With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options—not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves–each week we highlight the noteworthy titles that have recently hit platforms. Check out this week’s selections below and an archive of past round-ups here.
Ad Astra (James Gray)
A testament to the immaculate scope that can be realized when a director with a specific vision is given the resources to convey it, Ad Astra is a masterclass in detail. In this Brad Pitt-led story of a space odyssey, one gets the sense that every miniscule touch was carefully considered, culminating in the most purely pleasurable time I had at a theater last year (a feeling invigorated by one of the biggest IMAX screens in the world). The nearly indescribable sensations Gray is able to conjure by going for more subdued grace notes make the awe-inspiring moments all the more sublime. A completely mesmerizing experience from frame one. – Jordan R.
Where to Stream: HBO
August at Akiko’s (Christopher Makoto Yogi)
Akiko’s Buddhist hostel has a message for its visitors, a laminated card sitting on a window sill: “Leave no trace, no face. In fact, leave only a presence, a feeling that for a moment you loved a place so deeply that both you and the place were transformed, and both became more beautiful, more natural and inseparably one.” Christopher Makoto Yogi’s engrossing debut feature August at Akiko’s heeds the call, and conjures up engrossing and delicate rumination on belonging. It is a film of presences in the twofold sense that it both zeroes in on a young man coming to terms with the impermanence of his own existence, and it unfurls as a whimsical reverie seemingly shot from the perspective of people who may have become presences already–the spirits of the late inhabitants of a Hawaiian locale luckily spared from the asphyxiating postcard looks of so many other island-set Hollywood blockbusters. – Leo G. (full review)
Chantal Akerman would’ve turned 70 this month, and we recently paid tribute to the extraordinary, radical filmmaker with a discussion of Les rendez-vous d’Anna. Now that film, and other essential work, has become available on The Criterion Channel. Their series includes Hotel Monterey, Je tu il elle, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, News from Home, Dis-moi, One Day Pina Asked . . ., Golden Eighties, Histoires d’Amérique: Food, Family and Philosophy, From the East, Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman, South, La captive, From the Other Side, Down There, Almayer’s Folly, No Home Movie, and her shorts Saute ma ville, La chambre. Meanwhile, MUBI is showing No Home Movie, Almayer’s Folly, and the documentary I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema Of Chantal Akerman.
Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee)
Following up his Oscar-winning BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee is in full-on maximalism mode for his Vietnam-set adventure Da 5 Bloods, employing three different aspect ratios, multiple shooting formats, a variety of narrative timelines, themes, and tones, as well as the struggle of racial equality throughout history via archival footage. This excessiveness may not sit well with every viewer (check out Eli Friedberg’s negative review), but I found it to be a thoroughly engaging, entertaining, and troubling look at how America has cast aside veterans and African Americans alike–and in this case, a group of both. One can also check back soon for our discussion on The Film Stage Show. – Jordan R.
Where to Stream: Netflix
Hill of Freedom (Hong Sangsoo)
A month of Hong Sangsoo continues with one of his greatest works. Hill of Freedom, which premiered on the festival circuit back in 2014, is now finally getting a U.S. release. It’s the supreme example of how the director is able to add complexity to a structure that seems simple on the surface: a woman reads a man’s letters about his adventures in Japan, only to have them fall on the ground and therefore the story is now told out of order. The playful conceit of the 67-minute film finds ample room to explore comedy, heartache, cultural identity, and more. Like most Hong films, it feels like a breath of fresh air, and even moreso during this time of immense pandemic-induced unease. – Jordan R.
Where to Stream: Virtual Cinemas
Integration Report 1 (Madeline Anderson)
At a moment when many think longer and more critically about the work of black filmmakers, depictions of black life, and where those two (or don’t) intersect, Le Cinéma Club offers—for free, per usual—a two-week program on Madeline Anderson, the first female documentarian of African-American heritage. Their inaugural title is Integration Report 1, a short-ish 1960 piece concerning civil rights campaigns in Brooklyn, Alabama, and Washington, D.C. that alternates formal currents, at one moment planting itself for a speech by Martin Luther King Jr., then gliding its cameras through a demonstration (thanks partly to camerman Albert Maysles) or detaching itself from the present moment with overlaid singing by Maya Angelou. For 20 minutes it embodies a kind of documentary ideal: terse panopticism. – Nick N.
