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 biweekly column sifts through all of those choices to pluck out the movies most worth your time, no matter how you’re watching.
After a bit of a break, we’re back with a big batch of new disc and streaming titles, including the latest from Pixar, a pair of stylish shoot-‘em-ups, two crime classics in 4K, a handful of blistering Westerns, and much, much more.
“Gunpowder Milkshake”: Director Navot Papushado’s long-time-coming follow-up to “Big Bad Wolves” is more than a little overwritten, with Papushado and Ehud Lavski’s screenplay making a hard play for the “John Wick” crowd with its overstuffed world-building. But the action beats – and they’re what we’re there for – are aces, energetic and ingenious, and Karen Gillan is a terrific lead, carrying off both the fight scenes and emotional moments with aplomb. It’s disposable entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless.
ON AMAZON PRIME:
“Jolt”: The one-week separation between the release dates of “Gunpowder” and this, Amazon Prime’s entry into the “big, dumb action movies can star ladies, too” sweepstakes, perhaps unfairly underscores their similarities. This one is certainly sillier, with Kate Beckinsale (clearly having a blast) as a young woman whose “intermittent explosive disorder” turns her festering rage into superhuman strength – but it doesn’t take itself remotely seriously, thank goodness. Stanley Tucci cheerfully collects his paycheck, the action scenes move at a good clip, and if the big twist is spectacularly stupid, this one still offers a reasonably good time.
ON 4K / BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD:
“Luca”: Pixar is on a real roll lately, following up a run of sequels and mediocrities with “Soul” and this, their latest – two of their strongest features in years. (The films’ shunting off to Disney+, as opposed to the “Premier Access” debuts of several lesser Disney pictures, is a real head-scratcher.) This one feels particularly geared toward cinephiles, its period Italian setting echoing Fellini and its style and tone recalling Miyazaki; it’s a delightful piece of work, gorgeously rendered (particularly on this 4K release) and carrying timeless themes of friendship, acceptance, and individuality without hammering them. (Includes deleted scenes and featurettes.) (Also streaming on Disney+.)
“Snatch”: Guy Ritchie’s sophomore feature – out in a new 4K 20th-anniversary edition – was something like Robert Rodriguez’s jump from “El Mariachi” to “Desperado”: almost a remake, hewing so closely to his debut film’s style and story, but with real movie stars and a substantial budget. It suffers from what would become recurring flaws in his filmography; it’s too intoxicated with its own cleverness, the storytelling is needlessly convoluted, and the straight white male perspective can overwhelm. But it’s also all juiced up with the electricity of a young filmmaker having a great time trotting out every stylistic trick in his toolbox, and the performances – particularly from a pissed-off Dennis Farina, a frequently incomprehensible Brad Pitt, and the casually terrifying Alan Ford – are tip-top. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurette, and storyboard comparisons.)
“True Romance”: Quentin Tarantino wrote this “lovers on the run” action/comedy before he’d directed a film of his own, then sold it to Tony Scott and made “Reservoir Dogs” by the time this one hit theaters in 1993. So it didn’t end up being, as Scott had planned, a showcase for an exciting young screenwriter, but a fusion of two distinct and seemingly disparate artistic sensibilities. And yet the mash-up of sleek, smoky aesthetics and chatty, pulp-y, poppy dialogue works – in fact, they complement each other, with Tarantino’s words and characters giving the picture a heart and soul often absent from Scott’s ‘80s work, and Scott giving Tarantino’s messy script a professional sheen and the kind of movie star firepower that helped establish him as the real deal. Arrow’s new 4K edition (a UK release, but region-free) beautifully captures both the grit and the gloss of one of Scott’s best films. (Includes theatrical and director’s cuts, audio commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, alternate ending, new and archival interviews, trailers, and TV spots.)
“La Piscnine”: Jacques Deray’s 1969 film – new to the Criterion Collection – opens as a shot of pure sex, with a gorgeous couple (Alain Delon and Romy Schneider at their hottest) enjoying a summer getaway from everyone and everything. But that blows up soon enough, as trouble lands in paradise in the form of an old friend (Maurice Ronet), his barely legal daughter (Jane Birkin), and his intimate knowledge of which buttons to push on each of his hosts. The feeling of dread that takes over the picture is at such odds with the sun-soaked sexiness of its opening scenes that you don’t see it coming (even if you’ve seen its loose remake, “A Bigger Splash”); it’s almost like getting two movies for the price of one. (Includes English language version, featurette, new and archival interviews, alternate ending, trailers, and an essay by Jessica Kiang.)
“The Black Marble”: Director Harold Becker and screenwriter Joseph Wambaugh reteamed after “The Onion Field” for this far less dour follow-up. It’s tonally messy, pivoting (sometimes haphazardly) from broad comedy to psychological drama to crime picture to surprisingly earnest romance. But its shaggy-dog ambition is endearing, and some individual moments have real punch – most of them involving Harry Dean Stanton as a dog groomer and degenerate gambler, who first seems like a lovable loser before descending into some very dark places. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)
“The Valdez Horses”: A year before he finally found superstardom in “Death Wish,” Charles Bronson starred in this Italian/Spanish/French co-production (also known as “Chino”) for the great Western director John Sturges. This rough-edged rancher is the kind of character Bronson was born to play – a taciturn type, but always a hair away from violence – and the script, adapted from the novel by Lee Hoffman, adds in a kid character to soften him up (an action hero strategy that’s still very much with us) and a Proper Lady to do the same (played, as usual, by Bronson’s wife, Jill Ireland). Simple, but affecting. (Includes audio commentary, interview, an alternate opening, and TV spot.)
