Newflix is our weekly look at notable new titles available on online streaming sites.
Stories We Tell (2012)
Directed by Sarah Polley
Free for Amazon Prime subscribers on Amazon Prime
I could start weeping into my keyboard just thinking about Stories We Tell. Sarah Polley’s documentary is a thoughtful, insanely original meditation on memory and truth and the nature of storytelling, a profoundly moving exploration of her own family that functions as one of the best examples of how small, individual stories can have a sprawling impact. The conceit is deceptively simple, at first: Polley, both filmmaker and subject, decides to make the film to understand her family and, more specifically, the life of her late mother Diane. She lovingly interviews all of her living family members—her father, her siblings—and an eccentric cast of orbiting characters, all of whom have varying levels of information about Diane, interspersing the conversations with bits of old home movies. The particular story she’s trying to get to the bottom of is revealed slowly, and best left as a surprise, but it’s almost incidental. What stuck with me is the way that the Polley family looks at and talks to each other, with a deep love and sensitivity, and an overabundance of warmth and good humor. Polley’s dad is a particularly memorable “character”—a scene where he talks about how he’s such an inherent loner that he finds joy in communing with the flies in his apartment left me in simultaneous laughter and tears.
The Deep Blue Sea (2012)
Directed by Terence Davies
Free for Amazon Prime subscribers on Amazon Prime
Based on a play by Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue Sea contains one of the most fascinating, fully drawn and yet totally unknowable female characters I’ve seen on screen. When we first meet Hester Collyer—Rachel Weisz, in one of the best performances of her career—she’s attempting suicide, swallowing a handful of pills and laying down in front of her gas meter. The rest of the film, a slow, dark burn, takes place on that same day, though we’re given flashbacks to the events that led up to her attempt on her own life. We learn that Hester is a smart, beautiful, but malcontent woman who was married to a much-older judge (Simon Russell Beale), but fell in love with a younger, more lively RAF pilot, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston). A handful of scenes in which she interacts with each man reveal that neither is the villain nor the ideal choice for her—one provides sweetness and security but dullness, the other love and passion but flightiness and fear. The movie unfolds like a play, with its small scope, limited setpieces, and intimate, thoughtful dialogue. But the thing that brings it all to life it is Weisz, who evokes utter devastation with a single glance and speaks each line as if it were a gift-wrapped package she just crisply tore open with her teeth.
Southern Rites (2015)
Directed by Gillian Laub
Free for HBO subscribers on HBO Go on May 18
Southern Rites doesn’t premiere until next week, so I can’t fully speak to its quality, but I’ve been reading about it for weeks—it sounds like a desperately important, timely, and heart-wrenchingly sad documentary. Director Gillian Laub stumbled upon the story of Justin Patterson, a 22-year-old black man who was killed in January of 2011, when she was photographing a racially segregated prom in Mount Vernon, Ga. Patterson was killed by an older white man, and, at the same time, a law-enforcement official was campaigning to become the county’s first black sheriff. Subsequently, the town’s racial tensions were running at an all-time high, and Laub worked to document the turmoil, as well as the circumstances surrounding Patterson’s death, which managed to largely escape national attention. John Legend, an executive producer of the film, has been championing it as an embodiment of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Laub says she pushed to make the film because she knew it was a story that needed to be told—ideally, in order to spark conversations that need to be had. Here’s a trailer and the film’s website.
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Free for Netflix subscribers on Netflix
“I knew what the movie would be about, but I was impressed by how it was about it.” That’s the inimitable Roger Ebert on Rabbit Hole, based on the critically acclaimed play by David Lindsay-Abaire. What Ebert is so aptly referring to is the film’s contrasting subject and tone: Rabbit Hole stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as a couple who’ve recently lost their 4-year-old son, who ran into the street and was hit by a car. They’re at a stage of grief where they’re no longer unable to function, but still find it difficult to reconnect with each other. They attend group therapy, Eckhart’s character finds a sympathetic ear in another woman (Sandra Oh), they don't have sex. Er, sorry, the movies this week are accidentally super depressing, guys. But rather than feel like a “mournful dirge,” as Ebert puts it, this one has a humorous streak. That’s what makes it so surprising, and also what makes it work.
Also new to streaming: Leo is Howard Hughes in The Aviator (Amazon Prime on May 18)…Brush up on your Mad Max pre-Fury Road ($2.99 on Amazon)…Paul Newman takes to the track in Winning: The Racing Life Of Paul Newman ($9.99 to buy on Amazon)…Get a glimpse inside the Sesame Street suit with I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story ($6.99 to rent on Amazon)…Liv Ullman adapts August Strindberg in Miss Julie ($3.99 to rent on Amazon)…Faye Dunaway is Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest (Amazon Prime)…Clint Eastwood gets the hell out of Dodge in Escape From Alcatraz (Amazon Prime)…Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee get the Western treatment in Slow West ($6.99 on Amazon)…Queen Latifah is Bessie Smith in Bessie (HBO Go on May 16)…Steve James’ Hoop Dreams changed the documentary game (ShoutFactory)…Watch Super Troopers right meow (Hulu Plus).