Here’s what’s new and ready to stream now on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, Showtime Anytime, FilmStruck, video-on-demand, and other streaming services …
Netflix broke with its policy for the release of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018, R), the American frontier comedy from the Coen Brothers. Initially planned as a six-part series featuring the likes of James Franco, Liam Neeson, and Tim Blake Nelson, it was reworked as an anthology film and released to theaters a week before the streaming debut.
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is one of the darkest movies by Joel and Ethan Coen, and also among the silliest,” observes New York Times film critic A.O. Scott. “It swerves from goofy to ghastly so deftly and so often that you can’t always tell which is which.
Michael Douglas is a has-been actor who reinvents himself as a Hollywood acting coach in The Kominsky Method: Season 1. Alan Arkin co-stars in the Netflix Original comedy from creator Chuck Lorre.
Two new British co-productions explore fluid sexuality in the modern world. The Hulu Original series The Bisexual: Season 1 stars creator Desiree Akhavan as a lesbian New Yorker in London struggling to come out at bisexual. All six episodes now streaming on Hulu.
The cheeky British comedy Sally4Ever: Season 1 from creator Julia Davis, who stars as a seductive free spirit who tempts a suburban woman into a wild affair, begins on HBO with new episodes each Sunday.
Megan Griffiths’ Sadie (2018, not rated), an independent drama about an angry teenager (Sophia Mitri Schloss) who sabotages the romantic prospects of her single mother (Melanie Lynskey) while her soldier father is overseas, is now on VOD. Shot in Washington State, the film co-stars John Gallagher Jr.
Classic picks: Sidney Lumet directs the Oscar-winning satire Network (1976, R) with Faye Dunaway and William Holden and robbery-gone-wrong classic Dog Day Afternoon (1975, R) with Al Pacino and John Cazale.
Bridge of Spies (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), Steven Spielberg’s cold war drama, stars Tom Hanks as insurance attorney James B. Donovan, an American idealist asked to represent Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy captured by the CIA in 1957 and given a public trial. He’s prize casting in a legal pageant that he’s supposed to lose but Donovan takes his oath—and the American values that the government and the CIA agents are quick to discard in the heat of the Cold War—seriously and defends his client to the best of abilities, ultimately taking the case to the Supreme Court. It makes him suspect in the anti-communist fervor of the late 1950s, but that commitment makes him the perfect emissary for back-channel negotiations for a prisoner swap for Gary Powers, the captured pilot of a U-2 spy plane shot down over Soviet airspace. It also makes him, at least in this take on history, the only hope for Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an American student on the wrong side of the border when the East German troops put up the wall.
The film features a period-perfect recreation of late-1950s America and a gloomily oppressive portrait of East Berlin after the construction of the Berlin Wall, a sharp screenplay co-written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, and the directorial signatures that remind us again that Spielberg is one of the great directors. But it’s all a little too neat, more nostalgic than thrilling, without a palpable sense of urgency or danger, and lacking the nuance of Lincoln. Thomas Newman’s score hits the uplifting, string-heavy Americana hard and even the brilliant filmmaking of the opening scene, with a camera weaving through the border between East and West Berlin and cutting through the panic and chaos of a political upheaval in action, is so controlled it feels more like a showcase than a dramatic experience.
It’s Hanks who carries the film as a kind of Cold War Atticus Finch, a husband and father and an American idealist who refuses to betray his client simply because he’s a Soviet spy, and he portrays Donovan’s essential integrity and loyalty without sentiment. Hanks makes it look so effortless it’s easy to take that accomplishment for granted and Mark Rylance—one of the great actors of the British stage making a rare big screen appearance—is equally good as Abel, betraying almost no emotion behind his tired, resigned expression yet expressing both trust in and admiration for Donovan, who never abandons him. The most powerful moment of the prisoner swap—on a snowy Berlin checkpoint in the dead of winter—is neither the anxious wait nor the tension of distrust between the sides but the trust and friendship between the two men, enemies by nationality but friends by chance, in their last meeting.
Bridge of Spies is nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Rylance.
On Blu-ray and DVD with four featurettes: “A Case of the Cold War: Bridge of Spies,” “U-2 Spy Plane,” “Berlin 1961: Re-creating the Divide,” and “Spy Swap: Looking Back on the Final Act.” The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.
Also on VOD through most cable systems, Amazon Video, Vudu, DirecTV, and other services.
