It’s a week of extremes, new release-wise: one of the summer’s biggest box office hits, and one of its biggest commercial disappointments (ripe for discovery). Also this week: a wonderful summer indie, an overlooked Denzel Washington gem on Prime, and Blu-ray reviews for two modest but memorable catalogue titles.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Out of Time: I’ll take the excuse of the new Denzel Washington-fronted Magnificent Seven remake hitting theaters at the end of the month to recommend his most overlooked starring vehicle, which recently went into the free-streaming rotation at Amazon Prime. This 2003 thriller from the great Carl Franklin (who also helmed Washington’s Devil in a Blue Dress and Billy Bob Thornton’s breakthrough movie One False Move) is an ingeniously clever little mystery, a No Way Out-style story of a flawed protagonist investigating a murder for which he seems the most attractive suspect. Franklin somehow keeps the tension tight while enjoying the relaxed vibe of its Florida setting; it’s a pleasurable piece of work that hums along with formal skill and no-frills efficiency.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Captain America: Civil War: Yes, there are too damn many superhero movies and franchise films, and this one is both. And yes, it’s all starting to feel like a blur. But credit where due: if you’re going to the whole superhero thing, you might as well do it well, and that’s what directors Joe and Anthony Russo do in the third film of the Captain America series (and, considering how many additional characters are in play here, it’s basically the third Avengers movie too). They manage to keep the tone and touch light – as light as you can in the genre, at least – the performances are engaging (Robert Downey Jr., Chadwick Boseman, and Scarlett Johansson stand out), and the filmmakers grapple with real issues of responsibility and accountability, the superhero movie Topic De Jour. Plus, the 3D Blu-ray image is pretty nifty. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, gag reel, and deleted and extended scenes.)
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: The box-office disappointment of the Lonely Island’s latest feature probably isn’t surprising – it’s a satire of particularly niche genre, the self-created music tour documentary, and the audience that knows those movies enough to get the jokes probably doesn’t intersect much with the audience that wants to see them parodied. But what the hell; Popstar producer Judd Apatow’s previous music satire, Walk Hard, tanked in theaters too, only to find its audience on home media, and Popstar will likely do the same. And it should – it’s a very funny picture, full of clever sideways bits, background gags, and well-aimed jabs at the contemporary pop scene. And there’s even a dash of genuine heart, which is about the last thing you’d expect in a movie whose comic centerpiece is a song whose hook is “Fuck me like we fucked Bin Laden.” (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, music vidoes, interview outtakes, and featurettes.)
The Fits : Muted yet bold, tiny yet audacious, Anna Rose Holmer’s intimate drama concerns Toni, an 11-year-old tomboy who quietly joins the dance team at the community center where she’s previously spent her afternoons working out and boxing. There’s not an abundance of dialogue, and what there is, is mostly extemporaneous and overheard; Holmer primarily tells her story in the brute strength of her imagery, the way the camera regards Toni as a solitary figure, even when among other people, and then subtly shifts that perspective as she finds herself in a period of discovery and reinvention. Oh, and then her dance teammates start having peculiar, unexplained seizures, a narrative shift that somehow doesn’t dismantle the delicate tonal foundation. It’s the kind of film that’s almost inexplicable – I’m not sure how it was devised, or how it was executed. But I’m glad it exists. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, outtakes, and theatrical trailer.)
The Horrible Dr. Hichcock: “You must admit, the doctor is a little strange himself, isn’t he?” asks an off-screen voice, early in this greasy slice of Italian Gothic horror, and that’s a bit of an understatement – the good doctor has incorporated his operating room anesthetic into a kink that gets out of control, and comes back to haunt him years later. That such a decidedly adult picture actually got an American release in 1962, import or no, is still surprising, though censors may have presumed it was just your typical period creeper. And director Riccardo Freda (working under the Anglicized moniker of Robert Hampton) checks all the following boxes, moodily and atmospherically: cracking thunder, ominous lightning, surprise skulls, secret passageways, ornate interiors, candelabras galore, billowing curtains, creaking floorboards, doorknobs that seem to turn of their own accord, and a feverish, over-the-top, house afire climax (up to and including an evil woman hissing, “Kill her, killlllll herrrrrr”). It’s not a great horror picture, and the homages and misspelled name-check of the master of suspense are just asking for trouble. But it’s an awful lot of fun. (No bonus features – a bummer, as the British version of the film, The Terror of Dr. Hichcock, runs a good 12 minutes longer.)
The Captive: This early feature from Cecil B. DeMille – “A Modern Romantic Drama,” per its opening titles – was long thought lost to time and deterioration, only to be rediscovered in 1970 and lovingly restored for this Blu-ray debut. Based on a play the filmmaker wrote with Jeanie MacPherson, it tells the fascinating story, set in the Balkan Wars, of how prisoners of war were sent to till the fields of farms vacated by fighting men. Blanche Sweeet’s Sonia is one of those women, whose war-bound brother is replaced by a Turkish POW whom she falls for. An early battle scene and the expectedly perilous and rousing climax are impressively immediate, but in contrast to DeMille’s later ubiquity with big-canvas epics, the bulk of the picture is small and intimate, with the central relationship conveyed by loaded interactions and private smiles. Overall, a tender and fascinating formative work from a true giant. (No bonus features.)