One of Sunday night’s big Oscar contenders – and, in a happy coincidence, one of last year’s best movies – hits disc and rental today, alongside one of the finest (and certainly funniest) Marvel movies, an intense religious drama, and an oft-forgotten Spaghetti Western. Plus, one of 2017’s most underrated movies lands on Prime for your easy viewing enjoyment. Here we go:
ON AMAZON PRIME
Brad’s Status: “Isn’t that your friend from college?” on of Brad and Melanie’s friends ask, as he peruses the latest issue of Architectural Digest, and it is; that magazine cover, and the sight of one of his other friends on television, is “like a ghost I conjured to haunt me.” Brad is a character who, in his words, spends all his time “in my mind, puffing myself up and tearing myself down,” and Ben Stiller is marvelous in the role, capturing both his interior ranting and his exterior apologetic modesty. Brad’s Status is a mid-life crisis movie, but only in the particulars; the wider subject is the challenge, to people of all ages, of coming to accept who you are and what your life is – or, at the very least, trying to be. It’s a movie of both big laughs and stinging truths.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Lady Bird: Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut is busy on reflection but free-flowing in the moment, full of little undercurrents that would be major subplots in other movies, yet just become part of the tapestry of this one: parental tension, student/teacher crushes, the aimlessness of youth, longing for a higher station (the protagonist’s mother, on reading magazines in bed: “That’s something that rich people do. We’re not rich people”). It’s a film that spends a fair amount of time in fancy houses and rundown thrift stores, and seems just as comfortable in both; any filmmaker who can pull off that duality is worth watching. (Includes audio commentary and featurette.)
Thor: Ragnarok: As the freshness of the Marvel movies gave way to tiresome conventions, the learning curve has swung the other direction – now, it seems, we’re always hearing about how the latest entry is better than average, or has less of the offending factor than usual, or what have you. So please believe me when I tell you that the third Thor movie – traditionally the weakest strand of the series – is a genuine delight, uproariously funny and winkingly subversive, its every beat stamped with the light comic touch of director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows). He turns the usual lumbering solemnity of the Thor pictures upside down, cleverly deflating the hero moments, playing against expectations, yet simultaneously introducing one of the Marvel movies’ most memorable characters (Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie) and nastiest villains (Cate Blanchett’s Hela). An honest-to-goodness treat, with a breeziness that’s all too uncommon among blockbuster product. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes, and director introduction.)
Novitiate: Writer/director Margaret Betts tells her tale of young women training to become nuns with what feels like an insider’s eye; it’s a story that seems whispered from behind convent walls. Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) is a young woman late to the church, attempting to make up for lost time; Julianne Nicholson, as her less-than-religious mother, roars through her scenes like a tornado, but also captures the heartbreak of losing her daughter to what feels like a cult. (And occasionally looks like one; the “bridal” ceremonies Betts dramatizes are creepy as hell.) The unflinching portraits of their borderline-hazing rituals are harrowing, and if the early sections are a touch dull and Melissa Leo is goes way too far over the top, the emotional impact of the closing passages more than cover the difference.
A Fistful of Dynamite (aka Duck, You Sucker): Sergio Leone’s 1971 farewell to the Western has always been considered a lesser work, and frankly, that’s not hard for a movie to be when it follows the Dollars trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West. But there’s a lot to recommend in this one, where the warfare is as much class-based as artillery-centered, as a Mexican bandit (played by Rod Steiger, which is … a choice) teams up with an Irish terrorist (James Coburn) to blow a lot of stuff up real good in the name of the revolution. (It’s presumably the only Western that opens with a Mao quote.) Leone uses the expansive running time of its two predecessors without managing their depth, but there are plenty of memorable moments and ace set pieces, as well as extended, lyrical flashbacks that provide valuable context for Coburn’s complex motivations. It’s a good time, yet one its creator isn’t afraid to turn on you. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, and trailers.)