You Should Be Watching: September 13-19

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found.


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


The VVitch

    — Moving from Prime to Netflix on Sep. 17

Year: 2015

Director: Robert Eggers

Genre: Mystery, Horror

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Sarah Stephens, Julian Richings, Wahab Chaudhry, Axtun Henry Dube, Athan Conrad Dube, Vivien Moore, Karen Kaeja, Brandy Leary, R. Hope Terry, Carrie Eklund, Madlen Sopadzhiyan

No doubt about it, The Witch is very, very dark, as many classic fairy tales are, but those willing to enter in will find a challenging tale providing much worthy of grappling with. Between the design, dialogue taken straight from period sources, and natural lighting of this debut feature film from writer and director Robert Eggers, this film feels intensely, oppressively of its time, like being taken back into the 1600s and being thrust inside a Puritan’s nightmare, the type of nightmare that led to the paranoia of the Salem witch trials. That’s not to say the Puritan lifestyle was inherently oppressive. But any fear, left unchecked can spin out of control.

The family in this story, headed up by the father William (Ralph Ineson) and mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) have left the leadership and community of their former church body, each claiming the other is false in their faith. Now isolated and with each member of the family struggling with their secret sins, they are especially vulnerable to evil oppression. It’s not that they aren’t putting up a fight. They pray. They discuss Scripture. Outwardly, they try to glorify God. But its unclear where each of their hearts lie.

As eldest daughter Thomasin and the one largely responsible for the younger children, Anya Taylor-Joy owns the film from the first frame to the last. She is who we as the audience focus on. We see her parents’ struggles through her eyes. We see the actions of the younger children through her eyes. She is convincing no matter whether she’s trying to express truth or spinning a lie until it’s unclear if her obvious lies are lies at all. One thing is certain. With her parents often being distracted and the family living in isolation, there’s little to keep her grounded.


The Queen

   — Coming Sep. 15

Year: 2006

Director: Stephen Frears

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, Sylvia Syms, Paul Barrett, Tim McMullan, Douglas Reith, Mark Bazeley, Robin Soans, Lola Peploe, Joyce Henderson, Pat Laffan, Amanda Hadingue, John McGlynn, Gray O’Brien, Dolina MacLennan, Julian Firth

It’s hard to believe now with the public obsession over the weddings of Prince William and Prince Harry and the massive popularity of television series such as The Crown as well as British television in generalbut the British royal family used to be of little interest to those outside of Great Britain itself. Regardless of the monarchy’s role in government, the lack of attention enabled them to live mostly insulated lives, free to make decisions apart from public pressure. What changed all that? Princess Diana. By marrying into the royal family, her celebrity spread far and wide, bringing deep focus onto the monarchy and the family as a whole. What complicated it further? Diana’s divorce and subsequent death a year later.

With strong, believable performances across the board including Helen Mirren winning a Best Actress Oscar for her inhabiting the very look and essence of Queen Elizabeth II, Stephen Frear’s The Queen dives deep into the conflict immediately following Diana’s death, which speaks even to today’s society where the public routinely makes demands of the private lives of others, especially those with power. In this case, new Prime Minister Tony Blair–played by Michael Sheen–as the public’s spokesperson is pushing for the royal family to honor Diana with a show of mourning only a royal would receive. The queen and especially her husband Prince Philip are outraged that such a demand would be made of them, especially since it was their son from whom Diana divorced. James Cromwell as Philip exudes deep frustration. He is emphatic about protecting his wife the queen and their status as royals and all the heritage that comes with it, but he lacks control to do anything about the changes that feel increasingly inevitable.


White Heat

Year: 1949

Director: Raoul Walsh

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly, Steve Cochran, John Archer, Wally Cassell, Fred Clark, Paul Guilfoyle, Ford Rainey, Robert Foulk, Ian MacDonald, Robert Osterloh, Sherry Hall, Joel Allen, Claudia Barrett, Ray Bennett, Marshall Bradford, Chet Brandenburg, Robert Carson 

Cream of the crop when it comes to classic gangster movies. The script is full of colorful dialogue and creative plotting. James Cagney is at the top of his game as the gang leader Cody Jarrett. Despite his diminutive stature, he’s tough as nails–no hesitation in killing a man, even taking out one of his own who’s become an inconvenience or a risk. But he’s also a mama’s boy, though Ma (Margaret Wycherly) is just as ruthless as he is, albeit tender to him. And he’s vulnerable due to his penchant to trust those he is close to as well as due to recurring sudden, raging, debilitating headaches and a propensity towards insanity.

Virginia Mayo, plays Cody’s multi-faceted wife Verna. Her uncouth, free-spirited personality shines through along with her fear and duplicity. Finally, Edmond O’Brien is the undercover agent Hank Fallon whose job it is to quickly ingratiate himself with Jarrett so he can draw out an even bigger fish. There are great moments of suspense as any hint of the truth could get him killed in a flash. But the tension doesn’t only serve Hank. Others lives are in danger at one point or another also.

