This week’s new releases are even more esoteric than usual, with a couple of recent indie faves hitting Netflix, a divisive new release on Blu-ray, three new additions to the Criterion Collection, and an underrated sequel to an all-time classic. Take your pick:
Burning: Lee (Yoo Ah-In) is an aimless would-be novelist who bumps into an old schoolmate (Jeon Jong-seo) and finds real chemistry, until she returns from a trip abroad with a new beau (The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun). This guy’s a real piece of work, but Lee likes her so much he’ll suffer through the new guy to spend time with her — except, one day, she just vanishes, so Lee finds himself visiting old haunts, seeking out clues, and harboring some suspicions. Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong pivots gracefully from character-driven relationship drama to obsessive mystery, evoking the horrible feeling of just knowing that someone’s up to no good, and also being aware that knowing isn’t enough.
American Honey: Writer/director Andrea Arnold, who went minimalist for her 2011 Wuthering Heights, goes maximalist (and then some) for this lengthy, meandering, yet fascinating tale of an aimless teenager who joins up with a motley crew of hard-partying, door-to-door magazine-selling con artists. In other words, it’s the Spring Breakers/Glengarry Glen Ross mash-up you never knew you wanted. It feels lived in, and Arnold works in an ingratiating, off-the-cuff style; most of her cast are non-actors (in the best possible way), so she captures conversations that are messy and half-overheard, complemented by casually beautiful compositions and a wild, anything-goes storytelling spirit.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Dragged Across Concrete: There’s an early scene in S. Craig Zahler’s latest, in which two cops (Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn) are called on the carpet by their lieutenant (Don Johnson) for a too-rough arrest of a Latino suspect, caught on tape. Their dialogue, if I may borrow the parlance, feels like virtue signaling – an early assurance for the right-wing target audience that everyone here shares their “values” (Johnson even mentions “a possibly offensive remark made in a private phone call,” a winking reference to Gibson’s most cancellation-worthy moment). But as the film continues, two things become clear: these people aren’t our heroes (because Zahler doesn’t believe in such a thing), and he’s a unique, interesting filmmaker who fills his films with cold, precise violence, clean compositions, oddball character beats and sidebars, and gut-punch violence. His nihilistic worldview (no honor, no trust) is a lot to take in, particularly over a leisurely 158-minute running time. But he’s up to something complicated here, and if nothing else, Dragged Across Concrete lays bare the casual racism, unblinking authoritarianism, and general ugliness that most cop movies sand off and polish up. (Includes featurettes.)
Police Story: Jackie Chan stars in and directs this 1985 Hong Kong action classic (newly restored and Blu-rayed by Criterion), and it’s an ideal vehicle for his slapstick athleticism and balletic grace – and his cheerful willingness to do anything for either a shot or a laugh. The opening action sequence wrecks and entire slum village (in big, funny wide shots; he’s not compared to Keaton for nothing) and never looks back, all the way up to the deservedly beloved shopping mall climax – a symphony of flying fists, breaking glass, and improvised weaponry. The tone is all over the place and Chan makes some highly dubious music choices, but those complaints aside, this is a breathlessly entertaining piece of work. (Includes new and archival interviews, featurettes, television appearances, stunt reel, and trailers.)
Police Story 2: Chan’s 1988 sequel (also new from Criterion) is bigger, faster, and funnier than its processor. Disciplined for the wreckage of the previous installment, Chan’s police detective finds himself busted back to uniform, but still the target of gangs of bumbling thugs; he takes on five or so in an A+ restaurant brawl, and dispatches several times as many in a playground fight that is an absolute all-timer. But that’s all the warm-up to the big climax, which features a genuinely tense bomb wire-cutting and a live-action Donkey Kong reenactment. The strange affinity for fart jokes notwithstanding (it’s a weird mix), this is one of Chan’s very best. (Includes alternate version.)
ON BLU-RAY / THE CRITERION CHANNEL
My Brilliant Career: Judy Davis is an absolute marvel in this turn-of-the-century drama from director Gillian Armstrong, as a young woman from the bush who dreams only of culture and stimulation. “You have a wildness of spirit that’s gonna get you in trouble all your life,” she’s told (not inaccurately), and Davis summons up gale force winds in the role, while generating potent push-pull chemistry with Same Neill as her would-be paramour. The landscapes are gorgeous (Criterion’s Blu-ray restoration is a beaut), while Armstrong brings the story to a marvelous, unexpected, and satisfying conclusion. (Also streaming on the Criterion Channel.) (Includes audio commentary, new and archival interviews, student film, and trailer.)
Hannibal: The ten-years-later follow-up to Jonathan Demme’s multiple Oscar winner The Silence of the Lambs was, in many ways, doomed from the start; Demme declined to return, as did co-star Jodie Foster, leaving director Ridley Scott and star Julianne Moore (along with the returning Anthony Hopkins) to navigate their way through a Thomas Harris novel that was, to put it politely, not quite up to his previous installment. But cleared of all that baggage, taken on its own terms, Hannibal has a lot to offer – namely, Scott gleefully rolling up his sleeves and digging in to the Grand Guignol outrageousness of Harris’s rather unhinged narrative, and encouraging his additions to the cast (including Ray Liotta, Giancarlo Giannini, and especially Gary Oldman) go buck wild. The results are certainly not Silence, but it’s an entertaining thriller nonetheless. (Includes audio commentary, deleted and alternate scenes, alternate ending, and featurettes.)