Newflix is our weekly look at notable new titles available on online streaming sites.
Happy Valley (2014)
Directed by Amir Bar-Lev
Free for Netflix subscribers on Netflix streaming
In a week of troubling movies here at the old Newflix column, Happy Valley just might be the darkest. Following the State College, Pennsylvania reaction to Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s child molestation convictions and head coach Joe Paterno's subsequent fall from grace, the doc asks a lot of questions and doesn’t offer very many answers—likely because there aren't any easy ones. But Bar-Lev paints a nuanced, multi-faceted picture of the town, talking to members of both the Sandusky and Paterno families, fans and faculty who believe Paterno deserves to have his winnings obliterated from the record books and his reputation forever tarnished for colluding to cover up Sandusky’s crimes, and those who are enraged and feel personally betrayed by the NCAA’s punitive measures. Some wonder whether it’s wise or even possible to “erase history,” and “punish” an entire community for the actions of a few; others (albeit not very many) applaud the effort to condemn students and alumni for continuing to rally behind a crooked program. But the most fascinating (and disturbing) parts of the documentary deal with the larger issue of, as one faculty member calls it, the “uniformity of thought” in Happy Valley, a community whose near-religious reverence for football has made it unwilling to criticize or examine the institutions it holds so dearly. At one point, Paterno’s son, Jay, speaks to the camera about his reaction to the negative media attention garnered by his dad; he incidentally sums up the insidious philosophy of the Penn State officials, many Penn State fans, and the mob mentality that pervades America’s deification of athletes and athletic culture: “If I don’t see it and I don't hear it, it doesn't exist. And if it doesn’t exist, how can it upset me?”
The Nightmare (2015)
Directed by Rodney Ascher
$6.99 to rent on Amazon
Guys. I tried to watch The Nightmare for you this week. I really did. But Scott’s review convinced me that, as a several-time sufferer of sleep paralysis (a disorder in which the body shuts down all motor functions while the brain is still conscious), it might not be worth it to subject myself to the stories of several people’s own night terrors and Rodney Ascher’s subsequent re-creations of them. See, as the doc-cum-horror film points out, sometimes just the fear of sleep paralysis can trigger it. So I’m gonna wait until I have enough time to watch this movie, then do 400 very happy things afterward, if that’s cool with you. In the meantime, let’s listen to Scott, who called it “documentary horror, not just a documentary about a horror,” a “creepy and deft” exploration of the brain’s “capacity to create, to deceive, and to drift beyond the boundaries of the expected.” Sleep tight!
Harold And Maude (1971)
Directed by Hal Ashby
Free for Amazon Prime subscribers on Amazon
Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, and I agree on most movies (trust me, I’ve checked during our sleepovers), but we do not see eye to eye on Harold And Maude. In fact, I had no idea Ebert in particular hated it so much until I looked it up today. He dismissed it as a “movie of attitudes,” with Harold as Death and Maude as Life, and noted that “they manage to make the two seem so similar that life’s hardly worth the extra bother.” Oof. With all due respect, Rog, I couldn’t disagree more. This is one of my favorite movies; it completely earns and validates its existence with its opening scene alone, which sees Harold hanging dramatically from a noose in his living room while his completely unperturbed mother dryly remarks, “I suppose you think that’s very funny, Harold.” It's a trenchantly funny and melancholy and deeply weird movie that, if, like a 2008 Scott Tobias, you haven't seen, you should watch immediately (or join me in watching it this weekend). After all, as one of the three esteemed critics mentioned in this piece once said, it represents the “birth of modern indie quirk.”
Directed by Shane Carruth
Free for Netflix subscribers on Netflix streaming
Primer isn’t a movie you can see just once. (I would know, because I’ve only seen it once, and goddamn I’m confused.) It’s a total mindfuck of a movie that requires multiple viewings to at least attempt to understand (I’m hoping). The basic premise is this: Two men build a time machine, somewhat accidentally. They set out to use it relatively responsibly, to play the stock market and whatnot; increasing hubris renders that pretty much impossible. Chaos ensues. Confusingly. The rest is occasionally inscrutable, as Carruth—who wrote, directed, produced, and stars in the film, which he made for a staggeringly low $7,000—puts much faith in his audience’s intelligence and little stock in basic exposition. Shades of Primer can be seen in recent sci-fi—including Coherence, one of my favorites—but it’s ultimately much more complex than anything its spawned.
Also new to streaming: Director Yael Reuveny traces the lives of her grandmother and uncle in 1945 Poland in Farewell Herr Schwarz (Netflix)…Jon Stewart directed the decidedly unfunny Rosewater (Netflix)…If you want to watch The Cobbler or Grace Of Monaco for funsies, here’s your shot (Netflix)…Find out what we’re here for in Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life (HBO Go)…Shit goes down on a train in Silver Streak (HBO Go)…Come of age with Craig Roberts in Submarine (Amazon Prime)…Prep for The Rock’s remake with the original Big Trouble In Little China (Amazon Prime)…John Carpenter wages an Assault On Precinct 13 (Shout Factory)…Get lost in Jean Cocteau’s Beauty And The Beast (Fandor)…Orpheus meets the 20th century in Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus (Fandor)…Find the teenage coven you never had in The Sisterhood Of Night (Netflix)…