Hello, streamers! Our picks for this week should prove to be nostalgic and contemporary, reflective and forward thinking, a look to the inspirational works of the past with a glance at what they’ve rendered since. Two films debuting in theaters are also new to VOD, while the release of Destin Cretton‘s much hailed “Short Term 12” encouraged us to take a look at his last feature. And with the opening of Wong Kar-wai‘s tenth feature film this weekend, we decided to feature the Chinese director quite prominently: some works—”Happy Together,” “In the Mood for Love,” and “Chungking Express“—are already well known, so we’re offering a curated assortment from his early days of writing and directing that you may be a little less familiar with. The Criterion Collection‘s special presentation of remastered films (care of Martin Scorsese‘s World Cinema Foundation) on Hulu deserves similar attention, and we have an overview of two of our favorites from that group. Bet you can’t wait to find out what they are! Let’s get going.
“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (2013)
What It’s About: When a heist erupts in a shoot-out, pregnant bank robber Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) injures a police officer named Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster). Her accomplice and husband Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck), in order to protect Ruth and their unborn child, takes the blame for the near murder and is saddled with 25 years in prison. As the years of this sentence persist, Ruth raises her daughter under the guise of another confederate (Keith Carradine) and the ever-present but never-seen Wheeler. However, just as the lawman begins to gather the courage to approach Bonnie, Clyde escapes from jail.
Why You Should Stream It: Set in 1970s Texas, David Lowery‘s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is a masterful example of filmmaking, its individually potent parts cohering in a powerful and unique whole; the director’s experience in multiple film industries, from cinematography and editing to writing and electrical work, is certainly significant here, affording him the know-how necessary to construct a beautiful and timeless piece of cinema. Bradford Young‘s pensive, luminous camerawork and Daniel Hart‘s poignant score are particularly marvelous, and lend the picture much of its brooding soul. Our review extols all the actors, and Foster in particular, calling the film “a wholly engrossing and impressive piece of work that the movie world will be talking about all year long.” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” hit select theaters last Friday, but if it’s not playing near you (or even if it is), stream it!
Where It’s Available: Cable VOD
“I Am Not a Hipster” (2012)
What It’s About: Indie rocker Brooke Hyde (Dominic Bogart) is drifting, leading an existence dominated by apathy despite his ascent in San Diego’s local music scene. When his three sisters (Tammy Minoff, Lauren Coleman, and Kandis Erickson) make a sudden appearance, complete with plans to spread their late mother’s ashes, Brooke is confronted with a past version of himself, and forced to reconcile the shell he’s become since leaving his home in Ohio.
Why You Should Stream It: In this, his first feature, writer-director Destin Cretton (who directed (“Short Term 12″) displays his talent for illustrating the nuances of deep human feeling. He delves into Brooke’s grieving process with insight and sympathy, intelligently using the creative processes of singing and songwriting as showcases for the protagonist’s emotional journey. Our review calls Cretton’s work “a tender, beautiful film that eloquently captures the complexities of creativity within those darker moments of life, and the beauty that can come from connecting with those you love. This film is too delightfully earnest and honest to be too overbearingly hip.” With a riveting and visceral performance from Bogart, wonderfully gritty handheld camerawork from Brett Pawlak, and a series of first-rate original songs written by Joel P. West, “I Am Not a Hipster” proves itself beyond the ironic title, as a worthwhile examination of grief—how it consumes us, how it changes us, and how we can, eventually, allow ourselves to move beyond it.
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, iTunes, VUDU, YouTube
“As Tears Go By” (1988), “Days of Being Wild” (1990), “Fallen Angels” (1995), and Other Wong Kar-wai Films
What They’re About: In “As Tears Go By,” small-time gangster Ah Wah (Andy Lau) is torn between keeping his best friend (Jacky Cheung) out of trouble with the local crime boss and pursuing a relationship with his cousin (Maggie Cheung). Playboy Yuddy (Leslie Cheung), faced with the fact of his adoption and beginning a search for his birth mother, copes by toying with the affections of two vulnerable women (Carina Lau and Maggie Cheung again) in “Days of Being Wild.” And the issue of isolation comes to the forefront once more in “Fallen Angels,” which sees a hitman (Leon Lai) forced to admit he must surmount a preoccupation with an invisible partner (Michelle Reis) if he hopes to permanently escape his debased life.
Why You Should Stream Them: An internationally acclaimed auteur, renowned for his visual flair and
culturally transcendent narratives, Hong Kong Second Wave
writer-director Wong Kar-wai is a seminal force in the modern era of
filmmaking. “As Tears Go By,” the artist’s directorial debut, has
received estimable comparisons to “Mean Streets” and, until the release
of “The Grandmaster” earlier this year, was Wong’s highest grossing
domestic film. His first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher
Doyle (an exquisite partnership that has marked each of Wong’s
subsequent features) came in “Days of Being Wild,” a darkly ambiguous
film that introduced the arthouse aesthetics of the Second Wave to Hong
Kong’s cinephiles. This specific stylization became further realized
with time, as seen in the riotous, neon-tinted, pop-synth-laced “Fallen
Angels.” For more about these three pictures (as well as his 14 other
features and shorts) read our full retrospective on Wong here.
