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You've probably watched and heard about enough Holocaust films to expect a formula, but you might want to put all that aside going into The Boy in Striped Pajamas. Bruno, the son of a WWII Nazi commandant forms an unlikely friendship with a Jewish kid his age in his father's concentration camp. The film is World War II told through Bruno's eyes, and while you might not get why this movie is so highly praised in its first scenes, the twisting and profound second half will have you recommending it to everyone in need of a moving story well executed, or quite simply a good cry.

Genre: Drama, Family, History, War

Actor: Amber Beattie, Asa Butterfield, Béla Fesztbaum, Cara Horgan, Charlie Baker, David Hayman, David Thewlis, Domonkos Nemeth, Gábor Harsai, Henry Kingsmill, Iván Verebély, Jack Scanlon, Jim Norton, Julia Papp, László Áron, Mihály Szabados, Richard Johnson, Rupert Friend, Sheila Hancock, Vera Farmiga, Zac Mattoon O'Brien, Zsolt Sáfár Kovács, Zsuzsa Holl

Director: Mark Herman

Rating: PG-13

Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish Neo-Nazi in this extremely riveting window into the definition of inner conflict. It is a prime example of how character development should be done and it put Gosling on the map for me. He starts out as an exemplary student in Hebrew school until he starts questioning his teachings and exploring alternative ideologies, leading him to the neo-Nazi movement. Won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

Genre: Drama

Actor: A.D. Miles, Billy Zane, Chuck Ardezzone, David Bailey, Dean Strober, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Elizabeth Reaser, Garret Dillahunt, Glenn Fitzgerald, Heather Goldenhersh, Henry Bean, Joel Garland, Joel Marsh Garland, Jordan Lage, Joshua Harto, Kris Eivers, Lucille Patton, Michael Port, Peter Meadows, Ronald Guttman, Ryan Gosling, Sascha Knopf, Sig Libowitz, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, Tibor Feldman, Tommy Nohilly

Director: Henry Bean

Rating: R

Prophet’s Prey is a documentary on the sect known as Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints and its leader, Warren Jeffs. Claiming to have inherited a direct connection to God, Jeffs has used this pretext to control a closed society of thousands of individuals on a shockingly personal level, as well as marry dozens of underage girls and harvest the community’s financial resources on behalf of “the church.”

The subject is deftly handled by filmmaker Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil). Here she presents most of the story via interviews with the people whose tenacity was instrumental in exposing  Jeffs. Woven throughout the film, too, is the haunting, disembodied voice of Jeffs himself, in recorded words to his followers, along with film footage of present-day FLDS communities. What emerges is the picture of a terrifying madman who still wields a disturbing amount of power over thousands of active congregants. Absolutely riveting.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, History

Actor: Nick Cave

Director: Amy J. Berg

Rating: TV-14

A road trip movie with an unknown destination, Hit the Road plays with our expectations by avoiding any obvious questions we might have, and making us focus on the real important things. Informed by the censorship and persecution faced by critics of Iran's government—including director Panah Panahi's own filmmaker father, Jafar—the film places more focus on the very act of escape and what that can take from a family. And most importantly, through Panahi's skillful direction of rural Iran's varied, beautiful landscapes, he creates a conflicted relationship between character and setting, with entire emotional crescendos playing out just through a single shot of the environment. It's one of the most underappreciated movies of the year.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amin Simiar, Hasan Ma'juni, Pantea Panahiha, Rayan Sarlak

Director: Panah Panahi

The self destructive, substance abusing history teacher Dan (Ryan Gosling) works in a Brooklyn middle-school and is constantly at odds with the curriculum, preferring to teach 13 year old kids Marxist theory in class. Meanwhile, his student Drey (Shareeka Epps) has to go through struggles of her own, her brother being in jail on drug charges and her single mother having to work long hours to make ends meet. Slowly, an unlikely and tender friendship between teacher and student evolves, in which it becomes less and less clear who of them is the adult part. Steering away from cliches, Half Neslon is not your typical social drama. Its intelligent plot twists, great cast (with outstanding performances by both Gossling and Epps) and slow, non dramatic storytelling makes this a highly underestimated movie that, although treating depressive topics without any easy relief for the viewer, will leave with an inner smile, albeit a sad one.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adepero Oduye, Anthony Mackie, Collins Pennie, Deborah Rush, Deidre Goodwin, Denis O'Hare, Eleanor Hutchins, Jay O. Sanders, Jeff Lima, Karen Chilton, Katie Nehra, Leslie Eva Glaser, Matt Kerr, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Nathan Corbett, Nicole Vicius, Raymond Anthony Thomas, Ron Cephas Jones, Ryan Gosling, Sebastian Sozzi, Shareeka Epps, Sharon Washington, Starla Benford, Stephanie Bast, Thaddeus Daniels, Tina Holmes, Tristan Mack Wilds

Director: Ryan Fleck

Rating: R

A wacky viral story — the kind that gets played for laughs at the end of news broadcasts — gets uncommonly deep consideration in this documentary gem. That’s not to say that Finders Keepers ignores the surreal comedy of the situation that John Wood and Shannon Whisnant, two star-crossed North Carolina men, found themselves in in 2007: battling over the custody rights of John’s mummified amputated leg. The humor in this bizarre tale and all the myriad eccentricities of its real-life characters is never left untapped, but to simply focus on that would add nothing new to the way the story had been told thus far. 

