and the way their lies (they masquerade as brother and sister) become an aphrodisiac. The flat, almost documentary-style approach to their crimes grows more intense in the closing stretch as Martha gets downright bloodthirsty, a lifetime of being ignored and underestimated finally boiling over. A tough, chilling, gnarly item. (Includes interviews, video essay, and trailer.)