Everything new to VOD and streaming for the weekend of March 19, including The Father, Happily, Violation and Zack Snyder's Justice League
Courtesy of Elevation Pictures
NOW critics pick what’s new to streaming and VOD for the weekend of March 19. Plus: Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms.
First-time filmmaker Florian Zeller has co-adapted (with Christopher Hampton) his own much-produced play about Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), an elderly Londoner living with dementia, and Anne (Olivia Colman), his middle-aged daughter who is frustrated that he keeps upsetting his caregivers. It’s difficult to review it without revealing spoilers – I’d suggest audiences not even consult a full cast list. But Zeller does an effective job of opening up the modest chamber drama and making us feel what the central character is experiencing. We get a good sense of Anthony’s flat and his isolation – he’s seen looking out windows several times, something that feels especially resonant right now. And the actors – both Hopkins and Colman have been nominated for Oscars here – are brilliant. Colman’s expressive face registers all the emotions Anne is going through, while Hopkins, often cast as a strong, controlling character, captures the fear, frustration and anger of a man whose grip on reality is gradually slipping away. 97 minutes. In select theatres Friday (March 19), and VOD platforms March 26. Rating: NNNN (Glenn Sumi)
(Madeleine Sims–Fewer, Dusty Mancinelli)
Sexually explicit and unrelentingly gruesome, Violation is a movie about a woman working her way through trauma as methodically and horribly as possible. Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli’s first feature – after several similarly intense, enraged short films – slips back and forth in time to show us the things with which Sims-Fewer’s tormented Miriam is trying to deal, asking us to wonder whether the nature of her response is really as disproportionate as it appears. Violation is about the effort required to do the thing Miriam is doing, once she commits to it: how physically demanding it is, how miserable it is, and how it isn’t the sort of thing one can just move beyond. Sims-Fewer’s performance is a catalogue of damage: we watch as Miriam registers new levels of hurt and horror over the course of the film, and it’s like compound interest is accruing on her soul. You can find the specifics in any number of reviews from its TIFF or Sundance screenings, but I’d recommend you go in with as little foreknowledge as possible. Violation works best if you don’t know where it’s going; all you need to know is that it won’t stop. 107 min. Available Friday (March 19) on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox. NNNN (Norman Wilner)
There’s something wonderfully unclassifiable about writer/director Grabinski’s first feature, which stars Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé as a long-married couple dealing with some unexpected challenges to their self-image. First, they learn their undimmed passion for one another has led their friend group to disinvite them from a couples’ weekend getaway; almost immediately afterward, they’re visited by a stranger (Stephen Root) who tells them the fact that they’re still so hot for one another is some kind of evolutionary error, which he’d like to correct. They decline, and go to the couple’s weekend anyway, and that’s when Happily gets really interesting. Grabinski’s mining the same vein of progressive unease as Richard Kelly does in movies like Donnie Darko, Southland Tales and The Box, albeit in a less metaphysical sense. His metaphor is more concrete, digging into the way long-term couples depend on shared ideals (or shared illusions), and what happens when those constructs are challenged. McHale and Bishé are entirely believable leads, and the supporting cast is filled with comic ringers like Natalie Zea, Paul Scheer, Natalie Morales, Jon Daly, Shannon Woodward, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Charlyne Yee and Breckin Meyer, all slowly shifting from sprightly comedy to existential horror as Grabinski reveals the story’s ultimate trajectory. Happily may not be for everyone, but I liked it an awful lot. Give it a chance. 96 min. Available Friday (March 19) on digital and on demand. NNNN (NW)
Despite what his online champions would have you believe, Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t a restoration: the “Snyder cut” of DC’s superhero team-up epic existed solely as an assembly of unfinished footage and sketched-out effects sequences when the filmmaker left the production following a family tragedy. This version – twice as long and at least five times more self-important than the version completed by Joss Whedon and released into theatres three and a half years ago – is the movie Snyder imagines he would have made, given unlimited resources and time. The plot is exactly the same as it was in the 2017 version, with our heroes assembling to stop an extra-dimensional invasion led by the monstrous CG villain Steppenwolf. But now the action scenes are bigger and bloodier, three F-bombs are dropped (one of them by Ben Affleck’s Batman), and the role of Cyborg is indeed substantially expanded in this version, making Ray Fisher’s character the heart of the film. And whether this version is actually better than the earlier iteration is irrelevant; Zack Snyder’s Justice League is basically critic-proof, pitched directly at super-fans who will receive it as the lost masterwork they always knew it to be. Hallelujah, hallelujah. Read a longer review here. 242 min. Available Thursday (March 18) on Crave+Movies. NN (NW)
When is free speech too much? Why has trust in mainstream media eroded? What’s the best way to counter misinformation online? These questions are asked throughout Hoback’s six-part HBO doc series investigating the main players in the QAnon movement, but ultimately the filmmaker is more successful telling a lurid, dark-web melodrama than philosophically unpacking the times. Into The Storm sets out to unmask the identity of Q, the anonymous figure fuelling a conspiracy theory that Donald Trump is fighting against a cabal of pedophilic Washington elites. The theory has sparked a viable real-world political movement, but this series focuses mainly on three people behind the message board 8Chan, Q’s main source of dissemination: Fredrick Brennan, the 8chan cofounder who turned on his business partners, father-son duo Jim and Ron Watkins. Evasion, narcissism and shadiness abound, as do ironic plot twists. The series feels overlong, heading down dead ends and retreading similar themes and ideas, but Hoback eventually makes a convincing case for Q’s identity. It gradually becomes more about the director’s weird entanglement with these cartoonish albeit memorable characters, but Into The Storm frequently gets lost along the way. Six episodes. Episodes one and two premiere Sunday (March 21) at 9 pm on Crave. NNN (Kevin Ritchie)
