Oh, gang, it’s a good week for home viewing. We’ve got two Oscar nominees on disc and demand, two stellar additions to the Criterion Collection, a corker of a ‘50s suspense thriller, and a woefully underseen gem with two of our low-key favorite actors. Get to work on these.
Operator : Logen Kibens’ debut feature has echoes of Her and Creative Control and other recent examinations of the intersection of love and technology, but make no mistake: hers is a unique new voice, and this is an inventive take on modern romance. And she’s doing something risky too — the relationship she establishes at the beginning of her story seems to be one that works (thanks in no small part to the lived-in vibe established by stars Martin Starr and Mae Whitman); you get not only how they love each other, but how they make sense together. And when circumstances put that relationship into a spin cycle, they both end up realizing something very subtle and vital about each other, and themselves — and suddenly everything is up in the air. But don’t see it for that stuff; see it because it’s uproarious and lyrical and (aha) human.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Manchester by the Sea : I’m an easy mark for tearjerkers, so I’d heard that Kenneth Lonergan’s latest would destroy me – which it did, but not in the traditional hanky-weepy ways, because it’s entirely concerned with people who suffer in silence and solitude, and you get the feeling the writer/director wants to give them their privacy. It’s the story of two tragedies, separated by a decade or so, told concurrently and yet not as inevitabilities; it’s a drama, and a heart-wrenching one, but Lonergan keeps throwing curveballs, because it’s funny when you least expect it to be (i.e., when it’s not supposed to be). Restraint and grace make Manchester so impactful – that, and the taciturn lead performance of Casey Affleck, who has quietly become one of our finest actors, full stop. (Includes deleted scenes, featurette, and conversation with Lonergan.)
Nocturnal Animals : Tom Ford’s sophomore effort can’t match the exquisite perfection of his A Single Man; its tonal shifts are bumpy and its portraiture of fancy L.A. art people and hillbilly grotesques are rendered with equal subtlety (which is to say, none). But its performances are top-notch, it is (of course) beautifully mounted, and its scenes of domestic terror and toxic masculinity are so tautly rendered, you sort of wish he’d just gone all the way with them and made an art-house Last House on the Left. (Includes featurettes.)
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown : Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 breakthrough film makes its Criterion debut, and it remains, as it ever was, a great time. Brightly saturated and jazzily composed, it is, first and foremost, a screwball farce – right down to Antonio Banderas doing his best bespectacled Cary Grant bit. (It has enough of a stage farce flavor, in fact, that its subsequent Broadway adaptation isn’t the least bit surprising). Yet, as is his gift, Almodóvar can veer between styles and tones without giving the viewer whiplash; this one is by turns absurdly funny, deliciously melodramatic, and legitimately heartbreaking, equal parts Waters, Sirk, and Hawks, yet undeniably its own, unique thing. (Includes new interviews with Almodóvar, brother and producer Agustin, and actor Carmen Maura; discussion with film scholar Richard Pena; and trailer.)
Mildred Pierce : Oddly, this 1945 drama from director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) is remembered far more as a weepie Joan Crawford “women’s picture” than as film noir, but don’t get it twisted – the first thing Miss Crawford does is shoot a man down, then head to a bar to pick up a poor schmuck to blame for it. (Or does she?) And from there, the bulk of the smoky and shadowy story is told in flashback from a police interrogation. But it is also a grounded, sensitive relationship movie, explicitly and intelligently exploring the class divide, the snobbery of new vs. old money, and how those shivs wedge between Crawford’s Mildred and her daughter Veda (a real little shit). It’s a remarkably smooth fusion of two seemingly disparate elements – and funny, too, thanks to the snappy, catty repartee between Crawford and Eve Arden at her Eve Arden-est. (Includes archival interviews with Crawford, James M. Cain, and Ann Blyth; the feature-length documentary Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star; new conversation with critics Molly Haskell and Robert Polito; and trailers.)
23 Paces to Baker Street : Contrary to its title, this 1956 thriller from director Henry Hathaway (Kiss of Death, True Grit) is not a Sherlock Holmes story, though there are a couple of general winks in that canon’s direction. It’s much closer to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which came out two years earlier, with occasional Hitch player Vera Miles on hand in the Grace Kelly role the beautiful woman trying to get this obsessed lug’s attention, and going along for the ride on his “game of Let’s Play Detective.” Van Johnson is the lug in question, a bitter blind playwright who overhears criminals conspiring in a pub but, of course, can’t identify them; thus, it’s also reminiscent of Wait Until Dark, which it pre-dates (particularly in its suspenseful conclusion). Its precise script and Hathaway’s businesslike direction make this a tight, effective little thriller. (Includes audio commentary and trailers.)