It’s the beginning of the month, which is always a big deal for you heavy Netflixers – a whole bunch of new options! (And a whole bunch of new gaps, but I digress.) This month’s batch is particularly delightful, however, encompassing as it does the full directorial slate of one of our finest comic minds. On disc, we’ve got new films from two beloved actor-turned-directors, and a pair of ‘70s NYC classics with fresh Blu-ray releases.
Real Life : Somehow, when no one was looking, Netflix went and did something miraculous – they transcended their usual spotty availability of catalogue titles and licensing-deals-rule-all modus operandi and managed to make available (from different studios, even), on the same day, all seven of Albert Brooks’s efforts as writer/director. Some of them are divine (Modern Romance, Lost in America, Defending Your Life, Mother); some are, well, a touch spottier (The Muse, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World). But all are at the very least worth your time, so you might as well start at the beginning – with this debut picture, a send-up of the PBS documentary series An American Family that has become a remarkably prescient and trenchant commentary on “reality” culture. Brooks’s script is less personal than his later efforts, more of a wonderfully absurd extension of his SNL shorts, and that’s the right fit; it’s a movie that’s broad and funny and strange and smart, and if all that’s somehow not enough, it’s got Charles Grodin in it too. Watch and enjoy – and then keep on moving through this remarkable filmography.
ON BLU-RAY/ DVD/ VOD
By the Sea : Universal barely released Angelina Jolie Pitt’s lyrical portrait of European-vacation ennui; they waited so long to put it out on disc (a staggering seven months, more than twice the norm) that you’ve probably forgotten it even exists. But it’s a remarkable and risky picture, if you can overlook its minor flaws and surrender yourself to its languid rhythms, offering a refreshingly candid story of crippling maturity, married sexuality, and casual voyeurism, all while subverting the sympathies and images of its much gazed-upon auteur and her superstar husband. It’s grown-up, and intelligent, and sexy to boot. (Includes deleted scenes and featurettes.)
The Family Fang : Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman put across an easy, lived-in chemistry in this adaptation of Kevin Wilson’s novel, as a pair of siblings still bearing the psychological scars of a childhood spent participating in guerilla, Improv Everywhere-style events set up by their performance artist parents. Bateman’s second trip to the director’s chair is a tricky bit of business, full of tonal shifts that he mostly pulls off, and complex relationships that he manages to get inside. He also gets terrific performances from the entire ensemble – particularly (as their father) Christopher Walken, who simultaneously projects melancholy and menace. It all wraps up a bit too tidily, but until then, this is an intelligent and complicated familial drama.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three : I am no fan of the Blu-ray double-dip in principle, but hear me out: the previous 2011 release of Joseph Sargent’s 1974 masterpiece was a maddeningly bare-bones affair, shabby treatment indeed for what may very well be the definitive ‘70s New York movie. KL Studio Classics has finally done right by it, with a batch of fresh goodies, including a knockout audio commentary by actor Pat Healy and his film historian brother Jim, which is encyclopedic, affectionate, and terrific. But above all, it’s still a great movie – a pressure cooker snapshot of a rotting Big Apple, filled with period flavor, colorful supporting characters, an oft-replicated central premise, and one of the greatest closing lines (and looks, above) in all of moviedom. (Includes new interviews, audio commentary, and advertising gallery.)
The In-Laws : We don’t throw around “madcap” much these days, because there aren’t a lot of movies that deserve it. But this 1979 comedy classic does, thanks to the zippiness of Andrew Bergman’s screenplay and the peerless comedy team banter of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, whose bristling tension and vaudeville rhythms are inimitable (just ask Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks). They complement each other beautifully: Falk, a CIA agent (and the mere notion of Falk as a superspy is irresistible) is an easygoing goodtime Charlie, while Arkin, the suburban dentist whose daughter is about to marry Falk’s son, is a bundle of worries and panic. Bergman’s tight script entertainingly and inventively escalates and repositions those persona (the more Arkin gets catatonic, the more Falk plays it cool); director Arthur Hiller was no great stylist, but his utilitarian direction is exactly what this screenplay, and these performers, require. This kind of commercial comedy isn’t exactly commonplace in the Criterion Collection, but it should be when it’s done this well. (Includes vintage audio commentary, new interviews, and trailer.)