If you’d like one more bit of evidence that Netflix’s much-vaunted user interface is absolute nonsense, chew on this: a new Orson Welles movie and an accompanying documentary appeared on the service last Friday, and neither was on your film editor’s homepage. Maybe there aren’t many safe assumptions to be made from pervious viewing habits, but that seems like one! (Also, Netflix, why are you financing this venture and then burying it on your site?) But I digress. As usual, you can just click the title here and it will take you directly to the movie in question, and places you can buy this week’s other noteworthy new releases: the latest from Spike Lee, the latest from Pixar, a couple of invigorating recent documentaries, and an ill-timed ensemble comedy that’s ready for reappraisal.
The Other Side of the Wind: The fabled, long-incomplete final feature film by Orson Welles spends far too much of its opening explaining itself, with a scrolling text of its history followed by a redundant and shabbily assembled opening sequence, with a new in-character voice-over by Peter Bogdanovich pasting together images from the movie — basically, an illustration of the worst fears of what this posthumous paste job could be. Thankfully, that’s all over quickly; the film itself is fascinating snapshot of the filmmaker in his twilight, full of arresting images and sharp subtext (particularly vis-a-vis his complicated relationship with Bogdanovich, a pupil who quickly surpassed his teacher in power and influence). It helps to know the movie’s wild background and the filmmaker’s late style, since it is often a messy and uneven piece of work. But then again, pretty much everything he made after Touch of Evil was, those Scotch-tape jobs rendered vital by their flashes of brilliance. And there are plenty of those in The Other Side of the Wind.
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead: Morgan Neville’s new documentary focuses on the making and aftermath of Other Side of the Wind, and its side-by-side appearance on Netflix is wise; it fills in the gaps that might leave casual viewers of the Welles film baffled. But Neville (Oscar winner for 20 Feet from Stardom) is no slouch, and this isn’t just a special feature — it’s a portrait of a hustler/genius, a celebration of his work, and a valentine to Gary Graver, the cinematographer whose dedication and perseverance kept the project going for all those years. Playfully edited with clips from the entire Welles oeuvre, and loaded up with great outtakes and archival interviews (including one, with a French reporter, that Welles conducts entirely in her native tongue), They’ll Love Me is, in many ways, more purely enjoyable than its subject.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee directs and co-writes the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black Colorado Springs police detective who, in the early 1960s, infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Adam Driver co-stars as the Jewish colleague who becomes the operation’s man on the ground, and the pair work out a buddy cop dynamic that Lee adroitly juggles with scenes of rising consciousness and social commentary (up to and including David Duke leading chants of “America First” and professing a desire to “Get this country back on track… to achieve its… greatness again” — not subtle, but folks, these aren’t subtle times). In much of his recent work, Lee’s wild tonal shifts made his work seem scattershot and unfocused, and it’s not that he tamps that down here. But now, the itchiness, gallows humor, and howls of rage just feel like everyday life. Reality has finally become a Spike Lee joint. (Includes music video and featurette.)
Incredibles 2: Brad Bird’s original Incredibles was released in 2004, just before the current superhero mania fully took hold, and thankfully its sense of snazzy, stylish fun is fully present in its follow-up — along with a welcome dose of self-awareness (“I’m not all dark and angst-y! I’m Elastigirl!”). Bird’s deftness with a set piece, presumably honed during his Mission: Impossible tenure, shines through here (the hover-train sequence is an all-timer), and the returning voice cast, particularly the invaluable Holly Hunter in an expanded role, is aces. But the additions are also noteworthy: Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener are a good, snug fit into the ensemble, and the character of Jack-Jack (and his rapidly expanding superpowers) are the comic highlight. Incredibles 2 doesn’t really break new ground, but it gives you exactly what you’re hoping for, and these days, that’s good enough. (Includes deleted scenes, featurettes, and Pixar shorts.)
ON DVD / VOD
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood: Scotty Bowers was (ALLEGEDLY) Hollywood’s “gentleman hustler,” who ran a gas station during the Golden Age that was basically a drive-up brothel, with a particular specialty in arranging trysts for the industry’s closeted gay and bisexual actors and filmmakers. Director Matt Tyrnauer backs up Bowers’ true stories and tall tales with other interviews that both contextualize and sometimes even confirm, and spices up the talking heads with cleverly chosen old clips, but also gives due time to the moral questions involved in outing others. A fascinating portrait that neither lionizes nor judges its subject; it merely lets you take him for what he is.
Our New President: This wittily assembled and deeply troubling documentary from director Maxim Pozdorovkin has a four-star concept: the story of the 2016 election and Trump’s first year, as told entirely by Russian state-sponsored television. Their stories range from goofy conspiracy theories to jaw-dropping fabrications. It’s easy to laugh at their “fake news,” but it’s barely less truthful than Fox — the face of Russia Today, Dmitry Kiselyov, insists that “journalism is the tool and the resource that can be used to create values,” which may as well be Fox’s mission statement. (Hell, half of their stories ended up coming out of the President’s own mouth.) Pozdorovkin doesn’t quite pull it all together; there’s a dynamite 45-minute movie inside this 77-minute one. But the good stuff is good enough to sit through the padding for.
Big Trouble: You have to feel bad for Barry Sonnenfeld. After the very loud belly-flop of his would-be summer 1999 smash, Wild Wild West, he rather transparently attempted to recapture the magic of his wonderful 1995 hit Get Shorty here: another pop novel adaptation, a crime comedy with a crackerjack ensemble cast, even including Shorty vets Rene Russo and Dennis Farina for good luck. It was scheduled for release on 9/21/01 — and then, 10 days before release, its bomb-on-an-airliner sequence was suddenly nowhere near as mirthful. It came out the next spring and sank, and that’s too bad; this is a fast, funny piece of work, capturing Sonnefeld’s crackling neo-screwball style at its tightest, and boasting terrific performances from not only Russo and Farina, but Stanley Tucci, Janeane Garofalo, Zooey Deschanel, Omar Epps, Jason Lee, Tom Sizemore, Johnny Knoxville, and Andy Richter. Hell, even Tim Allen’s funny in it! It’s a miracle! (Includes audio commentary and trailers.)