One of our very favorite movies of last year hits disc and VOD this week, and that’s not even close to all; we’ve got a thought-provoking documentary on Netflix, a first-rate indie on Hulu, a ‘60s New York picture that’s ripe for rediscovery on Blu-ray, and another excellent Criterion double-feature on FilmStruck and disc. Dig in:
Trophy: It opens with a simple image: a father, a son, and gun. “Look at the horns on this guy,” the father exclaims proudly, after his son shoots his first “trophy” buck. “That’s a textbook shot, Jasper!” And then they cut to a scene where a bunch of people tranquilize a rhino and saw his horns off, so yeah, this documentary about the “canned hunting” industry is really upsetting, right off the bat. It’s all, on its face, so simple and immoral – but directors Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz explore, with intelligence and nuance, the complex issues below the surface of the weird marriage between hunting “expeditions” and conservation, behind the hunting industrial complex and what drives it, and beyond the numbers of dwindling species, and how to most sensibly save them.
White Bird in a Blizzard: The narrative engine for Gregg Araki’s adaptation of Laura Kasischke’s novel is the mysterious disappearance of Eve Connor (Eva Green) when her daughter Kat (Shailene Woodley) is 17, but the window dressing is what’s really interesting here—with the help of yet another staggeringly sincere Woodley performance, it becomes a vivid portrait of the uncertainty and anxiety of trying to figure out one’s own sexuality, and the awkwardness of hanging on to a relationship that’s well past its expiration date. Green’s performance is too campy by half and some of the dialogue is strained, but Araki’s attentiveness to detail and firm command of mood more than cover those occasional lapses.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
The Florida Project: “What are you playing?” the grown-up asks. “We’re just playing!” the kids respond. And director Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine is intoxicated with the sight and sound of kids playing – running and yelling and goofing off, and for much of its running time, the movie seems to be doing the same thing. But Baker is up to something sly here, building a little world within the confines of this Disney World rip-off motel, and crafting scenes of fraying tensions, shared histories, and complicated emotions that linger long after its quietly perfect closing images. This is a deeply humanist filmmaker, and he’s sympathetic to these characters, flaws and all; that humanity, and its coexistence with awareness of those flaws, renders this remarkable picture all the more heartbreaking. (Includes featurette, bloopers and outtakes, and interviews.)
ON BLU-RAY / FILMSTRUCK
The Hero / An Actor’s Revenge: As of late, Criterion has been pairing their new Blu-ray releases into ready-made double bills (kind of like the “Friday Night Double Features” they put up on FilmStruck) – last month saw the release of two early G.W. Pabst talkies, last week gave us the art-horror classics Night of the Living Dead and The Silence of the Lambs, and now we have two films from different countries, in very different styles, about actors. In Satyajit Ray’s The Hero, a giant movie star takes a lengthy train ride to receive an award, and a series of encounters on that ride – of varying degrees of embarrassment and frustration – cause him to sort through his memories, feelings, fears, and regrets. Strikingly photographed and vividly imagined, it’s one of those baton-passing movies, where you can see both its influences (Wild Strawberries, for example) and the movies it influenced (from Stardust Memories to The Darjeeling Limited). Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge concerns a kabuki actor who sets out to take down the family responsible for the deaths of his parents. The subject matter being what it is, the picture is appropriately theatrical – particularly in the stylish lighting effects, which make masterful use of dimming, pools, light, and dark – with a wild sense of narrative propulsion and a wicked, weird sense of humor, capped off, in its closing scenes, by a sense of genuine (and surprising) sentimentality. (The Hero and An Actor’s Revenge are also both on FilmStruck.) (Both discs include new and archival interviews.)
The Incident: This 1967 drama from director Larry Peerce – new on Blu from Twilight Time – predated the big cycle of New-York-as-urban-hellscape movies in the 1970s, functioning as a strange cross between 12 Angry Men and The Taking of Pelham 123, as two thrill-seeking young punks (newcomers Tony Mustante and, yep, Martin Sheen) terrorize a subway car full of uptight New Yorkers late one Sunday night. Their methods are meticulous and merciless, but what’s fascinating about the narrative is how the passengers end up pushing each other into harm’s way – turning on each other, even those they know and ostensibly love, when pressed. There’s a ‘60s Method intensity to not only the acting, but the shooting and cutting, pressing in on the tensions that are inflamed until they explode. It’s not entirely believable and more than a little overblown (and don’t even get me started on the infrequency of the train’s stops), but it gets under your skin. (Includes audio commentary, trailer, and isolated music/effects track.)