Our Brand is Crisis (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), inspired by the 2005 documentary of the same name, is a political satire with an engaging cast but a dull bite. Set in the 2002, it stars Sandra Bullock as Jane, an American political consultant lured out of retirement to work on a campaign to re-elect a former Bolivian President (Joaquim de Almeida) who is unliked by the public (and for good reason). She’s a reluctant player until she finds her nemesis (Billy Bob Thornton) working for the charismatic frontrunner and declares war. There’s no commitment to a candidate or political ideals here, only the sense of politics as a game she’s determined to win.
Director David Gordon Green plays it for comedy, a multi-national satire that frames its cynicism within slapstick antics and tit-for-tat gags, and Bullock and Thornton are marvelous together, pros who treat competition as flirtation. The Americans are little better than mercenaries in a foreign war, this one waged at the ballot box, and the lightweight tone can’t support the serious issues of globalization, exploitation, and corruption of the election process behind the snappy humor and Bullock’s marvelous mess of a character. Still, it is admirable that it even bothered to carry a real message behind the character comedy
On Blu-ray and DVD with the featurette “Sandra Bullock: A Role Like No Other.” The Blu-ray also features an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.
Also on VOD through most cable systems, iTunes, Amazon Video, DirecTV, and other services.
Suffragette (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), starring Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, dramatizes the often violent struggle for women’s voting rights in Britain in the early 20th century. It’s interesting history— they became radicalized, turning to vandalism and acts of civil disobedience after 50 years of peaceful activism, and were treated like a terrorist organization by the government, which unleashed a campaign of intimidation and violence that recalls the American Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s—but filmmaker Sarah Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan fail to make compelling drama from the history lesson. Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, and Anne-Marie Duff co-star, Brendan Gleeson is quietly commanding as a police inspector sent to put down the movement with similar tactics used against the IRA, and Meryl Streep gets prime billing for a few minutes of screen time as the firebrand movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst.
On Blu-ray and DVD with filmmaker commentary and three featurettes. The Blu-ray also features an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.
Also on VOD through most cable systems, iTunes, Amazon Video, DirecTV, and other services.
Also new and notable:
Batman: Bad Blood (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD), the latest DC Universe Animated Original Movie, is a sequel to Son of Batman. Based on the comics written by Grank Morrison, it’s a real Bat-team up, with Batwoman, Robin, Nightwing, and Batwoman uniting after Batman goes missing. With featurettes and bonus cartoons.
Rock the Kasbah (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD), starring Bill Murray as a once-famous rock and roll manager who finds teenage Pashtu girl (Leem Lubany) with a great voice in Kabul and sets out to make her a star, is inspired by a true story. Barry Levinson directs and Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, and Bruce Willis co-star. Blu-ray and DVD with featurettes, deleted scenes, and bonus digital copy.
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), adapts the revered book as an animated feature. Salma Hayek produced and stars in a voice cast that includes Liam Neeson, John Krasinski, Frank Langella, and Quvenzhane Wallis, and Roger Allers directs.
The Beauty Inside (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) is a Korean romantic drama that about a man wakes up every day in a different body. Korean with English subtitles.
Inside Llewyn Davis (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand), the latest by the Joel and Ethan Coen, was almost entirely overlooked at the Oscars this year. Perhaps that’s because, despite the astounding recreation of the Greenwich Village scene and an atmosphere and texture that you can almost feel through the screen, struggling folk singer Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is not a particularly likable guy. Which is not to say he’s a villain or even a bigger jerk than some of the folks around him, but while he’s not mean-spirited or malevolent (well, apart from that one time, and you’ll know it when you see it), he is insensitive and self-absorbed. Despite the beauty of his musical performances, he doesn’t connect with people. And he certainly doesn’t get what folk audiences see in the rest of the musicians struggling for an audience at the local folk clubs.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a road movie that circles back on itself in pretty much every way, a road to oblivion that Llewyn tramps in hope of finding his success, but is not a success story. Llewyn has been called “a loser” by some critics, but that’s not fair. His failure isn’t artistic, it’s commercial, and he endures the bad luck that afflicts so many of the hard-luck characters of the Coen Bros. universe without the comic bounce or dogged resilience that saves those few who persevere. That sly, sardonic Coen tone is more understated here, found in the little details of existence and the odd nuances of the offbeat characters (and John Goodman is truly one outsized, offbeat creation as a jazz musician with a heroin addiction) and the unusual situations that get amplified and echoed throughout the film. Just don’t expect the punchlines or big dramatic payoffs you get from other filmmakers. It’s not altogether satisfying necessarily, but neither does it let go when it’s over. The music, which T-Bone Burnett once again helped create for the Coens, is superb.
