Steven Soderbergh may (or may not!) return to the movies some day soon. Lord knows they could use him. Smaller, actor-driven titles like “Erin Brockovich” barely get made these days, and when they do they aren’t this exacting and eccentric. The same year Soderbergh helmed “Traffic,” he offered this subversive twist on the issue-of-the-week drama, creating an atypically entertaining underdog story in the “Silkwood” mode that was less about real world problems than about character — a seriously sparkplug character, played with quippy ferocity by Julia Roberts. Hell, we could use that Julia Roberts, too, not the one stuck working fathoms beneath her talents in the likes of the forthcoming “Mother’s Day.”
‘The Right Stuff’
Speaking of bygone eras, it’s unfathomable there was a time when a major studio gambled on a sprawling three hour epic based on a prickly Tom Wolfe book with no major stars (Ed Harris was still, then, a nobody). Even in 1983 it didn’t work. A notable bomb, Philip Kaufman’s take on “The Right Stuff” keeps Wolfe’s cockeyed view on the birth of the space program, as well as its scattershot structure. There are more characters than an “Avengers” movie, but also the room to let them breathe. It’s a fine lazy day binge-watch with a non-stop succession of fantastic scenes, not the least being an unforgettable bit involving the “Marine’s Hymn” and a mass trip to the bathroom.
Aggressively tattooed biker veteran from Missouri. Based on those six words, you might have some notion of what makes up Ron Hall, the subject of this doc from “Winter’s Bone” director Debra Granik. And you’re almost certainly wrong. An intimate and ever-curious portrait, “Stray Dog” finds a deeply complex man who doesn’t fit easy Red State-Blue State stereotypes, obliterating notions of our country’s exaggerated culture war. Hall may be a good ol’ boy, but he’s anti-war, married to a Mexican immigrant and cuddly enough to hang with four small dogs. He constantly surprises us, and though a lot of his life encapsulates the rough spot America finds itself in the 21st century, it’s Hall himself — warm, lovable, friendly — that most makes “Stray Dog” a necessary view. (Read our interview with Granik here.)