This week’s two big home video debuts make for a mighty grim double-feature: a muddy, bloody Shakespeare adaptation and a story of a boarding school for deaf teens that’s run like a crime family. Other options for disc and streaming include an underappreciated Richard Gere character drama, a harrowing portrait of NYC junkie-dom, and an affectionate tribute to a beloved writer.
Heaven Knows What: Josh and Benny Safdie’s breakthrough film Daddy Long-Legs was legitimately reminiscent of Cassavetes; this story of desperate junkies hustling on the streets of New York, has a pronounced Panic in Needle Park influence, reiterating how some stories just stay the same. Tracking a few days in the life of a homeless heroin addict, the Safdies shoot in tight and close — uncomfortably so. The brothers aim less to tell a story than to capture the day-to-day, minute-to-minute realities of this life: hustling, “spanging,” begging for Metrocard swipes, mail-lifting, shoplifting and reselling. But beyond immersion, they’re looking at routines, patterns, and cycles that repeat themselves, over and over. And their attitude towards their protagonist is refreshing: they’re not gonna make you like her, they’re not going to fix her, and they’re not going to redeem her. A hopeless movie, sure — but a refreshingly honest one.
ON AMAZON PRIME
The End of the Tour: James Ponsoldt’s film, and the David Lipsky book it’s based on, could have both been the worst kind of exploitation of a dead cult hero (in this case, David Foster Wallace). Instead, this genial two-hander is a celebration of Wallace’s life and talent, and even more, of his ethos; the more time you spend with Jesse Eisenberg (very good) and Jason Segel (even better) as the slightly jealous profile writer and the author on the rise, the more it transcends the specifics of these particular men and becomes a story about friendship, about adulthood, and about the inherent (and sometimes tragic) loneliness of a writer’s life.
ON BLU-RAY/DVD/AMAZON PRIME
Macbeth: Australian director Justin Kurzel reimagines the Scottish play as Shakespeare by way of Braveheart, supplementing the text with blood-and-mud battles and full-throated, earthy performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. It’s a brisk, haunting adaptation, owing more than a little of its aesthetic to Polanski’s foggy take — a terrifying, seemingly irreversible dirge, gloomy and rainy and blood-soaked. Yet Kurzel makes it his own by diving deep into his protagonist’s hallucinations, waking nightmares, and ultimately, his madness. (Includes featurettes.)
The Tribe: Ukrianian writer/director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s story of a boarding school for deaf teens is told entirely in sign language — no subtitles, no translations, no voice-over — which means it requires more patience than your average film, though its narrative (of the new kid who has a tough time fitting in) is initially familiar enough to fill in the blanks. It turns out a strong stomach is also required, as Slaboshpitsky swims deeper into a story of bullying and violence that gives way to extortion, prostitution, abortion, and death. It’s mercilessly blunt (YMMV, but there’s probably at least once scene you won’t be able to keep your eyes on), and Slaboshpitsky loads menace and dread into his long, wide compositions and full-steam tracking shots, his third act playing like a series of punches to the gut. Deeply unsettling and undeniably affecting. (Includes audio commentary and short film.)
The Benefactor: Richard Gere is in top form as an eccentric philanthropist attempting — perhaps a bit too strenuously — to reconnect with the daughter (Dakota Fanning) of his departed best friends. He veers from total confidence to over-sharing to whispering desperation, never revealing too much, but never seeming to withhold either. He’s a tough nut to crack, which makes both the character and the actor more interesting, and while writer/director Andrew Renzi succumbs to convention at the conclusion (and thus falls apart a little), it’s still an intriguing character study and a fine showcase for a perpetually (and inexplicably) underrated actor.