Last year’s highest-grossing movie hits Netflix this week, but you’d think they’d hide it away in shame BECAUSE ONLY SJWS LIKE IT. Also, a “minor” Scorsese that’s better than most filmmakers’ “major” work hits Prime. And on disc, we’ve got a new low-budget sci-fi/horror wonder and Criterion releases from the two pillars of cinema: Ingmar Bergman and John Waters.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Rian Johnson’s eighth entry in the Star Warssaga has somehow become its most controversial, and of course it has; it’s easily the best movie in the series since Empire Strikes Back, and perhaps the best entry period. But it’s also doing something that proved upsetting to super-fans: rocking the boat of their precious canon, turning preconceived notions inside out, and daring to not always take this swashbuckling silliness all that seriously. That Johnson does it with more visual flair and personality than most tentpole filmmakers even attempt is apparently incidental, but it shouldn’t be; this is a film of breathtaking images, captivating characters, and masterfully executed action. It’s great pop filmmaking, full stop.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Shutter Island: Adapting Dennis Lahane’s novel into a jittery suspense flick with some grimy Freudian twists, director Martin Scorsese follows this twisted story’s frayed thread all the way to the tough, borderline nihilistic end. Frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio does some good, tricky acting as a protagonist whose reliability is often in question, while Michelle Williams is heartbreakingly good as the woman who haunts his memory. Along the way, Scorsese throws in shout-outs to the likes of Val Lewton and Samuel Fuller; as with the best of his work, Shutter Island is imbued with a lust for film, the work of an artist who gets drunk off movies, then sits us down and pours us a shot.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
The Endless: These days, with the phrase “science fiction” attached to the dumbest of studio dreck, there’s something sort of comforting about a low-budget, indie sci-fi flick – because said budget requires the inclusion of big, clever ideas over (or at least in addition to) special effects. Primer is the gold standard, and this electrifying work from director/star/producer/editors Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson is a worthy companion, focusing on two brothers who pay a questionable return visit to the “UFO death cult” they escaped from years earlier, just in time to witness some really scary shit. Moorehead and Benson are exquisite storytellers, teasing out the dread, filling the frames with unnerving touches, but never telegraphing where they’re headed until they get there. And that’s when they wallop you.
ON BLU-RAY / FILMSTRUCK
Female Trouble: New to the Criterion Collection (and following their recent restoration and release of Multiple Maniacs, a hilariously reputable home for his work), John Waters’ 1974 black comedy is gloriously grainy and low-rent, gleefully dispensing with the niceties of conventional narrative and the “well-made film”: the compositions are ugly, the edits are halfhearted, the camera movements are jerky, the focus is questionable, and the locations all seem to have a layer of grime over them. The “style” of these movies is utilitarian at best; they seem thrown together with Scotch Tape, spit, and desperation.But there’s no denying their gonzo energy or scuzzy authenticity; these dirty apartments and trailers are lived in, and you can’t help but get into the geek-show spirit of a picture like Female Trouble, which is notable today for its surprisingly prescient satire of shameless fame-mongering, as well as for Divine’s fearless, take-no-prisoners performance. (Also streaming on FilmStruck.)
The Virgin Spring: Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 drama is, at this point in mass culture, probably as well known as the starting point for Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left as it is for its own merits, and to that I say, whatever gets you in front of it. Adapting a 13th century ballad, Bergman tells the story of a father and mother who discover their virtuous daughter has been killed when (coincidence of coincidence) the men responsible show up at their door asking for help. The flash in which the mother’s grief turns to rage and bloodlust is an absolute monster, and the scenes of the father’s rituals before exacting his revenge maintain their considerable power. And even all these years, and far more graphic portrayals, the violence still shocks – because its crafted by a filmmaker who takes violence seriously, and refuses to dismiss its consequences (“God alone knows where guilt lies”). The word “masterpiece” gets thrown around a lot, and often indiscriminately, but it’s the only proper description of this staggering work. (Also streaming on FilmStruck.)