This week’s big new release is one of the most successful – and divisive – indie movies of the year, a deeply unsettling horror flick offering much more than easy scares. Also, we recommend a thoughtful techno-drama, a paranoid apocalyptic thriller, a late-‘60s sexploitation oddity, and an iconic campaign documentary.
They Look Like People: This Slamdance hit from writer/director Perry Blackshear takes its familiar elements of science fiction, romance, and buddy movie, but shines them through a prism of paranoia and fear that makes the familiar not only fresh, but dangerous. Blackshear injects his apocalyptic story with nightmare logic and unnerving visceral devices, discombobulating the viewer to such a degree that by the time he arrives at this creepy story’s conclusion, anything is possible.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Creative Control: A five-minutes-into-the-future story of a marketing executive who lands a company specializing in “augmented reality,” and falls down a dangerous sexual rabbit hole. Director/co-writer Benjamin Dickinson has a good ear for jargon (marketing, Brooklyn lifestyle, and tech biz) and a dry sense of verbal and visual humor; the black-and-white cinematography is striking and stylish as hell. But the movie is, thankfully, more than its gimmick, manifesting an emotional intensity, wise to the desperation that’s always within reach of even the sturdiest relationship, and arriving at a philosophical conclusion that’s both true and inescapably cynical.
The War Room: If you’re in one of the many markets where the terrific, thought-provoking campaign documentary Weiner isn’t opening this Friday, here’s a wise streaming alternative: legendary documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s account of the 1992 campaign of another candidate dogged by sex scandals, one William Jefferson Clinton. (It turned out better for him.) Hegedus and Pennebaker’s hopes to focus primarily on the candidate were dashed early, but they ended up with a more than adequate compromise, going deep into the weeds by training their cameras on lead strategist James Carville and communications director George Stephanopoulos. They ended up with a fascinatingly detailed portrait of the making of a candidate – and the day-to-day operation of a huge political campaign, at a time when it seemed like media cycles and appetites for bullshit had taken the wheel. They had no idea.
ON BLU-RAY/ DVD/ VOD
The Witch: This “New England folk tale” from writer/director Robert Eggers was this spring’s the horror movie to see – and the source of some rather vehement disagreements among fans of current horror, as this is less a film of cheap, clanging jump-scares than general unease and distress. A Puritan family encounters a spectacular streak of bad luck; between the abductions, illness, bad crops, and sick animals, you might wonder if they are, as their mother comes to believe, “damned.” Eggers patiently threads his needle with themes of faith, family, and fear (of Satan, of goats, of feminism), and sews it up into a mélange of unsettling mood and unshakable images; it’s a movie that drifts along, haunting yet manageable, and then it clobbers you. (Includes audio commentary, featurette, and Q&A.)
Candy: Out of the panicked, late-‘60s moment in which mainstream moviemakers were losing viewers to youth-oriented efforts like Easy Rider and The Graduate emerged a bizarre subgenre of curio efforts like Skidoo, Myra Breckenridge, and this 1968 oddity (long hard to find, new on Blu from KL Studio Classics) – films that found established stars with studio backing shooting for hip and hazy, and mostly failing miserably. Christian Marquand’s adaptation of Terry Southern’s novel (scripted by Buck Henry) concerns a baby-doll blonde nymphet (Swedish import Ewa Audlin) and her adventures with a series of embarrassed-looking thesps: Richard Burton (overacting wildly, even for him) as a lecherous poet, Ringo Starr as a lecherous Mexican gardener (yes, really), Walter Matthau as a lecherous general (doing his best imitation of George C. Scott in Southern’s Dr. Strangelove), John Huston and James Coburn as lecherous doctors, John Astin in a dual role as her lecherous dad and his lecherous brother, and Marlon Brando as a lecherous Indian guru (complete with come ‘n go accent). To be clear, it’s not particularly funny, or even particularly good, in any conventional sense. But Marquand and Henry exhibit a gleeful indifference towards conventional narrative and exposition, it’s refreshingly clear about its aims and ideas, and its Fellini-esque ending – with that great music cue Soderbergh later repurposed for Ocean’s 13’s conclusion – is a giddy delight. (Includes interviews, radio spots, and original trailer.)