The 7 Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: ‘Hell or High Water,’ ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

Plus new Herzog, special editions for Friedkin and Baumbach faves, and a pair of offbeat vintage Westerns.

Life comes at you fast; seems like just yesterday we were holding up Hell or High Water and Kubo and the Two Strings as the welcome theatrical oases at the end of a the summer desert, and now here they are on demand and disc. And there’s a lot more on the shelves this week too, as we break our five-movie norm for the third week running (what can I tell you, it’s the gift-giving season?) thanks to a new Herzog, special editions for Friedkin and Baumbach faves, and a pair of offbeat vintage Westerns.

ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD

Hell or High Water: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and (especially) Ben Foster shine in this taut yet intelligent crime drama from Starred Up director David Mackenzie, who fuses the American Western mythos with contemporary economic commentary, soaking our current anxieties into its canvas without overpowering it. The younger men are Texas brothers on a bank-robbing spree, and Bridges is the grizzled Ranger who tracks them as best he can, and waits for them to make a mistake. Mackenzie orchestrates the action beats with a sure hand, but the real force comes in the modest, contemplative moments; it’s a film filled with the quiet poetry of desperation, and its closing scene is like something out of Cormac McCarthy. (Includes featurette and Q&A.)

Kubo and the Two Strings: The latest from the visionaries at LAIKA – the stop-motion studio responsible for Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls – is a stirring and haunting slice of folk storytelling about a boy, his guitar, his magic, and his journey. In other words, in sharp contrast to most mainstream product geared towards younger audiences, it’s neither a sequel not a parade of pop-culture references; this is a good, old-fashioned adventure, complete with dark caves, magic swords, and thrilling battles. It’s a gorgeous, memorable piece of work, full of stunning images and breathtaking set pieces, taking risks and flights of fancy that most modern movies, family-targeted or otherwise, barely contemplate. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)

ON DVD / VOD

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World: Werner Herzog brings his customary curiosity and lyricism to this rambling essay on the inter-connectedness of our Internet age. The usual hallmarks are there: offbeat interviews with colorful characters, heavily accented narration that’s sometimes penetrating and sometimes hilarious, and an offhand brilliance at connecting dots and making connections. The latter sometimes feels like too big a topic, and Herzog occasionally uses that broadness that as an excuse for anecdote over analysis. But as a collection of memorable moments and Herzog-ian weirdness, it’s more than acceptable. (Includes Herzog interview and trailer.)

the-squid-and-the-whale

ON BLU-RAY

The Squid and the Whale: Noah Baumbach’s 2005 indie hit is a dry comedy – bone dry – and familial drama about the separation of a pair of married writers, and the damage it does to their sides-choosing sons. As the parents, Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are brilliant, each playing a very specific and different kind of bad parent/difficult person; dad is a self-satisfied name-dropper who thinks the worst thing he can do is insult the intelligence of the men his ex sees, while mom’s wry commentary is more subtle, but cuts deeper. Eldest son Jesse Eisenberg regurgitates his dad’s literary opinions (among other intellectual property); younger Owen Kline deals with the separation via a lot of public masturbation. It’s a tricky picture, with a tone that’s as hard to pinpoint as it is to catch wavering, and Baumbach, as ever, has a keen ear for the dialogue rhythms of insecure intelligentsia. (Includes interviews and conversations, vintage featurette, audition footage, and trailers.)

To Live and Die in L.A.: William Friedkin’s breathless 1985 cops (okay, customs agents) movie gets the Shout Select treatment, upgrading to Blu-ray in all its sleazy, sweaty, coked-up glory. William Petersen does the cocky loose-canon thing with grinning glee, Willem Dafoe is chillingly creepy (even by Willem Dafoe standards), and Friedkin marshals a peerless ensemble of terrific ‘80s character actors (John Turturro, Dean Stockwell, John Pankow, Darlanne Fluegel, among them). The mood is squirrelly and the plotting is tight, and Friedkin works up a car chase that gives even his classic French Connection a run for his money, with Petersen barreling down an L.A. freeway in the wrong direction. It’s a great set piece, and a first-rate action flick all around. (Includes audio commentary, new interviews, deleted scene, alternate ending, featurette, and trailer.)

One-Eyed Jacks: Marlon Brando’s one and only directorial effort was a notoriously troubled production, with a revolving door of departing personnel (including original director Stanley Kubrick and screenwriter Sam Peckinpah) resulting in a bad press and disappointing box office. Turns out Brando was merely ahead of his time, deconstructing the Western nearly a decade before his contemporaries, and working a moody, languid, introspective vibe that was far from the genre norm. He directs with the sensitivity and nuance of his best acting, and cleverly positions himself as an outsider both within the text and outside of it, his naturalistic approach a sharp contrast to the scenery chewing of his supporting players (and even the comparatively restrained work of his returning On the Waterfront co-star Karl Malden). Cool and intelligent – and the Criterion Collection’s transfer is gorgeous, a welcome relief from all the shitty public domain dupes of this one that’ve been circulating for years. (Includes introduction by Martin Scorsese, Brando audio excerpts, video essays, and trailer.)

100 Rifles: This 1969 adventure from director Tom Gries is a gnarly, rowdy little item, a border Western featuring the unlikely leading trio of quarterback-turned-movie-star Jim Brown, bombshell Raquel Welch, and an up-and-comer named Burt Reynolds. (It actually makes quite a fine double feature with last week’s Welch western, Hannie Caulder.) And it keys off the weirdo chemistry of its leads, assembling their disparate characters messily, forming unlikely pairings (including a then-controversial Brown/Welch sex scene), and finding buddy laughs in their partnerships. Gries and Clair Huffaker’s screenplay is frequently witty – “Half of it I spent on whiskey and women,” Reynolds muses of his bank robbery booty, “and the other half I wasted” – and it’s filled with well-executed action beats, including a barn-burner of a climax. (Includes audio commentary and trailers.)