Your film editor was out on assignment last week, so apologies if your home viewing needs went unmet, but never fear: this week, we’ve got good stuff for Netflix subscribers, Amazon Primers, and disc buyers alike. And, as usual, variety is the spice of life, so we’ve got one of last year’s biggest blockbusters, one of its most acclaimed art-house pictures, a celebrity documentary with bite, an ‘80s fave, and a slice of vintage French New Wave.
Harmontown : Director Neil Berkeley (who helmed the wonderful Beauty Is Embarrassing) lovingly and energetically chronicles Community creator Dan Harmon’s 20-city post-firing podcast tour by hitting the expected beats: showbiz biography, road movie, valentine to geekdom. It is, happily, not the sycophantic wax job you might expect from the description; it’s a movie that likes Harmon, but doesn’t let him entirely off the hook. The result is an unvarnished and often hilarious portrait of a gifted and talented dude who also, no matter how big the stakes get, remains a little bit of a fuck-up. (Read more here.)
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Listen Up Philip : The mistanthropic protagonist has been around as long as indie film itself, but there’s a sense that writer/director Alex Ross Perry is staking out new territory with his “hero” (well played by Jason Schwartzman), who makes Roger Greenberg look like George Bailey. He’s a young and almost-successful New York novelist, with all of the self-centered, smug selfishness that label implies. But, refreshingly, the movie isn’t just about him; Ross adopts a boldly novelistic structure, spinning off with supporting characters for long stretches and allowing utility players like Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter, and Jonathan Pryce (all fabulous) to flex. The result is a tricky picture with a rough grace, wickedly smart and entertainingly nasty.
The Hunger Games: Mockingay — Part 1 : Say what you will about the plague of ending franchises with half-movies (and for the record, your film editor is not a fan), but the expansion of the final Hunger Games book does allow director Francis Lawrence — back from Catching Fire — to be patient with his storytelling and deliberate in his pacing, resulting in some remarkably moody and atypically introspective work. The picture builds steadily and methodically, baking in some interesting meta-commentary on image-making and the power of symbols. The love triangle remains a snoozer, but this is an admirably dark and thoughtful franchise movie, building to a conclusion that should really be something. (Includes commentary, featurettes, a Lorde music video, deleted scenes, and a Philip Seymour Hoffman tribute.)
The Breakfast Club : Remastered and re-released in time for its 30th anniversary, John Hughes’s 1985 comedy/drama remains one of the most vivid cinematic depictions of teen angst. In a movie written like a play (and reportedly rehearsed like one), Hughes uses his single set to create a theatrical intimacy; this far on, the iconographic imagery (sliding down the hallway, dancing down the banister) can overshadow the elegance of the construction and the delicacy with which he threads in the laughs. Sure, some of it hasn’t aged so well — let’s not even get started on Emilio’s Footloose-esque angry dance — and it has moments of almost painful self-importance. But it’s the kind of youth-oriented movie where viewing is cyclical; you see it as a teenager and it rings totally true, you see it a decade later and it’s embarrassingly earnest, and then you see it in another decade and that earnestness, that closeness to that moment, is what gives it such value. This time, I saw it through the third lens; maybe you’re due to as well. (Includes a jazzy pop-up trivia track, commentary by Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall, featurettes, and the original theatrical trailer.)
The Soft Skin : Francois Truffaut would subsequently make more outright homages to his idol Alfred Hitchcock than this, his 1964 follow-up to Jules and Jim, but this is one of this closest stylistically — he puts it together with an offhand elegance, and though he’s making a domestic drama, he cuts it like a thriller. In this story of a semi-celebrity author who takes a mistress, Truffaut is less concerned with the moralistic implications than, quite simply, the hard damn work of adultery. It doesn’t all play, and it leans too much into conventional (and goofy) melodrama in the third act. But until then, this is wildly unpredictable and quietly unnerving filmmaking. (Including audio commentary, a Truffaut interview, a Truffaut documentary, and a video essay.)