The Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: Asteroid City, Turn Every Page, Hugo, and More

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, catalogue titles making a splash on Blu-ray or 4K. This twice-monthly column sifts through all of those choices to pluck out the movies most worth your time, no matter how you’re watching.


Soundies: The Ultimate Collection: They made “soundies” in the early 1940s, specifically for coin-operated “Panorams”—visual jukeboxes in neighborhood bars, which played these musical shorts on 16mm film. The lineage to music videos is crystal clear, but this remarkable collection (assembling over 200 vintage soundies, totaling 10 hours) isn’t as simplistic as all that. Curated and hosted by historian Susan Delson, the shorts are organized by themes, styles, and periods, noteworthy not only for the music they’ve preserved (no small achievement, considering how many capture Black artists in their prime), but for what their presentation is telling us about music, race, and culture between the notes. (Includes introductions and interviews.)


Turn Every Page: The subtitle of Lizzie Gottlieb’s gloriously geeky documentary is “The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb,” and there’s something wonderfully challenging about that wording; one wouldn’t think the story of the decades-long collaboration between a meticulous biographer and his editor would qualify as an adventure, but damned if Ms. Gottlieb (Robert’s daughter, hurray for access) doesn’t make it one. In chronicling the researching and writing of Caro’s The Power Broker and his (still) ongoing books about Lyndon B. Johnson, Turn Every Page makes the act of digging through archives, pounding out drafts, and arguing over semi-colons into something downright thrilling. The recent passing of Mr. Gottlieb renders this one all the more poignant; it feels like the filmmaker took advantage of the last possible moment to capture this unique partnership, and thank goodness she did. 


Asteroid City: Wes Anderson’s latest is another of his elaborate constructions of frames within frames (a “Golden Age of TV” presentation of a stage play, but mounted as a wide-screen, richly saturated movie epic), packed with an enviable ensemble cast (Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Steve Park, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie, and many more)  As is so often the case, there’s more to Anderson’s work than meets the eye; he’s not just playing his greatest hits, but gently nudging the borders of his canvas, satisfying our desire for a “Wes Anderson movie” while subtly expanding the scope of what that might be. Asteroid City is not as furiously funny as The French Dispatch, nor as quietly pointed as The Grand Budapest Hotel. But it’s a deeply pleasurable picture, with a thing or two to say besides, and that’s not nothing. (Includes featurettes.) (Also streaming on Peacock.)

The Outwaters: It’s hard to avoid comparing Robbie Banfitch’s found footage horror flick to The Blair Witch Project, concerning as it does a group of filmmakers (okay, music video makers) who go missing on a shoot and leave behind mysterious and terrifying documentation of their final days. It simmers, simmers, simmers, then boils over half in, venturing into deeply, genuinely disturbing territory. A little of this goes a long way—it runs a far too leisurely 110 minutes, and the screaming-in-darkness of the second hour grows repetitive (it likely suffers from the home viewing experience; I can imagine that stretch proving more effective in a dark theater with strangers). The Outwaters takes some big swings, and occasionally whiffs. But when it connects, watch out. (Includes audio commentary, prequel and epilogue short films, music video, and teasers and trailers.)

ON 4K:

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams: The heavy hitters came out to help aging master Kurosawa’s third-to-last picture find its audience; its producers included Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola, while Martin Scorsese makes a brief but memorable appearance as Vincent von Gogh (“Why aren’t you painting?” he reprimands a visitor. “To me this seems beyond belief!”). Their signal boost is particularly noteworthy for such an experimental picture – a series of vignettes and hallucinations, full of stunning imagery and patient visual storytelling. It’s basically a dream journal, albeit one by a visionary artist, allowing him the opportunity to directly address his recurring themes and concerns. And it’s more interconnected than it initially seems, with scenes of beauty, madness, and despair bridged by a Kurosawa avatar, who we end up viewing as a wandering inquisitor trying to make sense of the world. Criterion’s new 4K transfer tops even the stellar Blu-ray from a few years back, and the film’s closing tableaux are overwhelmingly joyous and inspiring. (Includes audio commentary, feature-length documentary, featurette, interviews, and trailer.)

