This week’s new disc releases – Life, Wilson, and A Dog’s Purpose among them – underscore just how listless the late-spring theatrical releases were, but no worries. We’ve got three new streamers on three different services for you, plus an undiscovered indie gem and a long-dismissed ‘80s flick that’s worth another look.
Moana: More-personal-than-usual review time: when I initially saw Moana in theaters, I thought it was fine – not a game changer, not even a great Disney movie, but a good one. Then it came out on Blu-ray, and my three-year-old put it on the endless loop, which usually serves to (quickly!) highlight a family film’s considerable flaws. With Moana, the opposite happened: the jokes got funnier, the songs got catchier, and the film’s message of independence, empowerment, and forgiveness took hold. Now I’m a partisan and an evangelist; Moana is one of the best films of the modern Disney age, and now it’s on Netflix, so you can quietly watch it at home even if you don’t have a kid. More than once, even.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Star Trek Beyond: The latest Star Trek feature has its problems – villain Idris Elba’s considerable charisma is rendered all but invisible behind his pounds of alien prosthetics, and the movie’s serious beats can’t quite match its comic ones. But the comic ones are pretty great, thanks to a witty script co-written by co-star Simon Pegg and the light hand of director Justin Lin, taking over for J.J. Abrams (and thank goodness, after the ponderous Into Darkness). And goodwill levels towards star Chris Pine are pretty much at an all-time high thanks to Wonder Woman, so why not?
Multiple Maniacs: John Waters’s first feature with sync sound was, for years, all but impossible to track down. But thanks to the efforts of Janus Films, it was painstakingly restored and re-released last year – a bit of a hoot for a movie so utterly disreputable – and that restoration made its way first to Blu-ray via the Criterion Collection, and now to the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck. It’s a wild, weird, and obviously homemade movie, but that home-movie amateurishness is part of its charm; there’s a sense that Waters and his “Dreamlanders” are just kids playing dress-up, but they’re really fucking demented kids. Queue it up and turn yourself over to it; you’ll never be the same. (Read our interview with Waters about the movie and its making here.)
ON DVD / VOD
AWOL: A married mother and a young military woman fall into a taboo romance; they end up hitting the road, full of idealism but frightened of the consequences. Deb Shoval’s tender romantic drama is, structurally at least, oddly similar to Carol, though it’s a modern story equally informed by the desperation and loneliness of small-town life. The little details of that life – thrift-shopping with mom, nights out at the carnival, family trips to pumpkin patches – ring with authenticity, and that goes double for the performances. Breeda Wool puts across the intensity of a woman whose desire can’t quite smother her fear, while Lola Kirke shines as the girl who loves her, conveying an openness and vulnerability that can only get her into trouble. Some of the dialogue is clumsy and the storytelling rings false in spots, but it’s a fine film overall, anchored by a pair of powerhouse performances.
8 Million Ways to Die: The great Hal Ashby’s final film doesn’t get much respect, and to be fair, it’s hard to find much of the filmmaker behind Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, and Being There in it. But it’s a pretty decent entry in the slick, sweaty, synth-heavy ‘80s L.A. crime movie sweepstakes (see also: To Live and Die in L.A., Thief), adapting Lawrence Block’s book about a hard-drinking cop (Jeff Bridges) who hits bottom, goes straight, and wanders into a world of pimps and drug dealers as a free agent. The script – by Oliver Stone, an uncredited Robert Towne, and pseudonymous Road House scribe David Lee Henry – replicates, perhaps even purposefully, his state of perpetual bewilderment, reworking the noir chestnut of a potential patsy fumbling his way through a byzantine mystery. Bridges finds a note of bleary-eyed desperation and locks in on it, but Andy Garcia steals the show, oozing sleazy charm and real menace. It’s oddly paced – presumably thanks to extensive post-production tinkering – and its climax is weirdly anti-climactic. But Ashby ramps up the coke-fueled atmosphere and works in a few distinct touches: the authenticity of the addiction material, the inventive use of subject camera, and the connection forged between Bridges and Rosanna Arquette in their quiet morning-after scene. 8 Million Ways certainly isn’t a starting point in the Ashby filmography, but it’s better than its reputation. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, and trailer.)