With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we’re highlighting the noteworthy titles that have recently hit platforms. Check out this week’s selections below and an archive of past round-ups here.
Bad Times at the El Royale (Drew Goddard)
Drew Goddard’s follow-up to The Cabin in the Woods seemed to come and go without much fervor this past fall, but there are more than a few reasons to seek it out. Less labyrinthine-esque plotted than his last film, perhaps the fairly straightforward ending threw people for a loop, but I appreciated the well-spun crime drama, which takes more than a few compelling detours. And if you also thought Cynthia Erivo was wasted in Steve McQueen’s Widows, she gets a much more fleshed-out supporting turn here and reason enough to watch. – Jordan R.
Blockers (Kay Cannon)
Blockers doesn’t pull off the impossible so much as it turns the tables on a common formula, finding something fresh, empowering, and hilarious in that time-old story of a group of friends making a pact to lose their V-card on prom night. Directed by Kay Cannon in her debut, there are a few more real-world complications for our leads, including Lisa (Leslie Mann), a single mother with an unhealthy obsession with her daughter; Mitchell (John Cena), a buff yet sensitive dad in a committed marriage; and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), a party boy with surprising depth. This studio comedy even finds room for a tender (yet still very funny) coming out story to overbearing parents. – John F. (full review)
Where to Stream: HBO Go
Damsel (David and Nathan Zellner)
As the best Coen Brothers(-esque) western to hit screens in 2018, Damsel is a fitting follow-up to 2014’s more Coen-adjacent Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. With the same bone-dry wit and several helpings of salt, the Zellner Brothers’ wonky oater pits an exasperated Mia Wasikowska against the West’s most devastating killer: the patriarchy. Subverting expectations any which way it can, and perfectly utilizing Robert Pattinson’s goofier nature, Damsel’s charm are on full display with its claws. – Conor O.
Where to Stream: Hulu
The Day After (Hong Sang-soo)
In The Day After, the ever-prolific Hong Sang-soo returned to black-and-white for the first time since his 2011 masterpiece The Day He Arrives, and turned out some of the most elusive, bleakly hilarious writing and visually nuanced direction of his career. A quintessentially Hongian story of failure, love, and repetition, bolstered by one of the strongest casts of the year, it carried something unexpected: genuine hope, whether it be found in faith or ultimate fidelity. – Ryan S.
Where to Stream: Amazon Prime
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)
After making one of the most authentically emotional films of his career with A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg has begun exploring the world of artificiality. Cosmopolis, which may end up standing as the director’s best film, explored the idea of capitalism in the digital age by creating a language, a series of green screen windows, and, essentially, a society in which numbers and data trumped any factors that might be described as physical. The same could be said for Maps to the Stars, except the target here is the artifice of Hollywood. – Peter L. (full review)
Where to Stream: Netflix
Mid90s (Jonah Hill)
The summer between middle school and high school is a formative one for any kid. There’s this sense of moving away from childhood and towards young adulthood — of needing to act older to fit in considering the pecking order has restarted with you down at the bottom. Factor in a sibling who’s already gone through this transition (living to remind you of this fact with his penchant for brutal abuse you’re too naïve to realize is his own insecurity seeking an easy target to work out aggression) and your desire to evolve becomes that much more potent. Now is the time to be cool. Throw away those TMNT bed sheets and reinvent yourself as a skateboarder despite knowing nothing about how to begin riding. Image proves everything. This is the point in which first-time feature film director Jonah Hill introduces his thirteen-year-old lead Stevie (Sunny Suljic). – Jared M. (full review)
Scarred Hearts (Radu Jude)
A few years after its initial premiere at the Locarno Film Festival, Radu Jude’s drama finally arrived in theaters this summer. Back then, Ethan Vestby praised it, saying in his review, “Like another two-and-a-half-hour Romanian dry comedy about the medical process, Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Scarred Hearts plays up the control doctors hold over us in a critical state for maximum absurdity, of course the joke of antiquated health care emphasized in director Radu Jude’s case.”
Where to Stream: iTunes
Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle)
For her breakthrough documentary The Wolfpack, director Crystal Moselle discovered a group of sheltered brothers in NYC’s Lower East Side and captured their passion for filmmaking. With a muddled style and questionable directorial choices, it didn’t quite live up to the film’s initial hook, but Moselle clearly showed talent for making a connection with the youth of the city. That latter quality continues with Skate Kitchen, which uses a narrative backdrop to place us in the center of a female teen skater group–who Moselle discovered on a subway ride–all of whom exude a care-free independence as they make NYC their playground. It’s such a step-up in vibrancy, scope, and emotion that it feels like the introduction of an entirely different, more accomplished filmmaker. – Jordan R. (full review)
Where to Stream: Hulu
Indeed, joint custody blows, but even the marriage that preceded it wasn’t so hot. Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and The Whale splendidly portrays a middle class Park Slope family as they navigate a treacherous divorce, the two sons taking opposing sides in this familial war. The opening line sets up everything without announcing itself too firmly, as the family readies for a recreational tennis match: “It’s mom and me versus you and dad.” Every member of this feuding family are hilariously rendered with immaculate attention to ’80s period detail, including a cringe-worthy screening of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Even at his nastiest depth, Jeff Daniels’ Bernard remains a dryly charismatic albeit tragic figure, for whom we feel pity because we secretly love him. Baumbach’s biggest triumph may have been the charmingly affectionate portrayal of this wounded family unit, a reminder that dysfunctional does not necessarily mean unsympathetic. – Tony H.
Where to Stream: Amazon Prime
The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr)
In 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse in the streets of Turin, a sight which so appalled the philosopher that he threw his arms around the animal’s neck and wept. It’s unknown what became of this animal, but Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse offers a glimpse into the daily life of its owners, a father and his daughter living on an isolated farm. Over the course of six days, we get to know these people and their daily toils and routine. Sometimes the horse moves, dutifully pulling its cart, while other times refusing to budge, preventing the farmer from his work. Soon, the horse will no longer eat. The daughter boils potatoes, the only source of food, every day, which they unceremoniously devour without conversation. There’s nothing to say — until something goes awry. Tarr and co-director Ágnes Hranitzky’s endlessly roving camera drifts into gorgeous compositions before gliding away to miraculously find another and another. Even the impatient skinning and consumption of a boiling hot potato, wincing and grunting as it’s eaten, takes on an air of mournful desperation. Can’t there be something more to life than mere survival? By the end, even the daughter refuses to eat. – Tony H.
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