One of last year’s most controversial movies is available this very instant for your streaming pleasure (and confusion), as is as a compelling frontier story you probably haven’t heard. This week’s disc new releases include a summer documentary hit and a fascinating hybrid of doc and narrative forms. And from the catalog, we’ve got a striking Cuban film from the ‘60s, a killer thriller from the ‘90s, and a knockout box set of ‘30s and ‘40s monster movies.
ON AMAZON PRIME
mother! : Director Darren Aronofsky’s 2017 cause célèbre is a heady brew of psychological horror, pitch-black comedy, and religious allegory, and it is straight-up bonkers; I honestly don’t know how Aronofsky got something like this financed, shot, and slated for a wide release by a major Hollywood studio. When it works, it’s deeply discombobulating, occasionally disturbing, and stickily funny (sometimes all at once). When it doesn’t work, it’s borderline embarrassing. But its payoffs are worth its risks, and the mere fact that it exists at all is a testament to either Aronofsky’s salesmanship, Jennifer Lawrence’s star power, or both. Queue it up some night, and have a nice, long argument afterwards.
ON BLU-RAY / AMAZON PRIME
Woman Walks Ahead : There’s something indelible about the image of Jessica Chastain dragging her trunk down a dirt trail in the blazing sun, and at its best, this snapshot of late-19th century New York portrait artist Catherine Weldon is propelled by that kind of sheer visual poetry. The producers include Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, and that closing-credit information scans; it’s exactly the kind of intimately scaled, achingly earnest historical drama that’s become their specialty. True to that form, it has plenty of corn, and runs a bit roughshod. But director Susanna White fills it with enough small moments and sharp performances to hold it together. (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.) (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, and featurette.)
ON BLU-RAY / FILMSTRUCK
Memories of Underdevelopment : This week’s new Criterion Collection addition is Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s 1968 drama, set in Havana circa 1961. “Many are fleeing the country,” the title card informs us, and though his wife is one of them, Sergio (Sergio Corrieri) decides to stay, ostensibly to write, but mostly to screw around. The influence of the French New Wave on Alea’s film is clear: unconventional editing, voice-over, and on-screen text; political didacticism; and more than a dash of casual misogyny. If you resist that form, this won’t turn you, but it’s worth seeing anyway — the style is inventively subjective, and the razor-sharp black-and-white photography is especially striking in Criterion’s crisp new restoration. (Also streaming on FilmStruck.) (Includes feature-length documentary on Alea, new and archival interviews, and trailer.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
RBG : Producer/directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West know they owe the existence of this bio-documentary of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to her recent meme-ification as a straight-shooting, “I dissent”-ing voice of the left, but there’s much more to her than this recent turn of unlikely celebrity. Hers is a fascinating biography, much of it told here via clips from her 1993 confirmation hearing (a structural masterstroke). And the film’s sense of organization is its greatest strength; her life is presented, as it surely is in her memory, as a series of important cases (first as a litigator, then as a judge), including audio of her oral arguments and dissents. Cohen and West don’t really manage to get at what makes Ginsburg tick, but there are enough charming anecdotes and inspirational sidebars to make it worthwhile nonetheless. (Includes deleted/extended scenes and additional interviews.)
American Animals : Like his 2012 indie hit The Impostor, director Bart Layton’s latest blurs the lines between documentary and narrative, intercutting the actors dramatizing this true story of a rare book heist with their present-day, real-life counterparts, even plucking the real guys into the staged scenes (“So this is how you remember it?”). And that’s not the only bait and switch here; Layton seems to be assembling a standard caper movie, and takes full advantage of the rapid pace and energetic sense of montage such a story affords, even lifting music cues and lines of dialogue from the classics in the stack of heist movies they rent from Blockbuster for research. But the job itself isn’t slick and cool; it’s messy and ugly and upsetting, and in those riveting scenes (which are all the more nerve-racking because they don’t really know what they’re doing — so anything could go wrong), it becomes, surprisingly enough, a stealth act of media critique. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, and deleted scene.)
Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection : If you held off on the DVD version of this set back in 2014, your patience has been rewarded: here’s the movie lover’s must-have of the month, gathering a staggering thirty classics from the studio’s unparalleled monster movie output — including four Draculas, four Frankensteins, five Mummys, five Invisible Men, three Wolf-Man and Gil-Man flicks, plus three “monster rallies” and three Abbott and Costello comedies — in glorious high-def. It’s a tasty assemblage of beloved favorites and hidden gems, and hey, look at that, you’ll have plenty of time to work your way through it before Halloween.
Bound : When the Wachowskis were handed the opportunity to direct a big-budget studio action movie called The Matrix, they’d only made one, much smaller picture. But it so impressed everyone who saw it, they were able to make the leap. That movie was this 1996 stealing-from-the-mob caper picture with a lesbian-erotica twist — back on Blu from Olive Films’ Signature Collection — in which a gangster’s moll (Jennifer Tilly) and her lover (Gina Gershon) team up to steal millions of laundered cash from the clueless goodfella (Joe Pantoliano). Thrillingly photographed and paced within an inch of its life, it also includes some of the sexiest love scenes of the decade — rendered all the more fascinating now by the role that gender fluidity would ultimately play in its creators’ lives. (Includes audio commentary, theatrical and unrated versions, featurettes, and trailer.)