This week’s big new streaming release is a Netflix original from one of our favorite directors; Amazon Prime, meanwhile, has added a sleeper you might’ve missed from a Girls co-star. On disc, we’ve got one of this year’s Best Actor nominees, one of this year’s Best Foreign Film nominees, a Best Foreign Film nominee from 1960, a pair of worthwhile catalog titles, and a bit of a cheat.
High Flying Bird: There’s one edit in Steven Soderbergh’s latest that tells you everything you need to know about how he makes a “sports movie”: he takes us riiiiiight up to the moment when a high-pressure round of one-on-one basketball is about to begin — and then cuts away to a rich NBA team owner and his trophy wife boarding their private jet. That juxtaposition underscores what the insightful script by Moonlight’s Tarell Alvin McCraney is really about: not the game but the commodification of the game, and the treatment of its players not as people or even athletes, but assets. Soderbergh, as you’ve probably heard, shot it on an iPhone for maximum flexibility and speed, and it moves like a shot (and looks awfully good), while the great André Holland (the MVP of Soderbergh’s late and lamented The Knick) is terrific as the fast-talking, faster-thinking agent at the story’s center.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Wild Honey Pie!: There’s a particular kind of feeling to fooling around in an afternoon that moves into evening, as drinks are consumed, inhibitions are shed, secrets are told, and desires are indulged — how quickly little flirtations get out of hand. Jamie Adams’ low-key comedy/drama gets that feeling just right, and a lot of other notes besides; it captures the complications of long-term relationships with candor and humor. And its modesty is its virtue, spending just a few tough days with its long-married and increasingly frustrated couple (played with warmth and skill by Jemima Kirke and Richard Elis). A charming little movie, filled with quiet truths.
ON DVD / VOD
Shoplifters: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or winner is a fascinating exercise in the power of perspective in regarding protagonists, though it’s nowhere as dry as that sentence makes it sound. (Put that quote on the DVD case, Magnolia!) It’s the story of a family bound by desperation, scraping by on bits of work and stolen food, and how they take on a new member who seems in even direr straights. “I bet they’re relieved she’s gone,” the mother says of the little girl from the abusive home, and it feels less like a kidnapping than just another shoplifting. Kore-eda works in such a deliberately slice-of-life style, with such assumed sympathy for its protagonists, that the contrast when suddenly seeing this story from the outside is overwhelming; it’s the kind of movie that you don’t realize has snuck up on you until you’ve already been clobbered.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
At Eternity’s Gate: “When facing a flat landscape, I see eternity,” Vincent van Gogh asks. “Am I the only one who sees it?” Julian Schnabel asks that question (over-asks it a bit, to be quite honest) in this biographical drama, which covers the last few years of Van Gogh’s life — a period in which he felt like a rudderless failure, and went a bit mad. Gate respects and honors the man, played with full-blooded power by Willem Dafoe, but isn’t afraid to puncture him occasionally (often via his interactions with an entertaining Oscar Isaac, as friend/rival Paul Gauguin). This is an ideal match of director and subject; many of these compositions are, yes, painterly, but Schnabel also brings a technician’s understanding of the art and a fellow journeyman’s sympathy, using intensely personal handheld camerawork to capture the artist’s inner life, and not just the immortal work he created. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
The Deuce (Season 2): We don’t usually include TV show sets in this movie round-up, but, I’m sorry, exceptions must be made; the latest by The Wire’s David Simon and George Pelecanos is not only one of the most cinematic shows on the tube, but it’s one steeped in movie history. Dirty movie history, that is, as Season 2 moves into the era of porno chic and New Hollywood grime, while maintaining its keen interest in the history of 42nd Street sex work and the never-ending cycle of NYC clean-up. Its stars all shine, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is particularly memorable this time around, continuing to find the complicated corners of a pornographer with the soul of an artist. The Deuce keeps getting lost in the shuffle of Peak TV and HBO overload; it’s worth catching up with. (Includes featurettes.)
La Vérité: The one and only Brigitte Bardot is at her absolute coolest in this 1960 Best Foreign Film nominee by director Henri-Georges Clouzot (Diabolique), a new addition to the Criterion Collection. She turns in an eye-openingly tortured and genuinely affecting performance as Dominique, a young woman standing trial for the murder of her lover; her carefree early days and the ramp-up to the crime are dramatized in flashbacks, sumptuously photographed and vibrantly played; it’s an evocative portrait of ‘60s French “café life,” and a potent reminder of this gifted performer’s skill and nuance. (Includes archival interviews and Clouzot documentary.)
The Group: Sidney Lumet — best remembered for the gritty, testosterone-fueled heights of Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, and Prince of the City — was a little out of his element with this 1966 adaptation of Mary McCarthy’s best-selling novel, which details the post-graduate adventures of a tight-knit group of young women. But the film is handsomely mounted (Boris Kaufman’s color cinematography is to die for), and he marshals one hell of a cast, including Candice Bergen, Joan Hackett, Shirley Knight, Larry Hagman, Hal Holbrook, and the future Lucille Bluth, Jessica Walter, whose catty singleton (“I’m appalled by all this vulgar breeding”) is the unqualified scene stealer. (Includes trailer.)
Starsky & Hutch: You’ve probably forgotten this 2004 adaptation of the beloved ‘70s cop show (new on Blu from Warner Archive), and I can’t say I’d blame you; it’s sort of your prototypical early-oughts Frat Pack comedy (including, as it does, starring roles for Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Vince Vaughn), crossed with that other bane of our existence, the classic TV show adaptation. But there’s a lot to like about this one: its absolute refusal to take its source material seriously; the well-honed comedy-team byplay of Stiller and Wilson; stellar supporting turns from Jason Bateman, Juliette Lewis, Fred Williamson, Chris Penn, Patton Oswalt, and (especially) Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear; and a reminder that, pre-Hangover sequels, director Todd Phillips was more than capable of breathing comic life into stale material. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, gag reel, and deleted scenes.)