War on Everyone: Writer/director John Michael McDonagh (brother of Three Billboards scribe Martin) returns to the morally-compromised-buddy-cop-movie territory of his 2011 treat The Guard in this 2017 action/comedy, back on Netflix. Resplendent in their three-piece suits, Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård are a pair of cheerfully profane and unapologetically crooked police detectives; they’ve got the rapid-fire timing and bristling familiarity of a good comedy team. Both are great, but Peña is particularly enchanting, channeling the confidence and comic ingenuity of Beverly Hills Cop-era Eddie Murphy. Stylishly executed and ruthlessly paced, it’s got a giddy shoot-the-works spirit and, yes, a moral compass buried deep in its cold, black heart.
Fast Color: We’ll take this superhero movie over every one of your overstuffed Avengers epics, thank you very much. Like the best of them (including Unbreakable, its clearest influence), Fast Color is less interested in effects and iconography than personality and relationships, here in the form of three generations of women with “abilities,” trying to work through how to use (or not use) them in a world of post-apocalyptic draught. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is as charismatic and magnetic as ever, while Saniyya Sidney makes quite an impression as her daughter. But the most memorable work is from Lorraine Toussaint as the matriarch of this family of special women, and her big climactic scene is a straight-up barnburner. Julia Hart’s direction is both focused and free; this is one of the best movies of the year.
Long Day’s Journey into Night: Bi Gan’s half-3D drama is a Mobius loop of past and present, in which, as one character puts it, “Memories mix truth and lies, they appear and vanish before our eyes.” A young man attempts to track down his recently deceased father’s great lost love, his quest intermingling with her past in unexpected, dreamlike ways. It’s moody as hell — the voice-over is hushed and enigmatic, the musical score is languid, and it’s always raining — but never forced or derivative, a journey picture played out in impeccably controlled long takes and images that live in a space between daydream and hallucination. (Includes interviews, featurettes, and trailer.)
Ad Astra: Filmmaker James Gray is a favorite of critics and indie movie fans, but has yet to find a commercial success equal to that specialized enthusiasm. Some hoped that a science fiction movie starring Brad Pitt could close that gap, though the problem is that the very qualities that make his work so special – all on ample display here – are exactly the things that tend to alienate a mainstream audience. Despite its logline and budget, Ad Astra is often dazzlingly experimental; despite its operatically emotional themes, it’s a film of subtlety and nuance. And it contains some of Pitt’s best acting to date, simple yet overwhelming. (Includes audio commentary, deleted sccenes, and featurettes.)
Where’s My Roy Cohn?: In considering the rancid garbage fire that our country has become, it’s not only easy but trite to make big pronouncements like, “To understand Trump, you have to understand Roy Cohn.” But in this case, it’s a direct line: Trump met the legendary junkyard dog lawyer at 23 and considered him a mentor, and his lessons are clear: attack, fight, smear, divert, and never admit you’re wrong. This jam-packed, intelligent bio-doc from director Matt Tyrauner (Studio 54) hits the expected high points — the Rosenbergs, the Army-McCarthy hearings, the rise to power in New York City, his closeted lifestyle and death from AIDS-related illness — but the archival interviews and contemporaneous coverage are still shocking and powerful. This is a scorching portrait of a real S.O.B., and an insightful analysis of the darkness he represents. (Includes audio commentary and Q&A.)
Mad Love: As Disney continues to focus on its tentpole-only world-domination strategy, a handful of home video distributors – KL Studio Classics chief among them – have taken up the responsibility of preserving the long-forgotten catalogue of Touchstone Pictures, the Mouse’s once-prolific home for (gasp) mid-budget movies for adult audiences. Mad Love certainly wasn’t one of their essentials, but there’s a lot to like about it: stylish direction by Antonia Bird (Ravenous), a mucho-sexy Drew Barrymore performance, and most of all, its unapologetic and accurate evocation of the end-of-the-world drama tied up in first love. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)