It’s a mighty grim week for big new disc releases – unless you’re really into unwelcome xXx and Resident Evil sequels – so it’s one of those Tuesdays where we had to do some digging. Here’s what we found: two sharp new political documentaries, an odd yet satisfying indie featuring one of our biggest movie stars, an odd yet satisfying indie featuring one of our favorite character actors, and a Blu-ray upgrade for a lovely, quiet comedy by a Japanese master.
Get Me Roger Stone: “These guys are liberal filmmakers,” Roger Stone tells his mom. “They cannot be trusted.” That warning is really something coming from the mouth of a crooked operator like Stone, the self-described “agent provocateur” whose work as a political consultant and lobbyist did much to put our nation’s political scene into its current cesspool, up to and including deeming Donald J. Trump “a prime piece of political horse flesh” clear back in 1988 and spending nearly 30 years talking him into running for President. Jeffrey Toobin – one of the many well-chosen pundits and operatives interviewed, along with Paul Manafort, President Trump, and Stone himself – puts it best: “The Trump candidacy was a pure Roger Stone production.” This documentary profile from Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme dissects exactly what that means, conducting a vital topography of Stone’s career of dirty campaigning, race-baiting, and political grifting, and following it all the way to the White House. It’s a combative movie, in content and construction, and Stone probably prefers it that way. “I revel in your hatred,” he insists, “because if I weren’t effective, you wouldn’t hate me.”
Hunter Gatherer: Andre Royo (“Bubs” from The Wire) brings his easy-breezy authenticity to this loose, frowzy story of an ex-con returning to his Los Angeles neighborhood, trying (and mostly failing) to put his life and relationships back together. Writer/director Joshua Locy creates a community of colorful characters and relationships of genuine warmth, all the while positioning his protagonist on the razor’s edge between heartbreak and instability. The film paints itself into a bit of a corner by the end, and the dreamlike interludes are too self-consciously arty. But Royo keeps the picture grounded, and its closing passages vibrate with real power.
ON AMAZON PRIME
A Hologram for the King: In one of the odder trends in recent filmmaking, the past two springs saw two Tribeca Film Festival premieres for Dave Eggers adaptations starring Tom Hanks, both of which were received with commercial and critical indifference. But in sharp contrast to this year’s garbled and airless The Circle, last year’s Hologram For a King (which hit Prime over the weekend) is a fine movie that was probably just too damn weird for Hanks’s traditionally mainstream audience. But he’s terrific as a desperate sales rep attempting to land the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s IT account, putting on a good game face and a hearty laugh, while peeling back that mask to show the private panic of a man staring down what feels very much like impending failure. Director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Cloud Atlas) breezily conveys a sense of everyday surrealism, and is gleefully willing to go off on odd tangents and moody explorations. It’s all sort of indescribable, or maybe just inexplicable; it’s certainly not a crowd-pleaser, but it offers rich rewards for those who can tune in to its peculiar frequency.
ON DVD / VOD
Keep Quiet: Y’know that thing on the ancestry shows where you meet, say, a vile Southern racist and it turns out he’s descended from slaves or whatever? That’s how Hungarian Jews must’ve felt when they discovered that Csanád Szegedi, a powerful figure in their anti-Jewish government and founding member of the Hungarian far-right anti-Semitic nationalist group Jobbik, had a Jewish grandmother. Sam Blair and Joseph Martin’s elegant documentary tells Szegedi’s stranger-than-fiction story with both skepticism and understanding, following his journey to not only understand but embrace his heritage, tracking with his revelations at Auschwitz and in temple, yet still leaving the viewer with a sense of uncertainty. It’s the kind of film where you think you know the story they’re telling – but every once in a while they throw you for a loop, and end on a note of engaging ambiguity. (Includes trailer.)
ON BLU-RAY / FILMSTRUCK
Good Morning: Lest anyone ever try to convince you Criterion is all solemn old foreign art films, I give you, yes, a 1959 classic from the great Yasujiro Ozu (Ikiru, An Autumn Afternoon) – but it’s a domestic comedy, full of TV-obsessed kids, gossipy moms, depressed men drinking, and even some fart jokes. The plot concerns a pair of kids who take a vow of silence when their parents won’t buy them a television, but it’s not really a plot-heavy picture; this is a slice-of-life story, a snapshot of regular people, and conflicts that don’t feel mundane to those inside them. (And it’s more disciplined than it initially seems anyway, as the ramifications of their silent treatment neatly fold into the film’s other, shambling storylines.) It’s a very funny movie, played (as the best comedies are) totally straight; gentle and lyrical, but with just the slightest edge. (Includes new interview and video essay, fragment of Ozu’s 1929 silent film A Straightforward Boy, and the entirety of Ozu’s 1932 silent comedy I Was Born, But…) (Also streaming on Filmstruck.)