This week’s very full new release slate is packed with strong films from the spring – from mainstream comedy to art films to made-for-TV drama. All of that, plus a Sundance hit makes its way to Netflix.
Tallulah: Tallulah (Ellen Page) lives in a van, begs truckers for shower tickets, and eats by scavenging; when her boyfriend suggests something crazy like an apartment or jobs or kids, she shuts right off. So it’s a little hard to swallow when, a few days later, she bonds with the baby of a horrible, inattentive rich woman (Tammy Blanchard) and decides to just take the kid. Such narrative improbabilities fill Sian Heder’s seriocomic drama, and as a result, the tone is all over the place; it skips from full-on drama to flitty comedy in the blink of an eye, and by the time the ending arrives, the picture has a hard time sustaining its heaviness. But there are moments of sheer magnificence in it, mostly character beats between interesting characters; the dynamic between Tallulah and her onetime employer is rich and heartbreaking, while Page and Allison Janney (as her quickie surrogate mother figure) find just the right notes for their developing bond. It’s a mess of a movie, but that may just be the key to its occasional greatness.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD/ VOD
Keanu: Key and Peele’s first feature starring vehicle recalls the films of many great comedy teams of the past — and not always in good ways, as it runs a bit too long, takes its dumb plot a bit too seriously, and overindulges at least one running gag too many times. And, just as in your favorite Marx Brothers or Laurel and Hardy vehicle, it couldn’t matter less; what matters are the laughs, and on that score, the picture delivers. And there’s just a dash of commentary (exploring one of their favorite themes, code-switching), to boot. Did I mention there’s a cute kitten? There’s a cute kitten. (Includes featurette, deleted scenes, and gag reel.)
The Lobster: Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest is one of the more divisive movies of the year, and understandably so — its ruthlessly cynical take on the rituals of dating and mating is very easy to read as smug and condescending. I’m not sure the latter criticism isn’t true; I’m also not sure it’s a strike against the picture, which works best in a decidedly sneery dark comedy mold. A glimpse into a not-too-distant future where “loners” are sent to “the hotel” to find appropriate mates — and turned into animals if they can’t make that happen — Lanthimos builds a world of rules and rituals, and then reminds us that human nature means one must always do what one’s not supposed to. There’s much to admire here, from Rachel Weisz’s wry yet flatly matter-of-fact narration to Colin Farrell’s dryly flustered line readings, but most of all, this viewer appreciated The Lobster‘s willingness to take this premise all the way, consequences be damned. (Includes featurette.)
Confirmation: The story of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment testimony against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was revisited powerfully in the 2013 documentary Anita, and that might be all you need. But this made-for-HBO dramatization – directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Dope) from a script by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) – goes where those cameras couldn’t, detailing how Hill’s charges became an issue, became a story, and then became a circus. The back-room wranglings, dirty tricks, and one-upsmanship are given real juice by a deep bench of four-star supporting players; Greg Kinnear is particularly good, and awfully convincing, as committee chair Joe Biden, while Wendell Pierce humanizes the justice to a degree that makes for good drama (if slightly dodgy politics), deftly conveying how expertly Thomas manipulated the hearings to his advantage. But Kerry Washington is the stand-out, unsurprisingly, particularly during the scenes of her testimony and examination, stating the facts and showing her strength while revealing fleeting glimpses of the pain and difficulty behind it. The closeness of the camera and tautness of the acting gives Famuyiwa’s film a psychological intensity that’s harder to get from that archival footage, and the closing scenes remind us that this story remains not only relevant, but urgent. (Includes featurettes.)
High-Rise: Darkly cynical British filmmaker Ben Wheatley adapts J.G. Ballard’s countercultural classic into a decidedly brutish and ugly yet undeniably compelling work of extreme cinema. And he’s got an ideal point-man in Tom Hiddleston, who can just as easily step into the sharp suit of the early passages as the blood-soaked garments of the later scenes, when all attempts at civility have gone out the window and his luxury apartment block’s class-separated tenants have surrendered to an orgy of violence, sex, theft, and general barbarism. Wheatley’s direction is crass, and he wields Ballard’s already crude metaphors with something less than subtlety, but there’s an abundance of electricity and bitterness in this spark plug of a picture. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, and trailer.)
Louder Than Bombs: Just as it followed the horrifying Batman v Superman into theaters, Joachim Trier’s powerful drama shadows that nightmare onto home video, to remind us that, yes, Jesse Eisenberg can act. In fact, his entire cast is top-shelf, and they’re navigating tricky material; in telling the story of the maybe-suicide of a war photographer (Isabelle Huppert) and the shockwaves her death leaves on her husband (Gabriel Byrne) and children (Eisenberg and David Druid), Trier’s nimble film has a fluidity of time and focus, creating a mosaic of emotions, memories, and aftershocks. Layered, complex, and brutally intelligent – and there’s a shot of Huppert, late in the film, that simply holds on her remarkable face, as she conveys her frazzled emotional state in a moment that feels less like acting than telepathy. (Includes audio commentary and featurette.)