This week’s offerings on the new release shelf include one of the biggest hits of the summer (maybe the only one that wasn’t about superheroes or talking animals) and an artsy exploitation effort from the director of Drive. Plus: a summer sleeper comedy, a devastating new documentary on Netflix, and a Criterion edition of one of our favorite cult movies.
Audrie & Daisy : Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk document two parallel stories of sexual assault and online harassment, one ending in suicide, the other in activism. The film is, needless to say, utterly infuriating, and if you’d gotten over the whole debacle in Maryville, which is one of the cases explored here, wait until you hear county sheriff Darren White respond to the assertion that the crimes in that case were “committed by boys” with a chuckle and a smug, “Were they?” Yet such moments are enlightening – they’re rape culture bottled, alongside tweets and Facebook messages horrifying in their viciousness, and interrogation and deposition tapes shocking in their shrugginess. The filmmaking is mostly inventive and effective (though the score, as in far too many activist documentaries, is irritatingly pedestrian); this is a compelling story, told with tenderness and sensitivity.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD/ VOD
Central Intelligence : On its surface, this summer hit sounds like the worst kind of wheezy buddy action/comedy – but it’s not, thanks to a witty script by Neighbors and Mindy Project co-star Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, and director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers), and engaging lead performances by Kevin Hart and, especially, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. His delightfully goofy/geeky take on the tough-guy super-spy is endlessly entertaining, while Hart makes a good foil; they cook up something akin to the old Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor team-ups, with laughs and heart a-plenty. (Includes audio commentary, alternate scenes, “line-o-rama,” featurettes, gag reel, and unrated version.)
The Neon Demon : Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest is overly indulgent and intoxicated by its own cleverness and easily transposes commentary on shallowness with a lack of depth of its own. And yet there’s never a sense that it’s not exactly what its creator wants it to be – stylized, bizarre, perverse, provocative, and bonkers. It is, in other words, exactly what you’d expect from the director of Drive and Only God Forgives; he makes all-or-nothing propositions, but if you’re tuned in to his wavelength, you’ll find plenty to get off on here. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)
ON DVD / VOD
Hunt for the Wilderpeople : Writer/director Taiki Waititi’s follow-up to What We Do in the Shadows is admirably divergent, an eccentric mash-up of boys’ adventure tale and Rambo riff, in which an ill-advised grief and bonding trip to the New Zealand bush turns into a months-long manhunt. Sam Neill is tartly funny as gruff “Uncle Hec,” while Julian Dennison gets a star-marking turn as his foster son. Waititi keeps the gags coming at a furious clip, and while it’s not exactly a spoof, he drolly swipes the visual language of action movies and survival flicks to properly frame the absurdity. It’s a raucous good time, all light and zippy as hell, with just a little dab of pathos at the end. (Includes audio commentary, featurette, and blooper reel.)
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls : The Criterion Collection is giving the special edition / HD upgrade treatment to two titles of note: Mark Robson’s soapy and silly 1967 adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s bestseller Valley of the Dolls (more on that one here), and Russ Meyer’s gleefully bananas 1970 quasi-sequel/satire, which took the showbiz melodrama tropes of the original and a million movies before it, and spun them around until they got dizzy and threw up all over the place. Beyond, originally rated X for its unapologetic sexuality (most of it female-aggressive), has all the watermarks of a Meyer movie: busty babes, nutso plotting, a super-saturated, Pop Art look, and editing so frenetic, it makes Michael Bay look like Yasujirō Ozu. With the resources of a major studio at his disposal, Meyer made pure cinema on a grand (and grandly disreputable) scale, and it still packs a deliciously subversive kick. (Includes audio commentary, Q&A footage, featurettes, screen tests, interviews, trailers, new interview with John Waters, and “The Incredibly Strange Film Show” profile of Meyer.)