Where They’re Available: Netflix
“The Frozen Ground” (2013)
What It’s About: Desperately searching for a serial killer, Alaska state trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) teams with the only victim to escape— a stripper and prostitute named Cindy (Vanessa Hudgens)—in hopes that her witness will lead him to closer the murderous man (John Cusack). Radha Mitchell, Kurt Fuller and Kevin Dunn co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: Based on a true story, mystery thriller “The Frozen Ground” sees first-time director Scott Walker shedding the genre’s commonly used subjective cinematography and lurid special effects in favor of an unadorned and straightforward consideration of psychopathy. Cage shows off a toned-down version of the wigged madman he has channeled of late, but it is the fairly strong Cusack, playing a naturally shy man brimming with rage and confusion (a mirror of the frigid, lifeless setting) that helps bring believability and pathos to the narrative. And Hudgens, continuing to cast off the squeaky clean Disney mantle, does her part as well: our reviews notes her standing as the lone pillar of humanity here, “her character’s dimensions suggesting a world outside of the lurid details of this case.” “The Frozen Ground” arrives in theaters and on VOD today.
Where It’s Available: Cable on Demand, VUDU
“A Single Shot” (2013)
What It’s About: Recently abandoned by his wife (Kelly Reilly) and young son, outdoorsman John Moon (Sam Rockwell) accidentally kills a young girl while hunting in the local West Virginia woodlands. The mistake is magnified when Moon lifts a strongbox full of money off the corpse, inciting a nail-biting game of cat-and-mouse with a gang of hardened criminals. All this while trying to settle a divorce, welcome home a good friend (Jeffrey Wright), and navigate his guilt alone. Poor hunter. William H. Macy, Jason Isaacs, Joe Anderson, Ophelia Lovibond, and Ted Levine co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: Directed by David M. Rosenthal and written by Matthew F. Jones (also the author of the source novel), “A Single Shot” is a welcome sight after many, many months of casting changes delayed production. Despite this bumpy start, it seems the chips fell well, as the team of actors featured here is often quite stellar. Macy’s quirky lawyer and Wright’s deceitful drunk are well executed and charming in a type-heavy sort of way, but Rockwell shines with noteworthy talent. Our review calls his performance “impressive in its physicality: he looks and feels the part of the practiced hunter.” And even if a heavy-handed score occasionally overshadows it, the low-lit photography is also undoubtedly impressive, expertly conveying the haziness of Moon’s bleak world. “A Single Shot” will be in theaters September 20th.
Where It’s Available: Cable on Demand, VUDU
“Jayne Mansfield’s Car” (2013)
What It’s About: Set across a few days in 1969, the film tells the story of an Alabama family who learn that their bloodline spills over to England, with a funeral bringing the two sides of the clan together tumultuously.
Why You Should Stream It: Perhaps making a nice movie to serve as a double bill with this week’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” the latest effort from writer/director Billy Bob Thornton serves up an ensemble mix of drama and comedy that’s becoming rarer and rarer these days. He stars in the flick along with a sprawling cast that includes John Hurt, Frances O’Connor, Ray Stevenson, Kevin Bacon and Robert Patrick, with everyone giving—as we noted in our review from Berlin—”unshowily enjoyable” performances. It’s nice opportunity to see a bunch of character actors of this calibre soak up in a Southern story that rolls like a Sunday afternoon breeze.
Where It’s Available: iTunes
Criterion Hulu Plus Pick
We like Criterion a lot, but what we love is finding hard to find, not-readily-available-on-DVD movies. And so the Criterion hub on Hulu Plus is pretty awesome. Their archive has approximately 225 movies that will eventually come out on the Criterion Collection on DVD, but currently, it’s just a rather incredible, early sneak peek treasure trove of what’s to come. Each week we single out a film that we think you should see.
“The Housemaid” (1960), “Touki Bouki” (1973), and other selections from Martin Scorsese‘s World Cinema Foundation
What They’re About: The World Cinema Foundation, established by Martin Scorsese in 2007, preserves and restores films from around the world, principally from countries which lack the necessary financial and technical resources to do so themselves. This week, Hulu Plus is showcasing eight titles that were recently restored by the non-profit organization, and have never before been available in the United States. In Korean director Kim Ki-young‘s “The Housemaid,” a husband’s not-so-covert affair with his domestic servant gives rise to a household teeming with bitterness, conspiracy, and vengeance. Meanwhile, a young couple goes to great lengths to escape the alienation and monotony of their lives in Dakar, hoping to begin anew in Paris in the Senegalese film “Touki Bouki” (Wolof for “Journey of the Hyenas”), directed by Djibril Diop. Also included in this slate are “Law of the Border,” “Dry Summer,” “Trances,” “A River Called Titas,” “Revenge,” and “Redes.”
Why You Should Stream Them: Refurbished by the WCF in 2008, the first in Kim’s trilogy of so-called “Housemaid films” is a sexy, taut, well-acted thriller that is as
distressing as it is pleasurable, much like the indecent relationship at
its center. Bringing forth a deeply personal narrative, “The Housemaid”
prods at the obsessive, rebellious, and selfish tendencies of human
nature, to great and lasting effect. “Touki Bouki” (also restored in
2008) demonstrates influences of the French New Wave, its dissonant
scoring, chaotic cinematography, and fast-paced editing atypical of
African filmmaking. The picture won the International Critics Award at
the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, and has since received accolades in
various film journals, but never managed to gain much traction with the
larger public; that it’s now more widely available is surely a coup for
African film and cinephiles alike. Although we centered on our favorite
picks from the compilation, Scorsese—a notorious cinema buff—rarely
hands out a bad recommendation, and we’d suggest you give them all a
shot. You can also check out the director’s introduction to these films
in the video below.
Where They’re Available: Hulu Plus (and free for nonsubscribers through August 24)
“Free Angela and All Political Prisoners“
“No One Lives“
“No Place on Earth“
“Star Trek Into Darkness“
“This is Martin Bonner“
“This is Spinal Tap“