The Best Movies To Buy Or Stream This Week: 'Catherine Called Birdy,' 'The Limey,' 'Bram Stoker's Dracula,' & More – The Playlist

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.
If you’re a horror fan with a 4K player, well, you’re eating well this week, with some of the most iconic scary movies of the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s making their way to the format. Plus, we’ve got a Criterion restoration for an underseen David Lynch flick, a screwball classic, a new (and delightful) effort from Lena Dunham, and a long-awaited HD release for a Soderbergh masterpiece. That’s where we’ll start:
“The Limey”: Three years after its 20th anniversary 4K restoration, Steven Soderbergh’s 1999 neo-noir masterpiece finally makes its way onto disc, and it’s a beaut, magnificently capturing the blown-out California sun and moody interiors of Ed Lachman’s photography. The story is a fairly straightforward affair – a snarling British criminal (Terence Stamp, fierce and fabulous) travels to Los Angeles to track down the aging hippie record exec (Peter Fonda, perfectly cast) responsible for his daughter’s death – and the script, by Soderbergh’s frequent collaborator Lem Dobbs, was written that way. But Soderbergh and editor Sarah Flack radically rejiggered the picture in post, experimenting with a non-linear style that discombobulates the conventions of the genre with unexpected cuts, unusual juxtapositions, and abstract images whose meaning (and relationship to each other) aren’t clear until the film’s conclusion. It’s one of the best movies of the ‘90s, and like its stars, it’s only getting better with age. (Includes original DVD audio commentaries, thank goodness, and isolated score.)
Catherine Called Birdy”: Lena Dunham’s second feature film of 2022 presents a striking study in contrasts. “Sharp Stick” is a provocative and occasionally cringe-y examination of contemporary mores, particularly regarding sexuality—in other words, exactly what you’d expect from a Lena Dunham movie. ‘Birdy,’ on the other hand, is a period piece based on a book and rated PG-13; it feels like a movie made as a conscious effort to prove that she’s more than you think. But that dichotomy also makes ‘Birdy’ feel more calculating than it is; indeed, it’s a delightful step in Dunham’s artistic evolution, a work that both feels like something new and bears her distinctive voice. In the title role, Bella Ramsey is delightful, funny, and odd, striking a perfect balance between contemporary attitudes and period style. And frankly, that description fits the film as well. 
The French Dispatch”: Wes Anderson’s latest is one of his best, and perhaps his funniest – he’s firing on all comic cylinders here, filling this feature-length illustration of “an American magazine published in Ennui, France” with fabulous little flourishes of verbal and (especially) visual wit. It’s an anthology film, and as is so often the case, the quality varies from episode to episode; I found the Jeffrey Wright story strongest and the Timothée Chalamet the weakest (your mileage may vary). But it coheres beautifully under the umbrella of Anderson’s distinctive aesthetic and deadpan humor. 
The Green Knight”: We’ve seen plenty of cinematic adaptations of the Arthurian legends, but never one quite like this. Writer/director David Lowery brings a real sense of playfulness to the material, with winking on-screen text and borderline satire that approaches “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” territory. But he can flip to absolute terror and moody peculiarity at a moment’s notice, all the better to keep his audience off-balance, and by the closing scene, his aims have become clear. There are entire notions of bravery, gallantry, and masculinity that are deconstructed and demystified, and any filmmaker who can do that, this slyly, is a filmmaker of real gifts.
ON 4K:
Night of the Living Dead”: A copyright error put George A. Romero’s zombie masterpiece into the public domain on its release, leading to such an immediate glut of poor-quality releases that it’s a little bit of a revelation to finally see it properly restored and presented. But that’s what Criterion has done, God bless ‘em, with a 4K digital restoration that’s so pristine it’s astonishing, rendering one of the most familiar horror movies of all time into something new and exciting. But it’s become a classic in that dilapidated form anyway, because it’s undeniably brilliant – a socially-conscious, muscular thriller that provides atmosphere galore and flesh-eating scares, coupled with a trenchant message about the power of paranoia and the dangers of groupthink. Man, what a movie. (Includes audio commentaries, work-print edit, dailies reel, new and archival interviews, featurettes, newsreels, trailer, radio and TV spots, and essay by Stuart Klawans.)
