The Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: Drive-Away Dolls, Mean Girls, Late Night with the Devil, 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.


Dogfight: If you’ve despaired over the lack of current home video releases for ‘90s indie filmmaker Nancy Savoca, boy have I got good news for you. This month sees the long-delayed and highly welcome release of three of her gems, led off by Criterion’s addition of this 1991 beauty. Set mostly in 1963, it finds a group of Marines, led by a boisterous River Phoenix, on leave in San Francisco before shipping out to Okinawa and engaging in a little game: everyone in their company puts in $50, finds the ugliest girl they can manage to pick up, and bring her to a private party where the guy who did best/worst takes the pool. It’s the kind of plot that could have made for a leering ‘80s sex comedy, which is why Savoca’s directorial voice is so necessary; she knows the focus of the story is Rose (Lili Taylor), the girl Phoenix’s Eddie picks up, and she shows us the quiet tragedy of her excitement while getting ready for her big night out, and the heartbreak of her listening to Joan Baez records after. The genuine tenderness that develops between these characters, even after she finds out the truth of the evening, is hard to sell, but these two terrific actors pull it off — up to and including the perfect notes they find, and hold, in the haunting epilogue. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, trailer, and essay by Christina Newland.)


Late Night with the Devil: That-guy character actor David Dastmachlian stars as Jack Delroy, a Carson-style late night talk show host in the late 1970s, whom we meet in clever documentary opening, which uses faux-archival footage and clippings, magazine covers, and the like to fill in the show’s backstory and set us up for the main event: the full master tape of its Halloween 1977 show, “the TV event that shocked the nation.” Directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes niftily replicate the look and feel of the era’s late shows, while wisely varying the gag by going to black-and-white behind-the-scenes footage during station breaks. Some of the supporting players are a touch thin, and the picture goes on a few minutes too long, with an epilogue that it could’ve done without. But Dastmachlian crafts a powerhouse performance; he gets the laughs, but conveys the talk show host’s darkness and deep cynicism when it counts. 


Mean Girls (2024): The remake of the 2004 teen comedy classic (see below) is one of those Hairspray situations, in which a hit movie was adapted into a Broadway musical (since Broadway producers will only spend their money on properties people are already familiar with), and was enough of a success to warrant said musical adaptation being turned back into a movie (since Hollywood studios will only spend their money on properties people are already familiar with). The result doesn’t exactly make the case for its own necessity — it’s not like the original doesn’t still play, and if you don’t believe me, go to any of the many revival screenings it still fills — but Mean Girls 2.0 is energetic, the performers are capable and charismatic (particularly Reneé Rapp as Regina and Auliʻi Cravalho as Janis), and Tina Fey’s script still has plenty of juice. (Includes sing-along option, extended scene, gag reel, music video, and featurettes.) (Also streaming on Paramount+.)


Drive-Away Dolls: Ethan Coen makes his solo narrative directorial debut (penning the script with wife Tricia Cooke, rather than brother Joel) with this gleefully naughty and frequently funny caper. Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan play the title roles, lesbians of wildly varying out-ness whose platonic friendship takes a turn during an impromptu road trip where they find themselves in possession of a very strange briefcase. Coen keeps things moving at a good clip, Viswanathan is a delightful “straight” woman, and the supporting cast — including Beanie Feldstein, Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, and Colman Domingo — comes to play. But the real news here is Qualley, in what can only be described to Coen afficionados as the George Clooney role; she’s an absolute hoot, funny and sexy and right at home with the unique rhythms of the Coen dialogue. (Includes featurettes.) (Also streaming on Peacock.) 

ON 4K:

I Am Cuba: Some may quibble with its politics (it’s a 1960s Russian/Cuban co-production, a propaganda film by definition, so do with that what you will), but there’s no denying the breathtaking aesthetics of Mikhail Kalatozov’s anthology, a new and long-overdue addition to the Criterion Collection. Shot in beautiful black-and-white, with jaw-dropping wide-angle lenses and camera movements so acrobatic they still boggle the mind, it was a marked influence on the likes of Martin Scorsese (who championed it) and Paul Thomas Anderson (who set out to not only ape but top its pool scene in Boogie Nights). And Criterion’s gorgeous new 4K digital restoration is, unsurprisingly, a knockout. (Includes interviews, trailer, full-length 2004 documentary I Am Cuba: The Siberian Mammoth, and essay by Juan Antonio García Borrero.) 

