Including Tom Hanks in News Of The World, Regina King's One Night In Miami and buzzy Sundance hit Promising Young Woman
NOW critics pick what’s new to streaming and VOD for the weekend of January 15. Plus: Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms.
Set five years after the Civil War, Greengrass’s prestige-minded Western stars Tom Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kidd, a former Confederate officer who wanders America as a sort of travelling town crier, performing theatrical readings of newspaper stories. Things grow more complicated when Kidd decides to return preteen Johanna (Helena Zengel), a German immigrant raised among the Kiowa people since infancy, to the family she’s never known. Stately in its pacing, and just cynical enough about America to pass for contemporary commentary, News Of The World plays just fine when it zooms in on the warmth that flowers between Jefferson and Johanna, and the smaller details of the Restoration-era South are expertly realized. The episodic structure allows for small, fine appearances from veteran character actors such as Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Marvel and Bill Camp. But it’s frustrating that Greengrass (who last collaborated with Hanks on the hostage thriller Captain Phillips) never expresses more than a superficial understanding of the movie’s themes, and indeed often shoves them aside for unnecessary chases or shootouts that goose the movie’s energy without adding anything to the story. And the less said about the sequence that finds our hero confronting the concept of fake news, the better. 118 min. Available on digital and on demand January 15. NNN (Norman Wilner)
Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) pose for Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir, off-camera) in One Night In Miami.
Based on a stage play by Kemp Powers, One Night In Miami… marks the directorial debut of Regina King, an actor who has never shied away from urgent, contentious material. King’s approach is to let the text and her cast do the talking: the urgency emerges naturally, as Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) gather at Malcolm’s hotel expecting a party after Clay’s heavyweight bout with Sonny Liston, only to find themselves alone with one another. And with nothing to do but talk, these four uniquely positioned Black celebrities – who understand each other’s circumstances as few others can – wind up doing just that, starting with grousing about the lack of snacks and eventually moving on to debate culture, politics, religion and race. It’s a sharp, confident picture, a movie that lets you enjoy the characters’ moment-to-moment sparring (verbally and otherwise) but never forgets their stature. The four leads aren’t exactly unknowns, but neither are they A-listers; they can still disappear into their historical personages and not distract us with their own celebrity. Okay, Odom’s singing voice is notably different from Cooke’s, but when you have the guy who played Aaron Burr in Hamilton, why would you make him lip-sync? Full review here. 114 min. Available to stream Friday (January 15) on Amazon Prime Video Canada. NNNN (NW)
Promising Young Woman opens with a killer hook: med-school dropout Cassie (Carey Mulligan) spends her evenings going to clubs, pretending to be blackout drunk so that men will take her home, where they inevitably try to coerce her into sex. It’s not healthy, but she has her reasons… until she meets an old classmate (Bo Burnham) who might offer her the possibility of a healthy relationship. Writer/director Fennell – an actor and filmmaker who ran the second season of Killing Eve – employs a brightly coloured 90s rom-com aesthetic to her pitch-black material, exposing the misogynistic attitudes that run through even the most beloved pop classics. Mulligan is mesmerizing as a broken avenger who’s deleted her humanity in the service of her mission, and Fennell’s casting instincts are unnervingly good, rolling out a stream of warm, charming actors as people with the potential to do monstrous harm. But there’s a yawning chasm between what Promising Young Woman thinks it’s doing, and what it actually accomplishes. It’s not just that the ending doesn’t work – like, at all – but that Fennell pulls her punches in almost every scene beforehand. It’s impossible to discuss how without spoiling the movie, but… well, you’ll see. Full review here. 113 min. Available on digital and on demand Friday (January 15). NNN (NW)
Courtesy of Netflix
