Every Tuesday, discriminating viewers are confronted with a flurry of choices: new releases on disc and on-demand, vintage and original movies on any number of streaming platforms, catalog titles making a splash on Blu-ray or 4K. This weekly column sifts through all of those choices to pluck out the movies most worth your time, no matter how you’re watching.
This week’s new release slate includes three big Oscar nominees (and one winner), an acclaimed indie that should’ve been up there with them, new Aardman animation on Netflix, a muscular old-school action flick, and two new Blu-rays from Criterion. Let’s dig in!
“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon”: The latest feature-length Shaun the Sheep adventure from Aardman Animations doesn’t quite measure up to 2015’s “Shaun the Sheep Movie” – but that’s an awfully high bar, and this one comes mighty close. Swapping the first film’s sheep-in-the-city escapades for a charming alien visitor tale (and yes, there are “E.T.” and “Close Encounters” shout-outs a-plenty), “Farmageddon” is (as usual) meticulously crafted, uproariously funny, and thoroughly heart-warming – comfort food in easily accessible, streaming video form.
ON AMAZON PRIME:
“The Farewell”: Lulu Wang’s Indie Spirit-award winner is friskily funny and enchantingly melancholy, mining the considerable woes of the contemporary family – with all its secrets, regrets, resentments, and unbreakable attachments – with grace, wit, and depth. Awkwafina shines in the leading role (her ascension from reliable comic relief to transcendent leading lady could break a stopwatch), while Shuzhen Zhao is the standout of the rich supporting ensemble; she masterfully crafts a character you think you’ve seen a million times before, and then slowly reveals the unexpected depths.
ON 4K / BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD:
“Jojo Rabbit”: Taika Waititi’s gleefully irreverent send-up of Nazi Germany has its problems —he pulls a few important punches and cedes to mirth a bit too much— but there’s nevertheless much to admire here. As ever, Waititi’s strength is exploring the incongruity of contemporary conversation, attitudes, and even vernacular into unexpected situations; he supplements that with effective puncturing of the rituals of the Reich (the long round-robin of “Heil Hitler” salutes shouldn’t be as funny as it is). The filmmaking is clever (the opening sequence, using the German-language version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” is wildly effective), and when Waititi breaks up the winking, he does so with brutal precision. It’s an uneven piece of work, but when it lands, it really lands. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, and a featurette.)
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”: The shorthand description of Marielle Heller’s latest as a “Mr. Rogers biopic” proved not only wildly inaccurate but an injustice to the eccentricity of Heller’s filmmaking. She approaches the picture less as a portrait of Fred Rogers than an episode of his show (complete with cheap interstitials and bleary videography), in which Mr. Rogers meets a person in need, and helps them. Tom Hanks is, unsurprisingly, totally disarming as Rogers – the resemblance is only passing, but he understands this man to his bones, and inhabits him beautifully. Matthew Rhys is basically his straight man as the journalist at the story’s center, but he anchors it well. And Chris Cooper is strangely affecting as the flawed patriarch – a bit of a specialty for the actor these days. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, blooper reel, and featurettes.)
“Ford v Ferrari”: From the moment it was announced, and even more so as it cruised through box office success and a healthy handful of Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), James Mangold’s dramatization of Ford’s entry into competitive auto racing was labeled – and, usually, dismissed – as a “dad movie.” And, in the strictest sense, it is (your dad probably loved it). But it’s also a handsomely mounted, sensitively acted, and thoroughly entertaining piece of studio craftsmanship, faithfully dramatizing a history of corporate dick-waving and then digging out the human interest story underneath. Much of that success is due to the relaxed, lived-in performances: Matt Damon as aw-shucks racing superstar Carroll Shelby, Christian Bale as talented but temperamental driver Ken Miles, Noah Jupe as Ken’s kid, and a scene-stealing Tracy Letts as a particularly blowhardy Henry Ford II. (Includes featurettes.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD:
“21 Bridges”: “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman and the Russo Brothers, his “Avengers” directors, reteam (albeit with the Russos producing). But this is no superhero movie; it’s a throwback policier, an old-school New York action/drama with taut set pieces and a stacked supporting cast (including J.K. Simmons, Keith David, and Sienna Miller). Director Brian Kirk is well aware of the traditions here, and gooses them – the highlight is a beautiful riff on the “French Connection” subway doors sequence – while indulging in a good, knotty plot that doesn’t assume it’s playing to an audience of imbeciles. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, and trailers.)
ON DVD / VOD:
“Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer”: Mark Landsman’s snazzy documentary is a little on the slim side – its relatively brief running time means leaving out some pretty big moments – but the quicksilver pace is appropriate for capturing the publication’s evolution from goofy UFOs-and-Elvis rag to celebrity tabloid to political propaganda. It’s a colorful history, and Landsman brings it to life via copious archival materials and comically candid interviews with former staff. But there’s serious subtext here, particularly as the film details how the Enquirer cultivated “relationships” with influential figures, trading damaging stories for long-term access, connecting the current president with his eventual base, and disseminating his most outrageous smears. It starts out funny, and then the laughs begin to stick in one’s throat. (No bonus features.)
“Teorema”: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s provocative 1968 feature joins the Criterion Collection, feeling more ahead of its time than ever (if Yorgos Lanthimos hasn’t memorized this one, I’ll eat my hat). It was his first time working primarily with professional actors, chief among them, Terence Stamp, as a mysterious stranger who appears in the home of a bourgeois Italian family and seduces everyone there (truth be told, it’s hard to blame them). Though released in Pasolini’s native Italian tongue, much of it plays out without any dialogue at all – by this point, he fully understood the power of a loaded glance or a fraught composition. It’s an alienating and unsettling picture, to be sure (in other words, it’s a Pasolini film), capturing a filmmaker of remarkable precision and control. (Includes audio commentary, Pasolini introduction, new and archival interviews, and English dub.)
“Antonio Gaudí”: Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1984 film – a previous addition to the Criterion Collection, newly upgraded to Blu-ray – is a gorgeous combination of documentary, travelogue, and screensaver. Teshigahara was a longtime admirer of Catalan architect Gaudí, and shot much of this footage years before he figured out how what exactly he was going to do with it. His approach, of appreciation over biography, is refreshing and bold; we really learn nothing at all about Gaudí, except what we can extrapolate from looking at his work. And in some ways, of course, that’s everything we need to know. (Includes interviews, featurettes, television documentaries, short film, and trailer.)