It’s certainly a coincidence, but two of today’s big Blu-ray releases of note make for a particularly satisfying double-feature: the tense military thriller Eye in the Sky and the classic military satire Dr. Strangelove. And the military theme continues with a sharp new war correspondent story from producer/star Tina Fey. Also this week: the latest from Olivier Assayas gets a Criterion upgrade, a very timely documentary streams on PBS, and last year’s Best Picture winner hits Netflix.
TRAPPED : In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision declaring anti-abortion “TRAP” laws and admitting privilege requirements unconstitutional, Dawn Porter’s excellent documentary is a fine primer on what exactly they’re talking about. She focuses on a handful of independent clinics in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, and the devastation wrought there; she talks to the women who run them, the doctors who work them, and the women who come to them, now often from much further distances, at far greater expense and inconvenience, if at all. It’s a touch disjointed – the transitions from place to place and subject to subject are sometimes clumsy – but it’s propelled by a real sense of urgency and anger, and more than a little bit of sorrow. Riveting and powerful, and a startling reminder of the vigilance required to protect these rights.
Spotlight : Tom McCarthy’s enthralling newspaper movie is obsessed with details: the shop-talk of an editorial meeting, the shorthand of an investigative team, the euphemisms of a diocese directory, the logistics of sealed documents and exhibit attachments. McCarthy, as the film’s critics noted with a bit too much derision, isn’t concerned with dazzling us with style; he’s more concerned with immersion, with putting us in those rooms next to those reporters, to better understand the thrills of their discoveries, the disappointments of their own fumbles, and the horror as they realize what they’ve unlocked, and how far out it reaches. Every performance sings, every scene punches, every payoff delivers. It’s first-class filmmaking, full stop.
ON BLU-RAY/ DVD/ VOD
Eye in the Sky : Director Gavin Hood wisely approaches the hot topic of drone warfare in the micro rather than the macro, with a real-time dramatization of a single strike on a gathering of terrorists, via a joint operation between British and US military and Kenyan intelligence. There is tension in both the event and its complicated, globe-spanning orchestration, and real skill in the way Hood and screenwriter Guy Hibbert position those players, situate them around each other, and then raise the emotional and physical stakes. And they don’t stack the deck – equal weight is given to those who can’t bear looking into the face of “collateral damage” and those who know how much more they’re courting. Hood admirably maintains his rhythm and drive with all these balls in the air, and the performances are aces, particularly Helen Mirren (top-notch at conveying the single-minded determination to only hear what she wants to hear) and the great Alan Rickman, in his final screen performance. (Includes featurettes.)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot : This war correspondent comedy/drama from producer/star Tina Fey, screenwriter (and frequent Fey collaborator) Robert Carlock, and directors Glenn Ficara and John Requa met with understandable resistance for the inexplicable decision to cast white actors Alfred Molina and Christopher Abbott (yes, Charlie from Girls) in its Middle Eastern roles. But if you can get past that, WTF is a witty and energetic picture, immersing the viewer snugly in this world, and effectively conveying its appeal – the camaraderie between colleagues, the desperation of the drunken hookups, and draw of the danger. And it’s a solid showcase for Fey, whose deft traversing of comic and dramatic beats makes her look (for the first time, really) like an honest-to-goodness movie star. (Includes deleted and extended scenes, and featurettes.)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb : Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 nuclear-age satire – newly remastered and special edition-ed by Criterion – is one of the most analyzed and discussed pictures of our time, so there’s not a helluva lot new to say about it. But its genius is still astonishing: the dry visual wit of Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography; the airtight bureaucratic “logic” of Kubrick, Terry Southern, and Peter George’s screenplay; the gut punch power of its shock laughs; the brilliance of Peter Sellers’ triple-play performance; the perfection of those phone scenes (a symphony of exquisitely-timed fumbles and pauses); and, most of all, the way Kubrick turns the music, the stark black-and-white photography, and the stern narration against itself, fully aware that the only way to play satire is with the straightest possible face. (Includes new and archival interviews, featurettes, and trailers.)
Clouds of Sils Maria : Finally available on Blu-ray (also via Criterion), Olivier Assayas’s 2014 drama looked like another entry in that year’s trend of film-industry navel-gazing. But the Twilight in-jokes and indie-to-mainstream critiques are mostly window dressing; the real juice here is the interplay between movie star Juliette Binoche and insightful assistant Kristen Stewart, whose intellectual and sexual tension quietly burbles to the surface during a play-prep getaway in which the lines they’re running and the characters they’re working begin to blur with their own situation and personalities. (Includes interviews, vintage documentary short film, and trailer.)