The 6 Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: ‘What Happened to Monday,’ ‘Sid & Nancy,’ ‘Barton Fink’


This week’s home media guide is a little more in-control than last week’s buying spree, though it’s again catalogue-heavy, with undiscovered gems for horror and silent film freaks, Blu-ray upgrades of an ‘80s and a ‘90s classic, and a wonderfully dark French comedy from Criterion. A nifty new thriller from Netflix kicks off a pretty damn good week:


What Happened to Monday : This new Netflix original from director Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) is basically Children of Men meets Orphan Black – set in a dystopian future where overpopulation and food shortages have led the government to outlaw siblings, a set of septuplets (all played, as adults, by Noomi Rapace) each go into the world one at a time, one per day, until one of them doesn’t come back. The multiple-figure technology (particularly in a centerpiece fight scene, with several Rapaces taking on a pack of paramilitary thugs) is awfully impressive – as is Rapace’s acting, which manages to shade in each character with some degree of distinction. (She also, an actor’s dream, gets to both play her own death, and her reaction to it). There’s not enough of supporting players Glenn Close or Willem Dafoe, and the climax is disappointingly pro forma (involving a video system override at a big public event, something we just saw in Netflix’s own Okja). But it’s a sturdy, compelling, well-made, mid-level thriller, and that’s an increasingly rare species.


Effects : This low-budget horror flick was shot in 1978 but never received a proper theatrical release, and was an obscurity at best on DVD. (This new Blu-ray comes via the fine folks at AGFA.) But since it’s about a snuff film shot on the set of a low-budget horror movie, its sketchy background and offhand sleaziness is a case of form following function; the grunginess of even this well-restored image contributes to the mood. It was shot for chump change by George A. Romero’s regulars, and proof of that old saw about writing what you know; this is a film plugged in to the mechanics and dynamics of a low-budget set, by people who’ve participated in late-night rap sessions, discussing their favorite movies and scares, or in-depth disagreements about degrees of reality in gore. (They’ve clearly had these arguments before.) Writer/director Dusty Nelson keeps playfully flipping the script, fooling us with what’s a movie and what’s “real,” particularly as horror-movie techniques begin to invade the film-set framework. In other words, they’re diving into the meta-horror territory later explored in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Scream, with real wit and insight. Nelson yields a bit to conventionality in the climax, but that complaint aside, this is a thoughtful, believable, and unsettling piece of work. (Includes short films, archival commentary track, and documentary with commentary track.)

Beggars of Life : This 1928 silent drama has somehow never made it to DVD or Blu-ray before, in spite of the presence of the great Wallace Beery and every cinephile’s crush, Louise Brooks. But Kino-Lorber has finally gotten the job done, and good for them. Intelligently directed (by the great William Wellman, later of The Ox-Bow Incident) and sensitively told, it concerns a young woman who flees an abusive home and lives among the train-hopping hobos, dressed as a boy. Beery is a tough and charismatic as ever, but this is Brooks’s show, and she crushes it – her comparatively modern acting style (naturalistic and simple) keeps the story from veering into cartoon territory, though even in her pageboy caps and boy clothes, she’s still a stunner. (Includes audio commentaries and new musical score.)


La Poison : This 1951 French comedy from writer/director Sacha Guitry (new from Criterion) is a kind of proto-War of the Roses, with a miserable married couple secretly plotting to kill each other. They’re deliciously nasty to each other – witness the pure contempt of their body language as they eat together silently, the way he talks about her to anyone who’ll listen (“It’s my wife.” “What’s she done?” “She exists.”), how she tells him, when accused of drunkenness, “I’m never drunk enough to forget your face”. Guitry’s verbal ballets are gracefully uproarious – my favorite is the scene of the husband working out specifics of the murder in advance, with a lawyer, so he can mount the best defense later – and if the subject matter is dark, the film itself is cheerful, self-aware, and very funny. (Includes archival documentaries and a new interview with Olivier Assayas.) (Also on FilmStruck.)


Sid & Nancy : Alex Cox’s profile of the doomed romance of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen was Criterion DVD #20 – and one of the first to go out of print. Now it’s back, upgraded to Blu-ray, the better to capture all the sweat and grime of Cox’s mini-masterpiece. His sense of time and place is as keen as ever, convincingly dramatizing the London punk scene and bombed-out ‘70s NYC, but this is an actors’ showcase; Oldman has rarely been as scary or as convincing than he was as the Sex Pistols bassist, and he and Chloe Webb masterfully put across both the attractions that brought the pair together, and the addictions that tore them apart. Thirty years after its release, this is still one of the all-time great movies about drugs, music, and co-dependency. (Includes audio commentaries, archival making-of documentary, archival Vicious and Spungen interviews, new and archival documentary excerpts, and a new interview with Cox.)

Barton Fink : The Coen Brothers’ 1991 Palme d’Or winner is one of their strangest pictures – and that’s saying something – yet also one of their most rewarding. What seems initially to be a satire of old-timey Hollywood, in which a principled playwright (wonderfully played by an increasingly nervous Jon Turturro) is brought to the other coast to pen a Wallace Beery boxing picture (hey, circularity), veers unexpectedly but effectively into a nightmare vision of folksy fascism (hey, circularity). Turturro is a champ, as ever, and the supporting cast kills: Oscar nominee Michael Lerner as a bellowing studio head, tough-as-nails Judy Davis, tragicomic John Mahoney, and especially John Goodman, doing some of both his most affable and most frightening work. (Includes interviews, deleted scenes, and theatrical trailer.)