The Best Movies to Buy or Stream This Week: Midnight Run, The Fisher King, The Maltese Falcon 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: 

The Maltese Falcon: Most of us fumble pretty badly on our first at-bats – you’ve not read my early reviews, and you won’t – and yet John Huston made his directorial debut with this 1941 detective yarn, and crafted a stone-cold classic. Humphrey Bogart sealed his rep as the quintessential silver screen private eye with his iconic turn as Sam Spade, who watches as a simple missing persons case gets his partner killed and the cops on his trail, unfolding to reveal a vast criminal conspiracy to acquire the titular statue. The supporting cast – including squirrelly Peter Lorre, grandiose Sydney Greenstreet, and slinky Mary Astor – is superb, and Huston’s sharp script knocks off more quotable lines in 101 minutes than most scribes come up with in a lifetime. Warner Bros’s new 4K release (part of a line of classics marking the studio’s centennial) is clean as a whistle. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, studio blooper reel, make-up tests, short films, cartoons, trailers, and radio adaptations.)

ON 4K:

Cool Hand Luke: Also new in that WB 100th anniversary collection is this indelible tribute to the limitless cool of Paul Newman, at his slyest and sexiest in the title role of a war hero turned ne’er-do-well whose childish display of public drunkenness turns into an extended sentence on a Florida chain gang, where he does himself no favors with his continued displays of nonconformity and refusal to acquiesce to authority. Director Stuart Rosenberg is an unheralded master, and what he’s up to here is especially tricky; the picture, especially early on, has a kind of shambling, loosey-goosey vibe, but he’s quietly, subtly tightening the noose around his protagonist’s neck (and, by extension, the viewer’s). By the third act, it feels less like we’re watching a Southern-fried character study than a piercing indictment of the prison system – and how it allows the state to break every person it touches, one by one. (Includes audio commentary, featurette, and trailer.) 

Midnight Run: “What’re ya, a comedian?” a cab driver asks Robert De Niro in the closing scene of this 1988 action/comedy (getting the 4K upgrade from Shout! Factory), and it plays like a bit of wink – because back then, the idea of Method man De Niro using his tough-guy persona at the service of laughs was still a novelty. But it’s a funny performance, without ever trying to be; George Gallo’s screenplay merely bounces him off fussy Mob accountant Charles Grodin, and watches the sparks. Grodin is the more conventionally comic performer, of course, and he has several funny bits, but he and De Niro have the timing and byplay of a good comedy team, which is the kind of thing it’s hard to manufacture. Director Martin Brest takes what could’ve been a conventional action picture on the order of his previous hit Beverly Hills Cop – and to be sure, it’s got plenty of car chases, shoot-outs, fist fights, chopper attacks, and Mob snipers – but it all serves the central relationship, and he never rushes his performers through the personal beats and slow burns that are, ultimately, the movie’s heart. (Includes interviews, archival featurette, and trailer.) 

The Fisher King: After years of critical kudos and studio battles, Terry Gilliam finally scored a mainstream hit with this 1991 Robin Williams/Jeff Bridges vehicle — and it’s still a little surprising that he managed to make such a downright odd movie within that system, at that moment. His over-caffeinated style doesn’t always mesh with the subtleties of Richard LaGravenese’s excellent (Oscar-nominated) screenplay, but he does bring out an operatic lyricism that works, while miraculously, gingerly navigating from tragedy to buddy comedy to adventure to rom-com to, ultimately (and smashingly), fairy tale. It’s a funny film with some unbearably painful moments (the image of Williams kneeling in the street and begging his imagined antagonist to “Please let me have this” is downright unshakable), vital questions of personal responsibility at its center, and a wonderfully eccentric Amanda Plummer performance that we’re still not talking about enough. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, featurettes, deleted scenes with audio commentary, costume tests, and trailers.)

Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby: Vinegar Syndrome follows up last month’s 4K release of Matthew Bright’s gonzo cult favorite Freeway the only way they can: with a shiny 4K release of his even less reputable 1999 in-name-only sequel. Natasha Lyonne steps into Reese Witherspoon’s slot as the white-trash, take-no-shit protagonist, and she’s a good, gnarly heroine; among a supporting cast is chock full of freaks and weirdos, David Alan Grier stands out with a gleefully repugnant turn as a horny defense attorney. The opening sections, in which Bright offers up his own, mildly repellant take on the women-in-prison movie, are the best, though viewers with a sensitive gag reflex may disagree – yet even when it loses focus in the home stretch, it’s still a wild, weird ride. (Includes feature-length making-of documentary, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage.) 

Primal Rage: VS’s other big new 4K release is this blood-oozing monster chiller from director Vittorio Rambaldi and, perhaps even more importantly, his father Carlo, the legend who created the picture’s special effects. (He won Oscars for E.T., Alien, and King Kong.) It betrays its late-‘80s release date in every single frame, from the peppy pop score to the frat-bro villains, and I love that we’ve reached a point in genre physical media releases where that’s a feature and not a bug. The gore is copious, the kills are ingenious, the premise is clever, and there’s plenty of fun to be had for anyone with a strong enough stomach. (Includes feature-length making-of documentary and interview.) 

ON BLU-RAY:

Dawson’s Creek – The Complete Series: We’re all friends, right? I’ll say it: I love Dawson’s Creek. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolute trash; even the early, good years, when Kevin Williamson was mostly directly involved and the focus was squarely on the core four (James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson, and Michelle Williams – good on ya, casting director) are pure soap opera, teens spouting ‘20s screenwriter dialogue while working their way through conflicts and triangles that any viewer can see coming miles away. But the whole thing is so damn earnest, and the cast so attractive and charismatic, that it’s sort of irresistible, and Mill Creek’s new series-spanning box set offers up quite the nostalgia fix for those in need. And yes, because real ones want to know: these include the proper, “I Don’t Want to Wait” opening credits. (Includes audio commentaries, series retrospectives, reunion footage, featurettes, and pilot presentation.)

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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