Two summer Disney flicks hit the shelves this week – both deemed commercial disappointments, but both far riskier and more engaging than the talking-animal and superhero movies that filled the Mouse House coffers in that same period. Plus: two ensemble comedies – one new, one old – hit disc, and Brady Corbett’s story of a spoiled-brat-turned-dictator (imagine that) lands on Netflix.
The Childhood of a Leader: Actor-turned-director Brady Corbett shoots and cuts in a style that’s almost obstructively classical; his film is painterly, precise, ornate, and paced deliberately enough to turn off even some art-house patrons. But it’s full of remarkable compositions and gorgeous imagery, and if the early sections seem untethered, the viewer’s faith and patience pay off. Corbett spends 100 or so minutes coiling his film tightly, before letting it explode in psychological warfare and horrible violence. A challenging picture, to be sure, but a powerful one – and timely, what with the whole “origin story of a tyrant” angle.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Pete’s Dragon: Disney’s recent remake fever hasn’t exactly yielded first-class cinema, with one big exception: last summer’s David Lowery-helmed redux of their 1977 musical drama, a drippy, dozy picture that has here been tightened, rethought, and rendered anew. In other words, if they’re gonna insist on re-doing their entire catalogue, maybe they could spend more time on ones that won’t suffer in comparison? Oh, here’s why: remakes are cashing in on the popularity of the original, and Pete’s was a swing and a miss at the box office, presumably since there’s no real nostalgia for the title. Ah well. Lowery’s movie remains terrific – sweet, charming, evocative, and imaginative. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, bloopers, and music videos.)
The BFG: Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book is by no means a conventional family picture, but it captures the weirdness of the source material, and fuses it successfully with Spielberg’s own rough magic. He hasn’t worked this loosely in years, embracing Dahl’s vignette-based storytelling and winking love of low comedy, if not quite going all-in on the author’s wry edge. Mark Rylance (a recent Oscar winner for Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies) is a delight in the title role, a Big Friendly Giant who forges an odd friendship with a little girl (Ruby Barnhill, also good). It’s so much its own thing that viewers (particularly young ones) can be forgiven for not locking in, but those who do will adore it. (Includes featurettes and animated short.)
ON DVD/ VOD
The Intervention: The debut feature from actor-turned-writer/director Clea DuVall is a sharply written and charmingly acted Big Chill-style couples-on-a-weekend-getaway comedy/drama, with four pairs of longtime friends (well, three pairs and one interloper) converging for what turns out to be a “marriage intervention,” intended to break up the woefully unhappy couple whose constant conflicts have made themselves, and everyone around them, miserable. DuVall crafts a crisp, wise, and funny piece of work, and if the takeoff is a bit bumpy and the landing too clean, it’s still a very promising debut from a filmmaker who’s clearly been taking notes on all those sets. (Includes blooper reel and music video.)
Finders Keepers: This 1984 comedy was the penultimate narrative film by Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night, The Knack), and it sort of shows – it’s far more sweaty in its screwiness than the breezy classics he made his name with, and much of it has dated poorly (the synth-heavy score, the frequent use of a certain three-letter word for homosexual, the Supertramp needle drops). But it’s got a madcap spirit, an excellent ensemble, and wonderful little moments of offhand slapstick, and it picks up steam as it goes along, as second-half players Brian Dennehy (coming on like a tornado) and Jim Carrey (in one of his first roles) help bring the ingeniously clockwork closing passages home. (Includes trailer.)