After a brief sabbatical last week, we’re back with an extra, over-stuffed edition of your weekly viewing recommendations, and it’s a doozy: your film editor’s favorite movie of 2018 thus far, two spring theatrical hits, two must-see indies, two A+ documentaries, three new additions to the Criterion Collection, and a wild ‘70s Western making its Blu-ray debut.
ON HBO GO
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind: The title of Marina Zenovich’s bio-doc isn’t just a vague promise (or a clever callback to an early stand-up bit), but the picture’s M.O.; it opens with a discussion on Inside the Actor’s Studio about how, precisely, Mr. Williams’ quick mind works, and spends its running time less interested in the blow-by-blows of his career than in understanding the insecurities that drove him, and what remedies they required. There’s plenty of good stuff for fans – Zenovich frequently bypasses familiar material in favor of rare clips, outtakes, home movies, and other treats – and the strand concerning his friendship with Billy Crystal is genuinely touching. Sure, the style is rote, but Come Inside My Mind does the most you can ask of a film like this: it approaches a beloved public figure, and leaves you feeling like you know them better afterwards.
ON BLU-RAY / PRIME VIDEO
Bull Durham: A new addition to the Criterion Collection, in which sports comedy specialist Ron Shelton (White Men Can’t Jump, Tin Cup), a former minor-league baseball player himself, nails the feel, sound, and even the smell of a farm team where everyone’s either on their way up or their way down. Tim Robbins is the former and Kevin Costner is the latter; Susan Sarandon is the dedicated fan and object of their desire. In his first at-bat as director, Shelton effortlessly balances the (literally) inside baseball satire and the slinky sex comedy, and coaxes terrific performances out of his flawless cast. (Also available on Prime Video.) (Includes audio commentaries, new and archival interviews, featurettes, news footage, and trailer.)
ON BLU-RAY / FILMSTRUCK
Dragon Inn: One more new (essential) disc from Criterion: this 1967 widescreen wuxia epic from director King Hu, full of stunning landscapes, intricate sets, and stellar swordplay. Asian action junkies may find it a bit taxing – the early stretches provide only short bursts of actions, in between a fair amount of table setting. But once the narrative it set in motion, it’s unstoppable; the pageantry of the staging and the grace and elegance of the battle sequences are simply breathtaking. (Also on FilmStruck.) (Includes new and archival interviews, scene analysis, news footage, and trailer.)
ON DVD / VOD
Hitler’s Hollywood: “Watching old movies is a means of exploring one’s past,” explains narrator Udo Kier, in the opening sequence of this fascinating documentary from director Rüdiger Suchsland – whose earlier film, From Caligari to Hilter, was guided by the same principle. There, he explored the cinema of pre-Nazi Weimer Germany; here, he continues into the Nazi cinema of 1933-1945, in which Hitler and chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels viewed movies as the regime’s “primary means of communication with the masses.” (Obviously, there was no Twitter then.) But they didn’t just make propaganda films, or at least not films with that explicit aim, and Suchsland sifts through candy-colored musicals, comedies, sci-fi, melodrama, period pieces, and more, examining both their accomplished aesthetics and their insidious subtext (and, often, text). (Includes alternate German voiceover and trailer.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
You Were Never Really Here: The best film of the young year (it’s not even close, frankly) doesn’t sound like much from the plot description: a self-described “hired gun” bravely rescues a kidnapped girl, but finds out there’s way more to her abduction than he was told. But the story isn’t what’s remarkable about You Were Never Really Here– it’s director Lynn Ramsay’s dazzling formal acumen. This is a ruthlessly efficient picture: the running time is brisk (it runs a slender 89 minutes), the backstory is conveyed entirely in flashes and imagery, the construction is lean and mean. And that simplicity allows Ramsay to tell her story almost entirely in pauses, indications, and acknowledgments – this is a filmmaker who is keenly aware, thanks to the ubiquity of the narrative, of how little she has to tellorshow. And her collaborators are well-matched: Jonny Greenwood contributes an involving, unnerving score, Tom Tomend’s cinematography is awe-inspiring, and Joaquin Phoenix’s fierce yet offhand performance is among his best work to date. (No bonus features.)
