What’s new to VOD and streaming this weekend

Reviews of the latest movies and streaming series. Plus: Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms


Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video Canada

NOW critics pick what’s new to streaming and VOD for the weekend of October 16. Plus: Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms.

Time

(Garrett Bradley)

As a documentary subject, U.S. mass incarceration is typically portrayed through a series of legal and bureaucratic manoeuvres, protest footage and news clips. Garrett Bradley’s Time takes another route into the issue, capturing the wider, emotional rippling-out effect that happens when someone is imprisoned for decades. The film is an intimate profile of Sibil Richardson (aka Fox Rich), a Shreveport, Louisiana, woman who is fighting to get her husband Rob released from a 60-year prison sentence for armed robbery (in which no one was hurt). But while she makes daily phone calls and advocates for prison abolition at speaking events, life continues. She is raising six sons, who we see grow up without their father in Sibil’s video diaries. She has a magnetic presence, is an expert storyteller and is astutely aware of how she is perceived. The Richardson family presents a strong, upwardly mobile front, but behind closed doors there is a lot of pain.

Time is a short but expansive film. Bradley uses slow zooms, a leisurely, jazzy piano score and black-and-white photography to contrast Sibil’s charisma. The effect is upending; Sibil is the kind of person that is always moving forward and resolutely hopeful – but going up against an all-encompassing systemic reality keeps her treading water. Working with such a self-possessed subject, Bradley finds ways to let the quiet- parts speak as loudly as the Black church-raised Sibil’s skilful public orations. Recent protests have rekindled conversations around racism and the judicial system, but Time shows what has been there all along. For many poor people and people of colour with incarcerated loved ones, time is experienced differently. Bradley has created a sharply empathetic family portrait that subtly rips open profound philosophical questions. 81 min. Premieres Friday (October 16) on Amazon Prime Video Canada. NNNN (Kevin Ritchie)

Courtesy of Planet In Focus

Ai Weiwei’s Coronation closes out Planet In Focus.

Coronation

(Ai Weiwei)

For all of its soaring drone shots of depopulated cities, Ai’s documentary about the early months of the pandemic – which technically closes this year’s Planet In Focus festival, though it’s streaming along with the rest of the program – is a surprisingly intimate work. Through footage captured by a team of filmmakers, Ai follows a cross-section of Chinese citizens across a country battered by COVID-19. A drive home to Wuhan from celebrating Chinese New Year in Dongzhou becomes a tour of infection-control checkpoints; citizens gather at the airport to welcome medical professionals flying into Wuhan to help an overwhelmed health-care system; a man tries to explain the new normal to his elderly mother as the lockdown eases. Cutting between doctors doing their best to treat the sick in hospitals and personal stories in the world outside, Ai finds individual moments of humanity in a crisis so large it’s almost incomprehensible – much as he did with the refugee issue in Human Flow and The Rest. Political decisions and public-health strategy remain abstract; all that matters is how they affect the lives of the people in front of his lens. 115 min. Available to stream through October 23 at planetinfocus.org. NNNN (Norman Wilner)

Courtesy of HBO

David Byrne’s American Utopia

(Spike Lee)

Lee’s movie of Byrne’s Broadway show is a glorious thing. It takes the gently political jukebox musical – which reshuffles four decades of the ex-Talking Heads frontman’s music into a new narrative about despair and compassion in today’s America – and amplifies it into cinema through clever camera placement and sharp, rhythmic cutting. The music is great. The musicians are amazing, marching and swirling around the stage to Annie-B Parson’s geometrical choreography, inspired by Byrne’s experience working with high-school colour guards in the 2015 Luminato show Contemporary Color. The arrangements are pretty terrific too, coaxing out the syncopated rhythms that run through so many Talking Heads tracks. And just when you find yourself thinking, “this is all very proficient, but I wonder what drew Spike Lee to this,” Lee shows you exactly what that was, and it lands like a haymaker. It’s a simple editorial flourish, but it knocked the wind out of me. It’s the emotional climax of a show that somehow reconfigures itself to optimism and even joy. The world is terrible, but it doesn’t have to be: you just have to be willing to make an effort. Having a good song behind you helps too. 105 min. Premieres 8 pm Saturday (October 17) on HBO Canada and streaming on Crave Sunday (October 18). NNNNN (NW)

Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Totally Under Control

(Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, Suzanne Hillinger)

Documentarian Gibney (The Armstrong Lie, Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief) adds COVID-19 to his catalogue of studies of devastating systemic failures with this look at America’s first 100 days with the virus. The difference here is that Gibney and co-directors Harutyunyan and Hillinger didn’t have years to figure out their film’s structure, so Totally Under Control plays like a straight tick-tock of failures to act on clear warnings and Trump appointees making political decisions. And Trump himself derails the conversation by promoting whatever quack remedy he just heard about on FOX News. The film’s thesis – that Trump was fixated on keeping the economy strong to secure his re-election in November – is pretty hard to counter, especially when dozens of interview subjects keep bringing it up. And through it all, the coronavirus just burns through American cities, crushing the health-care system and infecting people even if they they think it’s a hoax. Straightforward and effective, a couple of puckish Michael Moore-style musical cues notwithstanding. 124 min. Available now on digital and on demand. NNNN (NW)

Courtesy of Netflix

Social Distance

(Hilary Weisman Graham)

In the first wave of COVID-19 programming, Weisman Graham’s Social Distance feels like the project that best understands the fragmented nature of the world right now. Each 20-minute episode puts its characters on camera in one way or another, telling their story through Zoom calls, FaceTime conversations, Wyze security footage, laptop screens and whatever else is available. But it’s more than clever formatting; it’s an empathetic storytelling choice, even when a given story is a little on the obvious side. As in the UK’s Isolation Stories, there’s a voyeuristic fascination in watching professional actors play scenes with real-life family members or roommates in their own homes. But this is more than just a stunt; the scripts are all engaged on some level with our nervous, uncertain now, finding common threads of loneliness and anxiety and spinning those into specific, moving stories. 

