The Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: Confess, Fletch, Small Axe, Triangle of Sadness, 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.


Serpico: In 1973, in between shooting the first two installments of the Godfather series, Al Pacino teamed for the first time with director Sidney Lumet for one of the best pictures of either career. It tells the true story of Frank Serpico, an idealistic young cop who goes into the NYPD hoping to make change from the inside, only to encounter a culture of such deeply-rooted corruption that all he can do is make trouble. The brisk, efficient script by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler spans years, taking Pacino’s title character from a clean-cut young recruit to a hippie rabble-rouser, but it never feels shallow or busy – or didactic, as these things can so often be. Instead, it’s a potent snapshot of the rot at the core of the Big Apple, which perseveres to this very day. KL Studio Classics’ new 4K disc beautifully captures the grit and grime of this quintessential portrait of New York in the ‘70s. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, trailer, and photo gallery with Lumet commentary.) (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.)


Judy Blume Forever: If you grew up on the YA novels of Blume, now 83 (as I did), you’ll find much that rings familiar in this affectionate bio-doc from directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok. And if you “outgrew” them (guilty as well), it’s fun to see what she got up to in her later years, and what was going on in her sometimes stormy personal life while she was writing young-adults faves like Superfudge and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. But the best material here, by a considerable margin, are the accounts of her ongoing correspondences with young readers, who came to treat her less as a figure of fan isolation than a trusted friend. She felt like that to those of us who didn’t write to her, too. 


Triangle of Sadness: Ruben Östlund’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner is a film told in three distinct parts, and the first is as good as anything he’s ever done – and a perfect encapsulation of what he does well. His subjects are Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), who are young and beautiful, model-slash-influencers out to dinner; the waiter drops the check, and neither of them, at least initially, pick it up. What follows is an interaction so perfectly observed and executed that it’s sort of breathtaking – not just what they do, and what they say, and the responses those actions and words provoke, but how all of those details are then revisited and scrutinized, broken apart and reassembled, every wound carefully closed and then savagely reopened.  This is Östlund’s stock-in-trade, and because it’s so directly in his wheelhouse, it’s easy to understand why he takes that material as merely a starting point and attempts to broaden his scope considerably in the two hours that follows. It doesn’t always work, but you get what he’s going for. (Includes interview, featurettes, deleted scenes, and trailer.) (Also streaming on Hulu.)


Confess, Fletch: I’ve spent the entirety of my adult life being promised a new Fletch movie – Kevin Smith was attached for years, then Bill Lawrence, and finally Greg Mottola – and that wait was so long that by the time it arrived, this kind of movie (a medium-budget, personality-driven studio comedy) was no longer in fashion. That’s a shame, because Confess, Fletch is pure pleasure, briskly paced and off-the-cuff funny, offering Jon Hamm his best big-screen vehicle to date; it’s also much closer to the original Gregory McDonald novels than Michael Ritchie’s otherwise excellent 1985 take. It’s a hoot, and though it was barely seen in its tiny theatrical release, it’s the kind of cozy comfort viewing Blu-ray was made for. (Also streaming on Showtime.)

Small Axe: Director Steve McQueen’s five-film anthology (made for Amazon Prime, now part of the Criterion Collection) tells a variety of stories in a plurality of styles, but with the common theme of Black life in London in a time of awakening and uprising. All are impressive achievements, playing potently both as individual narratives and as part of this staggering whole, though it’s easy to understand how Lovers Rock is considered the highlight (it’s the ultimate “it’s just a vibe” movie). But I’ll go to bat for Red, White and Blue, with John Boyega doing his best screen work to date as a young cop trying to fix the racism of London’s Metropolitan Police from within. It’s surely a coincidence that it’s hitting disc on the same day as Serpico, but it’s nevertheless the best double-feature you could hope for…. (Includes interviews, featurettes, Uprising documentary, and trailers.) (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.)

ON 4K:

12 Angry Men: …unless you’d rather pair it with Lumet’s 1957 debut feature, also new on 4K from KL, which is still one of the sharpest films ever made about American jurisprudence. Henry Fonda is at his earnest best as the one juror on a capital murder trial who encourages his fellow panelists to talk it all through, just a couple more times, and ends up complicating the seemingly open-and-shut case considerably. Reginald Rose’s screenplay (adapted from his live teleplay, also helmed by Lumet) is a pressure-cooker stew of character study, real-time drama, and mystery, and every actor here is at the top of his game, though Lee J. Cobb is the most memorable as Fonda’s fiercest antagonist on the jury – the angriest of the angry men, if you will. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, trailer, and William Friedkin’s 1997 remake.) 

The Seventh Seal: There’s no real point in making the case for the importance of Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 masterpiece; its place in the canon is assured, its title is shorthand for greatness, its imagery is iconic. (Even Bill & Ted’s audience was presumed to recognize its image of Death.) In fact, it’s one of those films where the task, for new viewers, is de-escalation; it has acquired the aroma of the hermetically sealed artifact of cinema history. And it’s not that; yes, it’s a Swedish-subtitled black-and-white meditation of faith and mortality, but it’s also approachable, thoughtful, well-paced (a mere 97 minutes!) examination of themes and ideas that have only grown more pressing and relevant. Don’t be afraid of it! (Includes audio commentary, Bergman introduction, interviews, featurettes, trailer, and Bergman Island documentary.) (Also streaming on the Criterion Channel and HBO Max.)

