This week’s big movie to watch at home is, wonderfully enough, a documentary (well, two of them). And boy are this week’s disc releases an embarrassment of riches: an unconventional biopic, a first-rate bio-doc, and new treats from Criterion and Twilight Time. Off we go:
Fyre: Director Chris Smith (American Movie) digs deep into the story of the Fyre Festival, the notorious 2017 boondoggle that dropped a bunch of rich “influencers” onto a Bahaman island for a poorly-prepared music and lifestyle festival that never happened. Its mastermind was a buzzword-spouting grafter named Billy McFarland, and Smith’s masterfully-structured film works the ticking clock of the approaching disaster, building the sense of impending doom into the feel, tone, and pace – but pauses at just the right moments to double back into McFarland’s past, and reveal more about exactly who this guy was. We all had a good laugh at the expense of its victims, but Smith also takes stock of the working people who McFarland’s fraud ripped off; he also shares incredible footage of his subject doing a new scam, on camera, while out on bail. (In front of Chuck Schumer’s PR guy, even.) At the end of the day, we are who we are.
ON DVD / VOD
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 that you know them better afterwards.
ON 4K / BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
First Man: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land follow-up looked like one of the fall’s best bets, both commercially and in the awards race, and its unfortunate failure to connect with either probably has something to do with its refusal to adhere to the lamest of biopic traditions (lookin’ at you, Bohemian Rhapsody). His dramatization of the journey of Neil Armstrong is not about checking date-and-place boxes; it’s all about perspective, all seen from his point of view, less concerned with history of that mission’s impact than with what it was like to be him. And he doesn’t exactly let you in – this guy was the very definition of the strong, silent type, and star Ryan Gosling leans into that squareness, daring us to peer in to his up-tight close-ups and find the guy inside. This is a moving, well-mounted, and (most commendably) immediate piece of work. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, and featurettes.)
Mikey and Nicky: Elaine May’s 1976 drama (new to the Criterion Collection) is often mistaken for the work of co-star John Cassavetes, and it’s not hard to see why; it pairs Cassavetes with his frequent collaborator Peter Falk, works in a conversational style that seems improvisational, and concerns a couple of alpha males treating everyone (and each other) badly. But the difference here is the clarity with which May sees how these guys treat the women in their lives – how she lingers mercilessly on a sad, “casual” sexual encounter, or twists through the turns of Nicky’s reconciliation with his wife. And she sees past their bravado, into a specific type of aging male paranoia and insecurity, in which you know the terrible things your “friend” says about you, and act like you don’t. Loose and shambling but never imprecise, the new release of this long-neglected gem will hopefully get the attention it deserves. (Includes featurette and new and archival interviews.)
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days: Also new to Criterion, Cristian Mungiu’s 2007 drama is set in Romania circa 1987, and concerns a young woman’s attempts to help her best friend get an abortion – a forbidden procedure. Mungiu sets it entirely on the day-of, and spends a fair amount of time dealing simply with the logistics; she’s running errands, basically, dealing with minute details and last-minute audibles, but the tension is unbearable. As in his more recent works, Mungiu’s approach is matter-of-fact; he holds shots and scenes for agonizing lengths, refusing to look away (or allow us to) as unthinkable sacrifices are made and unspeakable truths are spoken. It’s a tough watch, but a stunner. (Includes alternate and deleted scenes, featurette, and new and archival interviews.)
Beat the Devil: The public-domain mainstay gets a long-overdue spiffing-up from the princes and princesses over at Twilight Time, and improved as well; this is the first Blu-ray release of the 2016 restoration that returned John Huston’s 1953 oddity to its original cut, before confused preview audiences and executives insisted on cuts and a dopey opening voice-over meant to “clarify” the action (a fool’s errand). The film was famously written (by Truman Capote) as it was shot, and it feels like it’s being made up as they go along, in the best possible way. And the plot’s not what Beat the Devil is about anyway — it’s about the mood, and the characters. It operates under the assumption that everyone in it is drunk, lusty, a little crooked, and a little crazy, and once you tune in to their wavelength, it’s fun to just hang out with them for an hour and a half. (Includes audio commentary and theatrical trailer.)