The Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: Being Mary Tyler Moore, Three Thousand Years of Longing, Night of the Hunter, 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.

PICK OF THE WEEK: 

Night of the Hunter: Character actor Charles Laughton’s first—and, sadly, last—film on the other side of the camera was this 1955 adaptation of David Grubb’s book, adapted by Laughton and the great James Agee. This story of a preacher/serial killer (Robert Mitchum, never better) terrorizing his stepchildren continues to pack a wallop because it taps into our unshakable childhood fears: that someone we’re supposed to trust is secretly out to get us, that everything we’ve been told is a lie, that unspeakable danger lurks under our very roof. Mitchum vividly personifies that danger with a performance of pure theatricality, yet terrifyingly real menace, and Stanley Cortez’s vivid black-and-white cinematography sparkles on KL Studio Classics’ new 4K. (Includes audio commentary, isolated music and effects track, interviews, and trailer.)

ON NETFLIX:

The Son: Florian Zeller’s follow-up to The Father (insert The Holy Spirit joke here) isn’t as innovative as its predecessor, which ingeniously replicated the disassociation and confusion of its protagonist by telling its story from his perspective. But Zellner effectively conveys the depths of his despair and the low rumbling of depression that overcome teenage Nicholas (Zen McGrath) and cause endless anxiety in his parents (Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern) and stepmother (Vanessa Kirby). particularly when he threatens and attempts suicide. It’s a a difficult film, about difficult subjects, well acted and compassionately executed

ON MAX:

Being Mary Tyler Moore: This well-crafted bio-doc from director James Adolphus begins with its subject in a strained interview (circa the mid-1960s) with David Susskind, who simply cannot stop blabbering the most retrograde male nonsense about housewives and career women. As we watch Moore undertake an incredible balancing act of pushing back without seeming “pushy,” it starts to play like a microcosm of her entire career – in which, notably, she played both one of television’s most beloved housewives and most beloved career women, all while attempting to find happiness and live a life on her own terms. Adolphus captures that struggle well, via copious archival interviews with Moore and remembrances from her friends, family, and collaborators, and with the help of some remarkably enlightening and candid home video footage.

ON AMAZON PRIME: 

Three Thousand Years of Longing: A rare non-franchise film from director George Miller, a wildly gonzo work of anything-goes glee that takes the shopworn premise of the genie (Idris Elba) and the three wishes he grants to a mortal (Tilda Swinton), and turns it into a freeform meditation on storytelling in all of its permutations. Some of the stranger detours don’t quite land, it must be noted. But the sheer mastery of craft on display is breathtaking – the ingenuity of the compositions, the inventiveness of the transitions, the deft and textured use of sound all combine to form that rarest of beasts, big canvas filmmaking with genuine personality. And that’s nothing to dismiss. 

ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD:

Please Baby Please: This year’s surprise Oscar nominee Andrea Riseborough and Harry Potter refugee Harry Melling star in this giddily peculiar, boldly stylized riff on ‘50s fringe cinema as a beatnik couple whose brush with a greaser gang unlocks all sorts of heretofore hidden desires and inclinations. Co-writer/director Andrea Kramer, working a Charles Busch vibe, has her cast lean into the camp, and they’re clearly having a great time doing so. It doesn’t entirely come together, but there’s plenty of subversive kicks along the way. (Includes audio commentary, isolated music and effects track, deleted scenes and outtakes, Q&A, featurettes, short films, and trailer.)

ON 4K:

Thelma & Louise: Ridley Scott’s road movie was a big deal when it hit theaters in 1991, since  a) it centered on two women, and b) both of them were complex, complicated characters. You didn’t see that a lot in 1991. Trouble is, you don’t see it a lot in 2023, either. Though that might be part of why the picture—making its 4K debut, and joining the Criterion Collection—still plays as so fresh and thrilling. It’s intelligently written, snappily assembled and beautifully acted by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in career-best performances (as well as Brad Pitt, stealing scenes and cash in his breakthrough role). If its final moments remain clumsy and phony, well, that’s forgivable. What’s not forgivable is that a film like this is still such an anomaly. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, storyboards, music video, trailer, and early Scott short film and commercial.)

The Longest Yard: Robert Aldrich’s 1974 football comedy (new on 4K from KL) hit theaters four years after Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, and the influence is, well, pronounced – being, as it is, a ramshackle anti-authoritarian comedy that closes with a rules-optional football game played by a gang of lovable losers. But despite their similar monikers, Aldrich was a very different kind of director, a skilled craftsman working in a blunt, straight-ahead style. So he doesn’t sand off the rough edges of Tracy Keenan Wynn’s script; the naked racism of the prison’s guards, for example, is played with an ugly accuracy that jolts, harshly, in what has been advertised (and subsequently regarded) as a cheerful sports comedy. But there’s much more to it than that, and its plentiful contradictions in approach and tone don’t derail the picture. In fact, they’re what make it work, in its own unique way. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, and trailer.) 