Isle of Dogs:Wes Anderson’s latest is a decidedly minor piece of his filmography (particularly when compared to his previous work of stop-motion animation, the dazzling Fantastic Mr. Fox) – a bit too busy in its storytelling, a bit too reliant on the crutches of other-ism and white saviors. But there’s much to admire here: the animation is charming, Anderson’s compositions are (as ever) immaculate, the voice cast is uproarious (Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, and Scarlett Johansson are especially good), and there’s a moment of sheer emotion – focusing on the look in the hero dog’s eyes when he’s really, truly hugged – that’s overwhelming.
A Quiet Place: John Krasinski directs and co-stars (alongside wife Emily Blunt) in this taut, gripping thriller that builds its scares around an inevitability: the puncturing of silence. They play parents of a family hiding in the woods following an invasion by aliens who are drawn (and drawn to kill) by sound, and much of the film’s early stretch merely dramatizes their little rituals and routines. Krasinksi risks boring the audience here, but to an end: the tiniest disruptions become that much more startling and scary, and every little detail is a ticking bomb we’re expecting to explode. All the performers are excellent; Blunt is particularly sturdy, building her character’s regret and guilt into stern determination, but Krasinski’s quiet closing moments find the picture’s emotional truth. (Includes featurette.)
Lean on Pete: The new drama from writer/director Andrew Haigh is nothing you’d expect from either Weekend or 45 Years, aside from the fact that it’s vividly drawn and elegantly executed. Charlie Plummer stars as 15-year-old Charley, who falls in with an aging, “broker than he used to be” cowboy (Steve Buscemi), which begins a journey of both emotional growth and human desperation. He is, after all, just a kid, and when bad turns come his way, they’re sudden and scary. Haigh colors in his journey with beautiful Northwestern locations and finely-drawn supporting characters, building a little world for his protagonist to inhabit, and (we suspect) transcend. What a lovely, introspective movie this is. (Includes featurette.)
Disobedience: We can put aside our true selves, our dreams and our desires, but they have a way or roaring back to life when we least expect it. That’s what happens in this emotionally overwhelming drama from co-writer/director SebastiánLelio (A Fantastic Woman), telling the story of a love triangle from years ago that’s suddenly, forcefully reignited – and resituated. Leilo builds tension like a thriller-maker, mining emotions buried and things left unsaid, while paying considerable attention to the social formalities that necessitate such secrets. And every performance is a gem, though Rachel McAdams is particularly vivid as a Jewish Orthodox wife who discovers a fire still burning inside her. (No bonus features.)
sex, lies, and videotape: The impact of Steven Soderbergh’s debut film cannot be understated: here, at the end of one of the loudest and dumbest decades in Hollywood history, was a movie that was basically about four people talking. It didn’t hurt that they were talking about sex (nothing like a provocative title to pack ‘em in at the art house), but this was, in many ways, the template for the ‘90s indie boom: actors on the rise, low budget, brainy subject matter, muted but memorable style. The picture’s surprise win at Cannes and successful wide release via up-and-coming distributor Miramax jump-started the upcoming indie movement. Also new to Criterion, it’s held up quite nicely (even Andie MacDowell is good in it), and plays even better as the origin story for one of the most idiosyncratic and accomplished directors of our time. (Includes audio commentary, featurettse, new introduction, new and archival interviews, deleted scene, and trailers.)
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean: Director John Huston and screenwriter John Milius, two masters (albeit in different eras) of cinematic explorations of masculinity and machismo, collaborated on this 1972 revisionist Western – new on Blu from Warner Archive – in which Paul Newman stars as the practitioner of a very specific brand of frontier justice. What sounds (particularly with Milius’s name attached) like pure might-makes-right fantasy is anything but, instead veering into the eccentricity of its characters and the wild wooliness of its cast (which includes Ava Garner, Roddy McDowell, Anthony Perkins, Richard Farnsworth, the late Tab Hunter, and Huston himself)). And Newman is magnificent, caught smack-dab in a period of rich reinvention from heartthrob leading man to quirky character actor. (Includes trailer.)