Including the Netflix drama Pieces Of A Woman, Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz's Pretend It's A City and the WWII horror thriller Shadow In The Cloud.
NOW critics pick what’s new to streaming and VOD for the weekend of January 8. Plus: Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms.
Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s English-language melodrama is unpredictable – and that’s the point. The movie is about a woman named Martha (Vanessa Kirby) grieving the loss of a child who doesn’t act in a way that her husband (Shia LaBeouf) and mother (Ellen Burstyn) expect. The story follows a solidly middle-class Boston couple expecting their first child. They decide on a home birth, but things don’t go as planned when their midwife (Molly Parker) is confronted with a difficult labour. From there, Kata Wéber’s script gives us some salacious sex-and-drug twists, lightly scratches at class tensions and eventually leans hard into the theme of intergenerational trauma.
Cinematographer Benjamin Loeb’s framing emphasizes Martha’s headspace with imposing walls and hard surfaces, but equally overbearing is Howard Shore’s aching score. Mundruczó unnecessarily drops in music cues during the most dramatic moments as though he doesn’t trust his cast to deliver. It reads like a fumbling attempt to wedge the more austere European sensibility from his 2014 breakout White God with classic American melodrama. All the principle actors deliver, particularly Burstyn and Kirby, who add depth to respective monologues that bluntly articulate the film’s themes. There are many complex emotions and ideas simmering beneath the story in Pieces Of A Woman, but the movie struggles to find a convincing balance between contemplative quietude and sentimental overkill. 128 min. Now streaming on Netflix Canada. NNN (Kevin Ritchie)
Adam Rose / Netflix
Nicolas Cage, as himself, in History Of Swear Words
I’m not sure we needed a six-part Netflix series about the origins and evolution of swear words from the people at the comedy website Funny Or Die. But I’m positive we needed a six-part Netflix series about the origins and evolution of swear words from the people at the comedy website Funny Or Die hosted by Nicolas Cage at his most self-aware. Structurally, History Of Swear Words is nothing new, following the tried-and-true format of those E! shows from the early 2000s that did deep dives into superficial fads from decades past.
But History Of Swear Words has two things those other shows do not. One of them is the subject matter: profanity is fascinating, and it’s fun to go down the rabbit hole on a given word with the show’s squad of linguists, lexicographers and comedians.
The other thing is Nicolas Cage, and he is – to use the parlance of the series – the fucking shit. Every time he pops up, History Of Swear Words becomes that much richer. This could have been nothing more than a goof; that show where an Oscar-winning actor delivers a monologue of memorable F-bombs designed to go viral on social media. But it’s a little more than that. It’s pretty damn engaging.
Filmmaker Martin Scorsese and writer Fran Lebowitz first collaborated on 2010’s Public Speaking, his fleet documentary about her life and work. A decade later, they’ve reunited for a Netflix series that finds Lebowitz and Scorsese trying to figure out modern-day New York City and what it means to live there. At least, that’s the premise. In execution, it’s three and a half hours of Lebowitz telling stories and complaining, and Scorsese having the best time listening to her.
Look, I love Scorsese, I love Lebowitz and I love New York; Pretend It’s A City should have been a goddamn balm to me in this wretched moment. (The show takes its title from Lebowitz’s advice to the self-absorbed people she encounters on Manhattan’s sidewalks – sidewalks I myself would give almost anything to be able to tread again.) Instead, as Scorsese organizes Lebowitz’s curmudgeonly observations into various screeds about money, property, culture and books, the episodes grow weirdly self-indulgent, shuffling through various appearances and a long sit-down with Scorsese and at The Players Club and accidentally revealing that Lebowitz’s rat-a-tat delivery has calcified into a certain predictable rhythm.
It’s not that Lebowitz isn’t making good points. It’s that she makes them all in the exact same way, and editor David Tedeschi – who cuts all of Scorsese’s documentaries – doesn’t do anything to disguise that. I’m happy to think that this show might turn more people on to Lebowitz, and maybe lead them to discover Public Speaking, which found a much more suitable package for her particular genius. All seven episodes now streaming on Netflix Canada. NNN (NW)
It’s a shame most TIFF audiences had to experience Roseanne Liang’s pleasantly ridiculous WWII action-horror movie virtually; this is one title that would have absolutely brought the house down at a proper Midnight Madness screening. Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Maude Garrett, a young airwoman whose secret mission out of an Auckland base runs almost immediately into two entirely unnecessary obstacles: the sexist posturing of the male flight crew, and a gremlin bent on dismantling their bomber in mid-flight.
The first half of the film locks us into Maude’s perspective, trapped in a gun turret with a view of the plane’s underbelly – and that nasty little gremlin – with her crewmates only present as voices in her headset. It’s a great performance from Moretz, who keeps Maude’s motivations as deliberately fuzzy as her accent; she and Liang manage to find new wrinkles in what might otherwise be a monotonous gimmick. (It’s also necessary to note they’re both working with a script originated by Max Landis, whose own sexist posturing derailed his career shortly before Shadow In The Cloud went into production.)
When its scope widens around an hour in, Shadow In The Cloud gets more cartoonish than seems comfortable, trading its uneasy metaphors for a series of not-entirely-shocking twists and wildly over-the-top action sequences that are undeniably entertaining, but also a little disappointing. The shift in gears is necessary to pay off the tension, but it also trades the intensity Moretz and Liang had been building for something a little goofier. And that probably would have gone down easier with a thousand sleep-deprived fans cheering it on. 83 min. Now available on digital and on demand. NNN (NW)
Documentary directed by Bryan Fogel
Documentary directed by Seamus Murphy
Hilary Swank, Michael Ealy, Mike Colter; directed by Deon Taylor
Robin L’Homeau, Alison Midstokke, E.R. Ruiz; directed by Alexandre Franchi
Apple TV, Google Play
Gethin Anthony, Olivier Richters, Amy Bailey; directed by James Kermack
Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Beulah Koale; directed by Roseanne Liang
Documentary directed by Jesse Dylan
Jason Burkey, Clara Hanna, James Maslow; directed by V.W. Scheich
Everything coming to streaming platforms this month:
Three Films By Luis Buñuel (Criterion, Blu-ray)
Surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel – whose legendary collaborations with Salvador Dali influenced decades of art cinema – has been a fixture in the vaunted Criterion Collection since its laserdisc days, but it’s been slow going on the Blu-ray front, with only Belle De Jour and The Exterminating Angel arriving in high-def editions since Criterion embraced the format. This boxed set, collecting his final features The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, The Phantom Of Liberty and That Obscure Object Of Desire, therefore lands with more of an impact than it might have otherwise, gathering Buñuel’s absurdist trilogy of social studies in new HD restorations, with fresh subtitle translations and cleaned-up soundtracks. And it’s packed with special features, some carried over from Criterion’s earlier DVD editions – like Arturo Ripstein and Rafael Castanedo’s 1971 curio The Castaway Of Providence Street, made in winking homage to Buñuel, and the feature-length 2000 documentary Speaking Of Buñuel – and others that are new to North American viewers, like a 2011 documentary on the making of Bourgeoisie produced for French television, two shorter docs on Obscure Object and a host of archival interviews with Buñuel and his collaborators. I was hoping they’d also find room for Atheist Thanks To God, a half-hour Julien Gaurichon documentary included on Criterion’s now-out-of-print DVD of The Milky Way, but maybe they’re holding that back for a reissue. (NW)