‘Margaret,’ ‘American Animals’ and More Streaming Alternatives
If we embark on a few more months of home maintenance, these once abundant watchlists may become shorter and more sterile. So it’s time to take a few more risks. This month’s round-up of streaming suggestions under the radar includes gory horror, wacky (and sometimes harrowing) comedies, and thought-provoking non-fiction books that take on flashy subjects.
“Gretel & Hansel” (2020)
Stream it on Amazon and Hulu.
Occasionally a wise filmmaker announces he’s going to make a “dark” fairy tale, and the results usually resemble a “gritty” superhero restart: up close and carefully audience-friendly. The director Osgood Perkins (“The Black Mantle’s Daughter”) deserves credit for creating a deeply spooky exploration of real terror and real danger with “Gretel & Hansel” that taps the vein of true darkness in the heart of the Brothers Grimm classic . As before, the title characters are brother and sister who stumble into the hands of an evil witch – but this witch (played by Alice Krige) is a witch, really bloodthirsty and scary, with blood-red clouds rising from her chimney. “Gretel & Hansel” is a disturbing record of Gothic horror, full to the brim with nightmare images and pitch-black humor and definitely not intended for children.
Before Marvel turned over the Spider-Man franchise keys to director Jon Watts, Marvel directed this comparatively small, micro-budget thriller in which two boys take an abandoned police cruiser on a pleasure trip and discover a whole world of problems. Much of that comes in the form of Kevin Bacon, who makes a solid turn of characters as the evil cop who left the vehicle unattended and quickly realizes that these two kids are a pesky loose ending. Keeping things lean and mean, Watts picks up the sensitivity of the B-movie of the story and develops a pulpy exercise that is rightly reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s debut film “Duel”.
“American Animals” (2018)
Stream it on Hulu.
In 2012, Bart Layton directed The Imposter, one of the most compelling documentaries of the day. For this follow-up, he tells a different true story, but through a more intricate lens. The story in question is about a quartet of students who tried to rob the rare book space of their university library, which they remember in narratives and interviews that coincide and collide in fascinating ways – but Layton dramatizes their story with four too eye-catching young actors. Creation of a documentary / narrative hybrid that not only increases the thrill of the robbery, but also asks specific questions about the inherent glamorization and exploitation of such films.
“I’m in a kind of limbo right now,” explains Kate (Gillian Jacobs, wonderful), and that’s putting it mildly: her debut novel isn’t selling, her publisher has just canceled her book tour, and her ex-fiancée is already in another relationship . So the invitation of her former professor (Jemaine Clement) to read at her alma mater is not just an advertising opportunity – it is a lifeline, an opportunity to remember when her life seemed full of opportunities and not failures. Writer and director Kris Rey skilfully walks a tightrope between silent tragedies and terrible comedies, and Jacobs wears Kate’s tics and insecurities not as mistakes but as deeply assignable badges of merit.
Stream it on Netflix.
It’s easy to imagine a romantic comedy set in the health club and personal trainer world as bland formulaic studio junk (for example, imagine starring Matthew McConaughey and Katherine Heigl, circa 2006). But the writer and director Andrew Bujalski (“Computer Chess”, “Support the Girls”) is a true original, and he’s crawling the tropics of the genre – strange couples, a love triangle, unrequited crushes – through his own deeply strange sensations. Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce are great starring Type-A coaches who bring their sexual tension into their work, but actor Kevin Corrigan (“Goodfellas”) steals the show as the rich, eccentric client who takes their situation changed from the inside out.
“The Little Hours” (2017)
Stream it on Hulu.
Once upon a time, “naughty nuns” were the shorthand description for a film about the exploitation of eyesight. Nowadays it’s the catch for this quirky comedy from writer and director Jeff Baena. Inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, Baena focuses on a trio of nuns (Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci) whose long-awaited desires are unleashed by the arrival of the monastery’s new craft (Dave Franco). Monty Python-esque sex and silliness abound, with added laughs provided by a stacked supporting cast that includes Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen, Nick Offerman, Adam Pally, Jemima Kirke, and Paul Reiser.
‘Frank & Lola’ (2016)
Stream it on Netflix.
Some actors seem to be born out of their proper time, and it’s a shame Michael Shannon arrived decades after the glory days of film noir, as few contemporary actors are so gifted at conveying the complex mix of duty and desire that that a noir lead actor needs. But this neo-noir thriller is next best, bringing Shannon and the great Imogen Poots together in a seemingly normal sap / femme fatale duel – until writer and director Matthew Ross discovers the humanity and complexity among the established types.
Stream it on HBO Max.
The battle for the release of Kenneth Lonergan’s second feature film was almost as dramatic as the events on screen, culminating in a protracted battle over the final cut that brought the picture to theaters years after its completion. Both the theatrical version and Lonergan’s longer cut are streamed on HBO Max for your own comparison and contrast. Even in its abridged version, this is a powerful drama of impotent anger and remorse from survivors that captures the mood of New York City (and the nation) in the years after September 11th. The film is supported by a stunning central performance by Anna Paquin and an outstanding piece of pre-follow-up work by J. Smith-Cameron.
“Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders” (2018)
Stream it on Amazon.
It’s hard to imagine a modern day NFL cheerleader influencing popular culture as much as the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders did in the late 1970s and early 1980s – because their far-reaching fame was so closely tied to this particular moment in the evolution of sexual mores. and the backlash was so deeply rooted in the changes in the feminist movement. Director Dana Adam Shapiro grapples with these contradictions in a compelling way, turning topics that might have been the target of the giggles into a razor-sharp examination of a changing culture.