Some weeks, it feels like there’s nothing new to watch, online or on disc – and some weeks, well, it’s like this. One of the best (and most surprising) movies of the young year hits DVD and Blu; one of last year’s best is on Amazon Prime; we have new documentaries on Netflix and Apple Music plus two from Criterion; an ‘80s sleeper; and one of the strangest war movies you’ll ever see.
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press: Director Brian Knappenberger’s urgent documentary begins as a blow-by-blow of the Florida trial that pitted Hulk Hogan against Gawker over their publication of excerpts from an unauthorized sex tape, but it turns into much, much more: a look at that case’s troubling implications when viewed through the prism of a president who can limit the press’s ability to investigate, report, and criticize. It’s a chilling alarm siren, with an ending roughly akin to Donald Sutherland’s last moments in Invasion of the Body Snatchers – and also a fascinating peek into the nether regions of web journalism, First Amendment law, and Silicon Valley culture.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Paterson: Movies about creative people tend to focus on breakthroughs, stardom, and comebacks. But the vast majority of writers, artists, filmmakers, and the like are toiling away in obscurity, working day jobs to pay their bills and indulging their passions in the few free hours they’re allowed. Jim Jarmusch’s warm, lovely new drama is about a person like that, a bus driver (Adam Driver, perfection) who carries around a little notebook and spends his lunch hours and off moments jotting down evocative poems of everyday observation. Jarmusch obviously feels a kinship with this character, and his affection shows in the space the director gives him, and the patience with which he dramatizes his daily routines, tiny irritations, and flashes of escape.
ON APPLE MUSIC
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story: Daniel Kaufman’s profile of Bad Boy Records founder, recording artist, and general pop culture fixture Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs is an affectionate, even hagiographic portrait, amping up the genius (and capitalism) and playing down the rest. It moves fast, bounces to good beats, and is great to look at, from the knockout black-and-white images behind the scenes of the Bad Boy reunion show last year to the sumptuous color photography of is performance. It’s a lively piece of work – few things on this earth are as entertaining as watching Puffy Combs refuse to suffer fools – even if it leaves some important details on the cutting room floor.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
T2 Trainspotting: Danny Boyle’s twenty-years-later follow-up to his 1996 indie fave sounded like a rather desperate reach for pop culture relevance. Then again, who was clamoring for a nine-years-later sequel to Before Sunrise? And oddly, Boyle’s return to Irvine Welsh’s world (and to long-estranged leading man Ewan McGregor) evokes many of the same emotions as Linklater’s Before trilogy – of regret, of wishful thinking, of longing for the past and doubting the present. Boyle’s direction is as dizzyingly juiced-up as ever, but the real news here is the power of the performances, particularly that of McGregor, who packs twenty years of second-guessing into every moment. (Includes audio commentary, featurette, and deleted scenes.)
Straw Dogs: This 1971 psychological thriller, which is getting a Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion, is probably Sam Peckinpah’s most notorious picture (no mean feat, that), primarily for its troubling explorations of tenuous machismo and its effect on the female psyche. In other words, it’s aged into a decidedly #problematic piece of work, but there’s no denying its visceral power and command of mood; the director dispenses with the pictureseque niceties of his English village and paints a sweaty, upsetting portrait of mob rule, insular rot, and might making right. It’s not an easy movie, but it remains a forceful conversation piece – a film that demands you reckon with its distressing messages and implications. (Includes audio commentary, documentaries, new and archival interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, TV spots, and trailers.)
The Lodger: This 1927 silent chiller (new to the Criterion Collection) finds director Alfred Hitchcock first working in the style and subject matter with which he’d become synonymous – and he displays a mastery of dread and mood, even without the tool of sound. The direction is cool and confident: Innovative framing, camera movement and use of titles accompany structural and stylistic flourishes and dashes of dark humor. And in telling the story of a serial killer of blondes, Hitch tinkers with our audience assumptions, and resultant suspense; his primary focus is a lodger who clearly seems to be the killer, so he lingers on the blonde beauty downstairs, and teases and toys as we wait for him to strike. The Lodger gives us, in embryonic form, the themes of obsession, sociopathy, innocence, and guilt that would haunt his work for decades to come – and, as always, he just loves a close-up of a beautiful blonde screaming in terror. (Includes Downhill, an entire additional silent Hitchcock feature with Lodger star Ivor Novello, plus new interviews, new video essay, audio excerpts on the film from Hitchcock’s interviews with Francois Truffaut and Peter Bogdanovich, a radio adaptation, and a new, thrilling, oft-trilling score by composer Neil Brand.)
Running on Empty: Director Sidney Lumet tells the morally complicated story of a pair of Weather Underground-style ‘60s activists, still on the run 20-plus years later for a bombing, and the effect their on-the-run life has on their growing sons – particularly their oldest Danny (River Phoenix), who is about to reach adulthood. Lumet’s direction and Naomi Foner’s insightful script vibrates with the paranoia and discomfort of living your life looking over your shoulder, marching them through the well-practiced routine of picking up and starting over (and the little details therein – like, for example, pointedly skipping school on the day they take class pictures). But more importantly, the lived-in familial dynamic captures the moment when one truly begins to question the wisdom and authority of their parents. Most remarkable, though, is the patient, keenly observed courtship between Danny and classmate Lorna, played by Martha Plimpton, whose wonderfully off-kilter characterization and line readings have seldom been put to better use. And this may be Phoenix’s all-time best performance, particularly in those scenes; his understated anguish as he falls in love with her (and must eventually come clean about who he is) remains a gut-punch. (No bonus features.)
Hell in the Pacific: This 1968 effort from director John Boorman and star Lee Marvin finds the duo trying to do for the war movie what they’d done for the gangster/action film the previous year in the earth-shattering Point Break. It’s not as successful – the structural flourishes are mostly disorienting, and the ending is (to put it mildly) a tad abrupt. But there’s much to recommend in this story of two officers, one American (Marvin) and one Japanese (Toshirô Mifune), stranded together on an remote, deserted island, as their battle of wits and wills evolves into tolerance and begrudging respect. There’s barely any dialogue and even less communication, but the charismatic performers, Lalo Schifrin’s sharp-edged music, and Conrad Hall’s gorgeous photography all speak volumes. It’s not exactly subtle, but Pacific is nevertheless an effective metaphor for war, the damage done by pride and stubbornness, and the value of cooperation for a common cause. And its survivalist themes make it an important bridge between Point Break and Boorman’s later hit Deliverance (as well as his later jungle pictures, like The Emerald Forest and Beyond Rangoon.) (Includes audio commentary, new interviews, alternate ending, and trailer gallery.)