This week’s new release shelf contains two movies that I wish we could count among spring’s sleeper hits — but in spite of their high quality and genre trappings, they never found an audience at the art house. But that’s what home video is for, right? Also out this week: a terrific period thriller, and a pair of catalog titles, new to Netflix and worth a second look.
Bulworth : With his long-gestating Howard Hughes movie finally (probably, hopefully) on the way, it’s a fine time to revisit Warren Beatty’s last major effort as director/star, this political satire from 1998 (recently back on Netflix). It hasn’t all aged well — the sight of an old white guy rapping wasn’t exactly comic gold then, and it’s certainly lost its novelty in the years since — but there’s a lot to admire about the picture’s gonzo energy, its name-names bravado, and the what-if gusto of its political cynicism. Bonus: Early Don Cheadle, Wendell Pierce, and Sarah Silverman appearances! Bonus bonus: “Ghetto Superstar.”
Hostage : This Bruce Willis vehicle was ignored when it was released in 2005, and promptly forgotten thereafter. I vote for its reappraisal, now that it’s landed on Netflix; what looked at first like Willis treading in the Die Hard water is, in fact, a tightly wound and stylish riff on hostage movie tropes, featuring a finely tuned Willis performance and an efficient script that’s clever without cheating, sparked by the fluid camera and taut pacing of French director Florent Emilio Siri. Give it a spin and you’ll wonder why the hell you’ve never heard of it.
’71 : In 1971 Belfast, a British soldier (Jack O’Connell, displaying all of the charisma seemingly smothered by Unbroken ) is accidentally abandoned by his unit, finding himself in the middle of not only international but hyper-local tensions. Director Yann Demange and writer Gregory Burke spin intricate, unexpected turns out of this simple story, coiling the camera through the streets, alleys, and homes like a snake, delivering moments of sudden violence with brute force (clarifying exactly the kind of danger their protagonist is in), then wandering evocatively through their dreamlike aftermath. A moody, gripping, tense piece of work. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)
ON BLU-RAY/DVD/AMAZON PRIME
Slow West : The Western genre is so often colorlessly “American,” and it’s thus easy to forget how much of the West was populated by immigrants and “outsiders.” Writer/director John Maclean attempts to rectify that with this story of a Scotsman (The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) searching for his estranged love, with the help of an Irish “chaperone” (Michael Fassbender). Maclean’s scenes are colorful, eccentric, and surprisingly funny, though he also shows a sure hand with tense, vivid gunfights and other acts of violence. And his storytelling style is, happily, unpredictable as well; the way he unfurls McPhee’s full back story (and Fassbender’s) is a joy to behold. Throw in yet another show-stopping Ben Mendelsohn supporting turn and you’ve got one of the year’s best movies to date. (Includes featurette and deleted scenes.)
Maggie : As he closes in on 70 and finds his mainstream commercial appeal waning (even in such sure bets as the Terminator franchise), you can understand why Arnold Schwarzenegger might wanna take a shot at something a little riskier — which is presumably how he ended up fronting this low-budget indie. What’s interesting about Henry Hobson’s zombie thriller/family farm drama mash-up is how it meets him halfway; it’s still, true to the star’s style, a genre movie, just one with a bit more complexity and heart, and with more opportunities for him to act. John Scott 3’s script is clean and efficient (though the dialogue’s not entirely free of cliché); Hobson’s direction is warm and evocative, at times calling up visions of a Malick horror flick. Maggie never quite found an audience — it’s probably too slow for horror fans, and too gross for indie drama types. But hopefully it’ll find that audience via home media; it’s a surprising and moving picture, and an interesting new direction for a star who stopped surprising us quite some time ago. (Includes audio commentary, featurette, interviews, and deleted scene.)