That other side of this film that makes it fascinating is the police work. Unlike the criminals, not much is revealed about the character and personal lives of the investigators. Instead, there’s a heavy focus on procedure, including detailed steps they take to track their suspects and tighten the noose, making for a unique time capsule and a lesson on the origins of today’s surveillance technology. It’s particularly surprising to see cell phones and vehicle bugs used for tracking show up in a film from the mid-twentieth century.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

September 13
Pete’s Dragon (2016)

September 14
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
Half Nelson (2006)

September 15
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

September 27
The Imitation Game (2014)

AMAZON PRIME

September 15
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

September 17
The Witch (2016)

September 23
Shutter Island (2010)

FILMSTRUCK

September 14
Advise & Consent (1962)
Easy Rider (1969)
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Fruit of Paradise (1970)
The Last Picture Show (1971)
The Night of the Iguana (1964)
A Patch of Blue (1965)
Queen Christina (1933)
Seven Days in May (1964)
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

September 21
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
Mean Streets (1973)
Night Moves (1975)

September 28
Accattone (1961)
Being There (1979)
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
Ben-Hur (1959)
The Breaking Point (1950)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
East of Eden (1955)
The Gospel According to Matthew (1964)
JFK (1991)
Kes (1969)
Local Hero (1983)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
The Pianist (2002)
Rain Man (1988)
The Right Stuff (1983)
The Roaring Twenties (1939)
Teorema (1968)
Winter Soldier (1972)

HULU

September 30
American Psycho (2000)
Angel Heart (1987)
Babel (2006)
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Bound (1996)
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Field of Dreams (1989)
Hoosiers (1986)
The Ladies Man (1961)
Miami Blues (1990)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
The Rock (1996)
Sleepers (1996)
Spaceballs (1987)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Witness (1985)


JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Next Gen–NETFLIX FILM (2018)
On My Skin–NETFLIX FILM (2018)

AMAZON PRIME

Beyond the Lights (2014)
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Pumpkinhead (1988)
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Stronger (2017)

FILMSTRUCK

Billy Liar (1963)
Cluny Brown (1946)
The Doll (1919)
Hamlet (1996)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Stroszek (1977)
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927)

HULU

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
Stronger (2017)


COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

September 14
Bleach–NETFLIX FILM (2018)
The Angel–NETFLIX FILM (2018)
The Land of Steady Habits–NETFLIX FILM (2018)

September 16
Role Models (2008)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

September 17
The Witch (2015)

HULU

September 15
The Queen (2006)

September 16
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

MOVIE REVIEW: Marshall

Marshall (2017)

Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Honestly, this film didn’t need more than that to get me interested and it should have your attention, too. Boseman’s star is rising and he is no stranger to playing heroes, having already embodied sports great Jackie Robinson and Marvel superhero Black Panther.

Marshall follows an ambitious young Thurgood Marshall in the early stages of his career as a hotshot attorney representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Not knowing the history behind his rise to becoming a judge in the highest court in the land, I was hoping to get a history lesson along with some cinematic enjoyment, and to some extend I did. This story focuses on a single case in 1941, the rape of a wealthy white woman (Kate Hudson) by her black chauffeur Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown from This is Us). Marshall is brought in to assist the local counsel, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), but is denied the ability to speak in court by the judge and therefore must rely on Sam more than he intended. At the heart of Marshall is a strong reminder that fighting for civil rights has never been easy and that as a country we haven’t come as far as some might believe. It’s also a reminder that this is a fight the oppressed side cannot win on its own, but one in which it needs allies. It’s also not just Marshall and Spell that experience discrimination, but as he becomes further involved, Sam (a Jewish immigrant) too becomes the target of hate. Throughout the film Marshall is strong, intelligent, and respectful, even in his defiance. His unwavering fight for justice becomes something easy to root for, and his ability to lead and teach Sam bring about a change of character that is a real strength of the film. Perhaps it is somewhat a matter of my own perspective, but by the time the credits rolled, I was as invested in Friedman as I was Marshall and was inspired to take his words to heart myself

With regards to the Spell case, I am a bit concerned at the unfortunate timing of Marshall‘s release. Currently Hollywood is in a tailspin as sexual assault and abuse cases come bubbling to the surface. At a time when we should all be standing with women and acknowledging our trust in accusations they make, the case depicted here presumes the possibility of a woman who has lied about being raped. That being said, defending African-American men accused of rape was an enormous part of Thurgood Marshall’s career and was a huge problem for much of the 1900’s. Of the 455 men executed for rape between 1930 and 1972, 405 were African American, so it’s no surprise that Marshall would have had his hands full fighting for fair trials in this area.

The performances in Marshall are excellent across the board. Josh Gad stands out the most, bringing more than just his usual comedic tones to a role that requires nuance and has emotional weight. I came away incredibly impressed. Dan Stevens plays the prosecuting attorney perfectly, his smarmy and smug demeanor both captivating and enraging. And Chadwick Boseman is Chadwick Boseman. Folks, this man is going to be a superstar.

What I don’t understand is the film’s tone, or should I say tones. Director Reginald Hudlin seems to be all over the place. At time this does feel like a superhero origin story. There are brief moments of film noir and comedy, and then the sections where it appears to be a hard-boiled courtroom drama. The unevenness was distracting for me and it all can be summed up by an oddly included scene where Marshall is having lunch with Langston Hughes and they are joined by Zora Neal Hurston. For a moment I thought that I was watching Midnight in Paris. It’s a scene meant to show Marshall’s connection to other visionaries of his time, but in truth it just felt out of place and awkward. Perhaps expecting a true dramatic turn from a director best known for House Party, Boomerang, and The Ladies Man was unfair. Regardless, it was a major disappointment and I would have preferred a more documentary-like telling of Marshall’s accomplishments. Instead Marshall feels like something you could just as easily have watched on cable television and not a story that needed a theatrical telling.

“It all means nothing, unless you stand up for something.”
Verdict

Marshall feels incredibly relevant right now and in some ways it better evokes a conversation around race relations and civil rights than Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit did earlier this year. Strong performances from the lead cast and highlighting the importance of Sam Friedman were strengths of the film, while its tonal inconsistency and almost mythic framing of Thurgood Marshall were distracting at times. Marshall ended up not being the film that I wanted it to be, but it did serve as a solid introduction into the life of Thurgood Marshall and inspired me to learn more. For that alone, it is worth recommending and has to be considered a success.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.