The 9 Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: ‘Dean,’ ‘Ronin,’ ‘Lion King’


It’s another hefty week for home viewers, with a whole slew of great old(er) movies hitting Blu-ray, plus a lovely new rom-com on DVD and a terrific bio-doc streaming (and airing) on Showtime. Let’s get to it:


Whitney: Can I Be Me: Tales of the Grim Sleeper director Nick Broomfield marries Rudi Dolezal’s previously unseen all-access footage from the late, great Whitney Houston’s 1999 world tour – a pivot point for her career, and her life – with current interviews with family, friends, and colleagues (including the people on that tour). That marriage of materials creates the story of a squandered gift, a toxic marriage, and an addiction that could not be conquered. Most heartbreakingly, the film finds a Rosebud in the form of Robyn Crawford, her lifelong friend, collaborator, and probable romantic partner, had the relationship been allowed by her stiflingly religious parents and the celebrity culture of the day. It’s a heartbreaking movie, transcending rubbernecker voyeurism and sensationalism to tell the story of a magnetic performer who never found the happiness and peace she deserved.


Dean: Popular comedian writes and directs a highly personal romantic comedy with a heavy dose of stylistic innovation and a pronounced strain of New York authenticity vs. Los Angeles vapidity – it shatters no earth to observe the Woody Allen influence in the feature filmmaking debut of Demetri Martin, who plays a sad-sack cartoonist escaping to L.A. to distract himself from a broken engagement and the death of his mother. But like Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me, Dean is a film that takes the Allen template as the jumping-off point for a story that ultimately settles on a style and charm of its own. There are a few predictable beats and underdeveloped characters along the way, but Martin is ultimately a sensitive and likable filmmaker and leading man, and he gets a big boost from the wonderful supporting turns by Gillian Jacobs, Mary Steenburgen, and (especially) Kevin Kline. (Includes featurettes.)


Ronin: This 1998 action/heist picture from director John Frankenheimer (one of his last great movies) and star Robert De Niro (ditto) is mostly remembered for its killer car chases, and rightfully so – they’re white-knuckle set pieces, practically executed with real drivers, real cars, and real danger. But as the years pass, the moments between those action beats are what stick, thanks to the crackling dialogue of scripters J.D. Zeik and David Mamet (writing under the pseudonym Richard Weisz) and its smooth delivery by an A+ international cast, led by De Niro in prime, Heat­­-style criminal/consummate professional mode. Arrow’s new Blu-ray upgrade is tip-top, the extras are voluminous, and the movie just plain holds up; it’s the kind of no-nonsense B-movie that was sort of taken for granted in its time, but is increasingly rare (and missed) these days. (Inclues audio commentary, new and archival interviews, new and archival featurettes, alternate ending, and theatrical trailer.)

The Lion King: When it was released in 1994, this animated musical riff on Hamlet was Disney’s most commercially successful movie to date, and it’s not hard to see why; it has all the ingredients of their classics (sympathetic protagonist, dead parent, charming sidekicks, battle between good and evil) with the innovative animation and contemporary musical stylings of the “Disney renaissance.” And it still works; the songs are catchy, the storytelling is effective, and the voice performers are top-notch – particularly Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern analogs, and Jeremy Irons as one of the all-time great Disney villains. (Includes featurettes and sing-along version.)

The Man With Two Brains: The third of Steve Martin’s four collaborations with legendary director Carl Reiner – and the last on which they co-wrote the script – is an unabashedly silly and unapologetically dirty burlesque on mad-scientist movies and marital mores. Martin plays in a key of oblivious pomposity (one of the cornerstones of his stand-up persona) as a vainglorious brain surgeon taken for a ride by his gold-digging new bride (Kathleen Turner, – gleefully sending up the femme fatale turn in Body Heat that had just made her a star) who, in his frustration, falls for a brain in a jar. It’s a seven-gag-a-minute spoof in the style of Airplane! and their earlier Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and if some of the bits don’t land, it’s not like you have to wait long for the next one. (Includes trailer.)

Prizzi’s Honor: Let it never be said that criminal cinema is a young man’s game. The great John Huston was pushing 80 when he made this, his penultimate feature, an adaptation of Richard Condon’s deliciously, darkly funny novel. Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner (again) were rarely as loosey-goosey great as they are here, playing a pair of mob assassins who fall in love, only to find they’ve been assigned to off each other. Huston sends up the conventions of Mafia movies without undercutting the real danger of the narrative, and provides showcase turns for a host of terrific character actors – including Robert Loggia, William Hickey, and his daughter Anjelica (who netted an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress). More than three decades later, it’s still crisp, energetic, and uproarious. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)

The Stranger: This 1946 thriller isn’t usually considered as a highlight of director Orson Welles’s filmography – but it was one of his few genuine commercial successes, and features one of his most complex performances. He’s both menacing and silver-tongued as a Nazi war criminal living under a new identity as a Connecticut professor. Edward G. Robinson is top-notch as the investigator trying to unmask him, willing to patiently draw out the good professor until he gives himself away. As a popcorn entertainment, it’s awfully good – but Welles doesn’t soft-soap the serious undertones, even going so far as including archival footage of Nazi atrocities (for, it is said, the first time in a fiction feature). The Stranger is a mainstay in cheapo public domain circles, and while Olive Films’ new presentation doesn’t quite match Kino’s definitive restoration a few years back, it’s still a very handsome disc. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)

Hell Up in Harlem: Larry Cohen’s Black Caesar was a quickie blaxpoitation take on The Godfather – so it met the needs of two hungry audiences when it hit theaters in 1973. It was such a success, in fact, that Cohen cranked out a follow-up that very same year. Harlem’s speedy production occasionally shows, and Edwin Starr’s music doesn’t have the same kick as James Brown’s Caesar soundtrack. But otherwise, it’s a serviceable uptown gangster picture, taking full advantage of Cohen’s ingenious way around a low budget, and the considerable gravitas of star Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. (Includes audio commentary.)

Son of Paleface: This 1952 Western comedy was the first of two credited collaborations between director Frank Tashlin and star Bob Hope, and they’re a touch mismatched – Hope’s not as ideal a cartoon character as the director’s more frequent star Jerry Lewis, while Tashlin doesn’t key in to the quirks of the Hope persona as well as, say, Norman Z. McLeod (who directed several of Hope’s best pictures, including the original Paleface). But they get off some good one-liners and winking in-jokes – the early Bing Crosby cameo is, unsurprisingly, right out of the Road movie playbook – as well as a terrific supporting turn by Jane Russell as a hubba-hubba showgirl who moonlights as ruthless robber. (Includes audio commentary and Tashlin animated short.)