After last week’s barn burner, it’s a fairly quiet week on the new release front — with the exception of one major disc (and, presumably, Christmas gift possibility) from the folks at Marvel. Elsewhere, we’ve got an Eli Roth movie that actually doesn’t stink, a silent comedy classic from Criterion, and both a recent and an old favorite new to Netflix.
Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine : Michele Josue, the first-time writer/director behind this 2015 documentary (new to Netflix) was, indeed, a friend of the late Shepard, a gay college student beaten to death in 1998 whose murder became a flashpoint in public discussion of hate crimes and subsequent legislation. But Josue aims to make a film to introduce the world to “the real Matt,” and she crafts her intimate, first-person account from private pictures, family home movies, journals, and letters. She goes from biography to a nerve-wracking description of the murder to heart-wrenching interviews with family and friends about letting him go, then and now. It’s an admirable tribute to both his life and his legacy, and while some of the filmmaking (particularly her narration) is pretty pedestrian, it’s a heartfelt, important testament nonetheless.
Eyes Wide Shut : The timing couldn’t be better for Stanley Kubrick’s posthumously released final film to return to Netflix — it’s been knocking around in the heads of the few of us who saw and liked By the Sea, and it is, after all, a Christmas movie. And sure, it’s short on holiday cheer, warm family tidings, and earnest speeches about the true reason for the season. And that’s probably because, for Kubrick and his protagonist (Tom Cruise), the true meaning of Christmas lies in the quest for jealousy sex to get back at your hot, taunting wife (Nicole Kidman).
Ant-Man: The latest entry in the ongoing series we call Marvel Takes Over the World has, as noted upon its release, its problems: soapy subplots, endless in-jokes, wobbly third act. But, as with its summer cousin Avengers: Age of Ultron, it actually plays better on a second visit; aware of the flaws, the viewer can focus on the virtues, which in this case are Paul Rudd’s charismatic leading turn, Michael Peña’s inspired supporting performance, the inventiveness of the shrunken-man set pieces, and the overall gee-whiz enthusiasm of the enterprise. Plus, as the dimension and perspective of said set pieces makes this the first Marvel film to date that’s truly enhanced by the 3D gizmos — so, yes, the 3D Blu-ray is worth the trouble. (Includes audio commentary, featurette, deleted scenes.)
Knock Knock : I know delays and vagaries of the business pushed them closer together than intended, but it’s still difficult to reconcile that the same director was beyond the loathsome, witless The Green Inferno and this sleek, satisfying psychosexual thriller. Remaking the cult sex pic Death Game, Eli Roth tells the story of a married father (Keanu Reeves), settled and comfortable with his spare tire and comfy cardigans, who discovers a pair of giggly, soaked, and willing girls at his door one night when the wife and kids are out of town. He calls them an Uber, their conversation veers into flirtation, and it becomes clear that they’re offering him a good time — and giving him the hard sell. But the next morning, they go from a temptation to an inconvenience to a menace, and that’s when things get interesting. Reeves isn’t quite up to the rougher edges of the material, but Ana de Armas and (especially) Lorenza Izzo impress mightily as the femmes fatales, veering from sexy to scary to funny in a blink. It gets a little goofy on the home stretch, but overall, a sturdy little B-movie and Roth’s most enjoyable film to date. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, and featurette.)
Speedy : The Criterion Collection is working its way through the Harold Lloyd filmography slowly but surely; their latest is this delightful 1928 comedy, the final silent feature for the “third genius,” which offers up the kind of high-energy comic set pieces he was known for (highlights include a charming bit at a soda fountain, a simple and ingeniously constructed sequence of Harold trying like hell to keep his new suit from getting dirty, and his misadventures driving a cab). It’s also a terrific valentine to New York City, with vintage views of Coney Island, Yankee Stadium, and Babe Ruth himself — plus there’s a terrific sequence on a crowded subway that’s as accurate now as the day it was shot. Like so many of his contemporaries, Lloyd’s genius couldn’t quite make the transition to sound; watching a movie like Speedy (or Keaton’s The Cameraman, out the same year) underscores what a loss we suffered when pantomime comedy was deemed a musty relic, seemingly overnight. (Features audio commentary, featurette, archival footage, video essay, home movies, and an earlier Lloyd two-reeler.)