The Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: Eileen, One from the Heart, Fletch, 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.


Peeping Tom: Criterion gives the 4K bump to this still-controversial thriller from Michael Powell, made after his split from longtime collaborator Emeric Pressburger. A grim and grisly 1960 exploration of voyeurism and murder, it covered much of the same ground as that year’s Psycho, but with vastly different responses and results for the filmmakers behind them. Carl Boehm is chilling as a photographer who films women as he kills them, while Anna Massey is endlessly sympathetic as a woman who could either save him or become his next victim. Powell adopts an unnerving visual style, heavy on subjective camerawork that perhaps made its original audiences feel a bit closer to the titular character than they would’ve liked. (Includes audio commentaries, introductions by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, featurettes, trailer, and essay by Megan Abbott.) (Also streaming on the Criterion Channel.)


Eileen: William Oldroyd’s adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel is two great movies in one. The first half or so is a gin-soaked slice of sinful pulp, in which a dissatisfied 24-year-old prison clerk (Thomasin McKenzie, revelatory) finds her senses awakened by the splendidly named “Dr. Ms. Rebecca St. John,” played by Anne Hathaway in straight-up blonde bombshell mode, sporting Marilyn hair, and smoking cigarettes the way bad women used to smoke them in movies. You see that hesitation and confusion in the panic that overcomes Eileen when Rebecca invites her out for a drink after work, and we can be certain of one thing: in some sense or another, Eileen is in trouble. That trouble arrives in the form of a spectacular third act 180, a first-rate bait-and-switch, and in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, and a less accomplished cast, it could’ve absolutely gone to shambles. But that’s not what happens here at all; Eileen pulls off the transition from teasing fatalism to something much doomier, and does it with panache. 


One From the Heart: Reprise: Francis Ford Coppola (or just “Francis Coppola,” as he’s credited here) continues his recutting tour of his less-beloved works with this slight reworking of his 1982 flop, which put the kibosh on that particular iteration of Zoetrope Studios. A musical of a sort — the original songs are not sung by the stars, but as a kind of Greek chorus, voiced by Crystal Gale and composer Tom Waits, layered on to the busy soundtrack — Coppola uses stylized, highly theatrical staging and shooting, as well as inventive double-exposures and scrim work, to create a neon-soaked fantasy of love and lust. It doesn’t quite come together, mostly due to a key casting error; Frederic Forrest is a fine actor, but he doesn’t have the light touch and breezy energy to play the romantic lead. But Teri Garr is magnificent, a cherry bomb of charisma and dizziness, Raul Julia is a total charmer, and Harry Dean Stanton is at his laconic best as Forrest’s right-hand man. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, rehearsal footage, press conference, music video, and trailer.)


Once Upon a Time in the West: The opportunity to work with Henry Fonda, one of his favorite actors, was part of what pulled Sergio Leone back into the Western genre, which he had intended to leave behind after The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. His somewhat perverse notion: to cast one of classic Hollywood’s most venerable good guys as a cold-blooded killer. Fonda initially refused the chance to play so firmly against type, and even once Leone convinced him, he tried to play the role with brown contacts and facial hair. Leone vetoed that choice; he wanted those icy blue eyes for his famous tight close-ups. The director’s instincts were right on; Fonda’s performance is a stunner, the highlight but by no means the only memorable aspect of this sprawling frontier epic. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, and trailer.)

The Crow: Alex Proyas’s adaptation of James O’Barr’s graphic novels gets a 4K from Paramount to mark its 30th anniversary, and it’s always been a tricky movie to engage with, its initial completion and release after the on-set death of star Brandon Lee vaguely smelling of ghoulishness. But the passage of time has faded that aura; now it plays like an antidote to the vanilla style and easy binaries of contemporary superhero cinema, thanks to Proyas’s keen visual sense and Lee’s complicated and conflicted work in the leading role. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, interviews, extended scenes, deleted footage, and trailer.) (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.)


