For the second week in a row, the new release shelf is a mighty grim place – I mean, there are bad weeks, and there are weeks where the biggest new titles on disc are The Angry Birds Movie and God’s Not Dead 2. But there’s hope, because it’s a good week for movie nerds, with wonderful new documentaries on cinema icons hitting HBO GO and Blu-ray, plus some great new (old) stuff from the vaults.
No Country for Old Men: New to Netflix, and perfectly timed to coincide with the similarly styled and themed Hell or High Water’s theatrical release, this was the Coen Brothers’ first Best Picture winner, and still one of their finest hours. Mating their unsurpassable technical skills with the terse, unforgiving prose of Cormac McCarthy, the duo pulled career-best performances out of Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and the somewhat undervalued Tommy Lee Jones; it’s a potent mixture of genre elements and downright experimental storytelling, up to and including that controversial closing scene. Tough, haunting, and unforgettable filmmaking.
Louis C.K. Live at the Comedy Store: We don’t normally throw comedy specials into this mix, but what can I tell you – it’s Louie’s most recent special, and it’s killer stuff. Riffing on familiar topics like fatherhood, relationships, and sex, with dips into surrealism (the “babies on the plane” bit) and social commentary (comparing American exceptionalism to the excuse-making of a “bad girlfriend”), this is C.K. continuing to refine his brilliant comic voice, and wielding his distinctive style like a sharpened scalpel.
ON HBO GO
Hitchcock/Truffaut: Pure movie-nerd pleasure, this exhilarating and entertaining documentary from film historian Kent Jones doesn’t just delve into the interviews that yielded one of the must-have cinema texts, or the undying influence of that volume on today’s filmmakers (many of whom appear to sing its praises); it’s like a film adaptation of that book, with modern masters like Scorsese, Fincher, and Bogdanovich walking us through Hitch’s methodology, and explaining what they learned from him. Breezy, funny, and informative, and a tribute to the ongoing dialogue between filmmaker and audience.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD
Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words: Director Stig Björkman is a film historian and writer of considerable note, but this 2015 portrait (debuting via the Criterion Colection) isn’t just another dry run through Ms. Bergman’s remarkable filmography; instead, it falls into the recent style of up-close-and-personal star bio-docs (Amy, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Listen to Me Marlon) that favor the person over the career. Like Marlon, it’s taken from a treasure trove of Bergman’s private materials — in this case, diaries (read by Alicia Vikander, good call) and home movies (she was always shooting, as evidenced by a wonderful montage of her on sets, often in period garb, with still and movie cameras to her eye), alongside rare interviews and previously unseen archival materials (even her screen tests are riveting). Focusing more on her inconvenient romances and rootless nature — she called herself a “bird of passage” — than Casablanca or Notorious, Björkman’s film is dreamlike and lovely, unfolding like a trip through the star’s photo albums, or even a log of her dream-life. (Includes deleted and extended scenes, additional home movies, director interview, clip and outtakes from Bergman films, music video, and trailer.)
Wild in the Streets: This 1968 AIP effort is, in some ways, a fairly typical bit of hippie-splotiation, concerning Max Frost (Christopher Jones), a rock star who marshals his army of flower children to lower the voting age to 14, and then to elect him President. But its fast, furious style was acknowledged and acclaimed by no less than Pauline Kael (in her iconic essay “Trash, Art, and the Movies”), and its themes of a grossly unqualified celebrity making a run for the head office are, needless to say, unexpectedly timely. Shelley Winters turns in a deliciously bonkers turn – was she doing any other kind in this period? – as the candidate’s mom, and a young Richard Pryor doesn’t get much to do as Frost’s drummer Stanley X, but he sure makes an impression. (No bonus features.)