One of our favorite recent documentaries hit Netflix over the weekend, while one of the best narrative pictures of the year flipped over to free for Prime subscribers, so you’re all set on the streaming front. And on disc, we’ve got the summer’s weirdest movie, as well as a couple of ‘80s picks — one beloved, one waiting for discovery.
Shirkers: On its face, Sandi Tan’s documentary sounds beyond niche: a documentary about the making of a movie you’ve never heard of, a low-budget serial killer thriller Tan and her friends made in their native Singapore when they were teenagers. But it starts as more than that (capturing, with heartrending familiarity, the feeling of being a teenager who discovers “unusual movies and unpopular music,” devouring “what people around us ignored”) and expands as it finds its true subject: “George,” the older mentor and ostensible director of the project, whose peculiar behavior during the shoot and outright betrayal of his collaborators after becomes a lifelong obsession for Tan. And so, this riveting tale becomes a mystery — in which our protagonist attempts to unravel not a crime, but the psyche of an enigma. “Shirkers became a secret history, shared by a small group of us,” says in the opening narration, and it’s not hyperbole; by the picture’s end, that group has become much larger.
ON AMAZON PRIME
You Were Never Really Here: The latest from Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) opens with a series of upsetting sounds and images, but in such garbled audio and tight close-ups, you can’t fully determine what’s happened (except that it was nothing good). She puts the viewer off-balance right away, a mode that’s maintained throughout this adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novella, featuring Joaquin Phoenix as a contract killer in a ball cap, hoodie, and Mel Gibson beard who takes a job that goes, to put it mildly, off the rails. There’s an unwinking hopelessness and despair in this parade of death, the filmmaker refusing to put a shiny gloss on its considerable bleakness, yet it is also stylishly scuzzy and weirdly funny (in the darkest possible manner), full of story turns that land like gut punches and scenes you simultaneously can’t bear to watch, and can’t look away from. It has the skill of a genre exercise — but the soul of a chamber piece.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Sorry to Bother You: The Coup frontman Boots Riley makes his feature directorial debut with this broad social satire, and firmly establishes himself as a singular comic voice — weird, wild, and provocative. He indulges in everything from indie-movie in-jokes to Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker style background gags (there’s even an explicit Monty Python shout-out), all infused with a healthy dose of his Marxist sensibility. It runs out of gas a bit in the back third, but even then, his sterling cast carries him through; Lakeith Stanfield’s sprung style and off-kilter readings are an ideal delivery system for the script’s verbal wit, Armie Hammer’s role is brief but (to say the least) striking, and though Tessa Thompson doesn’t get quite enough to do, her individual moments (particularly the glimpse of her performance art) are inspired. It’s kind of mess, I suppose — but then again, so was Putney Swope. (Includes audio commentary and featurette.)
The Princess Bride: Rob Reiner’s exquisite adaptation of William Goldman’s novel joins the Criterion Collection, and though it’s been on Blu-ray before, the double-dip seems somehow acceptable; this is an endlessly rewatchable picture, the cinematic equivalent of an old record you never get tired of playing. And it has an undeniably timeless quality — our basic precepts of love and romance are all rooted in storybooks and fairy tales anyway, which is part of why The Princess Bride remains so close to our hearts. There’s a purity to it, a simplicity to the (literally) undying love of Westley and Buttercup that grounds the rest of the movie’s sly genre send-ups and self-aware gags. It is, as advertised, True Love, and is so good-natured and lovely that by the end of the tale, even little Fred Savage doesn’t mind the kissing parts. (Includes audio commentary, audiobook excerpts, featurettes, new and archival interviews, video diary, and trailer.)
D.O.A.: This 1988 remake of the 1949 film noir classic (new on Blu from KL Studio Classics) is mostly in it for the title and the still-juicy premise: it opens with a sickly man stumbling into a police station to report a murder, and when asked who was killed, he replies, “I was.” The story is then told in flashback, as our protagonist was given a slow-acting poison, and attempts to use his few remaining hours to figure out who killed him, and why. Directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton were best known for creating Max Headroom, and their execution is showily stylish — lots of wild angles, big shadows, shafts of light, and saturation shifts. They can’t match the original (obviously), but their take has its virtues: sweaty atmosphere (they wisely return star Dennis Quaid to the Louisiana environs of his earlier hit The Big Easy), ample chemistry (he co-stars with off-screen partner Meg Ryan), neat twists, and snazzy set pieces. (Includes audio commentaries and trailer.)