A Simple Favor: Ultimately, Paul Feig just might not be the right director for this affectionate throwback to ‘90s erotic thrillers — he never quite gets the tonal balance right, and it swings far too goofy by the end. But there’s a lot to like here, primarily the work of leads Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, who position themselves well as polar opposites (type-A/laid-back, mousy/sexy) and end up blurring those lines. Kendrick plays a variety of notes well, particularly as she learns to be assertive and tries being Nancy Drew, while there’s something utterly bewitching about the way Lively calls Kendrick “baby” and tells her she’s sexy. It’s not a great movie, but it’s great background, and let’s not undervalue that in a streaming movie option.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): Don Siegel’s original 1956 Body Snatchers (also streaming on Prime) famously used its sci-fi/horror premise to disguise a sharp commentary on McCarthyism and the Red Scare. Phillip Kaufman’s witty 1978 remake targets a less dangerous but no less insidious movement: the organic, guru-based, self-help movement of the late ‘70s (and its epicenter, San Francisco). It’s smart and entertaining, and its final image – and, yikes, sound- is still unnerving as hell.
Ma: This Blumhouse horror effort from director Tate Taylor (The Help, The Girl on the Train) is a bit of a mess – the storytelling is exhaustively repetitive, the performances are wildly uneven, and the third-act veer into full-on gore is jarring as hell. But it’s worth seeing for Octavia Spencer, as the enigmatic lonely lady who opens her home to hard-partying teens but gradually reveals her darker intentions. She’s less a character than a series of contrivances, but Spencer absolutely goes for it with a full-on, take-no-prisoners, psycho-biddy performance; it’s a blast to watch her work, and if Taylor had pitched the whole picture to her manic energy, they might’ve really had something here. (Includes deleted scenes, alternate ending, featurettes, and trailer.)
Booksmart: Actor-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde helms this uproariously funny last-night-of-high-school comedy, in which a pair of straight-A students (Beanie Feldsteinand Kaitlyn Dever, both terrific) realize they were so busy studying that they never cut loose, so it’s time to finally do that. The expected adventures with drinking and drugs and sex ensue, but Booksmartworks because of the gravity of the relationship at its center – it’s a film well acquainted with the specific, do-or-die intensity of adolescent friendships, which, let’s face it, we never quite replicate as adults.
Fists in the Pocket: Marco Bellocchio’s Italian drama gets the Blu-ray upgrade this week from Criterion, and it remains a startling debut effort, full of striking compositions, graceful camera movements, and fierce, uncompromising energy (“You’re like a bunch of animals!”). But it’s most remarkable as a mood piece, less about plot than tone, capturing a feeling of casual dissatisfaction and existential ennui that all but vibrates off the screen. (Also streaming on the Criterion Channel.) (Includes new and archival interviews and trailer.)
Kind Hearts and Coronets/ The Man in the White Suit/ The Lavender Hill Mob: The Ealing Studios made an enduring mark on postwar British cinema with a series of wry, sophisticated comedies, many of them starring the great Alec Guinness (here’s your obligatory Star Wars mention for the ol’ SEO); this week, KL Studio Classics brings three of them to Blu-ray. Kind Hearts is a pitch-black murder comedy, a ruthless class satire in which an illegitimate heir sets about bumping off everyone ahead of him, one by one (and all played, hilariously, by Mr. Guinness). The execution is so high-minded and classy and clipped that the low-down cold-bloodedness of the script is even funnier – there’s nothing quite like “good” people doing horrible things. (Includes audio commentary, introduction, interview, featurette, trailer, and alternate ending.) The Man in the White Suit is, similarly, a comedy in theory and style, but it’s dealing with the very serious business of class structure, workers’ woes, and corporate intrigue, with Guinness as a scientist who discovers an endlessly durable and cleanable fabric that will, he discovers, put a lot of people out of business. It’s a smart, pointed picture that navigates gracefully into knockabout farce in act three. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, and trailer.) But the best of the bunch is The Lavender Hill Mob, with Guinness as a fussy bank inspector who cooks up a clever plan to rob his employers. Most of the early laughs come from the incongruity of his stiff-upper-lip figure as a criminal mastermind, but the brilliant script has enough clever ideas for several different comedies, and director Charles Crichton (later of A Fish Called Wanda) cheerfully pursues all of them. (Includes audio commentary, introduction, interviews, and trailer.) (All titles also streaming in the “Alec Guinness” collection on the Criterion Channel.)