Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two
Laga Gaga at Walmart is my new favorite thing, thanks to a humanizing Netflix doc that shows the continuing transformation of the gay icon from once-meat-dress-donning oddity back to Stefani Germanotta, your everyday lover of queers who just happened to perform at the Super Bowl earlier this year. Like her latest album, “Joanne,” its creation covered in depth here, “Five Foot Two” documentarian Chris Moukarbel (“Scissor Sisters” frontman Jake Shears’ husband) captures a superstar in flux, trying to meet professional demands as her relationship with Taylor Kinney and her health crumble. Real enough for you? No? Then cut to the diva fit she throws during a behind-the-scenes segment from “American Horror Story” (they had it coming), or Walmart, where she more prominently displays her new release on a Gaga-deficient end-cap. She also does not mince words about Madonna, who Gaga wishes would just come out and tell her she’s a “piece of shit” to her face. No more telephone games. No more media middle-manning. As Lady G gets back to her roots – both in the musical sense with “Joanne” the album, but furthermore, the music’s familial ties – we are granted access to an emotional exchange between Gaga and her grandmother, as the performer plays the recording’s personal opener, “Joanne,” about Gaga’s late aunt. Perhaps intentionally, then, the courageously transparent “Five Foot Two” is rooted in survival, as Mother Monster rises to the top of Houston’s NRG Stadium in the doc’s triumphant final scene, showing that even superheroes are human.
The Big Sick
“The Big Sick” features a Muslim-American man and a white woman finding love in a hopeless place, but if you’re queer, you know their struggle to be accepted. Emily (Zoe Kazan) and Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) are a cushy match made in movie heaven – cut to her calling for an Uber from his place as the Uber notification goes to his phone (what do you know, he’s the driver) – but cruel, old societal and cultural expectations complicate a coupling so charmingly right in every way. “The Big Sick” succeeds on a myriad of levels, merely by being its charming self, but also by personalizing issues of race and, adjacently, any relationship that isn’t between exclusively white, straight, cis people. Nanjiani, who delivers a witty, ballsy script branded as an “awkward true story,” is based on the romantic courting of the “Silicon Valley” actor and his now-wife, so as Kazan wins you over once again – why is she not in everything? – you can take solace in knowing that humanity can and will prosper despite the forces against it. Ultimately, the sweet and timely “Big Sick” humanizes the love spectrum for those who can’t see beyond their own color (and orientation) blindness.
Trump’s America is scary enough, with white supremacists on the loose and the president’s own outright racist remarks regarding Charlottesville. Enter writer-director Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” which earned sleeper-hit status earlier this year for its frighteningly real premise alone: Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) visit her too-nice suburban parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford). Things aren’t what they seem when Chris gets the grand tour and spots a black housekeeper in the kitchen and a black gardener, both either freakishly nice or glaringly cold. Even if ominous music wasn’t looming over these scenes – and even if Rose’s dad didn’t randomly reassure Chris that, “I would’ve voted for Obama for a third term if I could” – you’d know that there’s no “both sides” to this situation. There is one side: the one on the other end of those crazy white people’s front door. Amplified by its mirroring of America’s current race-relations crisis, Peele’s trippy and terrifyingly real “Get Out” brandishes a sharp, timely Trumpland edge as it uses familiar horror tropes to underline problems with present-day systematic racism. Worth noting are the disc’s Q&A (hosted by Chance the Rapper) and an engaging Peele commentary, which covers, among many other things, the film’s literal wokeness.
Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (the powerfully tender Tom Courtenay) are led down the path of uncertainty as they muddle through some deep waters that test their loyal, loving nearly-half-century-long relationship in “45 Years.” The news comes just as they’re about to celebrate their anniversary, rearing its troubling head through intimate and impassioned conversations. Its naturalistic style is in the same vein of other feeling-based work by Andrew Haigh, including HBO’s “Looking” and “Weekend,” the latter released four years before the decidedly not-gay but equally-as-rich character drama “45 Years.” Haigh, who directed and co-wrote with David Constantine, explores whether love can endure the most transformative of revelations: How must we adapt? Can we? Those questions linger long after the credits roll, as Rampling shares an anniversary dance with her husband, and the distance between them is as discernible as the look on her face (a look that must’ve also moved Academy Awards voters who gave the actress a much-deserved Oscar nod). The Criterion Collection edition also includes a behind-the-scenes doc featuring sit-downs with Courtenay, Rampling and Haigh, expounding on his desire to tell outsider stories.
I can’t think of enough good reasons to see “Rough Night,” a “Bridesmaids” repro, unless you’ve never heard of Google Images (another conversation for another day) and you, too, want to experience Colton Haynes’ beautifully tan bubble butt in a thong. You could also see it for deadpan pro Jillian Bell, the next best thing in ensemble comedies (she stole the show in “22 Jump Street” as Seth Rogen’s foil). Or Kate McKinnon, who we love, especially as Hillary Clinton, right? Though maybe not so much in this, as the Aussie BFF who comes to town, encounters friction among friends of the film’s bride-to-be (Scarlett Johansson), and then, because what are good friends for if they can’t dispose of the dead stripper in the house, takes one for the team. And if you’re wondering why Scarlett Johansson is wasting time on a rote, one-note comedy versus giving us the lesbian scenes we’ve been craving since her steamy role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” take solace in knowing that “Broad City” actress Ilana Glazer and Zoe Kravitz star as an ex-couple. Supplements include an improv bit, gags and deleted scenes.
Juzo Itami’s escapist delight “Tampopo” – proclaimed the first “ramen western” – has been an especially-coveted-by-foodies film since its 1985 release. Just before Criterion worked their magic on its Blu-ray release, I saw the film at a local art theater for the first time, enraptured by its artful food shots and general buoyancy. Truthfully, if you thought you enjoyed ramen before, I can attest that noodles in a big bowl of broth will take you to places you’ve never known post “Tampopo.” The happenchance plot alone elates me to no end: A truck driver named Goro stops at a noodle shop run by the darling Tampopo. Goro thinks her ramen is fine in the way that some people still think Taco Bell is decent “Mexican.” Their mission: Perfect the ramen recipe. Interspersed within the core storyline are mouthwatering vignettes, like an egg orgasm. Now yours to savor thanks to Criterion, “Tampopo” is a cinematic treat that cooks up a scrumptious platter of supplements, including new interviews with ramen experts and a feature-length shooting diary narrated by Itami.