The 9 Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: ‘Annihilation,’ ‘The Tale’


The most buzzed-about movie of this year’s Sundance Film Festival made its debut last weekend… on HBO? It’s a brave new world, folks! Your streaming and disc-playing choices this week also include one of the year’s best studio movies, a full new set of a hit-and-miss franchise, a modest but marvelous Western drama on FilmStruck, two classics from Criterion, and new releases of three catalogue gems. Here we go:


The Tale: “The story you are about to see is true… as far as I know.” So says Jennifer (Laura Dern), a documentarian who ends up investigating her own childhood, and the sexual abuse that she never thought of in those terms. That the director’s name is Jennifer (Fox, to be precise), and is a documentarian, gives you some idea of how intensely personal this work is. But Fox is a filmmaker first and foremost, and The Tale is formally astonishing, using tight edits, crisp cinematography, and inspired repetition to dramatize moments misremembered, traumas stifled, and inopportune interruptions of memory. It is a hard film to watch – at times, unbearably so. But it’s an important work, and even when it falters as drama (and it occasionally does), it holds strong as testimonial.


Meek’s Cutoff: Kelly Reichardt’s meditative, masterful Western is set in Oregon circa 1845, as three westward-traveling couples come to realize that their guide is not very good at his job. Reichardt’s a director telling a story, but she’s also an anthropologist observing rituals and routines, and noting how the confines of the era’s gender roles amplify tensions without solving problems. A few impatient critics perpetuated the unfair perception that Meek’s is some sort of insufferable slog, which couldn’t be further from the truth; Reichardt’s style, which forgoes choppy coverage and lets event play out in real time, requires more focus than the average picture, but it also rewards viewers who can tune in to its Zen rhythms. (FilmStruck is also streaming Reichardt’s River of Grass, Old Joy, and Wendy and Lucy, plus a new Masterclass dialogue between the filmmaker and critic April Wolfe.)


Bucket of Blood: Little Shop of Horrors tends to get all the “Roger Corman quickie horror/comedy” attention, and understandably so – after all, it has a Jack Nicholson cameo, and inspired one of the great contemporary musical/comedies. But director Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith’s earlier experiment in genre fusion, 1959’s Bucket of Blood, has its own charms: namely, a rare lead performance by beloved character actor (and Corman standby) Dick Miller, a deliciously bloody plot, and a delightfully jaded view of the (then-contemporaneous) beatnik scene. Thanks to its public domain status, it’s been circulating on low-quality streaming sites and bargain DVD bins for years, but this new edition from Olive Films is the best I’ve ever seen it look. (Also streaming on Prime.) (No bonus features.)


Annihilation : The latest brainy sci-fi adventure from writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina), adapted from Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, is a bit of a puzzle – a journey into an unknowable heart of darkness, relayed by a perhaps unreliable sole survivor (Natalie Portman), who takes on the dangerous mission out of grief-fueled desperation. Her rich backstory is emblematic of what makes the picture so special: there are effects and monsters and the whole bit, but Garland is far more concerned with the unexplored corners of his characters’ psyches. And that is in dangerously short supply in mainstream cinema. (Includes featurettes.)


Jurassic Park 25th Anniversary Collection : In honor of both the 25th anniversary of the original Jurassic Parkand the upcoming release of the franchise’s fifth entry Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Universal has released a fancy box set of all the films to date. You can’t pretend it’s not a mixed bag – Lost World is a mess (albeit one with one of Spielberg’s single finest set pieces smack dab in the middle), Jurassic Park III is the dictionary definition of “forgettable,” and Jurassic World is, well, Jurassic World . But Spielberg’s original remains a pop masterpiece, a rare movie that both features mind-boggling effects and knows how to use them, and even when the other movies don’t work, they look amazing in 4K. (Includes featurettes, storyboards, deleted scenes, and more.)


Midnight Cowboy : New to the Criterion Collection, John Schlesinger’s 1969 Best Picture winner (the only X-rated movie to ever win that honor) is one of the key films of the New Hollywood movement, capturing the increasing rot of New York City – and Times Square in particular – with documentary-style verisimilitude. But it’s not just a time capsule; the complexity of the love/hate relationship between fish-out-of-water Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and barking native Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) is still a scorcher, and Schlesinger’s evocative direction conveys a timeless sense of loneliness and displacement. (Includes audio commentary, vintage featurettes, American Masters documentary on screenwriter Waldo Sat, archival interviews and clips, Voight screen test, and trailer.)

Au Hasard Balthazar : Robert Bresson’s minimalist 1966 drama, a fairly early addition to the Criterion Collection, finally gets the Blu-ray upgrade, and the results are luminous but not overwhelming. They shouldn’t be; this is a film best known for the stillness of its style, a series of vignettes (sometimes warm, sometimes cruel, sometimes heartbreaking) that seem to wander, and then clobber you. It’s so modest, in fact, that you don’t even notice how they’re rambling towards the giant questions of the third act. The sparseness of the production is mirrored by the simplicity of the acting, and yes, the master director somehow gets a soulful performance out of a donkey (or, ya know, the power of montage and all that) – thus, its closing images are indescribably moving. This silent observer becomes, in a way, Bresson’s stand-in – he watches, but does not judge. (Includes vintage television feature, interview, and trailer.)

Aloha, Bobby and Rose: There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Floyd Mutrux, and that’s a shame, because he directed two of the great American movies of the 1970s (no small accomplishment, that). One was the infectiously energetic (and, these days, impossible to find) early-rock snapshot American Hot Wax; the other is this foggy 1975 delight, in which Paul Le Mat and Diane Hull high-tail it out of Hollywood when a date-night prank turns deadly. But Mutrux handily transcends the cliches of the “lovers on the run” movie, thanks to the oddball specificity of his characters and the wild unpredictability of his storytelling. It’s the kind of movie you watch once, and then watch again to make sure you didn’t dream it. (Includes new interviews and original trailer.)

Cold Turkey: Before he revolutionized television in the 1970s, Norman Lear co-wrote and directed this 1971 comedy in which a PR-hungry tobacco company offers up $25 million to any town in America that can quit smoking for 30 days. Lear masterfully sees past the obvious jokes, of lies and brags and sneaking smokes, and finds the bigger, juicier target: the average American’s hunger for recognition, fame, and (if all else fails) notoriety. And Lear’s not the only TV talent on hand – Dick Van Dyke stars as the righteous minister of the town in question, Bob Newhart is uproariously slimy as the ad man behind the campaign, and Tom Poston, Jean Stapleton, Paul Benedict, and (most of all) Bob & Ray shine in their supporting roles. (No bonus features.)