The 6 Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: ‘Florence Foster Jenkins,’ ‘Southside With You’

This week’s highest-profile releases were all, to varying degrees, late summer counter-programming: adult-geared dramas for those exhausted by superheroes and talking animals. And on the catalogue side, we’ve got an influential heist thriller, a phantastmagoria from Fellini, and a fabulously goofy footnote in 3D history.

ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD

Florence Foster Jenkins: The pure joy that spreads across the face of Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) as she’s transported by the opera singer at Carnegie Hall is a common feeling in the presence of great music; it’s only natural to want to give that feeling to others. The trouble with Florence doing that is, to paraphrase Wade in Altman’s Nashville, she can’t sing. (Streep, by the way, is a very funny bad singer.) But she’s surrounded by sycophants – including husband Hugh Grant, hammin’ it up nicely – who do their very best to keep her from ever realizing how free of talent she is, until she insists on making a recording that becomes a popular hate-listen. Director Stephen Frears tells her story as a nimble period screwball comedy, but there’s a serious undercurrent here, about not only becoming aware of one’s own delusions, but the pain of looking them in the face. (He slyly implicates the film’s own audience along the way.) It’s a good twenty minutes too long, and Grant’s dud side plot commits the criminal offense of wasting Rebecca Ferguson. But it’s got a good heart, and likably manic performances by Streep, Grant, the wonderfully open-faced Simon Helberg, and the divine Nina Arianda. (Includes featurettes, deleted scenes, and Streep Q&A.)

Southside With You: Writer/director Richard Tanne’s Before Sunset-style dramatization of Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date could’ve been absolutely insufferable, written or played as the worst kind of pop cultural fan fiction. Instead, this affectionately low-key romantic drama is also an insightful political origin story and snapshot biopic; it tells us much, in how these two people interacted with each other and saw the world around them, about the kind of couple, and the kind of Americans, they would become. (Includes audio commentary.)

ON DVD / VOD

Little Men: The films of Ira Sachs offhandedly resonate with the feel of present-day New York City, and like his previous picture Love Is Strange, his new film is about both the people of the city and, unexpectedly, their real-estate woes. The inexplicit topic this time is gentrification, as an upper-class family inherits a Brooklyn building and decides to raise the sweetheart rent of the shop below their apartment — which is unfortunate, as the owner’s son has become their boy’s only friend. It’s not an easy good guy/bad guy situation; both parties have valid points and terrible qualities, which is why the ending is such a disappointment (it doesn’t pick a side, but does make a choice in who to follow and who to leave behind). That complaint aside, it’s a warm, honest, mellow movie, and Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri, the two young actors at its center, are terrific. (Includes featurette, casting sessions, and trailer.)

ON BLU-RAY

Roma:“Un film ULTRA,” announces the appropriate credit that opens Federico Fellini’s 1972 kaleidoscope, new from Criterion, which alternates memories of his childhood (specifically, the early days of WWII), absurdist dreams (most memorably, a Vatican fashion show), and an unexpected framework wherein it becomes a movie about itself. “Don’t show us the same old Rome,” the filmmaker is warned, but he gets to have it both ways, engaging in nostalgia, commentary, and surrealism, sometimes within the same scene. It’s awfully undisciplined, even for Fellini – it often feels as much like a director’s notebook as a movie, but what a notebook. What’s most striking is the overwhelming affection he feels for all of these people, no matter who they are or what they do; they’re all part of the rich canvas of metropolitan life, and his lovely film is a valentine to this city, as both a place and an idea. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, interviews, archival images, and trailer.)

The Asphalt Jungle: Writer/director John Huston and his co-scripter Ben Maddow (adapting W.R. Burnett’s novel) drafted the blueprint for the American heist picture with this still-potent 1950 potboiler – also new from Criterion – in which a crew of hard cases pull off a jewel job, and then turn on each other in its aftermath. (Its DNA is particularly present in Riffifi and Reservoir Dogs.) Sterling Hayden, with his invaluable mug, is terrific in the lead; Marilyn Monroe made one of her first film appearances in support, and she still stops your heart. Huston, as per usual, writes and directs in a smooth, professional, businesslike style that mirrors the career criminals at his story’s center. (Includes audio commentary, new and archival interviews, Hayden documentary, and trailer.)

The Stewardesses: The history of this sexpolotation cheapie is truly fascinating: released in 1969, it drew viewers in by reviving the long-dormant 3D gimmick and pairing it with the screen’s new sexual permissiveness, creating a novelty picture that raked in the cash (it was one of the top 15 movies of ’69, out-grossing The Wild Bunch, Topaz, and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, among others). It played for over two years, with writer/director Alllan Silliphant amending it during the run and putting different versions (including a hardcore cut) into circulation; it became the most profitable 3D movie ever, until Avatar. All that backstory is frankly more interesting than the film itself, which suffers from most of the flaws of the nudie movies of the era: flat acting, dopey dialogue (much of it indecipherable), distractingly low production value, deplorable compositions, and dubious sensuality. But it’s kind of a hoot anyway, in a snickering-at-the-bad-movie way, and it is a vivid snapshot of the Mad Man/Playboy “classy” ethos of the era. And to be fair, some the 3D is pretty inventive, particularly a scene of billiards play that’d make Color of Money-era Scorsese envious, and a sex scene that makes rather ingenious use of a young lady’s legs and feet. (Includes original trailer and a vintage 3D softcore short.)