A new month has dawned, so there are new movies to be seen on your subscription streaming services; we’ve plucked out a lesser-known gem from each. On demand and disc, we’ve got a big spring comedy and quietly effective political thriller. And finally, Criterion has unleashed (just in time for Barnes and Noble’s big 50% off sale) the must-have movie buff box set of the summer.
The Voices: In which charming ol’ Ryan Reynolds is a likable guy who’s trying to romance a nice girl at work… oh, and his dog and cat are prodding him to add to the considerable stash of body parts in his apartment. This is a serial killer movie unlike any other, in which gleefully anything-goes director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) bounces a Day-Glo production design and a cheery tone against the darkest undercurrents of her story — not for the sake of cheap irony, but to underscore how we see violence on screen, and in our lives. The Voices is an exhilarating movie – primarily in its stubborn refusal to play it safe.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Our Nixon: After the Nixon administration toppled, the FBI confiscated over 500 reels of home movies shot by “the President’s Men” — specifically, John Erlichman, H.R. Haldeman, and Dwight Chapin. For over 40 years, they sat in a vault; in this 2013 essay film, documentarian Penny Lane (Nuts!) combines that remarkable footage, along with extended interviews, news footage, and audio from the notorious Oval Office tapes to create a compelling, witty, and acidly funny insider’s view of this weirdly fascinating presidency. The footage is candid and often peculiar, the archival clips enlightening (check out Dan Rather’s unequivocal praise for Nixon after his administration’s first year), and the audio, as we all know, is like a car wreck you can’t turn away from. And, y’know, it might be worth revisiting these days, no particular reason.
Go: Perpetually underrated director Doug Liman made this stop on his way from the low-budget Swingers to the franchise launching Bourne Identity, helming a gleefully energetic action/comedy with three interlocking stories. It was unfairly dismissed at the time as a Pulp Fiction rip-off, and while screenwriter John August undoubtedly mainlined a bit of Tarantino somewhere along the way, he and Liman’s picture has a comic ingenuity and spirit all its own. Bonus: early roles for Timothy Olyphant and (very briefly) Melissa McCarthy!
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Blockers: This teen sex comedy was originally titled Cherries and concerned three dads trying to protect their daughters’ virginities, and yeah, I think we can all imagine how poorly that could’ve gone. Instead, under the sure hand of director Kay Cannon (and thanks to flipping one of the dads to a mom, played by Leslie Mann, who remains a treasure), Blockers is a sly subversion of the raunchy sex-com ethos, merging the expected parental panic – the scene of the ‘rents trying to decode a series of emojis is priceless – with gender commentary and the still-rare sight of unapologetically horny teen girls in a studio picture. Even better, and in contrast to most hard-R comedies of the Apatow era, its serious beats work; they’re earned, and genuine, and kind of wonderful. John Cena (whose proneness to waterworks is an excellent running gag) and Ike Barinholtz (really digging in to the lovable loser thing) match up with Mann’s energy, but the movie floats on the considerable charisma of young stars Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, “line-o-rama,” and featurettes.)
Beirut: So here’s one with a backstory: way back in the early 1990s, screenwriter Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, the good Bourne movies) penned a script about a diplomat/fixer negotiating a delicate hostage swap, but it didn’t get made. In fact, it sat on a shelf for twenty-plus years before landing in the hands of director Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) and star Jon Hamm, and here we are. Some of the storytelling devices have gathered a bit of dust, but overall, it’s a primo piece of craftsmanship, full of narrative curveballs, crisply defined characters, and sharp dialogue; Rosamund Pike gets some good moments (and upturns some expectations), while Hamm is an ideal Gilroy sorta-hero. In short, it’s the kind of middlebrow, middle-budget, muscular, star-driven thriller studios used to make all the damn time – and they are missed. (Includes featurettes.)
Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood: The cinephile box set of the season, compiling (in gorgeous hi-def) the collaborations of filmmaker Josef von Sternberg and his mesmerizing muse, German actress Marelene Dietrich. They made seven films together in six years, and six of them – Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, and The Devil is a Woman– are presented here, showcasing the flamboyantly theatrical style of Mr. von Sternberg and the enigmatic beauty of Ms. Dietrich. Shanghai Expressis my personal favorite, but your mileage may vary; there’s not a dud in the bunch, and there aren’t many filmmaking teams who so unfailingly brought out each other’s best. (Includes new and archival interviews, new documentaries, video essay, vintage publicity short, radio adaptation of Morocco, and deleted scene from The Devil is a Woman.)