Lost Highway”: “This is some spooky shit we got here,” the prison guard says, and that’s an understatement. David Lynch’s 1997 nightmare noir was (like much of his ‘90s output) initially dismissed by most critics and audiences, but it now stands as a key pivot point in his progression from the doomy “Twin Peaks” universe to the doppelgangers and deceptions of “Mulholland Dr.” Bill Pullman pokes holes in his nice-guy persona as a jazz saxophonist driven mad by his certainty of the infidelities of his wife (Patricia Arquette). But that’s just the set-up; Lynch plunges his protagonist into some of his most haunting images and ideas, and a plot that at first seems loosey-goosey, but unwinds in a most satisfying (and, of course, circular) fashion. Pullman, Arquette, and Balthazar Getty anchor the chaos handily, but Robert Blake and Robert Loggia (no tailgating!) make the most lasting impressions. (Includes, feature-length making-of documentary, archival interviews, and excerpts from Lynch’s books and interviews.) 
Bram Stoker’s Dracula”: Released in the year between “Terminator 2” and “Jurassic Park,” Francis Ford Coppola’s feverishly baroque adaptation of the formative vampire novel plays now like a last hurrah for practical effects. Coppola layers images like a picture book and splashes blood with Grand Guignol enthusiasm, and it’s all so delightfully operatic that we don’t much mind the unevenness of the performances, though Gary Oldman struts like a rock star and Anthony Hopkins, fresh from his Oscar win as Hannibal Lecter, is at his most unhinged. (Includes audio commentaries, introduction, deleted and extended scenes, featurettes, music video, and trailers.)
Fright Night”: Tom Holland’s playful 1985 horror-comedy prompted a 1988 sequel and a 2011 remake, but the original is still tops. The premise is simple but elegant: a horror-obsessed teen (William Ragsdale) becomes convinced that his new neighbor (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire, so he hires the local TV horror host (Roddy McDowell) to help him stake the vamp. Some of it hasn’t aged so well – Ragsdale is a bit of cipher, and his sidekick is annoying even by ‘80s movie sidekick standards – but Sarandon and McDowell are clearly having a blast, the latter finds his role’s unexpected pathos, and Richard Edlund’s effects are first-rate. (Includes audio commentaries, new and archival interviews, featurettes, vintage EPK, spec trailer, storyboards, and trailers.)
Scream 2”: In 1996, horror master Wes Craven and up-and-coming screenwriter Kevin Williamson teamed up to make “Scream,” which would reinvigorate horror in the 1990s, a potent mixture of self-awareness, meta-commentary, dark humor, and WB-friendly cast. They whipped up a follow-up only a year later, and it remains – sorry for speaking my truth – the only worthy sequel in the series, the single installment that managed to recapture the specific creepy-funny energy of the inaugural outing. That’s partly because the slasher sequel is nearly as juicy a target here as the slasher movie itself was initially, and Williamson’s screenplay takes plenty of knowing, funny swipes at the formula (and, occasionally, subverts it). But what really jumps out on this rewatch – thanks to Paramount’s lovely new 4K release – is the power of Neve Campbell’s performance; all of the things people were praising her for doing in that dreadful 2022 reboot (trauma and terror and long-gestating fear, etc.) she’s doing here, and better. (Includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, featurette, music video, trailer, and TV spots.)   
The Score”: This crisply paced caper movie starring the multi-generational intense-actor-trifecta of Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, and Marlon Brando was met with middling notices upon its summer 2001 release, probably because no movie could reasonably live up to the promise of such a cast. And sure, it’s fairly formula stuff, hitting every single beat from every single heist movie before it. But the direction (from former Muppeteer and “Little Shop of Horrors” director Frank Oz) is tight, the plotting is clever, and it’s fun to watch these three titans spar. (Includes audio commentary, additional footage, featurette, and trailer.) 
The Amityville Horror”: “Houses don’t have memories,” insists George Luntz (James Brolin), and boy, does he ever change his mind. This haunted house thriller from Stuart Rosenberg (“Cool hand Luke”), based on Jay Anson’s (maybe!) fact-based book, is far from the best horror film of the ‘70s – though it may very well be the most influential since its pliable title led to countless unofficial, low-budget sequels and spin-offs. Some of the scares are cheap (kids in peril, jump scares galore, even a screeching cat), but the grisly imagery is affecting, Lalo Schifrin’s score is a banger, and the performances (by Brolin, Margot Kidder, and Rod Steiger) lend a touch of class.  (Includes audio commentary, introduction, new and archival featurettes, interviews, and trailer.)