Rolling Thunder: This revenge thriller from director John Flynn (new to 4K from Shout Select) didn’t make much noise upon its initial release in 1977, but it’s seen a second life thanks to the tireless championing of Quentin Tarantino, who loves the film so much that he named his short-lived distribution company after it. It’s easy to see the appeal; this story of a returning Vietnam P.O.W. (a spot-on William Devane) who seeks out the men who kill his wife and son. His violent rampage delivers, big time, but it’s the material before that matters; the opening scenes of his difficult return to “normal” life are so modest and low-key, so grounded and believable, that they make what follows really matter. The screenplay by Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould is air-tight, and Tommy Lee Jones is a firecracker as our hero’s best buddy — particularly his offhand delivery of one of the great lines of the era. You’ll know it when you hear it. (Includes audio commentaries, interviews, featurette, “Trailers from Hell” presentation, trailer, and TV and radio spots.)  

High Noon: This 1952 Western from director Fred Zinneman is best remembered for its implicitly anti-blacklist stance and its ingenious construction — it plays out in roughly real time, tick-tocking to the arrival of a vicious killer, culminating with an action-packed shoot-out. But the character beats are what stick; this is a film with much to say about choosing to do the right thing, and is less about the what the characters do than the psychology of why they do it. (Zinneman pointedly chose to de-emphasize the wide open spaces by shooting in tightly composed black-and-white; KL Studio Classics’ transfer crisply captures its stark simplicity.) It’s far from subtle, thanks to the clanging symbolism and sting-heavy music, but these weren’t subtle times. And frankly, neither are ours.  (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, and trailer.) 

Mean Girls: Even if you’re indifferent to the remake, credit where due: thanks to its 4K release, we have a matching one for the 2004 original. Lindsey Lohan stars, as you must know by now, as Cady Heron, the new girl who falls in with “The Plastics” and gets a crash course in the ferocity of popularity. It was a star-making movie, not only for Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Lizzy Caplan, and Amy Poehler, but for screenwriter/co-star Tina Fey, with her first big flex off the “Weekend Update” desk. Her script is both wise and witty, and still highly quotable after two decades. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, blooper reel, deleted scenes, and more.) 

Basket Case: Writer/director Frank Henenlotter shot this grimy little item in 16mm for about $35,000 in and around Times Square at its nadir, and the sleaze of that time and place all but oozes off the screen. Kevin Van Hentenryck stars as a seemingly naive young man who shows up at a Gotham flophouse with a mysterious wicker basket in his hand and revenge on his mind; the basket contains his deformed and once-conjoined twin brother, and the revenge is on those who separated them. If that logline doesn’t sound like your particular brand of vodka, the movie won’t turn you around. But those who love this particular vintage of disreputable grindhouse cinema will find this a quintessential example (there’s literally a set piece in a Times Square grindhouse), and Arrow Video’s loving 4K restoration renders it as good as it’s ever looked. (Includes audio commentaries, interviews, featurettes, feature-length documentary What’s in the Basket, video essay, outtakes, short films, trailer, TV and radio spots, and essay by Michael Gingold.) 


True Love: Nancy Savoca made her first big splash on this indie scene with this 1989 grand prize winner at Sundance (in the year of sex, lies, and videotape, no less), about a young couple who realize, in the days leading up to their wedding, that they’re in way over their heads. Annabella Sciorra and Ron Eldard craft a believably shallow relationship in the leading roles; she’s sympathetic, charismatic, and just right, while he finds just the right notes to make his absolute shit of a would-be groom credible. (It’s also of keen interest to Sopranos fans, as Sciorra is joined by future co-stars Aida Turturro and Vincent Pastore.) Savoca knows every inch of the world these characters inhabit, and shows, even in her first film, an uncanny knack for ensemble storytelling. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, and theatrical trailer.) 

Household Saints: Savoca again, with one of her less-discussed pictures, and an absolute marvel all the same. Vincent D’Onofrio stars as a butcher in Little Italy who wins his wife (Tracy Ullman) in a pinochle game; their daughter grows up to be Lili Taylor, who becomes so religious that some believe her a saint (and others, including her parents, think that she’s just crazy). This is a beautifully lived-in movie — Savoca understands the tricky dynamics of these traditional families — and she resists the urge to sneer at her eventual protagonist, and her faith. It’s a wildly unpredictable work, and a richly rewarding one as well. (Includes new and archival interviews, Savoca’s student films, and featurette.) 

