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 past round-ups here.
An American Pickle (Brandon Trost)
Seth Rogen plays dual roles in his latest comedy, American Pickle follows Seth Rogen both as Herschel Greenbaum, an immigrant who falls in a vat of pickled is brined for 100 years, and his great-grandson Ben Greenbaum, who is a computer coder and lives a very different life, to say the least. While there are certainly humorous sequences (a Brooklyn hipster couple’s first impressions of Greenbaum’s pickle stand comes foremost to mind), Rogen is far more interested in the definitions of family and loyalty, themes that are not explored with a great deal of emotional impact, but do add some heart to what have otherwise could’ve been a fairly silly high-concept comedy. – Jordan R.
Where to Stream: HBO Max
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik)
From the opening frames of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Andrew Dominik stokes the flames of our own fascination with the infamous outlaw. We learn of his seventeen claimed murders, countless robberies, the bullet holes in his chest, the missing nub of his middle finger, and the fact that even his children didn’t know his name. It affixes a mythic power to his persona: it’s also said that time slows, rains fall straighter, sounds are amplified, and rooms become hotter when he’s around. When a sheepish, fawning Robert Ford soon enters the frame, there’s no other convincing necessary for us to empathize with his fixation. – Jordan R. (full review)
Where to Stream: HBO Max
Australian New Wave
Head down on The Criterion Channel this month with an epic, dusty lineup of Australian New Wave classics, featuring Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971), The Cars That Ate Paris (Peter Weir, 1974), Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975), The Devil’s Playground (Fred Schepisi, 1976), Don’s Party (Bruce Beresford, 1976), The Last Wave (Peter Weir, 1977), Long Weekend (Colin Eggleston, 1978), Mad Max (George Miller, 1979), My Brilliant Career (Gillian Armstrong, 1979), Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981), Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981), Starstruck (Gillian Armstrong, 1982), The Year of Living Dangerously (Peter Weir, 1982), and more.
Where to Stream: The Criterion Channel
Echo (Rúnar Rúnarsson)
A search and rescue mission wanders into an ice-covered landscape; a librarian tells his parents he will not have whale meat for dinner, and neither will his kids; an African American athlete pops out of a tanning bed to take a phone call from home, he reassures his mom the coach told him to use the solarium “not for a tan, but to embrace the light”; butchers dance to Christmas tunes inside a slaughterhouse, chopping and pounding carcasses; and a grandma holds his grandson’s hand before pointing to her late husband’s grave, warning the child that “we’ll all be buried here: first me, then your mum, then you.” There are 56 scenes inside Rúnar Rúnarsson’s Echo, 56 tesserae of a sprawling mosaic that have nothing in common save for the fact that they all take place around the same time (the last few days of December 2018) and place (Iceland). – Rory O. (full review)
The Fever (Da-Rin)
The Fever, director-cum-visual artist Da-Rin’s first full-length feature project, puts a human face to a statistic that hardly captures the genocide Brazil is suffering. This is not just a wonderfully crafted, superb exercise in filmmaking, a multilayered tale that seesaws between social realism and magic. It is a call to action, an unassuming manifesto hashed in the present tense but reverberating as a plea from a world already past us, a memoir of sorts. – Leonardo G. (full review)
The Green Years (Paulo Rocha)
Paulo Rocha’s deserved place in the European canon was never set, instead felled by meager exposure from film culture, festivals, and distributors. Which makes significant Grasshopper Film’s release of The Green Years, his debut feature recently restored by the Portuguese Cinematheque with supervision by Vitalina Varela director Pedro Costa. His intoxicating, downright romantic vision of star-crossed Libson lovers pops in a 4K upgrade reanimating the city (circa 1963) to both its modernity and old-world habitat. Watching The Green Years recalls the early days of one’s cinephilia, when entire worlds opened with a new name, a new landscape, and the incessant desire to see more. Fortunately, Grasshopper will debut the Cinematheque’s stunning restoration of Rocha’s second, even-better feature Change of Life next week.
Where to Stream: Projectr.tv
House of Hummingbird (Bora Kim)
Bora Kim’s tender, carefully observed debut feature––which was a Berlinale prize-winner––made its way to Virtual Cinemas earlier this summer, but I recently caught up with it as it arrives on VOD. Set in Seoul in 1994 and following a girl’s coming of age, the film is beautifully spare of high drama and over-complicated twists and turn, rather deeply focusing on how the smallest of interactions can make an imprint on a developing mind and the ripple effect decisions can have in various relationships. It’s sturdy, strong introduction for the director and we look forward to whatever she’ll be doing next. – Jordan R.
