The most likable film of the young year hits disc and VOD services today, along with a new Christian Bale Western that got a bit lost in the year-end prestige-pic shuffle. It makes a fine double-feature with a ‘90s Western from the great Jim Jarmusch, which joins the Criterion Collection – along with Sofia Coppola’s first (and, perhaps, still best) movie. And are you in the mood to miss the Obama administration? Then boy have I got a movie for you.
ON DVD / VOD
The Final Year: Greg Barker’s political documentary focuses on former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy team – John Kerry, Ben Rhodes, Samantha Power, Susan Rice – and sixteen months into the Trump Era, it’s already a kick in the head to remember all the grown-ups that use to walk the halls of the White House. It’s tough to know how the film would play if, as its participants seem to have expected, Clinton had won; as it is, it’s like a cross between tragedy and Twilight Zone, what with all of Obama’s idealistic talk of “passing the baton” to a team that will “continue that agenda.” At 89 briskly-paced minutes, The Final Year skimps a bit on some topics, and has a tendency to portray POTUS 44 through rose-colored glasses – most obviously, the word “drones” isn’t uttered once (a particularly glaring omission when he visits Laos to condemn the “bombs that we dropped decades ago”). But it’s nonetheless a fascinating peek at the inner workings of this thing we used to have, not long ago, called “a working government.” (Includes deleted scenes and trailer.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Paddington 2: The original 2014 Paddington was a modest success at best – memorable mostly for Nicole Kidman’s villain turn – but modest success is good enough for a sequel these days. The good news is the follow-up is superior in pretty much every way, disarming and charming, gorgeously crafted and uproariously funny (there’s a bit in a barbershop that Rube Goldberg would’ve been proud of), full of quirky little sidebars, Saturday-serial thrills, and pathos without pandering. And its cast is superb, with particular credit due to new additions Hugh Grant – having a great time playing a fading, vainglorious actor (insert joke here) – and Brendan Gleeson, who tones down the intensity and menace not one whit merely because he’s acting in a family movie. Director Paul King gives it a wide-eyed visual sense and a bright, cheery, candy-colored aesthetic, and the script (which he co-wrote with Simon Farnabyand Michael Bond) keeps the messaging subtle but pointed. What a lovely little movie this is. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, and music video.)
Hostiles: This late Western from director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) opens with a tough, unforgiving sequence in which a frontier wife and mother watches marauding Comanches murder her husband and children, barely escaping with her own life; it’s bloody, brutal, and scary, and the movie spends most of its time inhabiting the same dark spirit. But if you don’t mind that tone (and the, politely put, deliberate pacing) there’s much to admire here: a Christian Bale turn of real skill, a Rosamund Pike performance of utter heartbreak, and a surprise third-quarter appearance by Ben Foster, as an imprisoned former officer who spits an uncomfortable truth: “We’re all guilty of something.” (Includes featurettes.)
The Virgin Suicides: Sofia Coppola made her feature directorial debut with this mesmerizing 1999 adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel, new to the Criterion Collection. Kirsten Dunst leads the ensemble cast as one of the five Lisbon sisters, whose sheltered lives and sudden deaths prompt endless neighborhood gossip and speculation, but it’s a film powered less by narrative than mood; Coppola’s dreamlike style casts the events in a haze that first looks like nostalgia, but gradually reveals itself as selective memory. It’s an evocative yet immediate work, suggesting the kind of keen cinematic powers that the subsequent years have only confirmed. (Includes interviews, archival documentary, Coppola short film, music video, and trailer.)
Dead Man: Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 existentialist Western (also new to Criterion) features Johnny Depp as William Blake (no, not that one), backed by an awe-inspiring line-up of odd and/or grizzled character actors. (My personal favorite is the three-act of Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, and Jared Harris, but your mileage may vary). Jarmusch renders the picture with an off-hand bleakness and deadpan absurdity, aided considerably by Neil Young’s moody, electric-guitar-and-feedback score and Robby Müller’s sumptuous black and white photography. It’s an odd duck, this movie, somehow both deeply felt and stylishly stand-offish, but whatever Jarmusch is doing here, it works. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, Q&A, interview, readings of William Blake poems by cast members, and location scouting photos.)