The Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: Hit Man, Gasoline Rainbow, Fear and Loathing, 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: 

Mute Witness: This bravado 1995 indie thriller from first-time writer/director Anthony Waller was, seemingly, stuck in DVD-only purgatory forever, so kudos to Arrow Video for stepping up with not only the Blu-ray but the 4K UHD upgrade. The premise is simple but ingenious: Billy (Marina Zudina) is a mute woman working as a make-up artist on a low-budget horror flick, who stumbles upon an after-hours shoot for a snuff film. When she’s discovered, she spends the rest of the picture basically running for her life, attempting to evade her murderous pursuers. It’s tense, scary, chilling stuff, enlivened by a deeply empathetic lead performance, monstrously vile villains, and some of the cleverest looky-here debut directing this side of Blood Simple. (Includes audio commentaries, video essays, promo reel, behind-the-scenes footage, and trailers.)

ON NETFLIX: 

Hit Man: Richard Linklater adapted a story by Texas journalist Skip Hollandsworth to make one of his best films, Bernie, back in 2011; his latest adapts another Hollandsworth piece into, per the opening titles, the “somewhat true story” of schoolteacher Gary Johnson (Glenn Powell, who also co-wrote), whose electronics surveillance work for the New Orleans Police Department turned him into an undercover operative, posing as a contract killer to catch would-be clients. The first act is broadly comic, especially as the disguises and identities become more intricate; Fletch vibes abound. But Linklater shifts gears when Gary meets a potential client (Adria Arjona) and sparks fly — their heat is off the charts, but their genuine affection for each other is also believable. Linklater nimbly navigates the tonal shifts from cop comedy to romance to thriller, and both Powell and Arjona come out of this thing looking like razzle-dazzle movie stars.  

ON MUBI:

Gasoline Rainbow: Bill and Turner Ross (Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets) love to blur the line between documentary and narrative filmmaking; their latest is improvised, we are told, but it feels more like an overheard documentary than the desperate grasping and overacting of too much improvised cinema. Their focus is on a quintet of graduating seniors in Wiley, Oregon who embark on a post-graduation trip to Portland, of uncertain ends; “Do you guys know what you’re gonna do when you get into the city?” one asks the others. “Or are you just winging it?” They’re just winging it, and so are the Rosses, but their gift for gorgeous found imagery and observed human behavior (both in plentiful supply in a road movie) give the picture its undergirding. Gasoline Rainbow beautifully captures the freedom specific to this moment in their lives, and makes one long to feel it again.


ON 4K:

The Magnificent Seven: John Sturges’s Western riff on Seven Samurai (new from Shout! Factory in a 4K Steelbook edition) embraces the clichés of the era’s oaters, but does so with wit and style, and with one of the best ensemble casts of the era. Leading man Yul Brenner is frankly a bit baffling at first, but the slight air of the outsider works in the narrative’s favor, and that regal quality gives him a firm authority, even when the others waver. His formality contrasts nicely with Steve McQueen’s offhand charisma and naturalistic line readings; the entire crew is well cast and on point (James Coburn and Charles Bronson are the standouts), while Sturges adeptly juggles the big group scenes and action set pieces. It’s a thrilling movie, and Shout’s 4K transfer is gorgeous. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, and trailers.)

Platoon: Oliver Stone spent something like a decade trying and failing to get his intensely personal portrait of the Vietnam War off the ground; even after winning the Oscar for Midnight Express, he was told there just wasn’t a market for Vietnam movies. When he finally got it made in 1986, he quieted his doubters by making not only the Oscar winner for the year’s best picture, but a commercial smash to boot. All these years later, it still plays—the infantryman’s POV has never been rendered more viscerally onscreen, thanks to Stone’s terrifying firefights and fever-pitch confrontations, while the performances (particularly Charlie Sheen as the Stone avatar and Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe’s ying-and-yang commanding officers) are stunners. This is another new 4K Steelbook from Shout!, and another essential purchase. (Includes audio commentaries, deleted and extended scenes, featurettes, trailer and TV spots.) 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Criterion continues their meticulous upgrading of the Terry Gilliam filmography with this sharp-looking 4K release of his 1998 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism classic. Johnny Depp stars as Raoul Duke, the picture’s Thompson alter ego; his performance is mostly delivered as a growl, from behind a cigarette holder clenched in his jaw. But when he’s in the thrall of his highs, either in his hotel room or out in the desert, he offsets that calm with whooping fear and rampant paranoia, to great comic effect. Yet Benicio del Toro steals the picture as “Dr. Gonzo,” his attorney of dubious skill and moral turpitude, whose legal advice mostly consists of encouraging him to ingest more substances. Gilliam’s slavish devotion to the source material eventually renders the film somewhat exhausting, but for long, entertaining stretches, it’s quite an experience. (Includes audio commentaries, deleted scenes, Thompson correspondence read by Depp, featurettes, audio recordings, documentary excerpts, sotryboards, prodution designs, stills, trailer, and essay by J. Hoberman.)

