It’s one of those “something for everyone” kinda weeks on the home viewing front, with a giant animated mega-hit, a modest Oscar-nominated biopic, two scorching indie genre riffs, a ‘50s courtroom drama, an ‘80s cop flick, and a recent revenge Western. Surely something here will work for you.
The Salvation: What if I told you that there was a revenge Western starring Mads Mikkelson, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Jonathan Pryce, just sitting out there on Netflix, waiting for you to watch it? Co-writer/director Kristian Levring’s bleak oater has a nihilistic streak and a Spaghetti-influenced style, full of dusty landscapes and greasy beards and vengeance. And, needless to say, it’s full of stylized, memorable performances, particularly Mikkelson (haunted and perfect as a family man out for revenge) and Green (terrific as a tough widow).
Moana: Disney’s latest big musical adventure is a raucous and often uproarious swashbuckler, taking the next logical step in the career/world domination plan of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson by casting him as the oversized cartoon hero he’s always basically been. As Maui, the demigod who helps the title heroine (Auli’i Cravalho) reverse a curse that’s destroying her people, he’s charmingly boisterous, oblivious, and egocentric, and his big show-stopping intro number, “You’re Welcome” is one of the great Disney songs, period, full stop. It, and much of the rest of the music, is provided by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who invests the tunes with not only his signature lyrical intricacies but plenty of heart, and Cravalho belts the Oscar-nominated “How Far I’ll Go” with so much conviction, you can almost forgive it for being “Colors of the Wind” Lite. The oceanic animation is detailed and impressive, given additional life by the 3D Blu-ray treatment; it’s a charming, enjoyable family picture, and Moana (who is not only fiercely independent, but not even burdened with a romantic interest) is another welcome step in the evolution of the Disney princess. (Includes short film, “Maui mini-movie,” deleted song and scenes, featurettes, and music video.)
Jackie: One of the most welcome cinematic innovations of the past few years has been the evolution of the “snapshot biopic” – films like Lincoln and Selma that know good and well that smashing an icon’s entire life into two hours is a fool’s errand, and instead zoom in on a specific incident in their lives, knowing how much they can tell us about their subject by their behavior at that particular moment. Pablo Larraín’s Jackie is a worthy addition to this trend, dramatizing the hours and days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy through the eyes of his widow, who found herself not only undergoing unimaginable grief in front of the entire world, but taxed with showing all of them how to grieve themselves. Larraín’s direction and Noah Oppenheim’s script are laudably unpredictable, taking unexpected turns in narrative and perspective, and Natalie Portman’s remarkable leading performance manages to capture the qualities that made Jackie O easy to caricature, without making her one. (Includes featurette and audio commentary.)
Always Shine: This psychological thriller arrives with the force of a Bernard Hermann sting, announcing the arrival of a major filmmaker in the form of actor-turned-director Sophia Takal. She tells the story of two actor friends (Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald) and their bristling resentments and jagged jealousies with the pace and intensity of a De Palma movie – but with an extra, knowing layer of self-aware commentary about what it is to be a woman in show business. Takal and her tremendous cast have a way of making the most banal situations and everyday interactions pulse with sinister undercurrents. This is a dazzlingly confident film, whirling like a wind-up toy, with razors popping out on each spin. (Includes director interview.)
The Eyes of My Mother: The overwhelming feeling, throughout Nicolas Pesce’s gripping horror drama, is of unsteadiness and dread — you may not know exactly what’s happening, but you do know it’s nothing good. A young girl witnesses the murder of her mother, unspooling a cycle of violence that extends into her adulthood; as the girl in question, Kika Magalhaes is a revelation, with an exhilaratingly off-balance performance that could seemingly go anywhere, anytime. The disturbing nature of the material is matched only by the stunning mastery of form, from the gorgeous black-and-white photography (finding true beauty in ugliness) to the arresting compositions to the brutally efficient cutting (there’s one hard cut that’s as blunt as a hammer to the head, and nearly as unsettling). Haunting, nightmarish stuff. (Includes director interview and trailer.)
Compulsion: The case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two wealthy (and, it is said, gay) university students who murdered a 14-year-old just to see if they could, provided the inspiration for two important and widely divergent works of cinema: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film adaptation of the stage play Rope, and Tom Kalin’s 1992 New Queer Cinema touchstone Swoon. Between them came this 1959 drama from director Richard Fleischer (The Boston Strangler, Soylent Green), which doesn’t have Rope’s technical wizardry or Swoon’s explicitness (though there’s juicy subtext in lines like “You said you could take orders! You said you wanted me to command you!”), but is a gripping thriller nonetheless. Fleischer keeps his camera in uncomfortable proximity to his killers (played by Bradford Dillman and a very young Dean Stockwell), waiting for them to get caught, and knowing they’ll probably crumble when they do. Some of the supporting performances are a little stiff – or maybe they just pale next to Orson Welles, who doesn’t appear until 68 minutes in but unquestionably earns his top billing. Compulsion capitalizes on his wonderful way of being both natural and theatrical; he has a stylized way of letting you see him thinking, particularly in his lengthy, masterful, climactic courtroom speech, which is equal parts searching oratory and calculated performance. (Includes audio commentary and trailers.)
Colors: A film about the war between gangs and cops in late-‘80s Los Angeles from a white director, screenwriter, and stars would probably be retroactively #problematic any way you slice it, and Dennis Hopper’s 1988 sleeper hit makes particularly queasy 2017 viewing considering what we know about how white cops treat black people in L.A. at the time (there is, in fact, a bust with a gang of white cops taking down a suspect with fists and clubs that’s earily proto-King). Mostly, though, it’s just a time capsule – a film with the car chases, shoot-outs, and mismatched partners of any ‘80s cop movie, boosted by Haskell Wexler’s cinematography, Robert Duvall’s folksy authenticity, and before-they-were-stars turns by the likes of Damon Wayans, Tony Todd, and Don Cheadle (who brings eye-opening weight and gravity to his nothing role). It’s valuable as a snapshot of that moment in that city – and as a reminder that this film, with its hip-hop soundtrack and gangsta themes, was an important gateway to better pictures like Boyz n the Hood, Menace II Society, and South Central. (Includes unrated cut and interviews.)