It’s the first of the month (cue the Bone Thug), which means a whole bunch of new stuff has shown up on your streaming subscription services: four of our favorites from last fall, in fact, neatly spread across Netflix, Prime, and Hulu. And on the disc and on-demand front this week, we’ve got two gems from the spring theatrical circuit. Check ‘em out:
Thor: Rangarok: As the freshness of the Marvel movies gave way to tiresome conventions and convoluted stakes, the learning curve has swung the other direction; now, it seems, we’re always hearing about how the latest entry is better than average, or has less of the offending factor than usual, or what have you. So please believe me when I tell you that the third Thor movie – traditionally the weakest strand of the series – is a genuine delight, uproariously funny and winkingly subversive, its every beat stamped with the light comic touch of director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows). He turns the usual lumbering solemnity of the Thor pictures upside down, cleverly deflating the hero moments, playing against expectations, yet simultaneously introducing one of the Marvel movies’ most memorable characters (Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie) and nastiest villains (Cate Blanchett’s Hela). An honest-to-goodness treat, with a breeziness that’s all too uncommon among blockbuster product.
Outside In: The latest from the insightful Lynn Shelton (Laggies, Touchy Feely) concerns an ex-con (Jay Duplass) and his relationship with the former teacher (Edie Falco) who helped get him out of a jail, and even with regards to that plot set-up, it toys with our sympathies – taking its time explaining what, exactly, he was in there for. It was a “wrong place in the wrong time” situation, of course, so we can share with him the happiness and freedom of just riding a damn bicycle, and the injustice of having to check the “have you ever been convicted of a felony” box on a job application, and the heartbreak of discovering that he and that teacher may not fall in love and live happily ever. Shelton and co-scripter Duplass capture the rhythms and repetition of everyday conversation (which are harder to create than you’d think), and the perpetual rains of its Pacific Northwest settings are particularly appropriate for this drizzly story. It’s not Shelton’s best work – she has a specific comic style that’s not really called upon this time – but kudos for trying something more serious, and landing it.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Lady Bird: “We’re afraid that we will never escape the past, and we’re afraid of what the future will bring.” So says a sermonizing priest in the opening credit sequence of Greta Gerwig’s sublime directorial debut– a bit of offhand color that’s also the mission statement of the movie, and an early indication of the skill with which Gerwig does two things at once. She’s telling the story of a high school senior (the divine Saoirse Ronan), who’s brassy and funny and awesome, and also a pain in the ass – particularly to her mother (Laurie Metcalf, never better). Gerwig’s elegant script and her peerless performers vividly capture the tricky dynamic between parents and children of that age, in both single lines disarming in their simplicity and truth (“Of course you love me. But do you like me?”), and in the things they choose not to say, but let fester. Witty and wise, hopeful and heartbreaking.
I, Tonya: Craig Gillespie’s dramatization, and reexamination, of one of the biggest tabloid stories of the 1990s is based – per its opening credits – on wildly contrary (and “irony-free”) interviews with the major players in the bonkers story of figure skating rivalry and for-hire knee-capping, particularly skating champ Tonya Harding (a blazingly good Margot Robbie), her physically abusive boyfriend Jeff (Sebastian Stan), and her emotionally abusive mother (Oscar-winner Allison Janney, doing her best screen work to date, and yes, that’s a bold statement). It’s a funny movie, mining considerable humor from its hare-brained caper and its own structural cleverness, but there’s genuine social commentary and character drama happening here, and Gillsepie handles that difficult material with even greater finesse.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
A Wrinkle in Time: Ava DuVerney’s big-screen adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s YA classic has its problems – the teen romance is a big dud, the pacing is erratic, and a couple of the set pieces don’t work at all. But there’s much to admire here, from the sincerity of the storytelling (the film’s biggest risk, really) to the timeliness of its worldview (“fear leads to rage,” we’re told, which can “cause darkness to overtake the world”), to the eye-popping, imaginative imagery (there’s a sequence here that look like something out of The Holy Mountain, which is not the kind of thing you expect from your Disney movies). And the emotions, when they come, are both real and earned. Early on, Oprah Winfrey’s Mrs. Which advises, “You just have to find the right frequency, and have faith in who you are.” That kinda goes for the movie too. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, bloopers, music videos, and featurette.)
Thoroughbreds: This wickedly funny and morally ruthless black comedy from first-time writer/director Cory Finley stars Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) as posh Connecticut girl from an unhappy home, and Olivia Cooke (Ready Player One) as an old friend who poses a provocative question: “You ever just think about killing him?” The “him” in question is her stepfather (Paul Sparks, truly loathsome), and the genius of Finley’s script is the way that question becomes less rhetorical, as they circle each other in conversations, pushing and prodding and daring. The dynamic between Taylor-Joy and Cooke is razor-sharp (they spend most of the movie seemingly locked in a deadpan competition), and the late Anton Yelchin, playing very much against type, turns in a delightfully scuzzy supporting turn. It fumbles a bit in the home stretch (you don’t have to explain the title, we get it), but that’s a minor quibble – this is a stylish, sure-handed debut. (Includes deleted scenes and featureette.)