Seeing Red: 3 French Vigilante Thrillers: Synth-heavy music plays as a series of rough-looking characters stroll through a video arcade in the opening sequence of Shot Pattern, and boy does it ever set the palpably grimy mood for this collection of solid ‘80s-era action and revenge tales. That film concerns a man driven to avenge the brutal public assault and murder of his girlfriend by a street gang, intercutting his tracking of them with flashbacks to the central romance, arriving at a good and appropriately tough conclusion. Street of the Damned works something closer to a Warriors and Streets of Fire urban wasteland vibe, concerning a guy who got out of the gang life before they pulled him back in. The pace of this one goes a bit slack in the middle, but it tightens right up at the end. Black List has the set’s most unconventional protagonist, a middle-aged mom out to take out the criminals who corrupted and killed her little girl. Throw in efficient violence, compelling character beats, and a tight-as-a-drum opening heist sequence, and you’ve got the best film of this top-tier set. (Includes audio commentaries, interviews, trailers, alternate ending to Shot Pattern, and essay by Barry Forshaw.)  

Fletch: Chevy Chase found his most suitable onscreen avatar (yes, even more than Clark Griswold) in Irwin Fletcher, the Los Angeles investigative reporter at the center of Gregory MacDonald’s Edgar-winning mystery novels. Thanks to a crackerjack screenplay by Andrew Bergman and sturdy direction by Michael Ritchie, Fletch offsets Chase’s (very funny) wacky-disguises and slapstick schtick with witty dialogue, a tightly-constructed mystery, decent action beats, and a tip-top supporting cast (including Joe Don Baker, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, M. Emmet Walsh, Richard Libertini, and a young Geena Davis). Frisky and funny, it’s Chase at his peak. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, trailer and TV spots.)

Fletch Lives: Ritchie and Chase reunited four years later for this follow-up, new on Blu from KL Studio Classics, and it’soccasionally inexplicable—why, for example, would screenwriter Leon Capatanos invent a new (and rather simple) Fletch mystery instead of adapting one of the many terrific books that followed Gregory MacDonald’s original novel? Still, if it doesn’t match its predecessor (and few ‘80s comedies did), there are plenty of worthwhile comic bits here, as well as a rare non-serviceman turn by R. Lee Ermey as a TV preacher, and it offers the chance to enjoy Chevy Chase’s wiseass persona in one of the last films he made before it got moldy. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, trailer and TV spots.)

Starting Over: This 1979 gem finds two icons of the era going against type, with action star Burt Reynolds and conspiracy thriller director Alan J. Pakula teaming up for a gentle, mature romantic comedy co-starring Jill Clayburgh and Candace Bergen (and lensed by no less a talent than Sven Nykvist). The key to the equation is screenwriter James L. Brooks, building the bridge from his TV sitcom work to his directorial debut Terms of Endearment; he pens a witty, charming, sensitive script, in which (a clean-shaven!) Reynolds stars as a recent divorcee trying to get over his ex-wife (Bergen) and get back out there with a delightfully daffy schoolteacher (Clayburgh). Memorable performances all around, while Pakula and Brooks prove an unexpectedly successful mix. (Includes audio commentary.) 

Bluebeard: “Warning! Citizens of Paris! A murderer is in your midst!” So begins this 1944 take on the French folk tale from B-movie master Edgar G. Ulmer, of the famously fast-and-cheap Detour. This is still a Poverty Row production (from the inauspicious auspices of Producers Releasing Corporation), but Ulmer at least has period dress and passable sets at his disposal, as well as John Carradine in the leading role, biting off all the scenery he can chew. A bit too chatty, but a breezy and occasionally creepy effort nonetheless, given a notable boost by co-star Jean Parker, a good and headstrong ingenue. (Includes audio commentaries.) (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.)  

Lair of the White Worm: Ken Russell’s mildly deranged adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel (y’know, one of the other ones) gets the Blu-ray Steelbook treatment from Lionsgate’s “Vestron Video Collector’s Series.” Equal parts striking, silly, and sexy—this is Russell, after all—it features a snake-worshiping cult, a kinda-sorta vampire worm, a healthy dose of English folk horror, and such baby-faced future stars as Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi, who are both very funny, mostly on purpose. The central character is Amanda Donohue’s Lady Sylvia, who is a terrific vamp (in both senses of the word), and Russell’s baroque visual style is on full display, in spite of the budget limitations. It doesn’t all work, and it gets plenty fucking cuckoo by the end, but there’s enough insanity on display to keep your interest. (Includes audio commentaries, featurette, interviews, and trailers.) (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.)

