The waves and crashes of home viewing can make for a rocky ride – last week, for example, we were stretching to get to our usual five must-sees, while this week we had to restrain ourselves to just seven. So it goes. This week we’ve got one of last year’s best movies on Prime and one of this year’s best (so far) on Blu; the disc debuts of three excellent spring genre efforts; a giggly new Bond-based docu-comedy on Hulu; and a haunting drama on Netflix. Here we go.
Christine: It’s not easy to watch someone unravel, and director Antonio Campos (Afterschool, Simon Killer) purposefully amps up the discomfort in his dramatization of the final months of of Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall, amazing), the Florida television anchorwoman who shot herself on live television in 1974. (It was, oddly enough, one of two movies last year about Chubbuck.) That bizarre and horrifying event is given its proper weight — the closing scenes are truly chilling — but Campos seems more interested in the tiny slights and bobbled moments that got her there, when she was unable to make real connections or cultivate relationships. Tragedies like this don’t come out of nowhere, and Campos’s approach (and Hall’s tremendous performance) underscores that notion by taking a patient, nuanced approach, all the while noting that, in the end, she was reduced to just another strange story on the evening news.
Becoming Bond: Just after the successful release of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby, the novice actor and male model who’d taken over the role of James Bond, announced that his first Bond movie would also be his last. He became a footnote and a punch line; director Greenbaum tells the story of how he got there, and how he walked away, with style, humor, and surprising sweetness. Surprisingly enough, it’s a love story — Lazenby, at the time and in recalling it, keeps returning to the one that got away (and he got back, and got away again, and he got back again, and…), which gives all the movie-biz and swinging-’60s stuff a bittersweet edge. And the film also patiently moves through this much-discussed and second-guessed decision with him; “It’s a tough under to walk under, that James Bond thing,” he says, and he ultimately decided it made more sense to live his life how he wanted, damn the consequences. “I can’t think of anything I’d change,” he says at Becoming Bond’s conclusion, and yes, he even means that. And the funniest thing is, you believe him.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Moonlight: The whirling camerawork and jubilant music in the opening scene of Barry Jenkins’s Best Picture winner might make you think you’re in for a showier movie than he delivers. Which is not to say that it isn’t stylish — just that every lyrical touch, every breathtaking composition, every aural flourish is at the service of a simple yet glaringly untold story. In the end, what’s astonishing about the picture isn’t its vibrancy, or its aesthetic; it’s its warmth, the love Jenkins has for his characters, and the patience with which he tells their story. Simply breathtaking, and a film that grows in richness with each additional viewing.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Get Out: Jordan Peele’s debut film as writer/director mixes horror, comedy, and social commentary with astonishing confidence and skill, taking hold of its provocative ideas and seeing them all the way through. And the core idea is an ingenious one, crossing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Rosemary’s Baby with the mad scientist movie of your choice. Peele’s efficiency as a filmmaker is striking — there’s not an ounce of fat on this thing, with even the seemingly throwaway moments snapping firmly into this chilling jigsaw puzzle. In any year, Get Out would have gone off with a bang; in this year, hard on the heels of so many sobering realizations about race and privilege in our time, it’s like an earthquake. (Includes audio commentary, alternate ending, deleted scenes, Q&A, and featurette.)
Logan: Hugh Jackman says farewell (they say) to his best-known character, X-Men’s Wolverine, and does so with a bang: by putting him into a hard-R Reacher/Wick-style muscular brawl-fest, and finding it fits him pretty snugly. Yes, it’s our old friend the “dark, gritty” comic book reimagining, and yet it works here — not as magnificently as most of its breathless reviews insisted, but nevertheless telling its dystopian story in a style that is unhurried, effective, and even a little bit emotional. There are moments when it feels like all we’re going to get, for the rest of our lives, are comic book movies; Logan doesn’t solve that problem, but it at least instills some hope that they might have some texture and variety. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurette, and “Logan Noir” black-and-white version.)
The Great Wall: Visionary director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower) doesn’t just plunk Matt Damon down in the center of one of his typically ornate and gorgeous period Chinese epics; he gets in the spirit of the international blockbuster by taking the trappings of those films and swirling them into, no kidding, a monster movie. The Great Wall looks and sounds like one thing — specifically, a “white-washed” stone-faced historical drama. But it’s something else entirely: the story of a white man astonished by the skill and technology of this culture, wrapped inside a really goofy lizard monster flick. In other words, it’s a lot of fun, a Roger Corman B-movie that’s somehow also a giant-budget, international production. (Includes deleted and extended scenes and featurette.)
XX: This horror anthology film presents four short, scary stories, all directed by (and, for the most part, about) women. As is always the case, the results vary wildly, but there’s some awfully good stuff here. Its starts with its strongest section, Jovanka Vuckovic’s “The Box,” a very bleak tale that executes a simple premise elegantly and effectively, and reminds us of the power of what we do not see. “The Birthday Party,” by Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), is more black comedy than horror, a hiding-a-body story that can’t quite sustain even its brief running time. But it’s a comedy with a good punch line, stylishly photographed and convincingly played (I mean, it stars Melanie Lynskey). Roxanne Benjamin’s “Don’t Fall” reanimates the douchey, prankish spirit of a Friday the 13th flick, but there are too many cheap tricks (jump scares, dream fake-outs, that kinda thing), and it doesn’t add up to much. But Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son” is a strong closer, an exercise in stylish dread very much in the mold of her The Invitation, which begins as a mini-We Need to Talk About Kevin before going somewhere decidedly weirder. And it closes with a good, tough monologue from mother to son, the third of four movies rooted in the scariest horror of all: being a parent. (Includes featurettes and interviews.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / NETFLIX
Dheepan: This Palme d’or winner from director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone) — debuting on disc from The Criterion Collection — tells the timely story of a group of refugees, masquerading as a family, trying to make their way in a new home and new life. Audiard hits the expected beats of discomfort, discord, and eventual acceptance, as this makeshift trio slowly begins to connect, only to have their tentative bonds tested. The film’s climax is a bit of a splitter — it takes a sharp tonal turn that you’ll either go with or resist, and probably nothing in between. But no matter where you land on that shift, this is a tough, uncompromising picture, and it keeps feeling more and more relevant. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, deleted scenes, and trailer.) (Also streaming on Netflix.)