One of last year’s biggest hits lands on disc and on demand this week, and yet (twist!) it’s actually pretty good. As a counterpoint to that big-budget space action epic, we have a tiny indie about a bus-driving poet. In between, we offer a Hong Kong action flick, a sci-fi thinker, and an exceptional movies ‘n war documentary. Let’s get to it.
The Discovery: Co-writer/director Charlie McDowell (The One I Love) crafts a cross between metaphysical drama, psychological thriller, and mad scientist movie with this story of a world gone awry following the discovery of scientific proof of the afterlife. His script, penned with One I Love collaborator Justin Lader, is thoughtful and well worked-out, considering the large implications and theological questions as well as the little details (like secondhand lingo and hashtags), and his direction is moody yet grounded; the tightly-wound score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans lends a big assist to the latter. Jason Segel is miscast and the whole thing sorta falls apart in the third act, but Jesse Plemons and Riley Keough are outstanding in supporting roles, each of their characters taking on unexpected dimensions, and Rooney Mara is, well, Rooney Mara (which is to say, exquisite). And it boasts a terrific Robert Redford performance, which takes his usual charisma and gravitas and slowly, methodically twists it.
Five Came Back: Laurent Bouzreau’s three-part documentary adaptation of Mark Harris’s essential cinema-in-WWII chronicle offers up riches for film fans and history buffs alike – focusing on five big-time Hollywood directors who spent the war making movies for Uncle Sam, while walking through the story of that war (and the years immediately following it) through their lens. There’s a lot of material to wrestle with here, but the filmmakers do so with intelligence and emotional resonance, ingeniously telling each directors’ story primarily via a compassionate contemporary counterpart, and dispatching well-chosen clips and outtakes from the works in question – many of which, bonus, are also now streaming on the site.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: This Star Wars spin-off/prequel, which fills in all the details right up to the moment when the 1977 original begins, occasionally veers into the “Jon Voight’s hairy ball sack” territory of those unfortunate prequels. But at least it does so with a sense of fun rather than obligation, with director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) doing a yeoman’s job of replicating the original picture’s ‘70s future vibe in costumes, hair, and technology. He also hits on the right, Dirty Dozen-ish “gang on a mission” tone, and gets the right team of actors to pull it off; Felicity Jones is all snub-nosed spirit and stifled pathos in the lead, Riz Ahmed is as funny as Diego Luna is cool, and Donnie Yen gives the picture a serious jolt, suddenly and unexpectedly turning it into a Zatoichi movie. The computer-generated “performance” of the late Peter Cushing is a jarring miscalculation, a plastic and unconvincing contrivance that train-wrecks any scene it shows up in, but that complaint aside, this is an engaging and entertaining flick that somehow manages to transcend the Brand Exploitation sniffed at by its premise. (Includes featurettes.)
Paterson: Jim Jarmusch is filmmaker who’s not only been in the game long enough to know exactly how to achieve his effects, but is willing to take all the time he needs to do so. Here, he’s telling the story of a New Jersey bus driver (Adam Driver, unsurprisingly an ideal Jarmusch protagonist) who does his job, hangs out with his sweet girlfriend, and spends most of his spare moments writing evocative poetry. It’s an absolutely modest narrative, a week or so of his life that (spoiler?) doesn’t culminate in his discovery by a super-agent or publication in a giant magazine or any such payoff. Instead, it’s a low-key snapshot of a day-job creative – but by its elegant conclusion, even the simplest gestures are bottomless in their resonance. (No bonus features.)
Three: The latest from Hong Kong action master Johnnie To is a fascinating piece of work, less a shoot-‘em-up than a pressure cooker. To situates an overworked doctor, a charismatic bad guy, and a square-jawed cop in a busy hospital, and studiously avoids conventional action scenes – until the point, just over an hour in, when it’s time to dance. If you’re gonna try and do an Asian action movie climax in a hospital when Hard Boiled exists, you better come correct; To, unsurprisingly, does just that, reveling in his showy, baroque style, all the way up to his gloriously over-the-top finale. (Includes featurette and trailer.)