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Tribeca, DVD, Digital, VOD), one of five nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year (it lost to The Great Beauty), is devastating. And I mean that in all the best ways. The story of a passionate love rocked by tragedy, it is both joyous and anguished, celebratory and sad. It’s set in a subculture of bluegrass aficionados in Belgium (who knew?), where it is practically love at first sight for banjo player and singer Didier (Johan Heldenbergh, who also wrote the original play) and tattoo artist Elise (Veerle Baetens), who soon joins the band as the sole female voice in the male harmonies. When their child, a little girl showered with love, is diagnosed with a deadly illness, they face the crisis in very different, unharmonious ways.
Director Felix Van Groeningen breaks up the timeline, introducing the couple as the try to hold it together while their daughter undergoes hospital tests and procedures and then flashing back to their early romance to contrast with the contemporary story. The structure gets more fractured as it continues, amping up the anxiety and the urgency of their ordeal. But while the film doesn’t flinch from the heavy toll it takes on Didier and Elise and their relationship, this isn’t all about ordeal. Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens are compelling performers who invite you to invest in their lives and the band provides a community of support and love for them and their daughter. The music they make, all covers of classic bluegrass songs, overflows with joy, just as the romance that plays out in flashback. The triumph of Van Groeningen is wrapping the heartbreak and anger up in the love and the support and leaving us celebrating what was rather than mourning what’s lost.
The Bad Girls of Film Noir are hanging out in a separate entry (visit them over here) but there are plenty of other releases this week, not the least of which is the Coen Bros.’s A Serious Man (Universal), a serious (and seriously funny) meditation on little themes like the meaning of life and why are we here and how can we know God’s purpose, and is as funny, heartbreaking, questioning, trying, exasperating and sincerely inquisitive a portrait of the human condition as you’ll find on screen. You could call it their take on the story of Job, relocated to the Jewish community of 1967 Minneapolis and reincarnated in the person of university physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), who at least is better off than the Biblical Job, with his suburban home and teaching position. The yearning for meaning and explanation (in a world where, in his own words, “we can’t ever really know… what’s going on”) is real but the ordeal is human, a mix of spiritual questing, existential crisis and cosmic joke. And have no fear: the credits assure us that “No Jews were harmed in the making of this picture.” I reviewed the film in 2009 (read the feature review here) and it since placed on scores of Top Ten lists and critics awards and received Academy Awards nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
The DVD and Blu-ray releases feature a modest collection of supplements. The Coens don’t do commentary but they do sit down for an interview that is woven through a half hour’s worth of making-of featurettes. In “Becoming Serious,” which also includes interviews with cast and crew members and behind-the-scenes footage from the set, they talk about the origins of the story (including the Jewish fable that opens the film, which it turns out they made up themselves), and then take a back seat to the set designers and costumers and location scouts describing the art of “Creating 1967.” “Hebrew And Yiddish For Goys,” a whirlwind tour through the cultural vocabulary, rounds out the extras. The Blu-ray includes the usual generic BD-Live functions.
“React with simplicity to everything that happens to you” – Rashi
“When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies” – Jefferson Airplane
The first quote opens “A Serious Man,” the new film by the Coen Bros. The second is spoken to a Bar Mitzvah boy by a wizened old rabbi, quoting Jefferson Airplane in a scene that (like much of the film) teeters on the edge between anguish and absurdity.
“A Serious Man” is a serious (and seriously funny) meditation on little themes like the meaning of life and why are we here and how can we know God’s purpose, and is as funny, heartbreaking, questioning, trying, exasperating and sincerely inquisitive a portrait of the human condition as you’ll find on screen.
You could call it their take on the story of Job, relocated to the Jewish community of 1967 Minneapolis and reincarnated in the person of university physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), who at least is better off than the Biblical Job. Larry has a suburban home (bland) and family (unappreciative) and a level of middle class affluence that give him a comfortable living. His torments are neither cosmic nor epic but they are very human and seem random and undeserved. Then again, that’s the world he lives in as a physics professor, somewhere between the certainty of math and the uncertainty of life.