This week’s batch of streaming and disc titles includes one of our favorite summer action flicks – no, we don’t only like snooty art films around here – as well as one of the season’s sleeper hits. We’ve also got a romantic spy picture on Prime, a frothy Shakespeare adaptation on Hulu, and Blu-ray upgrades for a classic comedy, a classic crime picture, and a classic indie. Let’s get to it.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Allied: This surprisingly robust and energetic WWII spy thriller is taut and thrilling, assembled with smooth professionalism by director Robert Zemeckis. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard smolder convincingly (in a series of divine costumes) as a pair of spooks who meet on the job and fall for each other, in spite of their best intentions to do otherwise; the early scenes, in which she’s teaching him how to seem in love with her, burn with both playful eroticism and a winking actor/director subtext. And the third act, which invests its breathless set pieces with urgent themes of trust and intimacy, verges on Hitchcock-level tension. Zemeckis can’t reach those heights, of course (few can), but he winds up with his best picture in years, faint praise though that may be. (Also on Hulu.)
Much Ado About Nothing: Joss Whedon’s 2013 Shakespeare adaptation modernizes the dress, cranks up the slapstick, and fills his cast with regulars and friends who give its classical dialogue a distinctively screwball snap. His reimagining of the Bard’s classic is respectful but not reverential, filling the edges of the frames with goofy business and giving the entire affair the feel of a party that won’t end (which, considering the off-the-cuff nature of the film’s production, it sort of was). We’re all invited, though, which is much of the picture’s charm — it’s sweet, coy, sexy fun.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Atomic Blonde: The first time we see Lorraine Braughton (Charlize Theron) in action, she’s beating the shit out of a dude with the point of her stiletto heel — a smashingly good sequence, and a potent bit of symbolism as well. This graphic novel adaptation from John Wick co-director David Leitch is an expectedly entertaining and energetic brew of superspy action and brutally graceful fight scenes/shoot-outs, carried easily by Theron’s considerable gravity, intelligence, and sex appeal. The big set pieces are all-timers — a rope, garden hose, and household miscellanea fight to George Michael’s “Father Figure” seems like an instant classic, until it’s topped a little while later by a nasty, scrappy sequence of our hero protecting her cargo while taking down thugs in an stairway and apartment (it’s kinda like that great long take in Children of Men, except with a lot more people getting thrown into walls). But it’s also a showcase for some finely-tuned acting, in which Theron finds little half-beats of uncertainty and regret, and nails them. This could very well be a franchise-starter for the actor, and a promising one; it’s basically Charlize as ‘80s bi James Bond, and it is glorious. (Includes audio commentary, deleted/extended scenes, and featurettes.)
Wind River: Actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) turns director with this snowy mystery set high in the Wyoming mountains. It’s awfully wobbly in the early stages, as Sheridan struggles to get his procedural ducks in a row and pull the characters past their obvious types, all the while waxing a bit too lyrical. But somewhere around the midpoint, it starts to work; Sheridan’s script and filmmaking build tension, pay off the mystery beautifully, and execute a truly breathtaking out-of-nowhere shoot-out. Elizabeth Olsen struggles with her poorly written role, but Jeremy Renner has some awfully good moments, and Graham Greene is, well, Graham Greene – which is to say, wonderful. (Includes deleted scenes and featurettes.)
Desert Hearts: Writer/director Donna Deitch’s 1985 lesbian romance – new from the Criterion Collection – works in a low-key, slice-of-life style, more concerned with its indelible sense of place and time than the potential sensationalism of its material. But it is written decidedly from the inside, full of double-entendres and shorthand, coupled with everyday eroticism. The way the tentativeness and good humor of its protagonists’ first sexual encounter turns to raw sexiness is astonishing (there’s no music, just breathing), but so is Deitche’s handling of the emotional minefield that follows. A quietly terrific movie, boasting bravura lead performances by Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau. (Includes audoo commentary, new interviews, featurette, and documentary excerpt.)
Le Samurai: Somehow both deliberately paced and downright riveting, this 1967 drama from director Jean-Pierre Melville (newly upgraded to Blu-ray by Criterion) glides smoothly between unreasonably cool crime picture and a nuts-and-bolts police procedural, as a nattily-attired hitman (Alain Delon, peerless) attempts to line up an alibi and persuade a witness to let him walk, while the cops (led by François Périer) close in. The meticulousness of their investigation is matched by the filmmaking; Melville’s allegiances are clear. It’s a tricky movie – viewed from a point of detachment, yet still unaccountably involving for the viewer. (Includes archival interviews, and featurette.)
Bananas: When they talk about Woody Allen’s “early, funny movies,” this it the kind of thing they’re talking about :a broad, Duck Soup-style satire (new on Blu from Twilight Time) that plops Allen’s already-established nightclub character into a wacky banana republic and lets him wisecrack his way through, like a neurotic Bob Hope. Plus, pay close attention to the subway thugs terrorizing Allen in the early, NYC-in-the-hellhole-years section: yep, that’s Sylvester Stallone, in one of his first film roles. (Includes isolated music track and original theatrical trailer.)