This week’s big disc debut is the tepid and deeply un-sexy Fifty Shades Darker, so yes, you’re going to have to dig a little deeper to find the good stuff. But it’s there: a giggly Netflix original, streaming debuts for two of last year’s best dramas, and shiny new Blu-ray editions of a classic Western, a beloved black comedy, and one of the all-time great crime movies.
Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie : At first glance, the title of this new comedy from director/co-writer/star Jeff Garlin looks like #branding gone awry — or, as co-star Steven Weber insists in the pre-title scene, “Enjoy this exciting, multiplatform event!” But that scene is a tip-off; he reveals himself as the murderer, making it a) not much of a mystery, and b) firmly in the mold of Columbo, one of the mainstays of — aha — The ABC Mystery Movie. And that’s the vibe Garlin’s working here, treating this one-off movie like it’s a series into which we’ve been dropped, complete with running characters and conflicts, and even a “special guest star” (in this case, it’s Kaley Cuoco, to whom Garlin bids, “Enjoy your good looks!”). Even if you don’t get the in-jokes, though, Handsome is a lot of fun; it’s got Natasha Lyonne as his partner (they have a very funny riff on San Andreas), Amy Sedaris killing it as their gruff boss, and music by Ben Folds. And, in a season in which most movies overstay their welcome, it’s not a second too long at 81 minutes.
Things to Come : Mia Hansen-Løve’s films are uncommonly rich and full of life, dynamic and divine, even when nothing of ostensible consequence is “happening.” Her latest pushes this notion even further, spending a great deal of its first hour simply observing the life of Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert, in her other great 2016 performance), a schoolteacher and writer with a thoughtless husband, a sick and aging mother, and a career in flux. Nathalie doesn’t set out to alter her life significantly, but it is altered, and Hansen-Løve doesn’t push for effect; she knows she’s got one of our finest actors at the center of her frame, and just watching her react (or choose not to) is all the narrative movement she needs.
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Manchester By the Sea : Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s double Oscar-winner is a genuinely moving piece of work — all the more impressive since he rarely, if ever, reaches for his effects. Set in a tight-knit seaside Massachusetts town, it tells the story of two tragedies that befall one family, about a decade apart; one of them is everyday and one of them is the kind of personal horror that can come to define your life, try as you might to resist it. Yet this is also a warm and very funny picture, finding its humor in the kidding-on-the-square so essential to these relationships. Kyle Chandler is perfection and Michelle Williams is shattering, but the key player here is Casey Affleck, and his matchless skill for seeming to do nothing while conveying everything.
Heat: Director’s Definitive Edition : Don’t be too drawn in (or worried) by the subtitle of this Blu-ray re-release of Michael Mann’s 1995 masterpiece; this is not some Miami Vice-style top-to-bottom reworking. Mann’s “definitive” fixes involve the removal of two (2) lines of dialogue, and some tinkering with color grading and brightness. Then again, it’s not like this movie needed fixing — it remains a towering achievement in character-drama-as-genre-picture, boasting a deep bench of ace character actors, a handful of crackerjack action beats, and iconic performances by stars Al Pacino and Robert De Niro (whose single shared scene, midway through, remains a masterclass in underplaying). If you already own it, it’s probably not worth the double-dip — but if you somehow don’t, this edition is bargain-priced (eight bucks, as of this writing) and boasts some stellar bonus features. And, y’know, it’s Heat. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, and new Q&As.)
Serial Mom : John Waters (whose credit is accompanied, appropriately enough, by the squishing of a fly) helmed this 1994 suburban murder comedy, and did so with style; he mounts the film with a perfectly realized bland sitcom aesthetic, and an early Blood Feast shout-out tips off the cheerful artificiality of the gore. Kathleen Turner is marvelously unhinged in the title role, all smiles at the swap meet, but secretly knocking off neighbors and meticulously keeping serial killer scrapbooks and mementoes. It’s rife with the criminal-as-celebrity commentary that was all over media and culture in that year of the Juice (Waters even stages an eerily similar low-speed car chase), though its concluding courtroom sequence isn’t as successful; it forces the movie to settle down when it should keep going further out. Still, it’s an awful lot of fun — sometimes inspired, sometimes groan-worthy, never boring. (Includes audio commentaries, new interviews, featurettes, and trailer.)
The Indian Fighter : Period Westerns can make for uncomfortable viewing here in the Year of our Lord 2017, so credit where due: this 1954 frontier drama makes at least some effort to temper the simplicity and bloodthirstiness typical of the era’s Westerns. (It makes its Blu-ray debut via KL Studio Classics, which put out the similarly complicated oater Broken Arrow last month.) Kirk Douglas, sporting the Whitest Teeth in the West, is in fine, thorny form as a renowned “Indian fighter” who finds himself trying to negotiate a peace between post-Civil War settlers and the Sioux, while Walter Matthau is an unlikely presence in a Western, but terrific as the scoundrel who tries to deceive him. The action sequences are executed cleanly by director Andre de Toth (House of Wax), and Frank Davis and Ben Hecht’s screenplay works in a dash of thoughtful subtext, in the form of a photographer character (who worked for “Mr. Brady” during the war) and his role in the forthcoming mythologizing and mystification of the West: a process you see a movie like The Indian Fighter quietly, tentatively beginning to undo. (Includes audio commentary and trailers.)