Arsenic and Old Lace”: One of the most widely performed stage comedies of all time became a screwball classic in the steady hands of director Frank Capra and star Cary Grant. The film finds Grant’s writer and long-avowed bachelor bringing his new wife (Priscilla Lane) to meet his elderly aunts (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair), whom he soon discovers have been poisoning their boarders. Playwright Joseph Kesselring based his farce, rather shockingly, on a real case, though the story was (understandably) softened considerably for mass consumption. Yet it’s still a pretty dark little comedy, considering the era and all, with gallows humor and corpse-based silliness abound. (Includes audio commentary, radio adaptation, trailer, and essay by David Cairns.)
Going Places”: Every once in a while, some random dipshit will go viral for tweeting “You couldn’t make ‘Blazing Saddles’ today!” or some such nonsense, but let’s make it plain: you could not make this 1974 road comedy from writer/director Bertrand Blier (adapting his novel), a cheerful chronicle of two lowlifes (Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere) committing petty robberies and sex crimes along the French countryside. The title is a thick bit of irony – they’re not going anywhere, even to jail, since they always “luck out” (“We’re lucky devils!”). Yet the sheer anarchy and borderline nihilism of their hijinks is frankly refreshing, and the picture bops along with bad-boy energy and then, in its surprisingly thoughtful second half, slyly punctures the machismo of its protagonists. Keep an eye out for a very young Isabelle Huppert in an early role. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.) 
Mark of the Vampire”: Four years after reinventing the horror movie with “Dracula,” director Tod Browning and star Bela Lugosi re-teamed for what is not, it must be stressed, a sequel to that film in any way. This hour-long programmer (new on Blu from Warner Archive) mostly sidelines Lugosi, who doesn’t even speak until the in-jokey conclusion, in favor of a comparatively drab Lionel Barrymore. But Browning ladles on the atmosphere, James Wong Howe’s black-and-white cinematography shimmers, and the mystery plot at the picture’s center wraps up with a clever twist. (Includes audio commentary, short, cartoon, and trailer.) 
Married to the Mob”: Just before his triumphant best director Oscar for “The Silence of the Lambs,” Jonathan Demme made a movie much more along the lines of his quirkier early work: this 1988 Mafia comedy, featuring a four-star performance from Michelle Pfeiffer. She stars as Angela, a mob wife whose cheating husband (Alec Baldwin, at his sleazy ‘80s best) gets killed, prompting her to rethink her life and rearrange her priorities. Matthew Modine is the likable fed who wants her testimony, while Dean Stockwell and Mercedes Ruehl are scene-stealing hoots as, respectively, the mob boss with the hots for Angela and his insanely jealous wife. (Includes audio commentary, new interviews, trailer, and essays by Jordain Searles and Margaret Barton-Fumo.)
The Iceman Cometh”: Not gonna lie: I admire the audacity of a director swiping the title of one of the great stage plays of all time for a Hong Kong action thriller (new on Blu from Vinegar Syndrome). In this case, that director is Clarence Fok, telling the very silly story of a Ming-era guard and villain who are accidentally frozen for centuries, and thawed in late-‘80s Hong Kong. Some of the broader comedy is pretty weak, though the fish-out-of-water material, which pairs hero Fong (Yuen Biao) with a model on the make (a wonderful Maggie Cheung) is a lot of fun. But the draw here is the action sequences, directed by Yuen with energy and wit, and the much-anticipated final fight is a bone-crunching banger. (Includes extended Mandarin language cut, audio commentary, interviews, trailer, and alternate English title sequence.) 
Fair Game”: This 1986 Australian thriller from director Mario Andreacchi is an unapologetically grimy mash-up of “Wake in Fright” and “I Spit On Your Grave,” though not nearly as sleazy as the latter. But it’s pretty rough stuff, with Cassandra Delaney as a young woman in charge of a wildlife sanctuary who is targeted for harassment and worse by a trio of poachers. Delaney is a charismatic and sympathetic lead, while cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (who would go on to Oscar-winning work lensing the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies) creates a thick sense of Outback atmosphere and creeping dread. It all comes to the kind of satisfying conclusion you can only really get in a good exploitation movie. (Includes audio commentary, Andreacchi short films, interview, featurette, storyboards, and trailers.)
Blood, Guts & Sunshine: The History of Horror Made in Florida”: When you’re critiquing a documentary about low-budget regional horror, you probably shouldn’t get hung up on amateurishness, though I will note that lavalier microphones are just not that expensive. That and other production concerns aside, this is an informative and comprehensive look at the Florida horror scene, from the early days of Herschell Gordon Lewis through the current crop of shot-on-digital wonders. It feels a bit too insular, and at 127 minutes, it’s far too long. But the entertaining clips and well-researched history carry it through, making this a frequently fascinating snapshot of a sub-scene. (Includes featurettes and trailers.) 


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