Where to Stream: Le Cinéma Club
The King of Staten Island (Judd Apatow)
With his hands on the steering wheel driving down the highway, Scott (Pete Davidson) closes his eyes, ready to crash into what lies ahead and explode into flames. This is the opening of Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island, a quasi-comedy that is less interested in finding the funniest punchline for every situation and more curious about the search for the scattered, missing pieces of one’s soul. It’s the director’s most emotionally attuned and narrowly focused work, a film in which our attention is not pulled along by heavy dramatic shifts or distracted by a mountain of subplots, but rather how trauma can form a life of complacency and it’s only slivers of progress that hint at a more promising future. – Jordan R. (full review)
Knives Out (Rian Johnson)
Though this film—about a dysfunctional family vying for a fortune while trying to discover the circumstances behind the death of their patriarch—was perfectly poised for a near-Thanksgiving bow, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see this becoming a year-round classic. Overflowing with stunning performances from its soon-to-be-mythic cast and dripping with style from a production and cinematography standpoint, Knives Out became a late-stage awards contender overnight. But it’s the story by writer-director Rian Johnson that really cements this movie as top-of-the-year material. Not one to be missed. – Brian R.
Where to Stream: Amazon Prime
Observe & Report (Jody Hill)
Comedy can go to some dark, taboo places, and, boy, it doesn’t get much more dark and taboo than examining how the effects of bipolar disorder might lead a mall cop with delusions of grandeur to do some really awful things. Mall cops are a ready source of comedy, both successful and unsuccessful, due to the supposed importance of their position being both non-existent and, even if it were, hilariously pointless. Seth Rogen, however, finds levels of anger and pain and narcissism that exceed one’s wildest expectations for the profession. Given the dark, dark places that this movie goes, its a small miracle that Observe and Report never loses pace with its twisted comedic beat. – Brian R.
Where to Stream: Netflix
The Surrogate (Jeremy Hersh)
There’s a moment in Jeremy Hersh’s feature directorial debut The Surrogate where a heated argument devoid of any correct answers reaches the inevitable question: “Where do you draw the line?” It’s the corner in which we all find ourselves when forced to confront what Hersh calls “the gap between ideals and practical realities.” Because even if we refuse to create such barriers when thinking about topics in the abstract, we’re often very quick to erect them at the exact moment an issue concerns us personally. Maybe it will reveal the truth of our behind-closed-doors hypocrisy. Maybe it will expose us as a monster. Or, like in the case of Jess (Jasmine Batchelor), it will shine a light upon our righteousness. Humanity’s enduring fallibility will be confirmed either way. – Jared M. (full review)
Where to Stream: Virtual Cinemas
Synonyms (Nadav Lapid)
Following Policeman and The Kindergarten Teacher, Nadav Lapid’s Golden Bear winner completes an unofficial trilogy on Israeli identity, and confirms the director as one of the most invigorating cinematic talents to emerge in the last decade. In a prodigious debut performance, Tom Mercier plays an Israeli ex-soldier recently arrived in Paris as a mix of Travis Bickle and John Carpenter’s Starman. That we can’t decide whether he’s a psycho or a holy fool represents just one of the many irresolvable ambiguities that propel Lapid’s ferocious confrontation with this most contentious of thematics. – Giovanni M.C.
Where to Stream: The Criterion Channel
You Don’t Nomi (Jeffrey McHale)
Back in 2016, the Twitter account for French studio Pathé Films released a NSFW trailer for the DVD and Blu-ray release of Paul Verhoeven’s much-reviled (or, rather, formerly reviled), T&A-fueled camp classic, Showgirls. This trailer itself was a work of pulsating beauty. Never had the story of Nomi Malone looked so pristine. And never had the film itself seemed so progressive. After all, the NC-17-rated 1995 flop had been brutally pushed down the cultural stairs upon release, and for years afterward. Only in recent years had the tide begun to turn. “APRÈS LES CRUCIFIXION,” the intertitles read, “LA RÉSURRECTION.” In essence, those five words tell the story of Showgirls’ unexpected second life. Those five words are also the theme of You Don’t Nomi, Jeffrey McHale’s wise, entertaining exploration of the life, death, and resurrection of Showgirls. – Chris S. (full review)
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Jake Kasdan)
It is wholly possible that a more perfect spoof comedy will never be made. Picking up the mantle from comedy greats David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker (Airplane!, The Naked Gun), Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow primarily poke fun at musical biopics such as Walk the Line and Ray and get weirder from there. John C. Reilly’s performance — the man does impressions and runs the gamut of emotions while eliciting laughter — is proof that comedic turns deserve to get more serious awards consideration. – Dan M.
Where to Stream: Netflix
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