What’s new to VOD and streaming this weekend: May 7-9

Including Almodovar's English-language debut, Eat Wheaties! and season 3 of The Girlfriend Experience


The Human Voice

(Pedro Almodóvar)

Spanish director Almodóvar’s English-language debut is a short film that strips the hallmarks of his oeuvre down to a few core elements: a high-strung woman engages in high drama while clad in high fashion. Based on Jean Cocteau’s monodrama of the same name, The Human Voice is essentially a 30-minute showpiece for Tilda Swinton, who stars as a jilted woman confronting her ex in a lengthy phone call as her oblivious dog unhelpfully reflects back her anxiety. Cocteau’s play served as the inspiration for Almodóvar’s 1988 international hit Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown so not unlike 2019’s Pain And Glory, this project finds the director self-consciously revisiting the late 80s/early 90s period that defined his success.

Swinton’s impeccably decorated luxury apartment is a fourth-wall busting set that the director sometimes films from above studio rafters, a technique that reminds us we are watching a Tilda Swinton performance. For two-thirds of the movie, she delivers a raging monologue that feels almost like endurance acting. The dog, the suffocating decor, even an axe – everything around her seems so vividly useless compared with her forceful voice. The result is an enjoyably indulgent aesthetic delight that’s about appreciating the individual parts that typically form Almodóvar’s melodramatic whole. 30 min. Now streaming on Crave. NNN (Kevin Ritchie)

Season 3 of the Girlfriend Experience
Courtesy of Bell Media

The Girlfriend Experience (season 3)

(Anja Marquardt)

The Starz anthology series takes its core concept from Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 movie about a sex worker acutely aware of the transactional nature of all relationships, professional or otherwise. The first two seasons were helmed by Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan; this year, writer/director Anja Marquardt (She’s Lost Control) takes over for a story set in London, where American neuroscience student Iris (Julia Goldani Telles) joins a tech startup developing artificial intelligence, and winds up using her night job as an escort to teach the AI about human nature.

Marquardt is swimming in fairly familiar waters here, jazzing up stilted conversations with cryptic virtual-reality chats, off-kilter cinematography and a moody musical score. But from the evidence of the first five episodes, it doesn’t really feel like the show has anything to say about the intersection of tech and desire. Goldani Telles (Bunheads, The Affair) is strangely flat as both Iris and her sexytime alter ego Cassie, moving through scenes like a blunt object (and, at several points, adopting a truly horrible English accent). Maybe the second half is building to a rug pull where it turns out we’re watching someone play a bad video game. New episodes every Sunday on Crave with a Starz subscription. NN (Norman Wilner)

A still of Tony Hale in the movie Eat Wheaties!
Tony Hale stars in Eat Wheaties! (Level Film)

Eat Wheaties!

(Scott Abramovitch)

Abramovitch, who wrote the curious Susan Sarandon thriller The Calling a few years ago, makes his directorial debut with this equally curious picture about socially awkward Sid Straw (Tony Hale), whose OCD leads him to pester the actor and filmmaker Elizabeth Banks on Facebook because they went to college together – resulting in a restraining order that derails his entire life.

It’s… sort of a comedy, with Sid pushing haplessly onward through a series of crossed signals and clumsy social encounters as Banks’s people justifiably interpret him as a stalker. (Abramovitch’s script updates Michael Kun’s 2003 novel The Locklear Letters for the era of social media.) But Eat Wheaties! refuses to frame Sid as a buffoon; Hale’s performance is driven by a burning indignation. You can see why his friends are sympathetic; you can also see why strangers might think he’s dangerous.

Ultimately, the movie is as odd as its hero, with a supporting cast filled with gifted comic players like Sarah Burns, Sarah Chalke, Elisha Cuthbert, Sarah Goldberg, Paul Walter Hauser, Lamorne Morris, Alan Tudyk and David Walton. And please make sure to watch it all the way to the end. 88 min. Available on digital and on demand. NNN (NW)

Sunita Mani and Brian Tyree Henry in The Outside Story. (Vortex Media)

The Outside Story

(Casimir Nozkowski)

Nozkowski’s indie comedy – which played in the Regent Park Film Festival last fall – stars Brian Tyree Henry as Charles, an introverted video editor who spends an afternoon locked out of his Brooklyn apartment and forced to interact with his neighbours. That sounds like a pitch for a frantic comedy, but The Outside Story proves gentler and more thoughtful, weaving flashbacks of Charles’s newly ended relationship with Isha (Star Trek: Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green) through the story to show us what’s really bothering our hero.