I Used to Go Here (Kris Rey)
This was the week when Kate’s (Gillian Jacobs) dreams were supposed to come true. Her debut novel was releasing, her wedding was on the horizon, and a nationwide book tour was about to commence. Everything she worked for since college had finally bore fruit and you couldn’t blame her if she smiled with relief at a job well done. Except she never gets that chance. She receives a call from her publisher weeks after her engagement was canceled to hear the tour has been too. Kate’s book proves a financial liability nobody is willing to defend and her last chance at a distraction from what now appears to be a complete professional and personal implosion was gone. A voicemail from a former professor therefore feels like a godsend. – Jared M. (full review)
La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante)
Ever since Hannah Arendt coined the term “the banality of evil” in her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem, it’s been a phrase oft-used in an attempt to describe how seemingly rational humans can do truly awful things. One recalls Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing or Chris Weitz’s Operation Finale in recent years. Director Jayro Bustamante wades in these same waters with La Llorona, an effective slow-burn that uses thriller tropes to explore the lingering scars of the Guatemalan Civil War. – Dan M. (full review)
Where to Stream: Shudder
Our Time (Carlos Reygadas)
Carlos Reygadas’ films are often semi-autobiographical, typically exploring intimacy and suffering through metaphysical and philosophical lenses that are by turns cosmic and illusory. His latest film, Our Time, is no different. Truthfully, it might be his most personal film to date, painfully honest in its portrayal of a disintegrating marriage, with husband and wife played by Reygadas himself and his wife, Natalia López. Although the film recalls the marital infidelity of Reygadas’ Silent Light, paralleling the cosmos and seemingly boundless Mexican skyline with extramarital affairs and phlegmatic interiorities, Our Time pushes the envelope with its metatextual angle. Some have likened the film to couple’s therapy, with implicit disdain for the self-indulgence such a premise can have. However, this comes across as a critical misreading. The film is not a form of justification or apologia; neither vindication nor denunciation. Our Time is a personal testament, not to the character of Reygadas or López, but rather the complexities of matrimony when love breaks down beyond spiritual repair. – Kyle P.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz)
A triumph for diversity in casting, The Peanut Butter Falcon is an enormously endearing and often funny drama about two outlaws: Zac (Zack Gottsagen), a 22-year-old with down syndrome, and Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a small-time crab fisher who sets his competition’s traps ablaze. Without family, Zac escapes from a nursing home thanks to his roommate (played by the always delightful Bruce Dern) and the head nurse Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) is given her marching orders to go find him. After reviewing the evidence in his room, she deduces he’s heading to a wrestling camp in Aiken, SC headed by the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church). – John F. (full review)
Psychomagic, a Healing Art (Alejandro Jodorowsky)
Watch an exclusive clip above.
Part infomercial, part surrealist performance art, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s newest documentary Psychomagic, a Healing Art is a messy exploration of the filmmaker’s own psycho-analytic technique, one which takes individual trauma and recontextualizes it within the space of performance art. Well, in truth, that’s kind of what Jodorowsky is pitching. Much like his previous filmography, Jodorowsky’s method, and the subsequent film based on this ideology, exists between the profound and the vapid, depending on one’s taste. Perhaps intended for the already converted, and the Jodorowsky completists (if such a sub-category exists), Psychomagic is a dense, ridiculous, sublime, problematic exploration of what Jodorowsky pitches as the antithesis of Freudian psychoanalysis. – Christian G. (full review)
Where to Stream: Alamo on Demand
Red Penguins (Gabe Polsky)
Watch an exclusive clip above.
A larger than life story that must be seen to be believed, Gabe Polsky’s TIFF-selected documentary Red Penguins tells the wild tale of a collaboration between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Russia’s national hockey team in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. Featuring a case study in marketing hijinks, including strippers and live bears, as well as the unexpected involvement of Michael J. Fox, Disney’s Michael Eisner, and the Russian mafia, Polsky’s documentary breezes by at 80 minutes. While it plays the familiar non-fiction beats in terms of its structure, it’s worth seeing for the unexpected relationships (and clashes) that form when two wildly different cultures attempt to come together. – Jordan R.
She Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz)
In any other time and in any other place, She Dies Tomorrow would be a lucid and unsettling film. Screened in the height of a global pandemic, it is difficult to watch without immediately emphasizing the uncertainty, as well as the certainty, that radiates from and beyond the frame. The characters know they’re going to die, and once they know that, it feels inevitable. Amy Seimetz’s haunting and puzzling sophomore feature beings with a verbally violent break-up and quickly morphs into a film about contagion and paranoia. It also briefly veers into absurd comedy when things come to a head at a birthday party where everyone wishes after the fact they could have engaged in social distancing. – John F. (full review)
Waiting for the Barbarians (Ciro Guerra)
The phrase “the calm before the storm” has always been an interesting one because it posits that storms are inevitable and periods of calm are nothing but an illusion. It doesn’t matter how much work you’ve put into a situation to create peace if the other shoe is destined to drop. And the more you live in that nihilistic headspace, the more you render the storm a self-fulfilling prophecy. You become driven by fear in the unknown until you become the very thing that all others fear. You take before others take from you. You kill before others can kill you. This belief that your own destruction is just upon the horizon turns you into a destroyer who’s made the storm into its misguided rendition of the calm. – Jared M. (full review)
Also New to Streaming
The Criterion Channel
MUBI (free for 30 days)