We have quite a few releases for this week in home video, including a western, a post-apocalyptic drama starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a film about art restitution law and the Holocaust starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. Let’s start with the first one: “Slow West,” a meandering comic Western that follows Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he travels across America with Silas (Michael Fassbender), a mercenary who offers to protect Jay from the dangers on his journey, to reunite with his long lost love. From first-time writer and director John Maclean (incidentally a former member of the cult Scottish group The Beta Band), “Slow West” adopts a classic “on the road” structure, focusing more on the particulars of the journey than on any singular destination. Taking cues from the Coen Bros and Jim Jarmusch, “Slow West” delivers laughs and tragedy in equal measure, but more importantly, it’s interested in its own world and wants to invite an audience in to stay rather than pushing them through it.
Other new releases this week include “Maggie,” a post-apocalyptic horror drama about a father’s struggle as he watches his daughter turn into a zombie. Set in a world plagued by a zombie virus, Maggie Vogel (Abigail Breslin) has been infected and placed into quarantine by armed officials. Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) finds her and takes her home so they can settle her affairs before she has to be permanently quarantined from society. Next, we have “’71,” the story of a British soldier separated from his unit in Belfast during the height of Northern Ireland Conflict in 1971, with Jack O’Connell starring as Gary Hook, the soldier in question. Lastly, there’s Simon Curtis’ “Women in Gold” about the late Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) and her decade-long struggle to reclaim a painting of her aunt confiscated by the Nazis just prior to World War II. Altmann and her young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) eventually take their case to the Supreme Court, who ultimately ruled in her favor.
On the classic front, we first have a new Criterion box set with two adaptations of Hemingway’s famous short story “The Killers.” The first is directed by Robert Siodmak from 1946 which launched the careers of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. The second is directed by Don Siegel, starring Lee Marvin and John Cassavetes, and was intended as first-ever made-for-TV movie, only for NBC to pull it because of its violent content in the wake of JFK’s assassination. Next, we have “Street Smart” from Olive Films, which features Morgan Freeman’s Academy Award-nominated breakthrough role as a pimp called Fast Black. Then, there’s Robert Mugge’s “Deep Sea Blues,” a documentary about the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, considered the “Woodstock of the Waves.” Finally, we have “Beyond Zero: 1914-1918,” a short film directed by “Decasia’s” Bill Morrison and scored by the Kronos Quartet consisting of footage shot during the first World War.
Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian
The long, hazy trail is a mix of eye-popping imagery, sudden violence and unexpected comedy. There’s a showdown in a general store that’s like “Once Upon a Time in the West” as choreographed by the Coen brothers. There are dips into absurdity (for instance, a quick conversation in French) and encounters with a white anthropologist expert in Native American kitsch and who drops truth-bombs like “in a short time this will be a long time ago.” Read more.
Criticwire Average: B-
Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
“Maggie” has some problems, most of them related to dialogue that slides a bit too easily into cliché. But it’s a thoughtful consideration of an apocalyptic event’s human toll, and Schwarzenegger is a surprisingly effective human presence at its center, creating a modest, close-to-the-vest performance that projects real honesty and tenderness. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B+
Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club
From the moment that Gary is trapped behind “enemy lines” (in a war movie set entirely among residential streets, Liverpool doubles ably for Belfast) “’71” rarely stops for breath; the threat of sudden violence hangs over every mundane conversation, and Demange expertly sustains the tension, allowing anxiety to build, briefly ebb, and then build again, over and over. Read more.
“Woman in Gold”
Criticwire Average: B-
Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle
The story of the provenance of the stunning Klimt painting embedded in gold leaf, which the Austrians’ came to regard as their country’s “Mona Lisa,” is more complicated than this screenplay by Alexi Kaye Campbell will allow. Nevertheless, the flattening of the legal issues is not what sunders “Woman in Gold,” it’s the story’s wan drama and fixed characterizations. Read more.