Several episodes are about parents trying to shepherd young children through a world neither grown-ups nor kids can fully comprehend. One standout features Luke Cage’s Mike Colter as a recovering alcoholic really struggling with being alone for the duration of his lockdown, while another, written by Merritt Tierce, casts Danielle Brooks as a personal support worker tending to her charge (Larita Brooks) while trying to keep her own daughter (Isabella Ferreira) entertained remotely at home. But there’s something to connect to in every segment. All eight episodes available to stream on Netflix Thursday (October 15). NNNN (NW)

Film festivals

AGH Film Festival

Available to Toronto audiences for the first time, the Art Gallery Of Hamilton film festival offers a high-minded mix of treasures from the festival circuit, including Christian Petzold’s Undine, Nicole Dorsey’s Black Conflux and Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden, winner of the 2019 Platform prize at TIFF. October 16-25, at watch.eventive.org/aghfilmfestival

Planet In Focus

The 21st festival of ecologically inclined cinema will feature documentaries from Hot Docs and TIFF and plenty of new programming, including Ai Weiwei’s CoroNation (reviewed above). October 14-23, at planetinfocus.org

Reelworld

Toronto’s premier BIPOC film festival is available online to all Ontarians this year, with exclusive Q&As scheduled at specific times to allow a sense of community even when we’re in separate locations. Keep an eye out for Karen Lam’s The Curse Of Willow Song, a horror-inflected drama starring The Magicians’ Valerie Tian as an ex-convict trying to go straight in Vancouver. October 14-19, at reelworld.ca

Rendezvous With Madness

The annual arts and mental health festival launched with Mike Hoolboom’s experimental documentary Judy Vs. Capitalism, which was the focus of a NOW What podcast earlier this week. All tickets are PWYW (Pay What You Wish). October 13-27, at workmanarts.com

New to streaming

October 16

Dream Home Makeover (Netflix Canada)

Grand Army (Netflix Canada)

The Last Kids On Earth: Book 3 (Netflix Canada)

Putham Pudhu Kaalai (season 1) (Amazon Prime Video)

Real Time With Bill Maher (Crave)

La Revolution (Netflix Canada)

The Shannara Chronicles (seasons 1-2) (Crave)

Someone Has To Die (Netflix Canada)

Star Trek: Discovery (season 3, episode 1) (Crave)

Time (Amazon Prime Video)

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (Netflix Canada)

Warrior (season 2, episode 3) (Crave)

What The Constitution Means To Me (season 1) (Amazon Prime Video)

Zo Zo Zombie (season 2) (Crave)

October 18

The Circus (season 5, episode 18) (Crave)

The Comedy Store (season 1, episode 3) (Crave)

Desus & Mero (season 2, episode 57) (Crave)

The Good Lord Bird (season 1, episode 3) (Crave)

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (season 7, episode 26) (Crave)

Lovecraft Country (season 1, episode 10) (Crave)

Our Cartoon President (season 3, episode 15) (Crave)

Spanish Princess (season 2, episode 2) (Crave)

The Vow (season 1, episode 9) (Crave)

Courtesy of Focus Features

Available to watch on VOD

Kajillionaire

Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger; directed by Miranda July

Read NOW’s review

Apple TV rental, Google Play rental

Making Monsters

Jonathan Craig, Alana Elmer, Peter Higginson; directed by Justin Harding and Rob Brunner

Apple TV

Murmur

Shan MacDonald, Andria Edwards; directed by Heather Young

Read NOW’s review

Apple TV 

The Secrets We Keep

Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Chris Messina; directed by Yuval Adler

Apple TV, Google Play

Totally Under Control

Documentary directed by Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, Suzanne Hillinger

Apple TV, Google Play, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Virtual Cinema

When The Storm Fades

Ryan Bell, Alicia Boco, Marissa Cabalja; directed by Sean Devlin

Apple TV, Google Play 

Discs of the week

The Friday The 13th Collection (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think the Friday The 13th movies were the junkier, dumber version of John Carpenter’s Halloween franchise, getting more and more preposterous as they pursued the cheapest of thrills, and those who love them for precisely that reason. The latter group will be delighted with this definitive boxed set, a 16-disc monster that gathers up all 12 of the Friday films, many in new transfers and unrated or extended cuts, and supports them with hours and hours of commentaries, documentaries, deleted scenes and other archival material. (And yes, Ronny Yu’s Freddy Vs. Jason and the already-forgotten 2009 remake of the original Friday The 13th are in there.)

It’s kind of fun to track just how ridiculous the plots became over the years, starting out as a Sean S. Cunningham quickie about murders at a summer camp and eventually expanding into a cinematic universe of zombies, telekinesis, possession, dream demons and space travel, all built along an incomprehensible timeline that spans something like three decades while still taking place entirely in the 80s – and that’s before Jason X catapults the unstoppable machete maniac 400 years into the future. But hey, people love what they love, and now the people who love Friday The 13th movies can put them on their shelf in a very large box.

@nowtoronto

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