This month’s new additions to Netflix aren’t exactly awe-inspiring (though may we direct you to some horror classics from their catalog?) but never fear — it’s a particularly good week for new releases on disc and VOD, with two big summer sequels, two small summer indies, and a modern classic getting a Blu-ray upgrade.
People Places Things : We’ve known Jemaine Clement as a lot of things — Conchord, vampire, Muppet background player — but who’da thunk he’d turn out to be such an effortlessly charming romantic leading man? This likable, low-key rom-com casts Mr. Clement as a cartoonist who hasn’t quite gotten over the departure of his wife, and is thus an unlikely candidate for a bounce-back relationship with a student’s mom. But said mom is played by the great Regina Hall, so it’s hard to imagine things turning out any other way. In fact, while Clement is terrific and Jessica Williams is (as usual) marvelous as the student, this is Hall’s movie; it’s a deliciously droll and utterly winning performance, giving a real lift to this lightweight little treat. (No bonus features.)
Batkid Begins : There are criticisms to be made — and valid ones! — of Dana Nachman’s chronicle of how the Make-A-Wish Foundation turned San Francisco into Gotham so a leukemia survivor could play Batman: it’s shallow, it’s email-forwarded Internet glurge brought to life, the filmmaking often hews closer to informercial than documentary. I hear all of those responses; I don’t care. Nachman chronicles how the event came together, step by step, capital-D detailed, while also succinctly conveying why this thing reached so many people, and became a social media sensation that reminded us of the good those platforms are capable of. At one point, the event organizer admits, “It was like one of those really cheesy Hallmark shows,” and she’s not wrong, but y’know what? It’s a sweet story, and a sweet movie, and I’m not made of wood. (No bonus features.)
Magic Mike XXL : The follow-up to Steven Soderbergh’s surprise smash from 2012 (with Soderbergh back as cinematographer and editor, handing directorial reins to longtime associate Gregory Jacobs) has the looseness and we-know-it’s-a-gratuitous-sequel-but-who-cares spirit of his Ocean’s 12, and even boasts a heist movie premise: getting the gang back together for one last big score (in this case, the big stripper convention in Myrtle Beach). But in contrast to such pictures, the stakes are decidedly low; it’s a movie about hanging out with your friends and having a good time, a road movie with a gentle, warm spirit (and a welcome dose of the female gaze). (Includes featurette and extended scene.)
Avengers: Age of Ultron : By now we’ve all had time to digest that Joss Whedon’s follow-up to The Avengers (a sharp, funny slab of pop filmmaking) was, well, something of a disappointment — too much time spent playing catching up in a too-busy “cinematic universe,” too much self-conscious wise-cracking, and Marvel’s by-now-expected third act issues. But a return visit, with expectations lowered, yields some small gems overlooked in light of the bigger issues: the sparkly byplay between Ruffalo and Johansson in the party scene, the disturbing imagery of the nightmare sequences, Renner’s “Nobody would know!” taunt, the great moment when Downey asks “How quickly can we buy this building?” before slamming Hulk into it. They’re small pleasures, and the movie fails in some big ways. But most of its summer blockbuster brethren don’t even offer up those small pleasures. (Includes deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel, and audio commentary.)
My Own Private Idaho : Drugstore Cowboy may have been his breakthrough, but this 1991 low-fi hustler drama (and stealth Shakespeare adaptation), which just got a Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion, was the movie that established Gus Van Sant as a genuine force on the indie film scene. In its broad strokes, it’s an utterly downbeat narrative, but Van Sant doesn’t spin it that way; via his inventive staging (love that magazine cover bit), witty cuts, and cock-eyed style, he frames these encounters with an absurd sensibility and open heart. River Phoenix is hauntingly convincing in the leading role — throughout the picture, but particularly in the wrenching campfire scene, he’s stunningly vulnerable. (Includes documentary, interviews, conversations, deleted scenes, and trailer.)