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.
Leading this week, we have the movie that seemed like a shoo-in for the Best Picture Oscar clear back in (checks notes) February is out this week on disc and demand, along with a pair of grisly little indies on your subscription streaming platforms. And on the disc front, we’ve got a fascinating dance documentary, a must-see mash-up of melodrama and noir, a New York “No Wave” essential, and a Russian classic.
Load up your shopping carts and your queues; we’re not going anywhere for a little while.
“The Platform”: You may be feeling a profound urge to break out the guillotines these days, and if so, this Spanish thriller from director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia (new to Netflix) may be just what you need. A none-too-subtle metaphor for the class struggle and shared responsibility, it presents a nightmare scenario in which one single platform full of food is provided to feed all of the prisoners in a vertical prison — descending one floor at a time so that those on the lower levels are reliant on those above them leaving something for everyone else. (Can’t imagine how this might seem poignant at this particular moment.) But as with many a socio-political allegory, its commentary is dressed up by genre thrills – grisly, bloody, blood-spattered, flesh-chewing jolts, convincingly and effectively delivered. Queue it up and go for a ride. Preserve the panna cotta at all costs.
ON AMAZON PRIME:
“Blow the Man Down”: Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s Amazon original is a sly beast – it seems to be one thing, and then it blindsides you. Opening with a hearty sea-shanty (the right spirit, it’s worth noting), this story of murder and deception in a small Maine fishing community opens on a decidedly Coens-esque note (with darkly comic body disposal and a great, gloomy score) before quietly shifting its gears and focus, cleverly threading in what seems a secondary, local-color storyline into an eye-opening tale of an affable criminal underworld. Young stars Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor are aces, but its quartet of flawless character actors (June Squibb, Margo Martindale, Annette O’Toole, and Marceline Hugot) are what really make this one sing.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD:
“1917”: Sam Mendes’ World War I action/adventure was much-ballyhooed (and, in some quarters, criticized) for its inventive use of long, continuous takes, presenting the mission of two British grunts in something close to real-time. But the gimmick works; we observe much of the journey quite literally over their shoulders, where we lose the sense of danger beginning or ending because the threat is relentless and could arrive at any time. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is (unsurprisingly) stunning, while George MacKay’s frequently silent performance is a case study in reactive acting. (Includes featurettes.)
“Downtown 81”: “New York is my kinda town,” muses the narrator. “If you can make it there, you can sell people your unwanted hair.” Director Edo Bertoglio took this snapshot of the downtown New York art and punk scene at a unique moment, when the wheels had fallen off the city’s wagon, and its high crime and lack of social services meant that huge swaths of the city “looked like a war zone, like we dropped a bomb on ourselves.” It was a time unlike any other in the city’s history, and though this long-lost indie (recently restored and new on Blu) has its flaws, it’s a fascinating peek at that scene – and at the immeasurable charisma of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who is electrifying in the leading role. (Includes audio commentary and oral history booklet.)
“Leave Her to Heaven”: Like “Blow the Man Down,” John M. Stahl’s 1945 Gene Tierney vehicle is something of a bait and switch. It sets itself up as a Technicolor melodrama, with a Meet Cute, quick courtship, and blossoming romance – and then, in a flash, it transforms into a blown-out sunlit noir, with Tierney as an absolutely monstrous femme fatale. And then it flips again, into a thundering courtroom drama, with a young Vincent Price in an atypical turn as a sharp, ruthless prosecutor. In other words, it’s three movies for the price of one, and each of them is a banger. (Includes interview, trailer, and an essay by Megan Abbott.)
“The Cranes Are Flying”: Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1958 Palme d’Or winner (an early Criterion DVD, getting a long-overdue Blu-ray bump), might not be the most relaxing quarantine entertainment, what with its dramatization of isolation and sacrifice during wartime. But it’s nevertheless a thrilling piece of work, thanks to the dynamism of Sergei Urusevsky’s camera and the ingenuity of Mariya Timofeeva’s montage, and its heart-wrenching narrative of love and separation maintains its considerable melancholic power. (Includes new and archival interviews, “Hurricane Kalatozov” documentary, featurettes, and an essay by Chris Fujiwara.)
“Cunningham”: Director Alla Kovgan crafts a clever hybrid of bio-documentary and dance performance film with this tribute to the 70-year career of innovative modern dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham. The two forms mesh smoothly; interview subjects discuss his style and philosophy, while new performances of his dances (gorgeously photographed, frequently in the urban spaces so vital to the work) illustrate and augment their points. It’s an exhilarating movie just to look at and will leave even a dance novice with a clear picture of this unique artist and his contribution to the form. (Includes featurette.)