The supporting cast gradually expands to include GLOW’s Sunita Mani, Better Things’ Olivia Edward and Spotlight’s Michael Cyril Creighton, but Henry – an invaluable ensemble player in everything from Atlanta and Widows to Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Godzilla Vs. Kong – is quietly great in his first leading role, and Nozkowski keeps the tone pleasantly busy rather than panicked. There’s one scene that threatens to break the movie’s genial spell, but I’m pretty sure that’s by design. 85 min. Available now on digital and on demand. NNNN (NW)

Aditya Modak in The Disciple
Courtesy of Netflix

The Disciple

(Chaitanya Tamhane)

The tension between art and commerce is a common theme in movies, but Chaitanya Tamhane’s TIFF award winner manages to exalt a sublime art form without putting its artists on a pedestal. Sharad (Aditya Modak) is a devoted 24-year-old student of Hindustani classical music, studying under and caring for the elderly Guruji (Arun Dravid). By day he works for a producer reissuing obscure recordings, and at night he calmly rides his motorbike through the streets of Mumbai while listening to the teachings of Maai (Sumitra Bhave), an iconic musician disdainful of performing live and recording for profit. Sharad’s family history and life are steeped in music, and yet he struggles to find the kind of balance between meditative improvisation and pitch-perfect delivery his art form requires.

The Disciple’s story unfolds through a series of beautifully composed, quietly scathing scenes that school viewers on the particulars of Northern Indian classical music. We watch as Sharad’s insistence on artistic purity slips into self-absorption as he is confronted with a series of rude awakenings, refusing to acknowledge that a level of financial success is a material necessity. There are times when Tamhane overplays the central dramatic tension – it becomes obvious where the story is headed – but the director’s understated approach allows the performance scenes to advance the story on a philosophical and emotional level that makes The Disciple ever more absorbing as it progresses. 128 mins. Now streaming on Netflix Canada. NNNN (KR)

IAN QUINLAN as HUTCH in episode 103 of JUPITER’S LEGACY.
Marni Grossman/Netflix

Jupiter’s Legacy

(Steven S. DeKnight, Sang Kyu Kim)

If Invincible didn’t give you enough parent-child superhero material, Netflix’s adaptation of the 2013 comic created by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely is here to double down on conversations about the whole great power, great responsibility thing. Set in a world where superheroes arrived during the Great Depression but refused to interfere in global conflicts, the show explores the clash between old-school heroes and the younger, more morally ambivalent generation that follows them, some of whom are their literal kids.

The kids are played by Andrew Horton, Elena Kampouris and Ian Quinlan, among others, and they’re the most interesting aspect of the show, especially when pitted against their inflexible elders, like Josh Duhamel’s single-minded Utopian and Leslie Bibb’s Lady Liberty. But Jupiter’s Legacy is too beholden to the original comics, constantly abandoning the present to flash back to 1929, where the story of how the original heroes earned their incredible powers plays out at a snail’s pace, introducing conflicts that won’t even begin to pay off until the second season. If we’re lucky. All eight episodes available to stream on Netflix Canada Friday (May 7). NNN (NW)

A still from The Boy From Medellin
Courtesy of TIFF

The Boy From Medellín

(Matthew Heineman)

The Boy From Medellín is about what it’s like to be a global pop superstar while the globe in on fire. The film follows Colombian reggaeton singer J Balvin as he prepares to play a major concert in a hometown stadium in November 2019. The twist? The country is in the throes of massive street protests against right-wing president Iván Duque, and fans and fellow artists are pressuring the reluctant Balvin to speak out in favour of economic and social reforms.

Director Matthew Heineman is best known for slickly shot war and drug cartel documentaries, but here his aesthetic primarily reinforces Balvin’s pampered alienation with arresting aerial views of Medellín and an emphasis on moody natural lighting. If it didn’t seem like Balvin was genuinely unable to articulate any sort of political view, The Boy From Medellín would be totally insufferable: rich pop star just wants everyone to leave him alone. It feels like an honest portrait, but it’s hardly satisfying.

The movie broadly covers major themes of the modern pop star condition – personal versus political, alter egos and the marketability of vulnerability and mental health – while side-stepping glaring class dynamics. Balvin points out he worked hard for the money, but we don’t get a strong sense of where he came from, what shaped his worldview or what it took for him to become so successful. It’s a beautiful-looking film that captures the intensity of a particular moment, but it ultimately boils a collective uprising down to a personal existential crisis that is not particularly revealing. 95 min. Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video Canada on Friday (May 7). NN (KR)

Available on VOD

A Bump Along The Way

Bronagh Gallagher, Lola Petticrew, Mary Moulds; directed by Shelly Love
Apple TV, Google Play

The Columnist

Katja Herbers, Genio de Groot, Claire Porro; directed by Ivo Van Aart
Apple TV, Google Play

Eat Wheaties!