Rebel Without a Cause: A quintessential piece of 1950s cinema (perhaps the quintessential piece of 1950s cinema) Nicholas Ray’s coming-of-age drama demands to be seen entirely through that lens – and through that of its star, James Dean, whose tragic death less than a month before its release made it more than a movie from its first unspooling. The live-fast-die-young outcome of its star meant it could never be something as simple as storytelling; it was, from 1955 forward, myth-making. As storytelling, it can be faulty, relying both on tropes that were already tired, and that would become so quickly. But its moments of silliness are almost always matched with authenticity, and Dean’s performance remains a stunner, both for the ennui it captures like lightning in a bottle, and the promises it makes about a career that never came to pass. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, additional scenes, and trailer.)  (Also streaming on HBO Max.)

The Man Who Fell to Earth: Nicolas Roeg’s bizarre, jagged, and impressionistic blend of ‘70s futurism, absurd comedy, skin flick, genre pic, experimental movie, and gonzo epic gets the 4K treatment from Lionsgate, and it looks as fresh and mind-blowing as ever. David Bowie is basically typecast as an alien, but he’s doing some fascinating acting here – particularly when he’s listening, his deadpan reactions betraying a clear debt to his beloved Buster Keaton. It’s a film unapologetic in its oddness, populated as it is with inexplicable scenes, giant leaps in the chronology, non-sequitur dialogue, and Rip Torn’s dick (as well as more obvious musings on mortality, aging, media, and capitalism). But the Bowie love somewhat overshadows the shattering performance of the wonderfully daft Candy Clark, as the hotel maid who becomes Bowie’s lover, soul mate, and victim. There’s something in the way she shrugs “Well, I guess I’ll do for now, won’t I,” that says more about humanity than most straight-forward narratives can even imagine. (Includes new and archival interviews, featurettes, and trailer.) 


The Jackie Chan Collection Vol. 2 (1983-1993): Shout Factory’s newest Jackie Chan collection requires none of the warnings or explanations required by their previous set, highlighting a period in which Chan was still fine-tuning his signature mixture of martial arts, action, and slapstick. The titles featured here are, for the most part, far more familiar, and fit the bill of what we now think of as a Jackie Chan picture. The Sammo Hung buddy movies Winners and Sinners, Wheels on Meals, and Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars are silly but enjoyable, and their Laurel-and-Hardy chemistry carries those films through the occasional rough patch. Armour of God and Armour of God II: Operation Condor are each a blast, goofy yet breathless riffs on the Indiana Jones template, full of witty set pieces and barn-burner climaxes. Crime Story is one of his best of the period, a tightly-crafted cop vs. gangsters (and crooked cops) narrative with particularly inventive fight sequences. Even The Protector, his much-derided 1985 attempt at an American crossover, has its pleasures; James Glickenhaus (The Exterminator) directs with his customary subtlety (which is to say none) and the script is a laundry list of cop movie cliches, but the warehouse climax is primo Jackie. The only real bummer here is City Hunter, which buries its “Die Hard on a cruise ship” premise in too much bug-eyed, sweaty, broad comedy. But every other title is worth a watch – many of them, more than once. (Includes audio commentaries, full-length documentary, vintage interviews, and trailers.) 

The Big Easy: Here’s the thing about the New Orleans dialect: it’s so wild, so dialectically over-the-top, that I honestly have no idea, in films and television, if I’m hearing one that’s spot-on or comically terrible. There are plenty of opportunities to mull over that divide (if it even exists!) in Jim McBride’s neo-noir, which generated considerable ink upon its 1987 release for the feverish, feral sex scenes between stars Dennis Quaid (in full charmer babe mode) and Ellen Barkin (doing the buttoned-up sexually repressed thing, not entirely convincingly). Their chemistry is Richter-scale level, and there’s enough sweaty atmosphere and local color – watch out for future JFK subject Jim Garrison as a judge and musical legend Solomon Burke as a murder victim – to paper over the sketchier spots. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)

Backtrack: Dennis Hopper directed two movies released in 1990: The Hot Spot, one of the horniest of all the period’s erotic thrillers, and this oddball neo-noir road movie (originally released, in a butchered form that Hopper disowned, as Catchfire), which could best be described as an un-erotic thriller. Jodie Foster stars as an installation artist who stumbles upon a Mob murder and disappears to save her own life; Hopper is the hitman hired to kill her, but ends up falling for her. It’s about as boilerplate as thriller plots get, and neither Hopper nor Foster pull off the required third-act turn convincingly (though it also feels like there’s a scene or ten missing around there). But Hopper’s direction is fascinating. Dwelling in the art world, where he spent much of his offscreen time, Hopper fills the film with peculiar little flourishes – oddball pacing and bonkers details and stacked supporting performances, including one from his Blue Velvet co-star Dean Stockwell. That casting may be the key; the organized crime material feels like the Robert Loggia scenes in David Lynch’s later Lost Highway, and this feels like Hopper’s most Lynchian effort as a filmmaker. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.) 

The Big Bus: You have to feel a little bad for director James Frawley (The Muppet Movie) and the rest of the team behind this big, broad, all-star comedy; for the four years after its 1976 release, it must’ve seemed like the ultimate spoof of the ubiquitous disaster movie craze, and then Airplane! came along and blew them right out of the water. But there are still plenty of laughs in this sometimes manic but slyly silly satire, most of them provided by the rich supporting cast (your mileage may vary, but my favorites are Richard Mulligan and Sally Kellerman’s perpetually on-again, off-again rich couple). Leading man Joseph Bologna just doesn’t quite have the right, light touch – turns out Robert Hays had a tougher job than you thought – but Stockard Channing is perfection as the title vehicle’s designer (and Bologna’s long-lost love). (Includes audio commentary.)

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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