Oh, hey, no big deal, last year’s highest-grossing movie is streaming on Netflix, just click over whenever, put it on as background while you’re Facebooking or Pinteresting or whatnot. Also streaming this week is a Netflix original from one of our favorite character actors, and the FilmStruck debut of one of the greatest documentaries of all time. And two first-rate ‘80s star vehicles – a true-life drama and a deft domestic comedy – make their Blu-ray debuts. Let’s get to it.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Last year’s big hit Star Wars spin-off in-betweener feels, in some ways, like the most pandering of fan service: Hey you guys, here’s what was happening, like, JUST BEFORE “Star Wars”! But once you get past the clumsiness of its concept, it’s an engaging and entertaining picture, a gang-of-outsiders team-up movie filled with colorful characters and well-staged set pieces. It has its miscalculations (don’t get me started on CG Peter Cushing), but, like The Force Awakens before it, Rogue One has a sense of humor, a sense of fun, and an undeniable air of gee-whiz enthusiasm – in other words, everything those terrible prequels were missing.
Take Me: If it did nothing else, this kidnapping comedy from director/star Pat Healy would cement Taylor Schilling as a presence worth watching beyond Orange Is the New Black – as a high-powered exec who hires freelance kidnapper Healy to provide her with a “simulated abduction experience,” she goes for the gusto, channeling a Beverly D’Angelo-type energy (and look) that keeps you guessing at her motives for the entirety of the film’s slender running time. But it’s also a solid Friday night stream, goosing the goofiness of its comic concept, and then taking a unexpected upside-down turn about midway through. It’s a movie that could go just about anywhere from one scene to the next, and that’s a lovely, too-rare quality these days.
ON FILMSTRUCK / NETFLIX
The Thin Blue Line: The great Errol Morris redefined documentary cinema – oh yeah, and saved an innocent man’s life too – with this 1988 true crime documentary, new this week on FilmStruck (with A+ supplementary material). The filmmaker, who spent several years earlier in the decade paying the bills as a private eye, merges those skills to reinvestigate the murder of Robert Wood, a Dallas police officer shot late one night in November of 1976. In doing so, he found compelling evidence that the man on Death Row for the murder, Randall Dale Adams, was innocent – a case Morris makes via hypnotic dramatizations of the crime as it might have happened, and in chilling interviews in which no one is terribly concerned with the truth. In spite of its many imitations (most notably The Jinx a few years back), The Thin Blue Line remains a singular achievement: a thrilling fusion of non-fiction and film noir, in which every pregnant pause and naked half-truth tells us something unnerving about human nature. (Also streaming on Netflix.)
Lost in America: Albert Brooks wasn’t nearly as prolific as Woody Allen in the late 1970s and 1980s, but he had a similar specialty – smart, funny, personality-driven comedies that approached the norms and neurosis of modern life with equal parts humor and impatience. And his best film may have been this 1985 masterpiece, new to the Criterion Collection, in which Brooks and Julie Hagerty (the wonderfully cock-eyed ingénue of the Airplane movies) play yuppies who “drop out,” sell all their things, and hit the road to find themselves – with their RV heading out on the highway to the strains of “Born to Be Wild” – and go into the ditch almost immediately. It’s a funny movie, but the kind where the laughs sting; Brooks and frequent co-writer Monica Johnson are getting at real truths here, about marriage, success, and the inevitable moral compromises of growing old. (Includes new conversations and interviews, and trailer.)
Silkwood: Mike Nichols directs, and Nora Ephron co-writes, this dramatization of the last months of Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), an Oklahoma power plant worker who was blowing the whistle on the dangers at her plant when she died under, to put it mildly, mysterious circumstances. These weren’t exactly heartland filmmakers, yet the film feels remarkably authentic; it knows the way these folks eat, talk, listen, and live, and the offhand naturalism of the playing and direction lifts it out of TV movie territory. The whistleblower stuff gives it a motor, but the relationships give it texture – the hang-out vibe of the domestic scenes, the quiet resentment that grows in boyfriend Kurt Russell as she becomes more of an activist, the lived-in modesty of Cher’s performance. And, aside from everything else, there’s something delightfully subversive about Streep doing all the singing in a movie where she shares the screen with Cher. (Includes new interview, theatrical trailers, and TV spots).