Drive: At some point over the past few years, it stopped being cool to like Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 Ryan Gosling vehicle, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why; maybe it was the brutal reception of its follow-up, or Refn’s general (and continuing) divisiveness, or the peculiar choices Gosling made in its wake. Or maybe it was just too stylized, too brutal, or too easily punctured to go the distance anyway. But I’ll die on this hill: this is a bluntly effective piece of genre deconstruction, dazzlingly directed and loaded with superb performances. And yes, I’m still mad that Albert Brooks, cast magnificently against type as a ruthless crime boss, didn’t get that Oscar nomination.
Cold War: Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski returns with another compact, visually austere, yet emotionally scorching picture, this time the devastating story of a teacher and student who meet in early ‘50s Poland, fall into some version of love (or at least lust), and spend the next several years basically ruining themselves for each other. It’s a wise movie – one that understands how absence can idealize a romance, and how it can curdle when that absence is resolved – and nimble too, covering a lot of story, over a long period, with a light touch. The first Amazon original to join the Criterion Collection, and a worthy addition at that. (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.) (Includes featurettes, interview, press conference, and trailer.)
The Peanut Butter Falcon: It sounds like the worst kind of (potentially exploitative) schmaltz: Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down’s Syndrome, slips away from his care facility, attaches himself to a sketchy fisherman (Shia LaBeouf), and heads upriver on a raft, Huck Finn-style, to train at the feet of his favorite pro wrestler (Thomas Haden Church). But writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz assuage those fears early; they refuse to condescend to these characters, and fill their cast with the kind of no-nonsense characters actors (John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal) that can make any moment believable. And Dakota Johnson is staggeringly well-matched with LaBeauf, working up a specific, wonderful, zingy energy in their scenes together. It’s a lovely piece of work. (Includes featurette and trailer.)
Dora and the Lost City of Gold: The long-running Nickelodeon cartoon gets a live-action, big-screen adaptation, aged up and updated, to mostly effective comic effect, by director James Bobin (who helmed the 2011 Muppets movie and its sequel). It’s basically a pint-sized Indiana Jones picture, with generous helpings of The Goonies (and, at once point, a dash of Fitzcarraldo??) thrown in, so there are dangerous traps, brushes with death, and even a good old-fashioned quicksand sequence. While not a “You don’t even have to have a kid to see it,” mid-Pixar sort of affair, kids will love it (trust me), and parents who watch it with them will enjoy the in-jokes and little nudges, and will have a far better time than while suffering through, say, your average skull-crushing Illumination Entertainment nightmare. (Includes deleted and extended scenes, bloopers, and featurettes.)
Blinded by the Light: There’s a wonderful scene early in this ‘80s-era musical drama from director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) when Javed (Viveik Kalra) a British-Pakistani teen, hears the music of Bruce Springsteen for the first time. Chadha beautifully illustrates, in the way he listens and the lyrics that surround him, how music can seem to literally speak to you – how it grabs and holds you and keeps your for life. Blinded By the Light is full of moments like that, scenes of quiet truth and peeks into unknown worlds. It’s a touch draggy and plenty predictable (there is even, I swear to god, a late back-of-the-auditorium entrance), but it’s hard to poke holes in a movie this earnest and kind. (Includes deleted scenes and featurettes.)
Abbott & Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection: This is, for my money, most ambitious release to date from Shout! Factory’s stellar “Shout Select” imprint: a full HD upgrade of Uni’s must-have DVD collection, featuring a jaw-dropping 28 titles from A&C’s decade-and-a-half reign at the studio. As with so many of the classic comedy teams, the quality drops off noticeably towards the end (there aren’t many essentials past the deservedly beloved Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein), but that early run of ‘40s vehicles is tough to beat; their byplay and rhythm, honed over years on the burlesque stage and radio, resulted in a series of hip, snappy comedies that still deliver. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, trailers, and outtakes.)