Tony Hale, Alan Tudyk, Sarah Chalke; directed by Scott Abramovitch
Apple TV

Fried Barry

Gary Green, Bianka Hartenstein, Sean Cameron Michael; directed by Ryan Kruger
Shudder

Mainstream

Andrew Garfield, Maya Hawke, Nat Wolff; directed by Gia Coppola
Apple TV

The Outside Story

Brian Tyree Henry, Sonequa Martin-Green, Sunita Mani; directed by Casimir Nozkowski
Apple TV, Google Play

Painkiller

Bill Oberst Jr., Michael Paré, Pacey Liz Walker; directed by Mark Savage
Apple TV, Google Play

The Paper Tigers

Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins; directed by Bao Quoc Tran

Apple TV, Google Play

Reboot Camp

David Lipper, Keli Price, Maxim Roy; directed by Ivo Raza
Apple TV, Google Play

Son Of The South

Lucas Till, Lucy Hale, Brian Dennehy; directed by Barry Alexander Brown
Apple TV, Google Play

Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street

Documentary directed by Marilyn Agrelo
Read NOW’s review
Apple TV, Google Play, digital TIFF Bell Lightbox

Tu Me Manques

Fernando Barbosa, Oscar Martines, Roissy de Palma; directed by Rodrigo Bellott
Apple TV, Google Play

Streaming guides

Everything coming to streaming platforms this month:

Netflix Canada

Crave

Amazon Prime Video Canada

Disney+

CBC Gem

Film festival

DOXA

Hot Docs wraps up on Sunday, but the Vancouver-based documentary festival is just getting underway – and available to stream across the country. So if you missed a buzzy title like The Gig Is Up, Someone Like Me or Summer Of Soul, you’ve got another week to catch up to it … and if you have, there’s a wealth of other films to check out. I recommend Sisters With Transistors, Lisa Rovner’s tribute to the women who made electronic music in the 20th century, and pushed the form forward for everyone.

Through May 16 at doxafestival.ca.

Toronto Irish Film Festival

Marking its 11th year – and its first online edition, via TIFF’s streaming platform – the festival offers 22 features, docs and shorts of Irish extraction, and a longer viewing window in which to catch them. Premieres include Phil Sheerin’s The Winter Lake, a psychological thriller starring Crawl’s Anson Boon and Sex Education breakout Emma Mackey, and Philip Doherty’s Redemption Of A Rogue, a comedy starring Aaron Monaghan as a suicidal nihilist. There’s also The Hunger, Ruán Magan’s documentary about the famine of the 1840s narrated by Liam Neeson, and if you missed The 8th when it played Hot Docs 2020, don’t miss the chance to see it here: Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O’Boyle’s rousing look at the grassroots movement to repeal Ireland’s constitutional abortion ban feels even more triumphant after a miserable year.

All features available to stream through May 15 at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox. Find the complete program at toirishfilmfest.com.

Disc of the week

Arrow's 4K edition of Donnie Darko.

Donnie Darko (Arrow, 4K)

It’s been almost exactly 20 years since Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko forced its way into our reality… and as befits a cult object, its DVD and Blu-ray releases seem innumerable. But if you’ve been meaning to pick up the two-disc special edition Arrow released back in 2016, you now have an even better reason: the remastered 4K transfers around which that package was built are now available to watch in proper 4K.

Arrow’s two-disc release offers the theatrical cut on one platter and writer/director Richard Kelly’s extended cut on a second, both in 2160p – along with all the supplemental materials collected on Arrow’s earlier BD, including the feature-length documentary Deus Ex Machina: The Philosophy Of Donnie Darko. Packaged with a poster, postcards and a hardcover book of essays and interviews, it’s as definitive as these things get… even if the extended cut is more trouble than it’s worth: Kelly’s insidious, mesmeric infusion of a John Hughes teen movie with the creeping tension Stephen King suburban nightmare is so much more effective – and affecting – when it puts us in the same mental space as Jake Gyllenhaal’s confused, desperate antihero.

The added definition also plays up the subtle contrast between the sweaty, disheveled Donnie and the glossy world in which he lives, which is something I’d never noticed before. It’s nice to be surprised by a movie you’ve been watching for decades. (NW)

@nowtoronto

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