It’s one of those “off” weeks for new movies on DVD and Blu-ray; your biggest release is David O. Russell’s misbegotten Joy, and runner-up is The 5th Wave, which I guess was another dystopian YA novel adaptation (who can even keep track?). But there is a modest thriller from a Canadian master, and (being the beginning of the month and all) plenty of new stuff from Netflix – including a new documentary account of the murder that inspired Foxcatcher.
Team Foxcatcher: Bennett Miller’s 2014 drama Foxcatcher was a terrific based-on-a-true story drama, and like most such efforts, it took considerable liberties with the facts. That’s absolutely acceptable – defenders of such efforts (such as myself) frequently respond, “It’s not a documentary!” Well, this is a documentary about those events, and it’s a very good one. Director Jon Greenhalgh expands on and explores the most fascinating elements of the story, using a mixture of intimate home movies and the still raw memories of those who were there to paint the picture of a man whose considerable wealth led the people around him to forgive “eccentricities” that should’ve sounded daily alarms. Every new revelation is both bizarre and, eventually, unsurprising. It seemed harmless to just leave him be and enjoy his support, but by the end of this potent picture, the tears of a son who never knew his father say otherwise.
A.C.O.D.: Adam Scott leads an impressive comic ensemble, playing an Adult Child of Divorce whose delicate balance (his parents haven’t spoken in 20 years — for the good of everyone) is upended when his younger brother gets engaged. The screenplay, by director Stu Zicherman and longtime Daily Show writer/producer Ben Karlin, traffics in quiet, understated wit, nicely put across by Scott’s dry, funny line readings (“I saw my Dad’s butt,” he confesses, after walking in on the old man in flagrante. “It was… moving“). Catherine O’Hara and Amy Poehler – playing Scott’s stepmother, which should give some Parks and Rec fans pause — are particularly strong in support, and if the film sticks a bit in the clutch (and tries to use its soundtrack to solve too many problems), that’s a minor complaint for a comedy as sharp and snappy as this.
Meek’s Cutoff: Kelly Reichardt’s meditative, masterful Western is set in Oregon circa 1845, as three westward-traveling couples come to realize that their guide is not very good at his job. Reichardt’s a director telling a story, but she’s also an anthropologist observing rituals and routines, and noting how the confines of the era’s gender roles amplify tensions without solving problems. A few impatient critics perpetuated the unfair perception that Meek’s is some sort of insufferable slog, which couldn’t be further from the truth; Reichardt’s style, which forgoes choppy coverage and lets event play out in real time, requires more focus than the average picture, but it also rewards viewers who can tune in to its Zen rhythms.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream: Netflix is chock full of quickie, rip-off music bio-docs (do a search for your favorite ‘60s-‘80s era musician and you’ll see what I mean), but this isn’t one of them; Petty and his crew engaged no less a talent than Peter Bogdanovich to tell their story, and the filmmaker (presumably borrowing from the playbook of contemporary Martin Scorsese and his similarly in-depth, two-part documentaries on Petty’s fellow Wilburys Bob Dylan and George Harrison) takes just shy of four hours to do it. As a result, this isn’t just a greatest-hits collection, and it’s not just about the frontman either – Bogdanovich delves into the complex dynamics of the band, and the demons, addictions, innovations, and record biz politics that complicated their run.
Remember: Atom Egoyan, once a consistent and riveting filmmaker (thanks to work like Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, and Felicia’s Journey), has had quite a rough run lately; his recent work has the gamut from inexplicable to terrible. So it’s not hard to say this is his best work in years – but that’s also no faint praise. Christopher Plummer plays a 90-year-old widower and Holocaust survivor who sets off to kill the Auschwitz camp commander who murdered his family. He suffers from Alzheimer’s, so he’s guided only by the instructions of a fellow survivor (Martin Landau); in other words, it’s a senior Memento, and like that film, we’re often as adrift in the situation as the protagonist. Plummer’s thoroughly convincing, playing frailty and determination with equal skill (and often simultaneously). Egoyan works up several effective set pieces – the best concerns Dean Norris, who again exhibits a keen skill for turning from affable to menacing on a dime – and if the final convergence of events is a touch hard to swallow, the resolution is surprising and satisfying.