Netflix’s latest serial killer doc series revisits the Richard Ramirez case largely from the point of view of the two Los Angeles sherriff’s department detectives (Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno), as well as a handful of survivors, victims’ family members and journalists. Ramirez remains one of the most notorious serial killers due to the myriad ways he killed, raped and tortured his victims, usually upon breaking into their homes. His killing spree lasted from June 1984 to August 1985, spreading a sense of anyone-could-be-next paranoia across Southern (and, later, Northern) California that director Tiller Russell plugs right into with familiar horror movie-style recreations and music. Over four episodes, Night Stalker proceeds largely in the order the case unfolded, with the dynamic between seasoned investigator Salerno (stone-faced and hard-drinking in his present-day interviews) and the more affable Carrillo forming the heart of the drama. Ramirez was so prolific that often Night Stalker feels like a gruesome catalogue; we only get a sense of what a handful of victims were like as people. But given the nature of the murders and circus-like atmosphere that surrounded the trial, it’s understandable why many may not want to relive this story on screen. Night Stalker is most effective as a classic procedural, going deep into how Ramirez defied the profile of serial killers up to that point, leaving few telltale signs for investigators to connect into a pattern, and for the sense of all-encompassing fear it captures. Unfortunately, Russell succeeds in the latter case by overemphasizing bland horror visuals to underscore the testimonies of his interview subjects. Now streaming on Netflix Canada. NN (Kevin Ritchie)
Courtesy of Film Movement
(Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond)
Middle-aged people faced with giving up artistic ambitions to enter other professions or focus on family are common characters in movies of late. This Swiss drama layers onto that theme: the pathos of a middle-class playwright named Lisa (German arthouse star Nina Hoss), who gave up her career to relocate from Berlin to the Swiss alps after her husband (Jens Albinus) secured a lucrative job at an elite private school. Lisa’s mother (Marthe Keller) dismisses her daughter’s work as “the spleen of a petty bourgeois who feels out of sorts,” but Lisa doesn’t see her plight as mere luxury problems. When she becomes the caregiver for her famous actor twin brother Sven (Lars Eidinger) during his cancer treatment, her refusal to accept his deterioration fuels a desire to mount a creative comeback. Chuat and Reymond’s melodrama is both an unassuming and neurotic mashup of the cloistered housewife and cancer genres. Though Sven and Lisa’s personal reckonings are sort of paralleled, ultimately Sven is sidelined. This is Lisa’s story and Hoss keeps you guessing with a subtle performance that stays on the verge of something for much of the movie. She doesn’t seem to understand the stakes, nor does her husband empathize with her predicament. All that’s left, as a playwright, is to bring the drama. Subtitled. 99 mins. Opens Friday (January 15) at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox. NNN (KR)
Documentary directed by Ryan White
Siobhan Williams, Agam Darshi, Michael Eklund; directed by Robert Cuffey
Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss, Benn Hall; directed by Mickey Reece
Alex Knapp, Olivia Luccardi, Nore Davis; directed by Alex Knapp
Adam Donshik, Andy Lauer, Marie Burke; directed by Tyler Wayne
Shelley Conn, Shannon Tarbet, Celia Imrie; directed by Eliza Schroeder
Documentary directed by Sam Pollard
Documentary directed by Melissa Haizlip and Sam Pollard
Nina Hoss, Lars Eidinger, Marthe Keller; directed by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond
Documentary directed by Paul Allen Hunton
Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Elizabeth Marvel; directed by Paul Greengrass
Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox; directed by Emerald Fennell
Documentary directed by Jerry Rothwell
Everything coming to streaming platforms this month:
Yes, I wrote about Criterion’s splendid Luis Buñuel box just last week, but you know what? There aren’t a lot of labels producing physical media at a regular clip these days, and this week the boutique label rolls out Bing Liu’s exceptional 2018 documentary in a special edition that gives the film additional texture and resonance. Shot over several years, Minding The Gap is ostensibly a profile of Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan, two skateboarders with whom Liu grew up in Rockford, Illinois. But it’s also a portrait of Liu himself, and the way he learns to channel his childhood anger – first into skateboarding and then into filmmaking, where he uses the movie we’re already watching – and the stories of Keire and Zack’s separate comings of age – to unpack his uncomfortable history and reconcile himself to it.
It’s thrilling cinema, and Criterion’s supplements show us just how much work went into the whole thing: an audio commentary with Liu and his subjects delves into the thornier corners of the doc – and, more importantly, tells us the trio’s friendship survived the release of Liu’s movie. (Liu digs into the nuts and bolts of making Minding The Gap, and wrestling it into its ultimate shape, in a second solo track.) A featurette lets Liu check in on Nina Bowden, Zack’s ex and the mother of Zack’s daughter; another finds the filmmaker sitting down with producers Gordon Quinn and Diane Quon to talk about the documentary’s themes, and a third finds skateboarding superstar Tony Hawk sharing some love for Liu’s film. (All of the interviews on the disc were produced remotely due to COVID, giving the package a melancholy streak by underlining everyone’s distance from one another.) The disc also includes a quartet of outtakes and Liu’s 2010 short film Nước, both of which flesh out our sense of the filmmaker’s creative evolution.