This week’s roundup features several new films that are streaming and on-demand, including two intense dramas—Crisis, about the opioid epidemic, and Fukushima 50, about the 2011 nuclear accident in Japan—and three documentaries: the unearthed 1972 curio F.T.A. with Jane Fonda, the hard-hitting The People vs. Agent Orange, and Zappa, about the iconoclastic musician, composer and activist.
VOD/Virtual Cinema/Streaming Releases of the Week
The ongoing opioid epidemic lends itself to the multi-story thread writer-director Nicholas Jarecki uses in his first feature since 2012’s Wall Street drama Arbitrage, which shows—with alternately devastating and melodramatic effect—how America’s seemingly endless drug addiction affects everybody: the FBI agent tracking a drug lord whose younger sister is a user; the now-clean momt whose teenage son gets involved with the trade; and a scientist on the payroll of a pharma conglomerate who discovers that its new drug might be approved despite finding fatal side effects. Of course, at time it’s too on the nose, but the sense of everything spiraling out of control is well done, and the cast—Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear, Luke Evans, Martin Donovan and Lily-Rose Depp—contributes to the realism Jarecki is after.
F.T.A. (Kino Lorber)
An historical curio if there ever was one, Francine Parker’s F.T.A.—a tongue-in-cheek abbreviation of “Free the Army” and “Fuck the Army”—documents the 1972 tour of American military bases by actors Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, singers Holly Near, Rita Martinson and Len Chandler, and others, during the height of the Vietnam War. The tour was an anti-war reaction to and parody of Bob Hope’s USO tours, but their variety shows consist of the same scattershot skits, songs, monologues, storytelling, etc. But the progressive political edge onstage seems to be accepted, at times endorsed, by those in attendance. Highlights are Chandler’s often pointed parodic songs.
Fukushima 50 (Capelight Pictures)
The devastating earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Japanese coast in 2011 also caused the Fukushima nuclear power plant to malfunction disastrously and release radiation into the atmosphere, and this highly watchable docudrama reenacts how the plant’s workers and management dealt with what became an almost impossible situation, which threatened hundreds of thousands of lives. Director Setsurō Wakamatsu simply and effectively recreates the often heroic work of the “Fukushima 50” (so-called afterward by international media) but stumbles near the end, as things get mawkish.
Keep an Eye Out (Dekanalog)
This piece of insane inanity from French director Quentin Dupieux, creator of last year’s Deerskin (which wasted the star power of Jean Dujardin and Adele Haenel in a hamfisted and obvious parody of masculinity, midlife crisis and filmmaking), is, as always with Dupieux, clever but painfully unfunny. Set in a police station during questioning by an inept detective of his prime suspect in a killing, Keep an Eye Out—whose English title, which puns on the facial appearance of another cop, is more in line with Dupieux’s juvenile sense of humor than the original French title, Au poste!—is gleefully absurd, rather than absurdist, which would make it more palatable.
The People vs. Agent Orange (PBS)
The Vietnam War introduced the herbicide agent orange as a lethal weapon, and 50 years later many Vietnamese are still dealing with its myriad effects (physical deformities, mental deficiencies)—but directors Kate Taverna and Alan Adelson unearth the grim news that agent orange was also used in the U.S. on crops and forestland with the same devastating problems to those exposed, including cancers. In this enraging documentary, we hear from victims in Vietnam and America who are still dealing with the fallout of the disastrous chemical warfare that was waged half a century ago, complete with horrific images and memories.
Frank Zappa’s genre-bending musical career was packed with so many achievements that it’s surprising director Alex Winter created a thorough and illuminating overview in only 127 minutes. Zappa crammed a lot into his 52 years and 11 months (he died of cancer in 1993), and Winter hits on much of it: the decidedly iconoclastic music-making, the disdain for commercial success (it’s telling that one of his simplest songs, “Valley Girl,” was his biggest hit) and the brave fight against music censorship. Interviews with fellow musicians, friends and his widow Gail (who died in 2015) make up the bulk of the film, along with priceless vintage Zappa interviews and onstage footage. It’s interesting that none of the Zappa kids was interviewed, but that’s a small quibble.
Blu-ray Release of the Week
Rick and Morty—Complete Seasons 1-4 (Warner Bros)
This animated series about a mad scientist and his grandson has so much visual imagination that even if its crude toilet humor and excess juvenilia start to pall, the zaniness of what we see makes it worth watching these 41 episodes. Granddad Rick and grandson Morty alternate between trips through the multi-verse and dealing domestically with their family (the members of which also pop up in various guises on their interplanetary journeys), all eye-catchingly animated. The series dazzles colorfully in hi-def; extras include commentaries, animatics, deleted scenes, behind the scenes featurettes, inside the episodes and an exclusive poster.
DVD Release of the Week
Miss Scarlet and the Duke—Complete 1st Season (PBS)
Kate Phillips is a beguiling heroine in this entertaining Victorian-era mystery series about a young woman, Eliza Scarlet, who takes over her father’s private-eye business after he dies suddenly. Spunky and independent, Eliza has the usual difficulties to deal with as a woman in late 19th crime fighting, and even her friendship with a Scotland Yard inspector isn’t always a plus. But she manages to solve crimes every episode, and Phillips is especially winning in the lead role. Extras include on-set interviews and featurettes.