The only big marquee titles hitting discs this week are the animated Home and the Russell Crowe-directed Russell Crowe vehicle The Water Diviner, so it’s a good time to peek towards the fringes—and the results are mighty satisfying. Netflix is offering up a crackerjack thriller, a prickly indie, and a streaming standby due for a timely return visit; a gripping Hungarian dog movie (yes, really) is fresh on Blu-ray; and, on top of all that, there’s a new DVD box of your favorite bad movie show.
The Guest : The handsome stranger with the piercing blue eyes shows up at the doorstep, announces “I knew your son… I was with him when he died,” and is of course invited in. He makes himself at home, and makes himself useful — slyly, methodically, to each of them. And then we discover who he really is, just a step or two ahead of the family in question. Director Adam Wingard’s ascent from micro-budget indies and anthology horror continues with this slick, stylish, confident studio thriller, which gets a big boost from its stellar leads (Dan Stevens carries himself with real, palpable menace, while It Follows ’ Maika Monroe crafts an exquisitely tuned performance as the skeptical daughter) and Steve Moore’s Carpenter-esque synth store, which makes big promises that the movie mostly keeps. The Guest begins to drown itself out in its own echo chamber by the closing sequence, but that quibble aside, this is a sleek, impressive bit of genre craftsmanship.
Zero Motivation : Writer/director Talya Lavie’s melancholy service comedy focuses on a group of secretaries working in the administration department of the Israeli Army — in particular, a pair of hopeless young women whose close relationship is badly strained by the aimlessness and ennui of their surroundings. Lavie’s witty dialogue (“being a Paper and Shredding NCO is what you make it”), crowd-pleasing anti-authoritarian streak, and flashes of physical comedy are ably balanced with real darkness; it’s a funny movie, but the laughs have a rough, jabbing edge.
Wet Hot American Summer : Wet Hot is, by no means, new to Netflix; in fact, it seems safe to assume its stellar performance on the streaming service helped screenwriters Michael Showalter and David Wain land the Netflix prequel series First Day of Camp. That show’s imminent debut is a great excuse to revisit the 2001 original (not that we’ve ever really needed an excuse), which transcends its logline as a parody of a long-forgotten subgenre—the bawdy ‘80s summer camp comedy—and becomes something altogether more bizarre, dark, and surreal than expected. Love is all right, tonight!
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXXIII : As a general rule, we only run movies here in the new release column — but what the hell, MST3K is a show where they watch movies, and the new four-movie set is an A+ cross-section of what they did best. It’s got the loathsome Daddy-O, a hilariously unhip “beatnick” programmer; the cheap-o creature feature Earth Vs. The Spider (director by an MST favorite, the brutally untalented schlock purveyor Bert I. Gordon); the fourth-rate Bond rip-off Agent For H.A.R.M. (“starring has-beens and never-wuzes”); and best of all, the solemn, turgid, and unintentionally uproarious juvenile delinquent melodrama Teen-Age Crime Wave. It’s a good mix of eras as well, with three Comedy Central episodes and one Sci-Fi Channel, two Joels and two Mikes, and two episodes preceded by four-star educational shorts (Speech: Using Your Voice is pretty much a perfect slice of MST3K). You’d think that by this, the thirty-third entry, they’d be scraping the bottom of the barrel — but these are first-rate episodes, and as funny now as on their original airings. (Includes vintage MST Hour wrap-arounds, original trailers, and the usual impeccably made, informative Ballyhoo Pictures featurettes about these long-forgotten movies and the often dubious talents behind them).
White God : Hungarian master Kornél Mundruczó’s riveting art house hit is (like its primary character) a wildly unpredictable beast, opening as an old-fashioned girl-and-her-dog story (complete with legitimately heart-wrenching separation), pausing as a coming-of-age tale, and winding up a stylish revenge thriller with a nature-runs-amuck climax that, for my money, easily tops Jurassic World’s. It’s a grisly, tough sit — especially for dog lovers — but powerful and satisfying. And who knows how they did it, but the performances by the two dogs who play the canine character (and they are performances, rightfully second billed) are remarkable. (Includes featurette and interviews.)