Cry-Baby: More Depp, sorry, but KL Studio Classics’ 4K release of this 1990 sleeper is a nice reminder of what a ballsy move it was of the actor to choose, as his first film after finding stardom on 21 Jump Street, a bonkers John Waters movie. It was the filmmaker’s follow-up to his surprise mainstream hit Hairspray, going back to the mid-‘50s for a simultaneous homage and satire of the era’s jukebox musicals and juvenile delinquent melodramas. Depp is perfect as the title character, a leather-jacketed bad boy who the pretty, square Allison (Amy Locane) is drawn to like a moth to a flame; the typically eclectic supporting cast includes Susan Tyrell, Traci Lords, Iggy Pop, Mink Stole, Troy Donahue, Willem Dafoe (!), Patty Hearst (?), and Hairspray star Ricki Lake. (Includes theatrical version and director’s cut, audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, interviews, and trailer.)


ON BLU-RAY:

Girlfight: You can’t always pinpoint the precise moment when a star is born, but it happens in the opening scene of Karyn Kusama’s 2000 feature debut — a stylish shot in a high school hallway, of a young woman leaning against the lockers, and then looking up. She’s not just looking, though, because Michelle Rodriguez never just looks; she glowers, a snarl of an expression that grabs you by the lapels and doesn’t let go. Thankfully, the rest of the movie lives up to that introduction, as Rodriguez’s fiercely tough Diana trains to become a boxer (“I didn’t make the cheerleading team”), supplementing the well-established fight film beats with potent commentary on sexism and expectation. It’s only become a more pointed picture, and Criterion’s new 4K restoration shines up the image while retaining its moody indie graininess. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, storyboard-to-film comparison, trailer, and essay by Carmen Maria Machado.) 

Querelle: The great Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film (released posthumously) is lurid, moody, unapologetically queer, and deliciously theatrical — a definite choice from a filmmaker who was not only capable of but gifted with dirt-on-the-floor realism. Here, he adapts Jean Gene’s novel Querelle of Brest with Midnight Express’s Brad Davis as the title character, a Belgian sailor and criminal who falls into the sweaty gay underworld of a French port town; Franco Nero is delightfully out-there as the story’s narrator, Querelle’s superior officer (and more). Its initial reception was mixed at best, for reasons likely beyond the craft onscreen; its subsequent reclamation culminates with its addition to the Criterion Collection, and as with all of Fassbinder’s work, it’s thrillingly, breathlessly his and his alone. (Includes interviews, documentary, trailer, and essay by Nathan Lee.)  

The Plot Against Harry: The story behind Michael Roemer’s first feature since Nothing But a Man would be great even if the movie wasn’t: completed in 1970, the independent mob comedy never saw a theatrical release. So it sat on his shelf for nearly 20 years, until the writer/director decided to have it transferred to tape to show to his kids, and caught the lab tech roaring with laugher. It finally hit theaters in 1989 to rave reviews, screened out of competition at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, and now gets a spiffy Blu-ray release from The Film Desk. And luckily, the story isn’t all that’s great about it; the script is witty, the performances are gems, and the snapshot of Jewish life in New York City is an indelible one. Fast, funny, and somehow still fresh. (Includes interviews, trailer, and 32-page booklet.) 

Rat Film: Theo Anthony’s inventive and thought-provoking experimental essay film takes a potentially cinematically dry subject (Baltimore’s history of systemic racism and housing segregation) and tells it through a wholly unexpected lens (the city’s long-running attempts to control its rat population). The strands initially seem all but unrelated, but the deftness with which Anthony draws them out, and weaves them together, is an act of non-fiction storytelling sorcery. (Includes broadcast cut, Q&A, test reel, featurettes, trailer, and essay by Eric Hatch.)

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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