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Including Black Widow, Meander, The White Lotus and season 2 of I Think You Should Leave
Our picks for the best new movies coming out this week. Plus Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms for the weekend of July 9.
Yes, there’s some irony in Scarlett Johansson’s Marvel character only getting a solo movie after the events of Avengers: Endgame… but on the upside, Marvel movies have already established a willingness to jump around the timeline if it suits a given story, and this one makes sense. Black Widow is mostly set in 2016, just weeks after the events of Captain America: Civil War, with Natasha Romanoff on the run after that big super-smackdown at the Berlin airport and back in her comfort zone as the outcast she’s always felt herself to be. But events elsewhere in Europe pull her back into a life she thought she’d left behind years earlier – and reunite her with a clan of Russian sleeper agents played by Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz.
The result is an engaging mashup of chases, close-quarters action and family road movie: imagine Little Miss Sunshine… if all of the characters in the minivan were Jason Bourne. And even though the film’s third act falls victim to the now-cliched Marvel climax of escalating stakes and a giant thing falling from the sky, Shortland and her effects team thread that needle as well, with Natasha fighting for something very personal in the midst of all the fate-of-the-world stuff that doesn’t really matter. 133 min. Some subtitles. Available to stream Friday (July 9) on Disney+ with Premier Access. NNNN (Norman Wilner)
After Year Of The Dog, Brad’s Status and his masterwork HBO series Enlightened, writer/director/producer White continues to explore that specific vein of American solipsism and insecurity with a miniseries about a handful of people whose lives intersect at a lush Hawaii resort – and where, we’re immediately informed, someone is going to end up dead within a matter of days. This is White’s version of Big Little Lies or Dead To Me, which means the mystery aspect isn’t as important as his barbed observations of the pampered privileged class and a sympathetic view of the people who spend their days reassuring them that everything is going to be just the way they like it.
And in the same way, he’s not out to break new ground with The White Lotus; he’s just doing more of the thing he does in a different location. Which is fine, I guess, but you can recognize the beats. Sam Rockwell, Connie Britton, Jake Lacy and Jennifer Coolidge are among the one-percenters; Murray Bartlett is the brittle manager of the White Lotus, whose officious front starts to crumble after he realizes he’s overlooked a minor crisis. Natasha Rothwell is the spa manager upon whom one of the guests develops a very unhealthy dependence. Alexandra Daddario gets the most interesting arc as a journalist freshly married into money and still not totally okay with it; I got the sense hers was the one character White hadn’t made up his mind about before he started writing. Sundays at 9 pm on Crave and streaming on Crave. NNN (Norman Wilner)
(Tim Robinson, Zach Kanin)
The first season of Robinson and Kanin’s Netflix sketch series was rightly hailed as an absurdist triumph, with instantly meme-able bits drawn from a well of overmatched idiots (most of them played by a gimlet-eyed, increasingly red-faced Robinson) doubling down on bad choices or insisting that a demonstrably false premise was objective, inarguable reality. Not every sketch landed, but the ones that did were master classes in escalation and release.
