Newflix is our weekly look at notable new titles available on online streaming sites.
What We Do In The Shadows (2015)
Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
$3.99 to rent on Amazon
The Essential-Viewing-tagged What We Do In The Shadows is pitch-perfect satire, sending up two of our cultures’ biggest obsessions: reality TV and the undead. Co-directed by and co-starring Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and fellow New Zealander Taika Waititi, the mockumentary follows a quartet of vampires who are just as fixated on the equal distribution of household chores as they are finding human flesh to feast on. The conceit works perfectly, thanks to poker-faced performances, brilliantly skewered genre tropes (at one point, one of the vampires tries to pick up women at a bar by telling them “I'm Twilight”; another reflects thoughtfully on how he used to torture his victims a few hundred years back, explaining, “I was in a bad place”), and more eminently quotable lines than I can remember existing in any other recent comedy. My personal favorite, from one of our undead protagonists who’s trying to explain the appeal of virgin blood to the camera: “Let me put it this way...if you are going to eat a sandwich, you’d just enjoy it more if nobody had fucked it.”
Welcome To Me (2015)
Directed by Shira Piven
$6.99 to rent on Amazon
The just-released Welcome To Me stars Kristen Wiig as Alice Klieg, an eccentric woman with borderline personality disorder who hasn’t turned off her TV in 11 years and who has, as she puts it, “been using masturbation as a sedative since 1991.” When Alice, an Oprah sycophant, wins the lottery, she promptly buys her own talk show, called, of course, Welcome To Me. As the title suggests, the show focuses exclusively on Alice’s own life, including segments that re-enact past traumas (like the time somebody “tampered with” her makeup bag or the time she faked her own drowning), and cater to her very particular passions, like neutering dogs and following a high-protein diet in favor of taking psych meds. Somehow, Shira Piven pulls this off without undermining the seriousness of mental illness or Alice herself (for the most part—as Keith mentions in his review, things get wobbly in the third act, and I think overall the movie feels a bit meandering). I’m mostly recommending this for Wiig’s performance, which is absurd and deeply sad at the same time. As viewers, we’re able to laugh both at and with Alice while still feeling real empathy for her pain.
Winter Sleep (2014)
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Free for Netflix subscribers on Netflix
I have yet to grace Winter Sleep with my eyes and brain, but our own Scott Tobias tagged it Essential Viewing this year. Clocking in at over three hours, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme D’Or-winner follows Aydin, the proprietor of a mountaintop hotel in Anatolia and the “de facto ruler of the humble village below, who has toxic encounters with people that he cannot understand.” Why? Because, like a lot of people on this Earth, he lacks basic self-awareness—he doesn’t know he’s an asshole. In fact, he truly wants to connect with the people around him. As Scott put it, “This isn’t merely about the follies of a misanthrope, it’s an epic tragedy about life in the Ivory Tower and the inability to understand—much less empathize with—other human beings.” But what about that whole three-hour-plus runtime, though, am I right? Scott notes that while much of it that time is taken up by lengthy conversations, the Chekhov-inspired screenplay, by Ceylan and his wife Ebru, “is paced to allow pockets of tension to open up gradually, and Ceylan’s intimate framing keeps it from seeming like a filmed play.”
Directed by Ben Younger
Free for HBO subscribers on HBO Go
Some people really don’t like Prime. I am not one of those people. Let’s break down what makes Prime work: First of all, you've got the trifecta of Meryl Motherfucking Streep, Uma Thurman, and the fiendishly sexy Ben Greenberg. Then there’s the whole May-December romance thing, with Uma as the December and Bryan as the May (turning those gender tropes on their heads!). And then, of course, there’s Uma and Bryan’s insane chemistry, demonstrated in some A+ sex scenes. Okay, yes, the plot of Prime is pretty contrived—Uma gets divorced, starts sleeping with Bryan, tells her supportive therapist Meryl all about their amazing sex life, then both realize she’s been dating and describing copulation with Meryl’s son—but it doesn’t matter. It’s delightful anyway. Did I mention Motherfucking Meryl and Uma and Bryan? And all of the chemistry? I’ll agree that Prime is a flawed movie, but I don’t agree that it deserves its tepid reception. It’s warm and weird and funny and romantic and sad, and as a bonus, it’s got one of the best Jewish family dinner scenes I've ever witnessed (presided over by Meryl, no less).
Also new to streaming: ShoutFactory has you covered on the John Cassavetes front this month…Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank team up in The Homesman (Netflix)…Before he was in the Fantastic Four, Michael B. Jordan starred in the tragic Fruitvale Station (Netflix on May 12)…My dad has seen Six Days Seven Nights at least 16 times (HBO Go)…Fall in love with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke again in Before Sunset (HBO Go)…Meet the worst cop in NYC history in The Seven Five ($6.99 to rent on Amazon)…Robert De Niro and Paul Dano are Being Flynn (HBO Go)…Bull Durham is about baseball, but I still like it (HBO Go)…Omar Sharif and Julie Christie fall in love in Russia in Doctor Zhivago (HBO Go)…Little Shop Of Horrors is our Movie Of The Week (HBO Go)…Save The Last Dance for Julia Stiles (HBO Go)…For A Good Time, Call Lauren Anne Miller and Ari Graynor (HBO Go)…Christopher Reeve is stuck Somewhere In Time (HBO Go)…Make a yummy sound while watching Young Frankenstein (HBO Go)…Winona, Janeane, Ethan, and Ben whine a lot in Reality Bites (Crackle)…It’s such a beautiful day when you can make time to watch It’s Such A Beautiful Day (Free on Hulu)…Paul Newman ages very well in Nobody’s Fool (Netflix)…See dead people in The Sixth Sense (Netflix)…