Courtesy of Kino Lorber
As this doc’s title suggests, American artist David Wojnarowicz was confrontational, from talking about his abusive childhood and life as a hustler, to his involvement in AIDS activism and willingness to criticize political figures through his art. Using audio and visual journals, archival material and interviews with the artist’s contemporaries (including cultural commentator Fran Lebowitz), director McKim and World of Wonder producers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (RuPaul’s Drag Race) show in intimate detail how Wojnarowicz ended up on a collision course with the political culture wars of the day during both an epidemic and a time when the mainstream right was assaulting the free speech of queer artists. By using only audio narration and archival imagery, the film evokes the grittiness and tenuousness of New York City in the 80s, a transitional time when artists like Wojnarowicz were on the cusp of mainstream success, ironically just as AIDS was cutting their lives tragically short. What’s most interesting is how McKim softens Wojnarowicz, capturing his vulnerability, playfulness and tenderness, but also how those sides of him informed the unwavering resolve and honesty he is often remembered for. 105 min. Opens Friday (March 19) at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox. NNN (KR)
Crisis is a moderately entertaining drama exploring various angles of the opioid crisis, but it’s not nearly as gripping or as persuasive as Traffic, the obvious comparison. Gary Oldman (one of the film’s producers) plays Dr. Tyrone Bower, a scientist who discovers that a miracle drug he’s been researching isn’t as safe as he at first thought. That doesn’t please the big pharmaceutical company who’s funded the research, or the university head (Greg Kinnear) who’s relying on that funding to continue. Meanwhile, Claire (Evangeline Lilly), who’s recovering from opioid addiction herself, tries to find out how her son died of a drug overdose, which leads her into a circuitous and confusing plot involving the FBI, a Montreal drug ring and – the least plausible thread – young drug runners. Director Nicholas Jarecki has a hard time making us care about all the narrative threads, but Oldman and Lilly are a lot more persuasive in their roles than Armie Hammer and Jarecki himself as agents who may or may not be on the take. 118 minutes. Now on digital and VOD platforms. NNN (GS)
Emilia Clarke, Jack Huston, Sophie Lowe; directed by Philip Noyce
Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly; directed by Nicholas Jarecki
Joel McHale, Kerry Bishė, Natalie Morales; directed by BenDavid Grabinski
Ryan Barton-Grimley, Ari Schneider, Jana Savage; directed by Ryan Barton-Grimley
Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aidan Gillen; directed by Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy
Tamaryn Payne, Emily Wyatt, Naomi Willow; directed by David Creed
Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Jesse LaVercombe, Anna Maguire; directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli
Documentary directed by Chris McKim
Everything coming to streaming platforms this month:
About a month into the pandemic, Toronto film programmer Stacey Donen commissioned short works from filmmakers all over Canada, asking them to provide stories of their lockdown experience, telling those stories in whatever genre or style they saw fit. The first wave of 10 shorts, with contributions from Anne Marie Fleming, Richard Fung, John Greyson, Larry Kent and others, was released in May 2020; dozens of additional work rolled out over the subsequent months. And now, just in time for the first anniversary of the world shutting down, Donen is making all 91 shorts available and supplementing them with panels and interviews as the Greetings From Isolation Virtual Film Festival. Whether you approach the 13 programs as a pleasant distraction or as an opportunity to see how artists like Matthew Rankin, Brett Story, Yuqi Kang, Alan Zweig and Katerina Cizek processed (or continue to process) this plague year, it’s worth spending a couple of hours clicking around inside the festival. And it’s all free, because we’re all in this together.
Through April 5 at greetingsfromisolation.com
It’s some sort of crime against art that Jacques Rivette’s 1974 magnificent, adventurous comedy – an epic nouvelle vague riff reworking of Alice In Wonderland that accompanies two spirited young women (Juliet Berto, Dominique Labourier) on a surreal, whimsical odyssey through a lovingly rendered Paris – has never been available on any video format in North America, spending four decades cycling through cinematheques in increasingly shabby prints. But a recent 2K digital restoration has brought the movie back to vivid life – as Criterion Channel subscribers can attest – and now it’s part of the Criterion Collection, with a generous bitrate and an extensive supplemental package: Jacques Rivette: Le Veilleur,a two-hour interview produced for French television by Claire Denis and Serge Daney in 1994, could easily have merited a stand-alone release. Also included is a thoughtful audio commentary by film critic Adrian Martin (recorded for the British Film Institute’s 2017 release), new interviews with co-stars Barbet Schroeder (who also produced the film) and Bulle Ogier and archival interviews with Rivette and his cast, and a new conversation between French critic Pacôme Thiellement and Rivette biographer Hélène Frappat. If Criterion wasn’t also releasing a comprehensive Wong Kar-wai boxed set next week, this would be a front-runner for the most essential disc of 2021; as it is, it’ll have to settle for being one of the best.