Temperatures have been dropping, and going outside is for suckers anyway, so it’s not a bad idea to just stay the hell in and watch a movie. We’ve got a wide variety of home viewing options (and outlets) on tap this week, with two of last year’s favorites popping up on Netflix and Prime, a terrific comedy special hitting DVD, the Blu-ray debut of one of 2015’s very best films, and a Criterion upgrade for a Chaplin classic.
Dope: Rick Famuyiwa’s Sundance 2015 hit is a cinematic mixtape, equal parts Dear White People, Pulp Fiction, and Boyz N The Hood, but its tonal shifts and influences are smooth as silk, delivered at a fever pitch and with an abundance of wickedly quotable dialogue (the scene of gangstas discussing drone strikes legitimately recalls the “Royale with Cheese” conversation). It’s joyful and energetic, but the pathos and thoughtfulness of its closing passages reframe the picture as more than empty fun.
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Amy: Director Asif Kapadia opens his Oscar-nominated documentary with a home movie from 1998, as a 14-year-old Amy Winehouse hangs out with her friends, goofing off and smoking cigarettes. And then she starts to sing, nothing more than “Happy Birthday,” and it’s an immediate reminder of the remarkable talent that seemed an innate part of her being. A uniquely intimate music doc, pulling from a remarkable archive of home movies, demos, private recordings, writings, and candid, funny interviews, which often uncomfortably foreshadow her brief, fast life. The glimpses at her process and creativity are illuminating, with lyrics rendered as on-screen text to help illustrate how her life became her songs (it’s uncanny, the degree to which she scores her own story). But as it continues, Amy becomes one of the more vivid portraits of addiction I’ve seen, her omnipresent camera complementing horrible footage of zonked-out performances and interviews (and ghoulish coverage) to create a feeling of intruding, and eavesdropping, on her free-fall. Masterfully edited, and ultimately heartbreaking.
Brian Regan Live at Radio City Music Hall: Regan’s powerhouse set at Radio City – the first stand-up special Comedy Central’s ever broadcast live – comes to DVD, and it’s a funny, high-spirited hour. His subjects make him sound like a bland ‘90s-era brick-wall comic: shopping, restaurants, Catholicism, celebrity, movies, dancing, airports, hotels. And his famously profanity-free style and average guy look makes him seem more vanilla than he is. But his observations are keen, his timing is razor-sharp, and he’s got the shambling body language and rubbery face of a silent comic. Fundamentally silly and undeniably skillful, Regan is an old-school comedian – in the best possible sense. (No bonus features.)
Steve Jobs: Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin explode the tired tropes of the conventional biopic with this inventively structured adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s biography, which plays out entirely (in something akin to real time) in the minutes before the three key product presentations of the Apple founder’s career. That fast-talking, fast-walking, time’s-a-wasting backstage energy perfectly compliments the thrillingly snappy Sorkin dialogue, and the crackerjack ensemble cast knows how to make those words sing. (Includes two audio commnetaries – one with Boyle, one with Sorkin and editor Elliot Graham – and a featurette.)
The Kid: As with so many great artists, Charles Chaplin’s work was often simultaneously a culmination of where he’d been and an indication of where he was going. His first feature-length comedy as writer/director/star (gorgeously restored by The Criterion Collection) is introduced onscreen as “a picture with a smile – and, perhaps, a tear,” and he pushes further into the pathos he’d experimented with in some of his short comedies, while still off-setting the sentimentality with healthy doses of rough slapstick. It’s a funny and moving picture, but the real draw is the charming and convincing affection between Chaplin and little Jackie Coogan as the title character. His is one of the all-time great child performances, and their separation (complete with the poor little guy sobbing, in a clearly lip-readable moment, “I want my daddy!”) and reunion mainline the kind of raw, unabashed emotion that sound cinema could rarely convey. (Includes audio commentary, featurette, vintage interviews, deleted scenes, newsreel, behind-the-scenes footage, an early Chaplin/Coogan short, and trailers.)