We’ve got a rather plucky, esoteric group of home movie-watching recommendations for you this week, running the gamut from a slick new remake of a blaxpoitation classic to a new version of one of the definitive art films of our era. Heading into the big push of fall prestige pictures, it’s the kind of week where it’s not a bad idea to take a chance on an oddity or two; take a glance and see what suits you.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Beirut: “It’s nothing that can’t be fixed.” That seems to be the mantra of Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a slick U.S. diplomat stationed in Lebanon, until an attack on a party in his home leaves his wife dead and his adopted son kidnapped. Ten years later, perpetually drunk and still pretty broken, he’s called back to Beirut to negotiate a hostage swap, and finds himself having to sharpen up his tool set. Brad Anderson directs this long-shelved (but recently refurbished) script by the great Tony Gilroy; as per usual, his dialogue snaps and crackles and bobs and weaves, and Hamm delivers it with the kind of muscular off-handedness required (he’s a not-too-distant cousin to Russell Crowe in Proof of Life or, especially, George Clooney in Michael Clayton). The politics are a little dodgy, and the penultimate scene is a real problem. But as pop thrillers for grown-ups go, you can’t do much better than this.
ON DVD / VOD
Filmworker: Stanley Kubrick was a filmmaker known for his unwavering perfectionism in technical matters, so it’s mildly amusing that this cinematic tribute, in the form of a bio-doc of his longtime right-hand man Leon Vitali, is so technically shoddy – poor sound, dodgy cutting, goofy graphics. But if you’re enough of a Kubrickian to pick this one up, you’re probably willing to look past those imperfections to the fascinating story of this promising young actor who, after appearing in Barry Lyndon, decided he wanted to dedicate his life to working at the master’s feet. His recollections (and the wealth of valuable archival material) accumulate not only to a portrait of an artist, but of the kind of personal slights and shifting moods those around them are willing to let slide in the name of genius. (Includes Q&A and trailer.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
SuperFly: This is a successful update of the 1972 blaxpoitation classic — faithful to the spirit of the original, if not all the particulars. Its crew of antagonists are pretty silly, the key villain is a bad actor in a poorly defined character, and the aesthetic of Director X (yes, that’s really his name) flirts dangerously with Fifty Shades-style wealth porn. But the action beats are solid, Trevor Jackson (as Youngblood Priest) and Jason Mitchell (as his main man Eddie) are fabulous, and its police brutality subplot pays off with the kind of powerful black superhero imagery that made the original — and the best of its ‘70s ilk — so powerful. (Includes featurettes and music videos.)
The Tree of Life: Confession: This particular viewer has never quite managed to join the evangelicals on this 2011 drama from Terrence Malick, which is full of powerful images and flashes of genuine emotion, but prone to bouts of over-ambition (seriously, dinosaurs?) and narrative fuzziness. That said, its virtues certainly warrant the full Criterion Blu-ray experience — and the flaws are, in many ways, eased by the much-ballyhooed new extended version, rebuilt by the director from the ground up to incorporate more than 50 minutes of new footage. (Includes featurettes, new and archival interviews, video essay, and trailer.)
Cold Water: Olivier Assayas is a Criterion standby — they’ve also released his Carlos, Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper, and Summer Hours — but Cold Water is basically new to American audiences, a 1994 drama that only received a stateside release of note earlier this year. And it feels like a formative effort; there’s a rough, homemade quality to the filmmaking (and an undeniable energy), while its story of a sensitive young man who comes of age and harbors an attraction to a troubled girl is fairly typical of the era as well. But his patience as a storyteller is already clear, as is his skill with actors. (Virginie Ledoyen, who would come perilously close to fame here as Leo’s love interest in The Beach, is particularly sympathetic.) Its young romance is vivid, capturing the irresistible pull to run away and live a life without restrictions, and Assayas stages one of the most accurate, casually out-of-control teen parties I’ve ever seen. (Includes new and archival interviews.)