The Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: Lisa Frankenstein, Four Daughters, Picnic at Hanging Rock

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: 

Picnic at Hanging Rock: Peter Weir’s 1975 breakthrough film, one of the inaugural entries in the Criterion Collection, gets a 4K upgrade, and benefits from it; this is a beautiful, visceral experience, casting a spell from its very first frame. Dramatizing the true story of a group of schoolgirls (and a chaperone) who vanish without a trace during a Valentine’s Day outing in 1900, it’s one of the great balancing acts of ‘70s cinema, telling real events in a grounded manner, but also unfolding with the feel and logic of a waking nightmare. It’s the kind of film you watch in a hush, so delicate it feels as though raising your voice will break the frame, all while gathering steam for its devastating conclusion. (Includes interviews, featurettes, early Weir film Homesdale, introduction by David Thomson, essay by Megan Abbott, and excerpt from Mark Haltof’s book on Weir.)


ON NETFLIX:

The Thin Blue Line: The great Errol Morris redefined documentary cinema – oh yeah, and saved an innocent man’s life too – with this 1988 true crime documentary, now streaming on Netflix (which is fulllllllll of its lesser imitators). The filmmaker, who spent several years earlier in the decade paying the bills as a private eye, merges those skills to reinvestigate the murder of Robert Wood, a Dallas police officer shot late one night in November of 1976. In doing so, he found compelling evidence that the man on Death Row for the murder, Randall Dale Adams, was innocent – a case Morris makes via hypnotic dramatizations of the crime as it might have happened, and in chilling interviews in which no one is terribly concerned with the truth. In spite of its many imitations (most notably The Jinx a few years back), The Thin Blue Line remains a singular achievement: a thrilling fusion of non-fiction and film noir, in which every pregnant pause and naked half-truth tells us something unnerving about human nature. (Also streaming on the Criterion Channel.)

ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD:

Lisa Frankenstein: Director Zelda Williams (working from a clever screenplay by Diablo Cody) nicely replicates not only the look, but the feel of ‘80s teen comedies in the story of a high school outcast (Kathryn Newton) who inadvertently resurrects the undead boy of her dreams (Cole Sprouse). He’s falling apart, and asks for her help (“I can’t just get you new parts,” she objects, “you’re a dead man, not a Chrysler LeBaron”) so they set about harvesting the parts they need from the worst people in her life. Williams’s sense of pace isn’t always on point, but her actors pull it through the rough patches; Sprouse does some enjoyable, silent movie-style physical acting, and Newton continues to prove herself one of the most charismatic young actors on the scene. (Includes deleted scenes, gag reel, and featurette.)

Four Daughters: Olfa Hamrouni has, per the title, four daughters; the shocking story of what happened to two of them (but really, to everyone in the family) is brought to life by Tunisian documentarian Kaouther Ben Hania, who brings in two actors to play the two absent daughters for a combination of documentary and reenactment. “We’re going to relive it all,” explains daughter Eya. “It’s going to open those wounds.” She is not wrong. The turns of their story are shocking and occasionally hard to take, though they approach these memories with a combination of pain and humor; its feels something akin to Robert Greene’s Procession, an affecting example of filmmaking as trauma therapy. Innovative and inventive in form, and powerful in both its roars and its silences, this is one of the best documentaries of 2023. (Includes interview and trailer.) (Also streaming on Netflix.)


ON 4K:

La Haine: Mathieu Kassovitz roared onto the world film stage with this social thriller in 1995, the perfect moment for a rough-edged, black-and-white crime story that traffics in both thrills and grime. Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui (star-making performances all) are spectacular as the frustrated outsiders and immigrants at the story’s center, taking what they believe to be theirs in a society that sees them as nothing. Kassovitz’s style is like a dirty bomb, and the picture is effective as both a thrilling story of street crime and an encapsulation of a resentment that’s never really stopped simmering. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, trailers, introduction by Jodie Foster, essay by Ginette Vincendeau, and appreciation by Costa-Gavras.) 