Kinski Paganini: It’s not exactly breaking news to report that Klaus Kinski was not quite in his right mind; it’s part of what makes his performances so electrifying, and why his posthumous legend continues to expand. One of his odder projects was his last, this 1989 biopic of Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini (new on Blu from Vinegar Syndrome), in which he not only stars but wrote and directed, his first and last credit in either capacity. But it’s easy to see what drove him to this peculiar passion project—he sees himself in this artist, “a character that seemed to spring from hell,” a snarling demon driven only by his intensity for his art and his carnal desires. The Ken Russell influence is pronounced (in both approach and horniness), but Kinski is a real filmmaker with a gift for composition and mood; much of it is essentially a silent movie, the story told in pure visuals accompanied by Paganini’s ferocious music. It’s bizarre, and disturbing, and not quite like anything I’ve seen before. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, extended English language director’s cut, behind-the-scenes footage, Cannes press conference, and trailer.) 

Story of a Junkie: I nearly stopped myself from pressing play on this one on account of the Troma Entertainment credit; god bless you if you dig what they do, but it’s not for me. But this is decidedly not a Troma movie—maybe this is their equivalent to Love Streams, which Cannon financed with the profits of their Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris movies. Instead, it’s a penetrating fusion of fiction and non-fiction, a missing link between Panic in Needle Park and Heaven Knows What, in which documentary filmmaker Lech Kowalski spends some time in the occasionally harrowing company of heroin dealer and addict John “Gringo” Spacely. He’s a colorful character, and Kowalski clearly gained his trust; his camera will catch “Gringo” ranting and raving and pontification, and then he’ll cut to a needle casually hanging out of his arm. That matter-of-fact approach may put some viewers off, but it’s indicative of the casually unflinching nature of this unforgettable portrait. (Includes interviews and soundtrack CD.)

Lady Reporter: Another Cynthia Rothrock Hong Kong action movie gets the Vinegar Syndrome HD treatment, and it’s no insult to say you’ll get exactly what you expect from it: a charismatic turn by the leading lady, some tiresomely schticky “comic relief” from the supporting players, and a whole mess of bone-crunching action sequences courtesy of director Mang Hoi and fight choreographer Corey Yuen. Your mileage may vary, but my favorite is the midpoint battle on bamboo scaffolding; that said, there’s a moment near the end with the spike of her heel that ought to be in the HK action hall of fame. (Includes Hong Kong and English-language versions, audio commentary, interviews, trailers, and essay by Francesco Massaccesi.) 

Bettie Page Double Feature [Teaserama | Varietease]: The title of Kino Cult’s new collection is actually a misnomer; it includes not two but three burlesque showcase films from grindhouse producer/director Irving Klaw. They’re not exactly four-star cinema, nor have they maintained much of their ability to arouse; these films’ primary value is anthropological, documenting as they did the typical burlesque variety show, featuring striptease acts (including the immortal pin-up Page, credited as “Betty Page” in Varietease), cheeseball emcees (“Direct from Paris! Paris, France!”), songs (mostly bad) and comic sketches (mostly worse). In this case, the films also adroitly capture the unique on-camera charisma of Miss Page, whose performances here have the winking wickedness of a woman with secrets you don’t get to hear. (Includes audio commentaries, trailers, and original Something Weird Video editions of Varietease and Teaerama.)

Night Falls on Manhattan: It’s a tough case to make conclusively, but one could argue that Sidney Lumet’s greatest achievement was a quartet of films relentlessly damning the corruption of the New York City law enforcement apparatus. Each is a bit less known than its predecessor, with Serpico followed by Prince of the City, then Q&A, and finally this 1997 procedural (new to Blu-ray from Arrow Video). But it’s a keeper, with a career-best performance by Andy Garcia as an ambitious young district attorney who makes his bones with a high-profile case in which his cop father (Ian Holm, excellent) was nearly killed, only to uncover troubling information about its particulars. The supporting cast (including Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Leibman, Dominic Chianese, and a pre-fame James Gandolfini) is luminescent and Lumet knows this material backwards and forwards, playing it like an old bluesman who’s still untouchable. (Includes audio commentaries, archival interviews, The Directors episode on Lumet, trailers, and essay by Nick Clement.) 

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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