In this sleepy week-after-Christmas edition of your home viewing guide, one of the summer’s biggest hits lands on Netflix and one of its more successful sleepers hits Amazon Prime. But the real finds are on disc: a magnificently overstuffed fall drama, a grisly genre homage, and a controversial biopic. Let’s take a look.
Captain America: Civil War: The Netflix arrival of the Russo Brothers’ most recent Cap movie is apparently big enough news to warrant entire blog posts a month in advance, though it’d stand to reason, based on its grosses and the audience it targets, that pretty much anyone who wants to see it, has seen it. But hey, if you somehow haven’t, throw it on your queue and fulfill your civic obligation, as an American. (It’s fine, a totally serviceable and occasionally ingenious superhero flick whose full-bodied performances and flashes of wit help distract from a formula that’s become borderline crippling.)
ON AMAZON PRIME
Café Society: Woody Allen’s period romance was better than his last two movies, but that ain’t hard to be; it’s still burdened with clumsy dialogue, odd plot threads, blatant recycling of earlier material, and so on. But it was a small-scale hit, getting mostly good reviews, and there are commendable elements: the sets are gorgeous and the cinematography is luminous and Kristen Stewart is terrific, so who am I to judge you if you wanna check it out. Considering the kind of traffic everyone gets the week after Christmas, I’m just happy you’re here.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
American Honey: Writer/director Andrea Arnold, who went minimalist for her 2011 Wuthering Heights, goes maximalist (and then some) for this lengthy, meandering, yet fascinating tale of an aimless teenager who joins up with a motley crew of hard-partying, door-to-door magazine-selling con artists. In other words, it’s the Spring Breakers/Glengarry Glen Ross mash-up you never knew you wanted. It’s a movie that feels lived in, and Arnold works in an ingratiating, off-the-cuff style; most of her cast are non-actors (in the best possible way), so she captures conversations that are messy and half-overheard, complemented by casually beautiful compositions and a wild, anything-goes storytelling spirit. (Includes interview featurette.)
Snowden: Oliver Stone has had a bit of a rough go of it as of late, so it’s probably not saying much to say last fall’s Edward Snowden biopic is his strongest effort in years. And it’s got its problems: many a moment of corn and cliché, a total drag of a romantic B-plot, the odd decision to frame the picture with recreations of Citizenfour. But it’s not a film you can easily dismiss either – primarily because Stone’s patriot/provocateur niche is one no other filmmaker has bothered to fill. And these days, it feels more than a little necessary. (Includes deleted scenes, featurette, and interview.)
In a Valley of Violence: Gifted genre classicist Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) turns his talents from horror to Western – Spaghetti Western specifically, managing to recapture not only the look and sound of those pictures (and their credit sequences, lawd have mercy), but the unsparing nastiness at their center. Ethan Hawke stars as a sort of spiritual cousin to his character in last week’s Magnificent Seven remake, a desert rider and strong silent type whose path to the Mexican border leads him through the troubled (and all but deserted) town of Denton; it’s ruled by a matter-of-fact marshal (John Travolta, doing his best film work in years) and his oily bully of a son, played by James Ransone as a bratty kid who’s used to having daddy clean up his messes. (OBLIGATORY TRUMP MENTION.) The plotting is no more complicated than it needs to be – it’s not about the story, but the telling. West settles in to this mythology with high style and discernible affection. (Includes featurette.)