That increasingly rare creature — the worldwide blockbuster that also nets great reviews and awards recognition — hits disc and VOD this week, alongside a trio of wildly different (but equally invigorating) catalogue titles. And your Netflix pick for the week is a deep-dive into an inexplicable fringe group.
Behind the Curve: It’s the absolute certainty with which Mark Sargent says it: “In reality, you are in a terrarium.” Sargent is a prominent voice in Flat Earth, the movement of conspiracy theorists who have reframed accepted scientific theory as a choice between “what you see” and, y’know, math. Director Daniel J. Clark focuses on a handful of prominent members, and the various factions and in-fights therein; there’s something sort of delicious about watching them weaponize their nonsense on each other (“Are they so conspiratorial that they believe it?” asks one Flat Earther of the rumors another is spreading, with a jaw-dropping lack of self-awareness). But Clark also has something important to say about how these absolutist movements end up alienating people from their family and friends — and how their “debate me, expert” rhetorical approach doesn’t just apply to Flat Earth. It’s a compelling snapshot of a fringe, but also an acute analysis of the larger culture it represents.
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A Star is Born: Bradley Cooper’s Oscar-nominated showbiz story is the fourth film version of this story (fifth, if you count the early, embryonic What Price Hollywood?), and his greatest achievement may be his ability to take this undeniably musty narrative and make it feel vibrant and alive. Much of that comes in the energetic first act, in which his country/blues star stumbles into a drag bar simply looking for a (or, more accurately, another) drink and finds Ally (Lady Gaga) singing “La Vie En Rose”; they feel a spark and spend the evening spilling their secrets to each other, and that whole section plays like a marvelous, low-key short film. The well-trod plot must eventually take over, of course, in which her star rises as his falls, but it never feels like we’re marching through bullet points; part of that is Cooper’s direction, which is nimble and fully invested, and part of that is the quality of performance, not just from the leads but from Andrew Dice Clay as her proud papa and especially Sam Elliott as Cooper’s (much) older brother and caretaker. He has a moment of reactive emotion that is, at risk of putting too fine a point on it, some of the finest film acting in recent memory. (Includes deleted scenes, featurette, and music videos.)
Death in Venice: This 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novella was a late effort from director Luchino Visconti, and true to form, it’s visually sumptuous; the opening images are so gorgeous you want to put a frame around them, and the design of the picture is so ornate and detailed, it becomes a world you just want to walk through (and feel like you can). The subject matter is tricky — involving as it does an older, slightly broken conductor/composer (Dirk Bogarde, very good) and his infatuation with a much younger man — but it’s handled delicately and tastefully, and Visconti’s frames are replete with leisurely, curious zooms, memorable compositions (there’s one incredible shot of Bogarde absolutely lost in though as he rides through the city on a gondola), and overwhelming emotion. (Includes featurettes, archival interviews, and trailer.)
Talk Radio: In between the big, blistering one-two punch of Platoon and Wall Street and the legend-making Born on the Fourth of July and JFK, Oliver Stone slid in this modest five-finger exercise, new on Blu from Twilight Time. Stone adapts Eric Bogosian’s claustrophobic stage play about a button-pushing Dallas talk radio host (played, with an appropriate mixture of smarm and paranoia, by Bogosian himself) who’s about to go nationwide, and his attempts to “open up” the play don’t really land. But no matter; when he’s in that studio, all alone with his protagonist and the voices in his head, Stone squeezes that space like a vice. It’s a thrillingly intense piece of work, with a fair amount of prescience regarding our current level of discourse. (Includes isolated music track, featurette, and trailer.)
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?: Frank Tashlin made some of the most stylish comedies of the 1960s, melding his background in Looney Tunes shorts and Jerry Lewis movies with the unapologetic boldness and brightness of the emerging Pop Art movement. And he found the ideal mixture of them in Jayne Mansfield, the star — or, at least, focal presence — of this 1957 comedy (and the better The Girl Can’t Help It the year before). Tony Randall is a scream as the schmo who pretends to be Mansfield’s main squeeze (it’s complicated); Groucho Marx makes a memorable, uncredited cameo. (Includes audio commentary, isolated music track, newsreels, and trailer.)