Goin’ South: The third release from the new (and excellent) Cinématographe label showcases this 1978 Jack Nicholson picture — one of only three films he directed, bookended by the austere drama Drive, He Said and the Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes. This is quite different from either of those, a wild and woolly Western comedy about an outlaw (Jack, of course) who is saved from the gallows by a local ordinance in which local women may marry and reform such scoundrels as he. The woman in question is Mary Steenburgen, in one of her first roles, and she’s no pushover, resulting in a shaggy, silly riff on enemies-to-lovers tropes. I fully admire Nicholon’s decision to play the lead like the love child of Walter Brennan and Yosemite Sam (there is both hootin’ and hollerin’), but as a director, he has a keen sense of how to frame and cut comedy, and one wishes he’d have done a bit more of this kind of thing. (Includes audio commentary, video essays, and essays by Marc Eliot and Chris Shields.)  


ON BLU-RAY:

Handgun (aka Deep in the Heart): The latest release from the increasingly indispensable Fun City Editions is this 1983 cross between psychological drama and vigilante thriller. Karen Young is spectacular as a young woman, new to Dallas, who goes on a date that escalates into an assault (in a chillingly believable, and non-exploitative, way), a harrowing experience that has her rethinking her resistance to the state’s pro-gun culture. Writer/director Tony Garnett creates a deep, rich sense of time and place, with locations that feel lived-in and supporting players that don’t feel like actors; it’s “regional cinema” in the best sense of the phrase, using those textures to create a picture that carefully elides cheap thrills while still going for the throat. (Includes audio commentary, archival interview, trailer, and booklet essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.) 

5 Card Stud: Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum played basically the same role opposite John Wayne in Rio Bravo and El Dorado, respectively, so there’s inherent interest in them teaming up for a Western of their own. The supporting cast includes a young Yaphet Kotto and Roddy McDowell as the heavy, and the director is one of the legends of the genre, Henry Hathaway, who cooks up a delightfully entertaining mash-up of small-town oater and Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, with the men responsible for the hanging of a tinhorn gambler themselves turning up dead, one by one. The performers are on fire (Martin was right in that sweet spot before his onscreen ease gave way to torpor), and Hathaway moves things along at a good clip. This is the last release I’d expect from Vinegar Syndrome (“Labs” imprint or no), but it’s one of my favorite discoveries of the young year. (Includes audio commentary and featurettes.)

Touch: The 1995 success of Get Shorty — and a sense that, at long last, someone had cracked the one and only “Dutch” — led to a landslide of film adaptations of Elmore Leonard novels, including such now-classics as Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. Less discussed, then or now, is this 1997 adaptation from Paul Schrader, which feels like a successful merging of their seemingly disparate sensibilities. It has Leonard’s love of con artists, fringe criminals, and the like, but its central story of a modern-day faith-healer (Skeet Ulrich) is a snug fit for Schrader’s career-long interest in questions of unblinking faith in a cynical world. The cast is loaded (including turns by Christopher Walken, Gina Gershon, Tom Arnold, and Jackie Brown’s Bridget Fonda), and the gorgeous cinematography by the great Edward Lachman is nicely captured by the 2K restoration from (again!) Cinématographe. (Includes audio commentary, interview, video essay, and essay by Chris Cabin, Bilge Ebiri, and Cosmo Bjorkenheim.) 

Signature Move: New to Blu from Music Box Films, this charming 2017 rom-com concerns a nervous romance between two Chicago women: a Pakistani lawyer (co-writer Fawzia Mirza) who is not quite out of the closet, and a Latina bookshop owner (Sari Sanchez) who very much is. Director Jennifer Reeder manages to do two tricky things at once here, telling a story that’s both a very specific queer (and immigrant) text, while also hitting the formula rom-com beats with affable enthusiasm. It’s a charmer, with memorable performances by not only the leads, but Shabana Azmi and Audrey Francis in support. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, video production diary, featurette, and trailer.) 

The Minus Man: This 1999 thriller, written and directed by Blade Runner co-scribe Hampton Fancher, is unexpected from top to bottom: a serial killer movie played straight, but with Owen Wilson and Janeane Garafalo (then known only for their comic work) in the leads. It sounds like a sure recipe for a misfire, but it somehow works; Fancher works a Twilight Zone-ish small town noir vibe, Wilson and Garafalo’s matter-of-fact personas prove easily adaptable to the material, and the whole thing is covered by an unsettling cloud, a chance that any terrible thing could happen at any moment. This one disappeared pretty quickly back in ’99; hopefully this, its Blu-ray debut from KL Studio Classics, will put it on some radars. (Including audio commentary 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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