Love is in the air and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, so this week’s streaming and movie-buying guide includes a little something for all you anti-romantics. And among the new releases, we’ve got one of last year’s best character studies, an indie comedy that’s ripe for discovery, an animated classic that’s not just for kids, and a glorious re-release of a ’70s masterpiece.
The Piano Teacher : With Valentine’s Day creeping up, you may feel the urge to revisit cinema’s romantic standbys: your Notebooks, your Princess Brides, your Harrys and Sallys. But if you’re looking for something a bit more, um, intense this Valentine’s Day, fear not; Netflix is also streaming Michael Haneke’s 2001 masterpiece, a deeply disturbing and utterly unforgettable tale of sexual obsession and emotional masochism that makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like You’ve Got Mail. Isabelle Huppert has never been better — and that’s saying something — as the title character, a seemingly composed professor whose composed veneer hides some serious parental issues and sexual appetites. Not exactly first-date stuff, but a powerful and unforgettable journey (for those with the constitution for it).
Nightcrawler : Lou Bloom, rookie freelance news videographer, pays attention, leans fast, and is admirably driven. He’s a real go-getter! Too bad he’s a sociopath. Writer/director Dan Gilroy (a veteran screenwriter making his directorial debut) fuses the insomniac amorality of Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle with the motivational self-help dogma of the modern age to come up with a strikingly of-his-moment antihero, and ends up crafting the role Jake Gyllenhaal was born to play; behind a chilling grin and a cheerfully bendable sense of ethics lurks one of the most haunting movie characters in recent memory. Rene Russo is magnificent as the buyer of his wares (she’s like Dunaway in Network, but on the backslide), and Gilroy’s script is a model of narrative efficiency, raising the stakes and dread to a stunning climax.
Laggies : Lynn Shelton has quietly carved out a niche as one of indie film’s most thoughtful, witty, and prolific voices, so it’s a bit of a disappointment that this fall release wasn’t the commercial hit she was due for — and that it seemed so well-positioned to be. After all, it’s got Keira Knightley (as loose and enjoyable as she’s been in years) doing the quarter-life-crisis thing, Chloe Grace Moretz doing another nuanced snapshot of complicated adolescence, Jeff Garlin and Ellie Kemper killing it in support, and yet another wry and charming turn by Sam Rockwell, beautifully playing a breezy single dad who becomes an unlikely romantic interest. Hopefully, it’ll find its audience on DVD and VOD; it’s got brains, heart, and laughs a-plenty.
101 Dalmatians : This 1961 Disney classic is remembered primarily for one reason: Cruella De Vil (“That devil!”), the deservedly iconic villain who orchestrates the dognapping of 99 Dalmatian puppies for fur coat-making purposes. (It’s pretty dark stuff!) And she is a magnificent antagonist, all hard angles and evil cackles and proclamations like, “I wooooooorship furs,” but there’s more going on here than just inspiration for Glenn Close (and a generation of drag queens). The film found Disney’s animators experimenting with cost-cutting techniques that involved animating from “xerography,” and while Uncle Walt reportedly disliked the resulting deviation from the lush style of previous works, the hard angles and crisp backgrounds result in a funkier, jazzier picture than the classic (but, let’s say it, frequently dull) fairy tales that preceded it.
Don’t Look Now : Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 masterwork (newly restored by the Criterion Collection) unfolds with the feverish intensity of a waking nightmare, with even its scenes of quiet domesticity underscored by unnerving tension. A happily married couple (breezy Julie Christie and scorching Donald Sutherland) suffer the loss of their daughter, but during a business trip to Venice, they begin to see — a hallucination? A ghost? Something more tangible? Roeg knows how to tee up and tease out suspense; witness the economy with which he uses handheld and subjective camera, as well as his sinister inserts, where every edit’s sharp as a razor. Yet, like its stylistic forerunner Rosemary’s Baby, he plants the picture firmly in the real world, best represented by the casual intimacy of his leads; their legendary sex scene (appropriated by Soderbergh for Out of Sight), intercutting their lovemaking with their offhand dressing after, is innovative, cozy, and astonishingly sexy. It’s a terrific movie with an exceedingly appropriate title — you’re never sure where it’s going next.