Rio Bravo: Howard Hawks’s 1959 Western was one of the first movies I ever saw on Blu-ray, and the gorgeous views of the scenic vistas really underlined what the format could do. That holds even more true with this new 4K edition, though what’s most striking and memorable about the picture are its indoor scenes—the quiet camaraderie within its motley crew of mismatched central characters, killing time in the county jail, waiting for the bad guys to show up. The term “hang-out movie” gets thrown around a lot these days, but this is the quintessential hang-out movie; the characters are clearly defined, the relationships knotty and nuanced, the scene set with offhand precision by the master, Mr. Hawks. It’s one of John Wayne’s best performances (and certainly his most relaxed), and maybe the best work Dean Martin ever did onscreen. (Includes audio commentary.)

East of Eden: This was the movie that made James Dean a star, and there’s not a moment’s doubt as to why. As Cal, an emotionally vulnerable teen in Monterey, California circa 1917, Dean is electrifying, capturing the timelessness of emo youth with a stirring immediacy that foreshows (and perhaps surpasses) his iconic turn in Rebel Without a Cause. And unlike with that flawed classic, the picture around him is none too shabby either, thanks to Elia Kazan’s sensitive direction, Raymond Massey’s complex turn as Cal’s father, and Paul Osborn’s taut adaptation of (part) of John Steinbeck’s novel. New on 4K, it’s one of the  many notable titles in Warner Bros.’ 100-year anniversary collection, and the Cinemascope image is gobsmacking. (Includes audio commentary.) 

Enter the Dragon: In his big American breakthrough—another new-to-4K title for WB’s 100th—Bruce Lee stars as a martial artist and instructor who goes undercover at a tournament “of truly epic proportions” to trap a Big Bad.  Lee is one of three stars of the film, sharing (a bit too much) screen time with John Saxon and Jim Kelly, but the chemistry between the leads is palpable, and all have at least a couple of crowd-pleasing moments. And once it finally gets to what we’ve come for – Bruce Lee single-handedly taking out dozens of dudes – it absolutely delivers, particularly the final fight (in a hall of mirrors), which is cleverly staged and shot. (Includes audio commentary, introduction by Linda Lee Cadwell, and both theatrical and special edition.) 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Writer/director John Hughes was in the midst of the one of the great runs of ‘80s studio successes when he knocked out this giddily entertaining tale of a wiseass, his best girl, and his best buddy ditching school for what was not yet defined as a little bit of #selfcare. Matthew Broderick’s title character was so immediately beloved that an eventual backlash was probably inevitable, but this is a charismatic performance, and a reminder that breaking the fourth wall only looks easy because actors like him do it so well. Mia Sara and Jennifer Grey are the low-key MVPs as Ferris’s supportive girlfriend and antagonistic sister, but the real pleasure of revisiting this one circa 2023 is appreciating the delicacy of the Alan Ruck performance, now that Succession has reminded us all of what a gift he is. Often imitated, never replicated, new to 4K in a lovely Steelbook. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)

Roman Holiday: William Wyler directs Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in this charming continental romance, which Paramount is debuting on 4K for its 70th anniversary (and the black-and-white photography is absolutely luminous). Peck is a morally flexible reporter and Hepburn is the princess he’s trying to cover, who decides to take an incognito “holiday” and do the common things she never can; they’re both vaguely lying to each other, but so good-natured about it that we all go along. He’s a little stiff – as always – but they’re stunning together, generating real chemistry and stakes; it’s a sweet, tender, and decidedly heartbreaking tale, with a surprisingly poignant ending. (Includes introduction by Leonard Maltin, featurettes, and theatrical trailers.) 

