Since we know how important at-home-entertainment is for all of us – every week we do a little “what’s getting released on DVD/on demand/Netflix this week” round up for you, with nice little excerpts of our past reviews and more. You’ll love it. Trust us. This week we scope out some overtly political, revisionist Westerns.
OUT THIS WEEK & PROCEED WITH CAUTION:
- Searching. Here’s April Wolfe at The Village Voice:
Director Timur Bekmambetov has said that he developed the screen-capture technology responsible for the transtextual horror film Unfriended: Dark Web and the thriller Profile when he realized Americans spend up to half their waking hours online or connected to devices. Now he has produced a feature directed by Aneesh Chaganty called Searching, starring John Cho as a checked-out father combing through his missing daughter’s online footprint, hunting for any clues that might help reveal what has happened to her. The story shares hallmarks with some of the best twisty, turny whodunits, and that at least kept my interest, but as the action played out via FaceTime and YouTube videos, I couldn’t help but wonder: What’s actually gained by this novel technique of watching a story on a screen on a screen? And every time I wondered this, I imagined how whatever scene I was watching might have been staged and shot and acted out in a more traditional film — and I was inevitably disappointed by what has been lost, especially in terms of cinematic decision-making and flesh-and-blood performances.
- The Darkest Minds. Here’s AA Dowd over at The AV Club:
From its murky digital photography to the rotating backdrop of the most affordable shooting locations in or around Atlanta—gas stations, malls, motels, nondescript military bunkers, nondescript forests—this is a very cheap-looking sci-fi melodrama. Making her debut behind the live-action camera after directing the Kung Fu Panda sequels, Jennifer Yuh Nelson botches the action scenes, including a car chase so incoherently staged that it becomes difficult to track the movements of only three vehicles on a desolate stretch of road. Not that the YA-by-numbers material is often played for thrills anyway. Like most pubescent superhero stories, it’s an adolescent fantasy: What are Ruby’s Jedi mind tricks but a way to turn the tables on an adult world trying to control her every action? That’s not a bad itch for a teen-friendly fantasia to scratch. But The Darkest Minds is such a formulaic hodgepodge of secondhand plot points that it can’t help but feel like an insult to its target demographic: just another case of adults trying to manipulate kids, this time by bilking them out of their allowance.
OUT THIS WEEK & WORTH YOUR TIME:
- The Little Stranger. Here’s yours truly at The Washington Post:
Focus Features, it would seem, does not have the faith in “Little Stranger” that the film deserves, releasing it the end of August, a traditional dumping ground for genre films. But this slow-burn thriller — whose power lies in its dark, elusive nature — delivers few genuine scares, and more mannered, nuanced dialogue than answers. No matter what you make of the film’s final minutes, which are as open to interpretation as everything that has come before, each of the main characters has contributed to that sense of equivocation in ways that are deliciously macabre.
INSTANT VIEWING OF THE WEEK (revisionist Western edition):
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (now on Netflix). Here’s Richard Brody at The New Yorker:
The Western is the most inherently political genre, and, with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, their two-hour-plus anthology of six short Westerns, Joel and Ethan Coen have made an exemplary political film. (It’s already in limited theatrical release and will launch on Netflix this Friday.) It is a movie put together from bits and pieces of cinematic tropes, conventions, and clichés, including ones borrowed from a range of genres, from ingenious physical comedy to romantic lyricism to Gothic horror. But all are united by a giddy Western revisionism centering upon a common theme: the relentless cruelty, wanton violence, deadly recklessness, and cavalier abuses of unchecked power that prevailed in the thinly and casually governed Wild West. Whether with outrageous antics or metaphysical mysteries, the Coen brothers fill the film with a subtle nose-thumbing; they’re laughing up their sleeve at the long-standing exaltation of the West as a primordial realm of titanic heroes, and at a society that even now consumes Western legends and spits them back in the form of historical verities and political pieties.
- Hostiles (now on Netflix). Here’s what we said in our original review:
One great aspect of the film is the inclusion of Native actors in these roles, speaking their language to other characters with no need for a translator. The soldiers show respect to the Chief who would otherwise be an enemy. The last few years have been productive in terms of increased visibility for issues raised by Native Americans, and this film prioritizes their humanity (and that of the sole black character) as equal to that of the white characters. Even though some of the film gets muddled in some of these slower moments, they are essential, and will continue to impact and advance the genre.
- McCabe and Mrs. Miller (now on Amazon Prime). Here’s Noel Murray in The Dissolve:
Director Robert Altman had a perverse streak that kept him from expressing any particular fondness for his best-loved, most successful work. When asked which of his films was his favorite, he’d puckishly pick one of his least-popular, while aiming a faux-modest shrug toward movies like Nashville, The Player, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. And yet outside of California Split’s insider’s perspective on gambling addiction, Kansas City’s depiction of the city and era where Altman grew up, and The Company’s and A Prairie Home Companion’s considerations of artistic communities and legacies, McCabe & Mrs. Miller feels closest to a direct, personal statement from Robert Altman. He made it after spending a decade fighting with television executives, and before spending a decade fighting with movie executives. There’s something simultaneously knowing and prescient about McCabe & Mrs. Miller’s portrait of a gambler whose personal weaknesses and clashes with powerful men prevent him from realizing his ambitions.
That’s it! Get streaming, kids.