One of the year’s best movies pops up on Amazon Prime this week, and a delicious horror/action/comedy leads the new disc releases. Plus, a first-rate bio-doc, two new Criterion additions, and an always-rewatchable Best Picture winner returns to Netflix. Heat up some Thanksgiving leftovers, and let’s get to work:
The Departed: Martin Scorsese’s only Best Picture and Best Director winner makes a presumably Irishman-prompted return to Netflix, and while that Oscar success gave this remake of the Hong Kong policer Infernal Affairs a sheen of respectability, so it’s easy to forget what a dirty bomb it was when it landed in theaters back in 2006. After a period in which the filmmaker seemed bent on becoming a classicist, like his heroes Powell and Pressburger, here was a crackerjack thriller filled with shocking jolts and dirty jokes, a reminder of how much fun he could have making a pop picture. And after years of experimentation and boundary pushing, it was the kind of movie he made better than anybody: a tough, brutal, emotionally wrenching crime potboiler with a healthy dose of black comedy.
ON AMAZON PRIME:
The Report: Well, here’s something timely: a whistleblower story. Scott Z. Burns, best known as frequent screenwriter for Steven Soderbergh, makes his directorial debut in this gripping dramatization of analyst Daniel J. Jones’s investigation the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on the CIA Detention and Torture Program. His script cleverly toggles timelines, dramatizing what Jones discovers (namely, the repugnant details of these interrogations) as he discovers it. Burns unsurprisingly but wisely embraces an All the President’s Men aesthetic, dwelling in grim, ugly work spaces and underlit conference rooms, sharing his protagonist’s claustrophobia. And Adam Driver (who is having one hell of a fall) crafts a beautifully modulated performance as Jones, evolving from a straight-arrow to a furious advocate; we watch his slow fuse turn into a live wire. This is a sharp, complicated movie, and an infuriating one.
ON DVD / VOD:
Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins: Early in Janice Engel’s profile of the beloved (and reviled) political commentator, we see her explain why she got into journalism: “To do good and raise hell and learn.” She did all three. This masterfully cut and endlessly funny documentary tells a uniquely American story, and a mini-history of contemporary journalism to boot, following Ivins through various gigs and markets, watching her try (and often fail) to find her place, before settling in as a columnist who became the single most incisive critic of George W. Bush and his administration. But the genius of Engel’s approach is its refusal to cast itself as history, and its best passages intercut her political theory with specific, modern examples. In doing so, she brings Ivins’ words from the past into the present — where we need them more than ever.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD:
Ready or Not: Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett craft a furiously funny and cheerfully gory mash-up of class satire and horror comedy, anchored by a terrific lead performance by Samara Weaving; she may look like Margot Robbie, but her work here seems most inspired by Marilyn Burns. Marrying into an absurdly rich family, she finds herself trapped in a wedding-night “initiation” game with decidedly deadly consequences. That’s a good set-up, and the filmmakers wind it up tight and then just let it spin, all the way through to its deliciously blood-spattered conclusion. Not for the weak of stomach, but that warning aside, this is one of the most pleasurable genre exercises of the year.
The Story of Temple Drake: Stephen Roberts’s adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary – new to the Criterion Collection - was one of the tipping points of the Pre-Code era, a film so controversial (and, its detractors held, indecent) that it helped bring the loose enforcement of content restrictions in that era to an end. It’s easy to see why – it’s a tough piece of work, dramatizing the story of a good-time girl’s descent into hell with eye-opening candor, sliding from a winking nudge-fest into a nightmarish fever dream. Miriam Hopkins is terrific in the title role, embracing the bad-girl friskiness of the early scenes and toughening up before your very eyes, while Karl Struss’s cinematography is (as per usual) is extraordinary. (Includes new interviews and conversations on the film.)
Tunes of Glory: This psychological military drama from director Ronald Neame (Hopscotch) gets a Blu-ray bump from Criterion, and it’s a sharp, forceful, complicated picture. James Kennaway’s script (based on his novel) initially paints in fairy broad strokes, pitting a jocular Major (Alec Guinness) against an incoming, by-the-book Lieutenant Colonel (John Wills) in a classic battle of morale vs. morality. But these two seemingly contrary figures turn out to be closer in temperament than they think. Millis does wonders as the career military men who’s more vulnerable than he seems, and this is some of Guinness’s best work, capped by a breakdown scene that’s stunning in its precision and weight. (Includes archival interviews and trailer.)