Nightbreed: Clive Barker’s 1990 horror fave gets the 4K treatment from Scream Factory, with all of its deliriousness intact (more, in fact, as the 18-minutes-longer director’s cut is included on one of the set’s four total discs). Craig Sheffer stars as a pretty boy teen drawn into a cabal of vampires, which are none-too-subtly queer-coded (“Wanna join the family?” he’s asked, pointedly). Barker, coming off the sensation of Hellraiser, goes for broke here; the monsters are creepy, the dialogue is playful (“Fuck the law – I want meat!”), and the performers are having a ball, particularly David Cronenberg in a larger-than-usual role as a comically unethical shrink. Barker takes real pleasure in both using and tweaking vampire iconography, and the result is wild, entertaining, and delicious (Includes audio commentary, feature-length making-of documentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, test footage, and trailer.) 

Cinderella: There’s a reason this was one of the first Disney classics given the live-action “reimagining” treatment: it’s also a go-to example of the studio’s long-dubious gender politics, what with the Prince Charming of it all. But there’s also a reason it’s one of their most durable classics. It is, quite simply, one of their most gorgeous creations, the peerless Disney animators working at the top of their craft, creating characters and images both beautiful and eccentric. It’s a 4K stunner. (Includes featurettes and trivia track.)

Hugo: A doff of the cap to the fine folks at Arrow Video, who have not only given Martin Scorsese’s combination children’s adventure/intro to cinema class a lovely 4K upgrade, but have included a 3D Blu-ray edition to boot (Scorsese is one of the few filmmakers in the ill-advised 3D revival to use it as an immersion tool and not a goofy gimmick). But Hugo is such a delightful charmer that it doesn’t even need all those bells and whistles. Take them away, and you’ve got a tender story of a lonely kid, the warm tale of his budding friendship with a spectacular girl, and yet another pitch-perfect Ben Kingsley performance. What a picture! (Includes audio commentary, new interviews, new and archival featurettes, and trailer.) 


Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart: Director Wayne Wang followed up his 1982 micro-budget breakthrough Chan is Missing with this intimate family drama, so it’s appropriate that it’s now following Chan into the Criterion collection. Set in contemporary San Francisco’s Chinatown, Dim Sum captures the daily doings of an extended family, with a lived-in warmth and familiarity that’s immediately credible. Wang’s filmmaking (here and elsewhere) is less about plotting than observation; note, for example, how he studies the contrasts between the old and young women playing majong. But it’s not merely a slice-of-life, either; in his juxtapositions and offhand moments, Wang crafts a quietly pointed commentary on the complications of assimilation. (Includes new and archival interviews.) 

Force of Evil: An archetypal slice of NYC noir, this 1948 thriller from co-writer/director Abraham Polonsky is the lean (79 minutes), mean, ruthlessly bleak story of a mob lawyer (John Garfield, crushing it) coming to terms with his own moral failings when he gets his poor brother (the great Thomas Gomez) in over both of their heads. Polonsky bathes the picture in a creeping sense of dread, thanks to both his skillful writing and George Barnes’s stunning cinematography (thanks to a new 4K restoration, it looks better than ever), and the climactic sequence, using real uptown New York locations—a rarity at the time—is unforgettable. (Includes introduction by Martin Scorsese and audio commentary.) 

Outrage: The third film from actress-turned-director Ida Lupino is one of her best, beginning as what seems like another charming romantic drama before taking a hard, scary turn when her heroine (Mala Powers) is raped. The rapidity of that gear-shift is part of the picture’s genius—the casual threat escalates with lightning-fast intensity, just as such things do in real life. It’s a truly terrifying sequence that never crosses the line into exploitation (this is an early example of the value of the female voice and gaze), and Lupino is equally vivid in her dramatization of the aftermath: infantilization, quiet judgement, lack of compassion, and similar harrowing horrors. (Includes audio commentary.) 

