In the 15 months since we launched this weekly roundup of home media recommendations, I’m hard-pressed to recall a more dispiriting selection than this week’s; when the new release of note is The Forest, things are dire indeed. Luckily, Criterion has a sparkling new special edition of an all-time classic and, well, Netflix has some good movies this month too?
Boogie Nights : Paul Thomas Anderson has never wanted for ambition, and in retrospect, it’s hardly surprising that his sophomore feature was a sprawling, two-and-a-half-hour period piece with a giant ensemble cast. Nearly two decades later, it’s still a thrillingly audacious piece of work, humming with electricity and boisterous power, stacked sky-high with bravura set pieces, quotable dialogue, sublime characters, and sneaky wit. It’s in and out of the Netflix rotation fairly frequently, so its arrival isn’t exactly an event – but watching an exciting filmmaker realizing his brilliance is always an event.
3 Women : It’s no secret that Robert Altman is one of Anderson’s primary inspirations, so here’s the double feature option of Altman’s 1977 drama, which doesn’t have quite the direct PTA correlation of Short Cuts to Magnolia or Nashville to Boogie Nights, though its dreamlike tone and psychological inquisitiveness make their way into the shadings of The Master. Altman’s film features Sissy Spacek and Shelly Duvall in roles seemingly designed to spotlight their marvelous strangeness: Spacek odd and childlike, Duvall a prattling, clueless chatterbox. Quirkily funny and deliberately (sometimes self-consciously) artsy, it’s a real odd duck of a movie; it doesn’t always work, all of the time, but you’ve certainly never seen anything quite like it.
Sembene! : When Sembene Ousmane, “the father of African cinema,” explained why he made movies, his answer was simple — and sadly timeless. He wanted to create “black cinema for a black audience. And we need our own heroes.” Ousmane was a populist filmmaker whose work was controversial, provocative, and strikingly photographed; his movies were initially shot on loose ends donated by other filmmakers, populated by non-actors, and crewed by friends and family. Critical of African society, politics, and religion, they were often banned or ignored until his rediscovery later in life. Directors Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman mostly color within the profile bio-doc lines here, but the boilerplate structure matters less when you’re talking about a story this compelling, of a scene so widely unknown on our shores.
Killing Them Safely : If you’re like me, the extent of your knowledge about TASERs is probably limited to three things: 1. “Don’t tase me, bro!”; 2. easy comic device in movies like The Hangover; and 3. effective law enforcement tool. Nick Berardini’s complex and insightful documentary takes a good, hard look at the third presumption, examining how TASER-happy police and dishonest training and research have resulted in over 300 TASER-related deaths. Sifting through promo materials, dash-cam videos, recordings of encounters, and (surprisingly riveting) videotaped depositions, Berardini mounts a searing, direct, thought-provoking case; this film is meticulous, fascinating, and important.
Only Angels Have Wings : Early in Howard Hawks’ splendid seriocomic drama, his camera catches a beautifully offhand moment. Thomas Mitchell, having just observed a tense and ultimately unsuccessful airplane landing that took the life of a friend and colleague, lights his cigarette; Hawks holds on his shaking hands, and then follows them as he gives the cigarette to Cary Grant. It’s a key image – not only for this story of a small airline and its tight-knit crew of risk-taking pilots, but for the entire Hawks philosophy. It’s a world where being good at your thing forgives your sins, and where new and old loves, friendships, and rivalries are met with an easy-come, easy-go pose that functions as emotional defense mechanism. As with much of his best work, it’s a hang-out movie, atmospheric and lived-in, where the sparring and humor give way to moments of genuine tenderness and melancholy. Lyrical, relaxed, and delightful. (Includes new and archival interviews, featurette, radio adaptation, and trailer.)