This week’s big new releases on disc and demand aren’t traditionally “big” — they’re small movies, summer indie sleeper hits that nicely counterbalanced all the bombast. Plus we’ve got a new film from a rising young director on Netflix, a magnificently aged camp classic on Hulu, and a problematic but influential action movie from Criterion.
Hold the Dark: The latest from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) is full of Etch-A-Sketch plot turns and electric charges of shock gore, but the best thing about it is also the quietest: Jeffrey Wright’s head-down turn as the hunter/writer who’s brought in to track the wolf that stole a little boy from an Alaskan farm, and finds himself in the midst of something far, far stranger. It doesn’t quite hold together and it cops out at the end, but there are enough riveting set pieces and four-star Wright line readings to make it worth your streaming time.
Valley of the Dolls: Mark Robson’s 1967 adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s bestselling Hollywood roman à clef was meant to be a searing story of dreams done in by the pleasures of sex and drugs, but it quickly became (and remains) a camp classic. And it’s not hard to see why: it takes itself with utter seriousness, and the further it goes down that rabbit hole, the less aware it seems of its own ridiculousness, the funnier it becomes. Which is not to say it’s entirely terrible — Patty Duke turns in the kind of deliciously over-the-top performance that only a genuinely great actor can give, and it’s still fun to play spot-the-avatars in the story (a parlor game that was, no doubt, doubly enjoyable in its original, pre-entertainment journalism days). It’s silly and strained but it’s never boring, and if nothing else, it’s essential to really enjoy its sequel/satire.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Leave No Trace: Will (Ben Foster) and daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) have been living off the grid for longer than we know, and the fascinating early sections of the new drama by Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik are mostly concerned with their rituals and routines: how they live in the woods, dependent only on each other, running occasional discovery “drills” that amount to games of hide and seek, but with much higher stakes. One day, inevitably, it’s not a drill — and after a period of separation, they find themselves living a life of something like normalcy. It punctures their bond, ever so slightly but irrevocably, and the push-pull of retreat vs. adaptation provides Granik with her juicy central conflict. Foster’s performance is a model of control (he spends much of the film totally reserved, yet right on the edge of panic) and McKenzie is an extraordinary discovery, carrying the picture’s trickiest moments, as the only person in the relationship capable of articulating its delicate truths. (Includes deleted scenes and featurettes.)
Three Identical Strangers: “When I tell people my story, they don’t believe it,” explains Bobby Shafran at the top of Tim Wardle’s extraordinary documentary, and it is indeed a stranger-than-fiction situation: at 19 years old, on his first day of college, Shafran discovered he had a twin brother he never knew about, separated at birth before their adoptions. And then, when that story made regional news, the twins discovered there was a third. Wardle’s construction is clever as hell; it begins as a fairy tale story and portrait of a feel-good media sensation, then takes another, darker turn 17 years later — and it just keeps blindsiding you as they slowly peel the onion of this extraordinary story. The filmmaking is top-notch (low-key reenactments, stylized sound work, rhythmic editing), but it never distracts from this incredible, and ultimately tragic, piece of storytelling. (Includes audio commentary, Q&A, and trailer.)
The Naked Prey: Cornel Wilde directed, produced, and starred in this survival tale (upgraded to Blu-ray by Criterion) of an African safari guide who spends the bulk of the running time on the run from angry natives, first evading and then striking back. So as you can imagine, there’s much to be disturbed by here, from the hunting sequences to the casual racism, and upon its original release Roger Ebert efficiently took it down thus: “Sure, it’s nice to think you could outrun half a dozen hand-picked African warriors simply because you’d been to college and read Thoreau, but the truth is they’d nail you before you got across the river and into the trees.” Yet its importance is undeniable; the intensity of the compositions is eye-opening and the mostly dialogue-free execution renders it into something like a silent adventure movie. And for all of its unpleasant overtones, it’s refreshingly honest; there’s a pretty direct line from this to something like The Wild Bunch, in terms of filmmakers grappling with the inherent ugliness of traditional masculinity. (Includes audio commentary, original soundtrack cues, original story reading, and trailer.)