Affliction: Paul Schrader directed and penned this adaptation of Russell Banks’s novel, a tough and tricky story of childhood trauma and the steps we must take to overcome it. Nick Nolte is stunning in the leading role of a small-town guy grappling with the demons of his past; he netted an Oscar nomination for the role, and deserved it. James Coburn won that year’s prize for best supporting actor as Nolte’s abusive father, a performance that’s somehow both terrifying and pathetic, while Sissy Spacek and Willem Dafoe shine in key supporting roles. (Includes trailer.) 

The Spirit of ’45: Ken Loach’s working class dramas are rightfully regarded as among the best of contemporary British cinema, but this 2013 documentary (new on Blu from The Film Desk) reminds us of his excellence as a non-fiction filmmaker. The subject matter is vast — it’s basically a history of the social safety net in England — and the various potential detours could have sunk a lesser director. But Loach makes his points cleanly and concisely, with a wealth of archival footage and a well-curated mixture of historians, politicians, and regular folks. It’s both a valuable history and a necessary reminder of the dangers of privatization. (Includes archival interviews, trailer, and essay by Sukhdev Sandhu.) 

Hey Folks! It’s the Intermission Time Video Party: Something Weird Video’s six Hey Folks! It’s Intermission Time VHS compilations were a real treat for lovers of cinematic ephemera, compiling hours of vintage drive-in bumpers, movie theater ads, and other bits of miscellanea. AGFA’s new two-disc set not only includes all of those compilations, but the new Hey Folks! It’s the Intermission Time Mixtape!, an ingeniously edited remix of the best bits from all of those old tapes. Altogether, you get a staggering 718 minutes of throwback fun — a real bargain for a certain type of film-obsessed weirdo (hi). (Includes audio commentary and essay by Lisa Petrucci.) 

The Road to Ruin: Something Weird also continues its collaboration with Kino Classics on the “Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of Exploitation Cinema” series; this fifteenth (!) installment includes both the 1928 silent and 1934 sound versions of this tale of wayward youth. Both feature the signature exploitation mixture of stern warnings and leering dramatizations — we must see the strip poker games and midnight skinny-dips in great detail, you see, to understand the dangers that await our high school heroine, played (and well) in both versions by Helen Foster. The “Forbidden Fruit” films are typically clumsy pictures of the Reefer Madness variety, but these are surprisingly well-crafted pictures, and the big plot twist is a real corker. (Includes audio commentaries and trailers.)   

Tormented: In reviewing Film Masters’ previous Blu-ray releases of Corman and Corman-style ‘50s and ‘60s exploitation pictures, I’ve mentioned how often I prefer the bonus feature to the main attraction. That frankly goes without saying this time around, as the bonus feature for this 1960 Bert I. Gordon movie is Mystery Science Theater 3000 taking on the movie in a season 5 episode of the show. It’s a good one, in spite of the fact that Tormented is a decent little movie (especially compared to their typical fare), a haunting mini-noir about murder and guilt. (Also includes audio commentary, archival interview, featurettes, unreleased 1961 “Famous Ghost Stories” pilot, and essays by Tom Weaver and John Wooley.)

The Tin Star: This 1957 Western (new on Blu from Arrow) boasts a stellar pedigree — an Oscar-nominated screenplay co-written by Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach), a rousing Elmer Bernstein score, and direction by the great Anthony Mann (Winchester 73). Henry Fonda, with a little big of an edge about him, stars as a matter-of-fact bounty hunter whose impatience with an inexperienced young sheriff (Anthony Perkins) gives way to a begrudging mentorship. But it’s not a smooth transition, and the shifting dynamic between them is one of the many virtues of this fine picture, which turns into a thoughtful and thorny treatise on the uneasy intersection between “law and order” and mob justice. (Includes audio commentary, featurette, interview, and trailer.) 

Black Mask: This 1996 Hong Kong action film hit the States in 1999, recut and repackaged for American audiences on the heels of star Jet Li’s breakthrough role in Lethal Weapon 4 the year before. Eureka Entertainment’s new Blu-ray release thankfully gives us the original, uncut Hong Kong version (as well as the alternate Taiwanese cut, and the U.S. release). It has some of the sweaty silliness of ‘90s HK action movies, particularly in terms of comic relief, but it does what it needs to do — the action scenes are thrilling (the great Yuen Woo Ping is credited as martial arts director), and Li is, as always, a pleasure to watch work. (Includes audio commentaries, interviews, featurettes, and trailers.) 

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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