One of the biggest non-sequel, non-comic book movies of the year lands on disc and demand this week, allowing everyone multiple opportunities to watch and rewatch and decode and recode. And you can do the same with this week’s other big new release, a twisty, complicated, pleasurable riff on private eye classics. Plus, the latest from an international master hits Netflix, and four can’t-miss catalogue titles hit Blu-ray.
Everybody Knows: Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) dresses his usual social drama in the costume of a kidnapping thriller, which raises the stakes a bit, and puts a ticking clock on the resurfacing of long-buried resentments and long-hidden secrets. But he’s not in a hurry, at least not at the beginning, using the arrival of wedding guests, and the subsequent ceremony and reception, to gradually introduce who everyone is and what they are to each other. (It’s not unlike that opening stretch of The Deer Hunter.) Once the teenage daughter of Laura (Penélope Cruz) and Alejandro (Ricardo Darín) is stolen from her bedroom, the tension mounts, and the film becomes a blur of fear, suspicion, and second-guessing. Word was, upon its release, that this was one Farhadi’s lesser efforts. But I was held rapt through its entirety; maybe it’s just that Farhadi at his worst still tops most of his contemporaries at their best.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Us: Jordan Peele’s Get Out only had one serious flaw, but it’s shared by his follow-up: he’s so skilled at crafting everyday, unsettling tension, and creating situations that are frightening for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on, that any explanation he offers is going to feel like a comedown. It’s a more pressing issue this time around, though certainly not enough to derail this sharp, frightening, strange mixture of home invasion thriller and doppelganger horror. Performances are smashing across the board, but Lupita Nyong’o is particularly bracing; her primary character is a convincing portrait of normalcy after trauma, but her scary half is the stuff of nightmares. (Includes featurettes and deleted scenes.)
ON DVD / VOD
Under the Silver Lake: David Robert Mitchell broke out big a couple of years back with It Follows, and his new one feels very much like a movie by a guy who suddenly got invited to the cool L.A. parties, and did some very good drugs at them. In other words, it’s a big, wild sophomore swing, a la Southland Tales, and if that sounds like a threat, you should probably stay away. But those who can tune in to its dreamy old music / loopy camera moves / tossed-off references style will have a great time. Some of it doesn’t work – the bursts of brutality are incongruent with the otherwise omnipresent good vibes – yet Andrew Garfield and Riley Keough are bang-on, the humor is just deadpan enough, and Mitchell’s shaggy narrative becomes an appropriate private eye story for the gig economy. (Includes featurettes.)
ON BLU-RAY / AMAZON PRIME
Mississippi Burning: Alan Parker’s story of the investigation of the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner – three civil rights workers attempting to register African-Americans citizens of Mississippi to vote – was controversial upon its release, and remains so. The primary (and warranted) objection is to its fictionalized portrayal of FBI men aggressively investigating the incident; as any passing student of ‘60s history knows, Hoover’s FBI was hardly a friend of the movement. But if Parker gets the history wrong, he gets the feeling right, viscerally capturing the palpable fear and intimidation of that time and place. And the performances are astonishing, particularly Gene Hackman as a deceptively affable good ol’ boy agent, and Frances McDormand as the frightened woman he sees as a potential way in. (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.) (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)
The Silent Partner: Shot in Canada to take advantage of the country’s new tax breaks for locally-produced films, this early effort from screenwriter Curtis Hanson (who went on to share an Oscar for writing L.A. Confidential) a perfect little ‘70s crime picture, with a wonderful sad-sack-turned-man-of-action leading turn by Elliot Gould and a chilling supporting performance by Christopher Plummer. The neat, airtight plot finds Gould’s model bank teller accidentally finding out, in advance, about a robbery of his bank – and holding back most of the cash for himself when it occurs. Plummer is legitimately scary as a full-on sociopath, and Gould is… well, Gould, which is the highest of compliments. (Includes audio commentary, Gould interview, radio spot, and theatrical trailer.)
La vie de Jésus/ L’humanité: French writer/director Bruno Dumont joins the Criterion Collection this week, with the release of his first two feature films; both are essential crime dramas, but far more interested in the small-town life that happens between the lines. La vie de Jésus is a snapshot of teenage discontent and romance, adroitly capturing the end-of-the-world intensity and immediacy of both – his approach is so matter-of-fact and naturalistic that when the story culminates in violence, it feels sadly inevitable. L’humanité isn’t quite as strong (you can really feel the extra hour he takes on this one), but it’s similarly close to the ground, using its raw, graphic sexuality and social discomfort to keep the viewer on edge. His work is simultaneously riveting and exhausting – but more the former. (Both discs include new and archival interviews, television excerpts, and trailers.)