Season 2 is… well, it’s more of the same. More idiots, more confusion, more shouting and more sketches that don’t end so much as stop. A lot more: every episode has at least one bit that feels like a proof-of-concept still waiting to be fleshed out. But by the same token, there’s one in every episode that sticks with you: the one with Patti Harrison as a game-show judge with an increasingly loopy history, or the one where Robinson’s office drone is starving himself in order to buy elaborately patterned shirts, or the one where a driver’s-ed video (also featuring Harrison) keeps getting hung up on irrelevant details. If you’re chasing the high of the guy in the hot-dog suit or the focus-group sketch from season 1, maybe you’ll find it. But it does feels like Robinson’s core concept is running out of gas. All six episodes now available to stream on Netflix Canada. NNN (NW)
After a roadside encounter with an odd man (Peter Franzén), a woman (Gaia Weiss) awakens to find herself in some sort of elaborate maze of pipes and boxes, with only an illuminated bracelet and a countdown timer helping her to survive a series of potentially lethal challenges. In his latest thriller, French writer/director Turi (Hostile) lays out an even more claustrophobic version of a Saw movie, squeezing the traps and flaying into increasingly smaller spaces. And for about half of Meander’s running time, that’s enough: Weiss oscillates between panic and resolve as she races to stay alive long enough to understand the rules, and the moment-to-moment tension is unrelenting. But eventually the movie has to start explaining itself, and the answers aren’t all that satisfying. (The ending? Even less so.) If you’re just looking for creepy visuals and the occasional gruesome effect, Meander does have those things. Quite a lot of them, actually. There’s probably a great short film in here, but at feature length the parts just don’t add up to a satisfying whole. 90 min. Some subtitles. Available to stream on digital and on demand Friday (July 9). NN (NW)
Documentary directed by Asaf Galay
Weklet Bungue, Albrecht Schuch, Jella Haase; directed by Burhan Qurbani
Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz; directed by Cate Shortland
Taylor Olson, Amy Groening, Sam Vigneault; directed by Taylor Olson
Yana Enzhaeva, Konstantin Beloshapka, Ilya Ermolov; directed by Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy
Gaia Weiss, Peter Franzen; directed by Mathieu Trui
Agnieszka Grochowska, Marthe Keller, Andre Jung; directed by Bettino Oberli
Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, James Corden; directed by Will Gluck
Valeria Giorcelli, Pablo Sigal; directed by Martin Blousson
Ashenafi Nigusu, Mikias Wolde, Joseph Reta Belay; directed by Jan Philipp Wely
Documentary directed by Edgar Wright
Joey Millin, Madison West, Nadine Sondej-Robinson; directed by Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young
Documentary directed by Yung Chang
Everything coming to streaming platforms this month:
The 2021 edition of the annual festival – dedicated to showcasing short works from emerging Canadian filmmakers under 40 – will be available to stream on CBC Gem for the next two weeks, featuring an impressive range of subjects, perspectives and styles. (I was particularly impressed with Kourtney Jackson’s Wash Day, Ella Morton’s Kajanaqtuq, and Bruna Arbex’s This Is A Period Piece.) There’s also a mostly free industry program that kicks off tonight (Friday) with a keynote conversation with filmmaker and television producer Evan Goldberg (Superbad, This Is The End, The Boys) moderated by NOW culture editor Radheyan Simonpillai. And if you find yourself with a taste for more, Season 1 is still available to stream here. (NW)
It’s always nice when one of Noah Baumbach’s earlier, funny films resurfaces, and nicer still to discover said film holds up: the writer/director’s 1998 followup to his indie breakout Kicking And Screaming is a charming examination of male insecurity, with Eric Stoltz as Lester, a writer spinning out over the discovery that his girlfriend Ramona (Annabella Sciorra) used to date another writer (Chris Eigeman) who’s far more successful than he is.
There’s a clear line from Baumbach’s interests here to the aggrieved, apoplectic characters of … well, pretty much every one of his subsequent films, but especially The Squid And The Whale, Margot At The Wedding and The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected). Mr. Jealousy keeps things much lighter, shaping Lester’s descent into a dry farce rather than an excoriating descent into ritual humiliation. And you know, that’s nice.
Released under the “Marquee Collection” banner, MVD’s Blu-ray can’t compete with Criterion’s elaborate editions of Baumbach’s films, but it does offer a better-than-expected presentation of the movie, given its age and provenance, and a 40-minute documentary that mixes new interviews with co-stars Brian Kerwin and Peter Bogdanovich and producer Joel Castelberg with an archival interview with Baumbach. It’s a shame they couldn’t include Highball, the other feature film Baumbach and the cast shot (in six days, as an experiment) after wrapping Mr. Jealousy, but it’s not surprising, either; Baumbach has said that project was never finished to anyone’s satisfaction, and took his name off of it decades ago. Still, we’ll always have Carlos Jacott’s terrible English accent. (NW)