The Laundromat: Director Steven Soderbergh breaks down the 2016 “Panama Papers” data dump – and the dirty world of tax avoidance, shell companies, and unimaginable greed therein. The structure of this globe-trotting satire doesn’t always make sense (there are a couple of detours that are downright baffling) but his visual and narrative tricks are clever as hell, and the performances are winners, particularly Meryl Streep as a sweet old lady who gets a full tank of righteous indignation. Decidedly mid-level Soderbergh, but his mid-level is higher than most filmmakers’ tops.
Little Woods: Writer/director DaCosta helms this whisper-quiet but deeply affecting story of opioid dealing in the backwoods of North Dakota, anchored by an achingly good Tessa Thompson performance. She stars as Ollie, a broke young woman on parole for dealing oxy on job sites and truck stops, who reluctantly reenters the life in a family emergency. (Look at that, it’s a movie about “economic anxiety.”) Thompson conveys vulnerability, desperation, and toughness with aplomb; it’s full of scenes other actors would’ve oversold and blown, and she nails every one of them. DaCosta directs in a modest, slice-of-life style, which only heightens the tension of events on screen — this is the kind of movie you lean forward to hear, and before you know it, you’re overwhelmed.
The Art of Self-Defense: Riley Stearns (Faults) writes and directs this horrifyingly funny story of a painfully mild-mannered accountant (Jesse Eisenberg, presumably doing pittance for Batman v Superman) who gets absolutely wailed on by muggers and decides to learn karate, because “I want to be what intimidates me.” Alessandro Nivola is his instructor, a quiet yet firm voice of male affirmation (it’s a sublime performance) who turns him into a toxic tough guy — and then keeps pushing. Art is both wildly funny and deeply disturbing, and though Sterns has some trouble navigating the turns into bleaker territory, his closing passages are jaw-dropping. (Includes interviews and featurette.)
Charlie’s Angels / Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle: In advance of the release of yet another big-screen adaptation / “reboot” of the wildly popular and critically reviled 1970s television series, Sony is giving the 4K treatment to the last movie version of Charlie’s Angels. It is, appropriately, absolute junk – but a lot of fun, thanks to the up-for-anything nature of its title trio (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu), the always-welcome presence of Bill Murray, some surprise casting choices (including a young Sam Rockwell and a sneering Crispin Glover), and McG’s carefree, energetic direction. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, bloopers, music vidoes, trailer, and sneak peek at the new film.) Its sequel, Full Throttle, is weirdly only getting a Blu-ray release – and that’s a shame, because it’s a marginally better picture, cacklingly confident and unapologetically sexier, with the added bonus of an agreeable supporting turn by the late, great Bernie Mac. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, trivia track, music video, trailer, and sneak peek at the new film.)
When We Were Kings: The story behind Leon Gast’s 1996 documentary (a new addition to the Criterion Collection) is one of loss and rediscovery: it was initially shot in 1974, at the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire where Muhammad Ali reclaimed the heavyweight title from George Foreman, but was left incomplete due to lack of funds. Yet that twenty-plus year interval made the footage even more valuable — from its later perch, and with the help of eloquent observers and commentators like Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, and Spike Lee, Kings stands as a testimonial to the cultural significance of Ali, and the power of his unexpected comeback. (Includes new and archival interviews, trailer, and full Soul Power documentary feature.)
Galaxy Quest: This clever satire of fan culture, sci-fi television, and second-tier celebrity gets a 20th anniversary Blu-ray rerelease, and while there’s nothing really new to this edition, it’s still a fine price for a very funny picture. Director Dean Parisot marshals a tip-top ensemble cast (including Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen, Tony Shaloub, and a scene-stealing Sam Rockwell) as the stars of a Star Trek knock-off who find themselves charged with saving a species of real (and really strange) aliens. It’s a well-written riff on the old Seven Samurai/Three Amigos formula, in which delusions of heroism turn into the real thing, and it’s done so convincingly, the movie’s developed a fairly rabid fandom of its own. It’s easy to see why; it’s a blast. (Includes deleted scenes, featurettes, and trailer.)
Billy Bathgate: Robert Benton’s 1991 drama had a lot going against it when it hit theaters in the fall of 1991. It was a gangster movie, coming at the end of a glut of them (Goodfellas, The Godfather Part III, Miller’s Crossing, King of New York, Dick Tracy, Mobsters, etc.). It was based on a novel by E.L. Doctorow, whose books were famously difficult to adapt. Its budget was an outsized $48 million. And though it was headlined by Dustin Hoffman and Nicole Kidman, its title role was played by an unknown, Loren Dean. Amidst all that bad buzz, it’s probably not surprising that the picture underperformed – but viewed on its own terms, it’s a decent Mob drama, with a marvelous Kidman performance, one of Bruce Willis’s first quietly effective character turns, and Hoffman making a frighteningly convincing Dutch Schultz.