Kneel Before VOD: March 14th
Welcome to Kneel Before VOD, where the latest offerings on various video-on-demand platforms are highlighted for your streaming pleasure. With so many options these days from a range of different services, it can be daunting to select just one film without ending up making a list of a couple dozen. Below, find what we've selected as great entertainment choices to keep things simple:
No stranger to controversy, director Paul Verhoeven made his return to cinema last year with an original story that from its very synopsis, is right in his wheelhouse. French actress Isabelle Huppert plays Michelle, the CEO of a game company who is savagely beaten and raped in her own home, and then, rather than go to the police, decides to engage in a cat-and-mouse game to uncover the intruder's identity herself. Enriched in subject matter that is sure to offend, yet done with jet black dark humour, Elle was one of 2016's most talked about foreign films - especially after Verhoeven and Huppert both claimed Golden Globes for their work this past January.
Denzel Washington took on the directorial duties (as well as playing the lead role of Troy Maxson) in this adaptation of the late August Wilson's play. Washington and co-star Viola Davis (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role) had previously starred in the play (and won Tonys for their work), making this version of Fences a virtual transplant from one art form to another. It would be easy to call it just a 'filmed play' but Washington effortlessly captures the raw sense of emotion and dramatic intensity required, in what's his best work behind the camera as well.
A project that had been in various stages of development over the years, Passengers finally went into production with director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and major A-listers Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in the central roles. Passengers is the story of two people on an intergalactic voyage to another planet far in the future, who wake up from their sleep pods earlier than expected and must learn to make due with their situation. To make matters worse they realize their ship is headed straight for catastrophe, and must race against time to save the lives of everyone on board. Lawrence and Pratt are the human personifications of golden retrievers, so its no surprise that Sony banked on this being a major hit - yet it fell short of its production budget domestically (perhaps opening days after the latest Star Wars wasn't such a good idea). Nevertheless, it should make for a decent stay-in date night viewing option.
Collateral Beauty (2016)
A film that's so wildly off-balance in its aims that it has to be seen to be believed, David Frankel's Collateral Beauty concerns a group of coworkers (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena) who attempt to save their company from catastrophic ruin, after their boss and friend Howard (Will Smith) has been in an unfocused depression spell following the loss of his young daughter. Their plan is to recruit a group of theatrically-trained stage actors (Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore) into pretending to be the personifications of Death, Love, and Time, and engineer a plan to make him seem crazy so they can force him to resign. The trailers for Collateral Beauty made it seem like it was a slice of wintery magical realism (a la It's a Wonderful Life) but the end product is much more cynical than that, and it's a wonder the film was able to be produced, shot, and edited without anyone really considering the cruel morality behind the story itself. Collateral Beauty is not a good film, but it's fascinating, and needs to be seen to believed.
Pete’s Dragon (2016)
An unexpected choice to get the live-action remake treatment from Disney, David Lowery's version of Pete's Dragon was one of the bigger surprise films from last summer. A young boy who has spent most of his life living in the forest outside of his small town, is discovered and taken in by a park ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard), and soon it is discovered that he has been cared for by a large, green dragon that is something of an urban legend. Lowery's independent sensibilities on films like Ain't Them Bodies Saints actually lend well to this blockbuster-size outing, that is quite moving and heartwarming. Check it out on Netflix here.
Gangs of New York (2002)
'America was born on the streets'. This was the tagline to director Martin Scorsese's period-epic set at the turn of the 20th century and focusing on the world of organized gangs in New York. Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns to the city after some time away, seeking vengeance against his father's killer, the bloodthirsty Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis), a plan he orchestrates by befriending the tyrant and gaining his trust, while trying to keep his head up in the surrounding explosive sense of urban warfare that lurks around every corner. One of Scorsese's more ambitious projects, shot entirely at the sprawling Cinecitta studio in Rome, Italy and featuring an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, and Liam Neeson. Check it out on Amazon Prime here.
Also on Amazon Prime: The Handmaiden
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)
The sequel to the Seth Rogen-Zac Efron megahit continues the frustrations of Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen, Rose Byrne) with the younger generation - this time taking a gender-bent focus by honing in on troublemaking sorority Kappa Nu, headed by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz). Even funnier than the original film, despite not reaching the same levels of success with audiences, its the rare sequel that improves on a previously outlined formula. Check it out on HBO Now here.
Trading Places (1983)
A Wall Street snob (Dan Aykroyd) and a crooked con-artist (Eddie Murphy) see their lives reversed, as a result of a bet between two old millionaires in this raucous comedy from John Landis. A wicked revenge story laced with dark, belly-laugh inducing humor, it's one of the best comedies of the 1980s and an essential work for its director and lead actors. Check it out on Hulu here.
My Winnipeg (2008)
Canadian director Guy Maddin takes an off-beat approach in this personal portrait of his hometown and upbringing, that maneuvers between being an autobiography and a far-fetched fantasy. One of the most celebrated and highly-rated Canadian films of the past decade, it's a perfect entry point into Maddin's avant-grade-based work, one that is made with as much warmth as idiosyncratic humor. Check it out on FilmStruck here.