The People Under the Stairs: Wes Craven was a tougher director to classify than you might think—renowned, of course, for horror classics like Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, yet consistently pushing the boundaries of those genres to experiment with tone, style, and social commentary. This 1991 cult favorite, new to 4K from Scream Factory, is a good example of that; it was marketed as a creature feature, and that’s not inaccurate, but it’s much more of tense yet funky home-invasion thriller, in which Ving Rhames leads a ramshackle crew on an attempt to rob the home of the vile couple that’s gentrifying the neighborhood. Craven delivers the scares, sure, but they almost seem offhand; he’s more interested in character and conflict, and in building up to a deliciously satisfying payoff. (Includes audio commentries, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, featurtette, storyboards, trailer, and TV spots.) 

The Last Starfighter: Nick Castle’s 1984 sci-fi charmer couldn’t make its intentions clearer if it’d been titled Steven Spielberg’s Star Wars, mixing the “boy’s space adventure” elements of the Lucas universe with the earth-bound aesthetic and approach perfected in E.T. and Poltergeist two summers earlier (and fine-tuned in Amblin productions like Gremlins and The Goonies). But as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and once you accept the borderline plagiarism, Castle takes you on an enjoyable ride—the special effects are sharp (and hold up well, even in the high resolution of Arrow’s new 4K transfer), the performers are charismatic, and Robert Preston is an absolute hoot as an intergalactic talent scout. (Includes audio commentaries, interviews, featurettes, and trailers.) 

ON BLU-RAY:

Trouble Every Day: It’s not that Claire Denis’s 2001 banger (new on Blu from The Film Desk) doesn’t have a plot—one could imagine a fairly straight-forward telling of this story, in which a newlywed American couple (Vincent Gallo and Tricia Vessey) travel to Paris for a combination honeymoon and investigative journey, and fall into a world of sex and cannibalism instead. But Denis is less interested in story than mood, and less concerned with dialogue than vibes. And she’s especially taken by the moment when these encounters take a hard turn from sex to gore, and from ecstasy to agony; she explores that beat over and over, with increasing repulsion and eroticism, resulting in a horror thriller quite unlike any other. (Includes audio commentary, video essay, and trailer.) 

Targets: Roger Corman, always up for giving young filmmakers a shot, went to Peter Bogdanovich (who’d been doing odd jobs for the B-movie maven) with a proposal: Boris Karloff still owed him three days from the production of his faux-Poe horror quickie The Terror, so if Bogdanovich could work up a low-budget script that would utilize both Karloff’s time and clips from the earlier movie, he could make his directorial debut. Bogdanovich surveyed those highly compromised circumstances and turned his bugs into features, casting Karloff as an aging horror icon and himself as a brash young director, and creating a parallel story that put them on a collision course with a rifle-wielding killer modeled on Charles Whitman, the “Texas Tower Sniper.” He wound up with a thought-provoking (and still relevant) treatise on the nature of violence and the presence of true horror in the modern age. (Includes audio commentary, new and archival interviews, and Bogdanovich introduction.)

Hustle: A year after The Longest Yard, director Robert Aldrich and star Burt Reynolds reunited for this tough, grim, police procedural; Reynolds hadn’t yet disappeared entirely into his wisecracking good-ol’-boy persona, and this was close enough to Deliverance that he was still bothering to act. The case he and partner Paul Winfield are investigating is compelling – Eddie Albert, also returning from The Longest Yard, is absolutely vile as a corrupt politician, while Eileen Brennan crushes her few scenes as a woman who’s seen everything and can’t say a word – but the best scenes in the film are the barely-related duets between Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve as his live-in call-girl girlfriend. They have an easy rapport and chemistry to burn, and their heat throws an anything-goes feel into the rest of the formulaic goings-on. (Includes audio commentary.) 

My Man Godfrey: If the original 1936 was a quintessential Depression-era screwball comedy, Henry Koster’s 1957 remake was similarly of its moment – a widescreen, full-color, squeaky-clean grin machine that could’ve easily played on a the bottom half of a double bill with Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back. June Allyson emphasizes the brattiness of poor little rich girl Irene Bullock a bit too much (or, at least, she doesn’t have Carole Lombard’s charm to offset it), but David Niven acquits himself nicely in the title role, and Koster moves things along at a rapid clip. It’s no substitute for the original, obviously, but it’s a cute little time-passer. (Includes audio commentary and theatrical trailer.) 

Young Bodies Heal Quickly: Writer/director/editor Andrew T. Betzer wears his Terrence Malick influence on his sleeve — much of this moody road picture is shot in the magic hour, and dialogue is used sparingly throughout (there’s barely a word spoken in the first 20 minutes). This portrait of two young brothers fleeing an accidental death tries the patience a bit, but the wandering, episodic narrative has a free-wheeling spirit and a deadpan sense of humor (in its best moments, it recalls Jerry Schatzberg’s great Scarecrow). And I’m still not quite sure what to make of its third-act turn, which is either refreshingly unexpected or just plain bananas. (Includes audio commentary, deleted and extended scenes, short films, 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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