“Stranger on the Run”: You don’t see a lot of ‘60s Western TV movies getting Blu-ray releases these days, but this one (new from KL Studio Classics) isn’t just any ‘60s Western TV movie: it’s directed by the great Don Siegel, a year before “Coogan’s Bluff” (see below). And it stars Henry Fonda, which was presumably a bit of a surprise – but Fonda was tinkering with his image, dispensing with his usual good-guy trappings to play a drunken boxcar traveler on the wrong side of the law. (He’d go all the way with it the following year, playing a full-on villain for Sergio Leone in “Once Upon a Time in the West.”) The budgetary strains of television production occasionally show, as do the formal constraints. But Siegel knows how to build up a head of narrative steam; the shoot-outs are brutally effective, and the dialogue scenes crackle. And much of the latter is thanks to Michael Parks, electrifying in his supporting, (mostly) villainous role, doing so much by doing so little. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)
“Coogan’s Bluff”: Clint Eastwood teamed with Don Siegel for this first time for this 1968 crime thriller, starring as a good ol’ boy deputy from rural Arizona who travels to New York City to extradite a fugitive. It’s a classic culture-clash, fish-out-of-water story, and while Eastwood’s interactions with Gotham hippies are hilariously Squaresville, Siegel’s reliably sturdy filmmaking, Eastwood’s growling charisma, and the marvelous supporting cast (especially the great Lee J. Cobb as a New York cop) go a long way. (Includes audio commentary, interview, radio spot, and trailers.)
“Shenandoah”: This Civil War drama from director Andrew V. McLaglen (“McLintock!”) is knotty piece of work, focusing on a Virginia farming family whose resistance to the war is eroded when Union troops kidnap one of their sons. So yes, they “both sides” the Civil War; if anything, the deck is stacked against the sensible pacifism and resistance of the early scenes. But in its best moments, the picture gets at the ugliness and scariness of war, and James Stewart is remarkable as the widower patriarch of the clan, chewing on a cigar and leaning into an enjoyable, grizzled-old-coot characterization while delivering a heartbreaking, poignant graveside speech in the home stretch. (Includes audio commentary, Super 8 short film version, and trailer.)
“The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films”: Mick Hartley’s wonderful 2014 documentary “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films” concludes with a note that rather than participate in that account of the tumultuous ride of the notorious exploitation movie studio, its former heads Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were making a competing documentary of their own. It was a perfect little kicker, as Golan and Globus had so often made quickie rip-off films to compete against the big boys; this is that film, which never saw a proper U.S. release before this MVD Marquee Collection release. You can certainly tell that it’s the authorized account – it’s far more sympathetic to its subjects (romanticizes them, even), softballing the poor quality of their product and the financial shenanigans that brought them down. But in place of that critical material, we get much more information on their pre-Cannon years in the Israeli film industry, as well as their falling out and flailing about after Cannon fell apart. “Electric Boogaloo” is the better film, but Cannon fans – and there are many of us – will eat this one up as well. (Includes trailer.)
“Mommie Dearest”: The journey of this one is wild, from a provocative tell-all book by Joan Crawford’s daughter Christina to would-be prestige biopic to out-and-out camp classic (one of the audio commentaries is by John Waters, for God’s sake). Any movie that can veer that wildly off-course doesn’t exactly have a steady hand at the wheel, at it remains unclear exactly what movie director Frank Perry aimed to make. But it’s impeccably designed and undeniably harrowing, and wherever you land on Faye Dunaway’s lead performance, you cannot accuse her of half-measures. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, and trailer.)
“Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Pictures Vol. 11”: The latest installment in Kino-Lorber Classic’s valuable collection of four-walled, teased-out classics focuses on producer George Weiss and his 1950s crime melodramas, with two features starring oily leading man Timothy Farrell, who specialized in scuzzy, small-time gangsters. “Girl Gang,” its “Violent Years”-esque title and opening scenes notwithstanding, is primarily a smack-dealing exposé, and it’s comically heavy-handed; it makes “Reefer Madness” seem comparatively subtle and nuanced. “Pin Down Girl” is best known under its alternate title “Racket Girls” (or at least that’s how I knew it, from “Mystery Science Theater 3000”), and it’s a silly, low-stakes story set in the world of women’s wrestling, which offers copious opportunities for gratuitous cheesecake. Both films are dopey through and through, yet oddly entertaining – and the bonus features, as usual, provide fascinating context. (Includes audio commentaries and trailers.)
ON MULTI-REGION BLU-RAY:
“Sneakers”: Phil Alden Robinson’s 1992 treat gets the special edition Blu-ray it deserves via the new British boutique distributor Plumeria Pictures, and it remains a whip-smart crowd-pleaser, lovingly intermingling the conventions of the heist picture, the lovable underdog movie, and the conspiracy thriller. The script, which Robinson co-wrote with “WarGames” scribes Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes, has proven remarkably prescient on matters of national security and the commodification of information, but it’s mostly aged as well as it has because of its human comedy – its characters are clearly drawn and beautifully matched, played to perfection by Robert Redford and a stellar ensemble. And Plumeria’s transfer makes it look good as new. (Features audio commentaries, new and archival interviews, and trailer.)