A Jim Jarmusch double-feature is the highlight of this week’s disc slate, as well as a noteworthy new movie about RGB and a long-forgotten slasher movie that’ll hit the spot for a certain type of movie lover (those who like bad movies, to be specific). And Netflix is streaming a new movie starring Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson! No, another one.
Unicorn Store : Brie Larson directs, co-produces, and stars as a failed artist who can’t decide whether she should throw herself into her new job at a soul-crushing ad agency or believe the man in the bright suits who says he can sell her a unicorn, if she proves herself a worthy owner of one. “This whole thing just sounds a lot weirder than it actually is,” she says at one point, which is true; it also sounds a lot cutesier than it actually is. Which is not to say that Unicorn Store doesn’t have its fair share of cringe-inducing moments – it’s just that it’s got such a good heart, and such a likable ensemble, you’re more likely to give it a pass.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
On the Basis of Sex : Mimi Leder’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic gets off to a rough start, hewing closely to the playbook of the sub-genre, and engaging in a fair amount of hagiography besides (you can give her some flaws, it’s fine). But once it jumps to 1970 and focuses on her first major case, it starts to work; Leder finds her focus, rather than fiddling in superhero origin story vagueries, and in the scenes of her practicing and delivering her oral arguments, the film digs into the tough and tricky substance of what she was trying to do. Felicity Jones gets the character’s grit down cold (even if her Brooklyn accent is, put politely, dodgy), and Armie Hammer finds the right notes for her beloved husband Marty – just watch the way he says “counselor” to her, late in the movie, and revel in the chemistry. (Includes featurettes.)
ON BLU-RAY / THE CRITERION CHANNEL
Stranger than Paradise : Jim Jarmusch’s second feature – getting a much-deserved Blu-ray bump-up this week from Criterion – was one of the key starting points for the indie movie revolution. It’s just as striking today, both as a piece of outsider art and a mission statement for the narrative and aesthetic concerns that would define his career. Focusing on two New Yorkers and a visiting cousin, Paradise consists primarily of long scenes of emotionally stunted people in rooms, talking and not talking. But it’s not a stunt, nor a navel-gazer; the humor is marvelously deadpan, the performances ring authentic, and all these years later, it seems quite an authentic portrait of the aimlessness and ennui of those who weren’t all that interested in participating in the go-go ‘80s. (Also streaming on The Criterion Channel.) (Includes audio commentary, archival interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, trailers, and Jarmusch’s full feature debut, Permanent Vacation.)
Night on Earth : This 1991 Jarmusch effort – also getting the Blu bump – isn’t usually considered among his best, for legitimate reasons. The gimmick of five short stories in five cabs in five cities (Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki) is a clever one, but it doesn’t really lend itself to Jarmusch’s settle-in style, so it feels like each story is ending just as we’re getting to know the characters involved. But it offers plenty of pleasures; there’s real joy in watching Gena Rowlands and Winona Ryder bounce off each other, and in Rosie Perez and Giancarlo Esposito’s Do the Right Thing reunion, and the closing segment is unexpectedly but appropriately melancholy. It’s mid-level Jarmusch, that’s still better than most of his contemporaries at their best. (Also streaming on The Criterion Channel.) (Includes audio commentary and archival interviews.)
Blood Lake : There’s a very specific amateurishness to a no-budget, shot-on-video, late ‘80s/early ‘90s feature film: the stilted scenes of half-improvised dialogue, the acting that screeches from half-hearted mumbling to full-on yelling, the incompetently choreographed fight scenes, the bargain basement special effects, and the very, very long credit sequences. All of the above, and much more, are on display in this 1987 slab of slasher movie play-acting, rediscovered (exhumed might be a better description) at Fantastic Fest 2018 and now brought to DVD via the affiliated folks at the American Genre Film Archive. It’s a terrible movie, sure. But they sure were trying, and real talk: between the goofy Oklahoma accents, the almost-mullet haircuts, the imitation hair metal soundtrack, and the Ocean Pacific-style wardrobes, watching Blood Lake is like watching home movies, at least for this Midwestern ‘80s kid. (Includes audio commentary, Fantastic Fest Q&A, short film, and investor trailer.)