This week’s best new disc release is the much-awaited reunion of the star, director, and writer of Young Adult– an equally complicated movie, just as underappreciated upon its theatrical release. (Catch up with it, you won’t regret it.) Netflix, meanwhile, is streaming the harrowing new documentary from the directors of The Hunting Ground, along with a pair of worthwhile recent releases; Amazon and Hulu have last year’s sadly ignored reteaming of the director and star of Short Term 12; and FilmStruck is offering up one of the more inspired double-features in recent memory.
The Bleeding Edge: The latest from the Hunting Ground and Invisible War team of Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering leans a bit too hard on the tropes of the activist documentary, and some of the filmmaking is a little dodgy. But the story they’re telling and the information they’re imparting is vital enough to render those concerns secondary. Their focus this time is the medical device industry, and the alarming lack of regulation over it; there was no FDA control of devices until 1976, we’re told, and the loophole of “pre-market approval” – in which new devices can be grandfathered in if they’re similar enough to previous ones, no matter how safe those devices proved to be – is an exception that’s become the rule 98% of the time. The Bleeding Edge alternates that history with the stories of those who are suffering under the side effects of a handful of poorly tested devices, and their descriptions of their conditions are visceral, scary, and horrifying; The Bleeding Edge is hard to watch, and harder still to ignore.
Ex Machina: Annihilation screenwriter/director Alex Garland’s debut feature is the smashing story of a tech millionaire who becomes Dr. Frankenstein to a presumptive dream woman, and it’s the kind of movie they don’t really make anymore, except when they do: a science fiction movie (and one with robots and labs and computers and so on) that’s also a chatty discussion of provocative ideas, as well as a penetrating and complicated character study. Garland’s fiercely intelligent work challenges our notions of protagonists, identity, and identification — and, y’know, it’s got that dance scene too.
Mississippi Grind: Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds turn in two of their best performances to date in this rich homage to busted-out gambler movies like California Split and The Gambler. Mendelsohn is a bad luck case who’s thousands in the hole, until he meets Reynolds’ smooth talker and finds him something of a good luck charm. They hit the road for a big game down South, picking up games and colorful characters along the way; the blues-heavy soundtrack is a winner, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (currently at work on Captain Marvel) invest every stop along the way with its own distinctive atmosphere, and the dynamic between the two leads oscillates smoothly between affection and exhaustion.
ON AMAZON PRIME / HULU
The Glass Castle: Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton and star Brie Larson reunite for this 2017 adaptation of Janette Walls’s memoir, mining (a bit more successfully) material similar to the previous year’s Captain Fantastic: it’s the story of a large, rambling family, led by an off-the-grid dreamer whose high ideals don’t always equal healthy parenting. The key difference is that Glass Castle doesn’t lionize its father figure; he’s wildly irresponsible and a hopeless alcoholic, and Cretton’s tight-fisted direction harrowingly dramatizes both the up/down whiplash of recovery and relapse, and the scary way domestic incidents can escalate in a blink. Woody Harrelson is dazzlingly good as the flawed patriarch, and Brie Larson navigates several tricky moments as the focal offspring. Glass Castle has its problems – the flashback material is far more compelling than the later narrative that’s framing it (aka the Fried Green Tomatoes Conundrum), and the metaphorical qualities of key scenes (and the title) are just right on the nose. It’s the kind of movie where you can hear the gears turning, but it’s so well-acted and sensitively mounted, you may not mind. (Also streaming on Hulu.)
The Seventh Seal / Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey: It’s delightful enough that Peter Hewitt’s uproarious (and underrated) follow-up to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is available on FilmStruck, a platform best known for black-and-white classics and the Criterion Collection. But the logic is sound: it’s paired, as one of their series of ongoing “Friday Night Double Features,” with Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal, best remembered for the iconic images of the chess game with Death. Bogus Journey pays loving homage to that sequence, and one-ups it, with our heroes challenging Death to a round of Battleship.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Tully: The Young Adult team of star Charlize Theron, director Jason Reitman, and screenwriter Diablo Cody reteam for this tough yet funny comedy/drama, which captures the exhaustion and desperation of parenthood (and, more specifically, the immediate postpartum period) with a verisimilitude I’ve never seen onscreen. Theron plays a mother who’s just given birth to her third child; Mackenzie Davis is the “night nanny,” hired by a rich sibling (Mark Duplass), to come in and help her get some much-needed rest. “I’m just not used to people doing things for me,” she says, and you believe her; what happens next is unexpected, sometimes awkward, and often uproariously funny. It’s a poignant piece of work that taps into the inherent helplessness of raising children, while taking some genuine (and thrilling) narrative risks.