Adjust Your Tracking: Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic’s documentary chronicle of VHS collecting (new on Blu, in a tenth anniversary edition, from VHShitfest) has, if anything, grown more relevant in the passing years; when I first watched it all those years ago, its diehard devotees to a dying format felt like soldiers in a lost war, but the continued decline of physical media, the grimness of the streaming landscape, and (especially) the epidemic of disappearing media makes their quest to track down forgotten films seem downright noble. Some of the filmmaking is dodgy (lavalier mics, folks, c’mon), but that’s niggling; frankly, considering the materials we’re celebrating here, some rough edges are par for the course. (Includes audio commentaries, deleted scenes, new and extended interviews, featurettes, and short films.)   

Fake It So Real: This 2011 documentary (new on Blu-ray from Factory 25) was the fourth feature from director Robert Greene, but it feels like a bookend to his most recent effort, Procession, focusing as it does on the familiarity and camaraderie of a group of outcast guys, and the intimacy and common experience they share. In this case, they’re the participants in a shoestring indie wrestling league based out of Lincolnton, North Carolina—a ragtag group of working-class guys who put their bodies on the line for the entertainment of fans and little else (certainly not for the money, of which there is next to none). Greene’s style was more observational at this point, so he hangs back and observes the group dynamics, insular dramas, and personal heartbreaks; like its subjects, this is a modest movie, but it packs a punch. (Includes audio commentary, delted scenes, interviews, and promos.) 

Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero In Three Mafia Tales By Damiano Damiani: Casual fans of Italian genre cinema know the great Franco Nero best for his unforgettable turn as the title character in Django, but this collection from Radiance Films spotlights his leading turns in three films from the intense and energetic director Damiani. In 1968’s The Day of the Owl, Nero is a police chief whose investigation of a construction worker’s death puts him toe to toe with the great Lee J. Cobb as a merciless crime boss. In the bleak but wonderfully-titled The Case is Closed, Forget It (1971), he’s an innocent man wrongly accused, serving time in a Mafia-controlled prison. And in the self-reflective How to Kill a Judge (1975), Nero is a filmmaker whose work intersects and overlaps with a criminal conspiracy. Thoughtful, tightly constructed, and frequently thrilling, this trio nicely showcases Nero’s considerable range, as well as the genuine gifts of Damiani. (Includes new and archival interviews, new and archival featurettes, and trailers.) 

Thunderbolt: The roll call of personnel in the opening credits of this 1929 gangster melodrama is daunting: directed by Josef von Sternberg! Story by Charles and Jules Furthman! Screenplay by Jules Furthman and Herman Mankiewicz! It doesn’t quite live up to its classy pedigree, but only because of the clumsy staginess we’ve come to expect from early talkies such as this, and there’s still much to recommend. First and foremost, future King Kong co-star Fay Wray is absolute fire as a gangster’s moll trying to go on the straight and narrow, while George Bancroft is well-matched as said gangster, out for revenge (from behind bars, no less) against the poor schnook (Richard Alren) who’s had the temerity to take up with her. Furthman and Mank’s script has some sharp lines (the best, from the prison warden: “You’ve got to see that this man lives… I’ve got to execute him tonight!”), and von Sternerg’s skill at setting and maintaining a mood is firmly in place. (Includes audio commentary and new and archival interviews.)

The Song of Songs: There is a scene, fairly early in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1933 adaptation of Herman Sundermann’s novel, when Marlene Dietrich is posing (nude!) for a sculptor, and he’s molding the sculpture by rubbing her shoulders, and if you needed to sum up what “Pre-Code” Hollywood was in one scene, well, you could do worse. Mamoulian was a stylist of the highest order (his “Applause” is one of the few early talkies where they didn’t just shut the camera in a booth, and it’s exhilarating for it), and his work here is breathtaking; he also did uncredited work on the screenplay, a heightened melodrama with lust, fear, and deceit ladled on hungrily. The main attraction, though, is Dietrich, who smolders and sizzles, playful and sexy and semi-tragic; she makes us wait the whole movie for her song, and damned if it’s not worth it. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, radio adaptation, and trailer.)

Jason Bailey is a film critic and historian, and the author of five books. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Playlist, Vanity Fair, Vulture, Rolling Stone, Slate, and more. He is the co-host of the podcast "A Very Good Year."

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