Unlike the many clips from news segments and reality TV that we see in the film, Finders Keepers instead looks beyond the low-hanging fruit and finds deep pathos simmering under the surface of this wacky tale. What emerges is a complex, often tragic, and very American picture of the way traumas shape our lives, the addictive pull of drugs and attention, and fate’s habit of twisting nightmares into blessings and vice versa. It’s the kind of film that makes you wonder how many other unexpectedly poignant stories have been short-changed by our impulse to be flippant.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: John Wood, Shannon Whisnant

Director: Bryan Carberry, J. Clay Tweel

Rating: R

Bad Lieutenant is no misnomer: Harvey Keitel’s policeman really is one of NYPD’s worst. Already corrupt, abrasive, and abusive at the film’s outset, the movie chronicles his coked-out descent into total depravity after he’s called to investigate a heinous crime amid rapidly worsening personal circumstances. The brilliance of Bad Lieutenant is therefore a counterintuitive one: as awful as the Lieutenant is, we can’t help but feel emotionally involved because, in Keitel’s bravura performance, we can see the glint of pain — and thus of a person — within.

Always one for provocation, director Abel Ferrara pushes our empathy to — and maybe even beyond — its natural limits, only to break with the film’s hitherto unrelenting grit and dangle the glinting possibility of transcendent redemption in front of us. Anyone familiar with Catholic guilt cinema (movies like Martin Scorsese’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door and Mean Streets) will instantly recognize the same undercurrent running through Bad Lieutenant — even if Ferrara takes the idea of juxtaposing the profane with the sacred to the extreme here.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Bianca Hunter, Bo Dietl, Dana Dee, Darryl Strawberry, Eddie Daniels, Frank Adonis, Frankie Thorn, Gene Canfield, Harvey Keitel, Iraida Polanco, Jaime Sánchez, John Steven Jones, Leonard L. Thomas, Minnie Gentry, Paul Calderon, Paul Hipp, Peggy Gormley, Penelope Allen, Phil Neilson, Stella Keitel, Victor Argo, Vincent Laresca, Zoë Lund

Director: Abel Ferrara

Not much happens in Women Talking, but what it lacks in action it more than makes up for in message. As the wronged women of an insular Christian colony decide whether they should leave or stay in their community, valuable points on each side are raised and debated fiercely. Are the men at fault or is there a bigger problem at hand? Is it sacrilegious to refuse forgiveness? Will leaving really solve anything? 

The women of this ultraconservative and anti-modern community may not know how to read or write, but years of toiling away on land, family, and faith have made them wise beyond their years, which makes their discussion all the more captivating and powerful. Relevant themes, coupled with director Sarah Polley’s poetic shots and the cast’s all-around stellar performances, make Women Talking a uniquely compelling and timeless watch.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: August Winter, Ben Whishaw, Claire Foy, Eli Ham, Emily Mitchell, Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Kate Hallett, Kira Guloien, Marcus Craig, Michelle McLeod, Nathaniel McParland, Rooney Mara, Sheila McCarthy, Vivien Endicott Douglas, Will Bowes

Director: Sarah Polley

Rating: PG-13

Based on a true story, The Whistleblower is the biography of a once Nebraskan police officer who volunteers for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in post-war Bosnia. Once there, she uncovers a human trafficking scandal involving peacekeeping officials, and finds herself alone against a hostile system in a devastated country. Rachel Weisz plays the whistleblower in a powerful lead role, but the true star of the movie is its director, Larysa Kondracki, who thanks to near documentary-style film-making delivers a perfectly executed political thriller with utmost authenticity.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adriana Butoi, Alexandru Potocean, Alin Panc, Anca Androne, Anna Schafer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Catherine McNally, Coca Bloos, Danny John-Jules, David Hewlett, David Strathairn, Dorotheea Petre, Florin Busuioc, Geoffrey Pounsett, Jeanette Hain, Liam Cunningham, Luke Treadaway, Monica Bellucci, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Paul Jerricho, Paula Schramm, Pilou Asbæk, Rachel Weisz, Radu Bânzaru, Rayisa Kondracki, Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, Roxana Condurache, Roxana Guttman, Sergej Trifunović, Stuart Graham, Vanessa Redgrave, Victoria Raileanu, Vlad Ivanov, William Hope

Director: Larysa Kondracki

Rating: R

What’s great about this highly inventive film is that it doesn’t look like it was shot through three iPhone 5s. Instead of using shaky cameras and static shots, Tangerine glides us through saturated, orange-toned scenes that evoke the Los Angeles sunset. Launching director Sean Baker into prominence, Tangerine is an innovative film that, at heart, is a nuanced comedy about the trans sex worker community. Newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor run the show, and their performances create a vivid, electric drive that powers the whole movie. But it’s the quieter moments, the moments after betrayal, the moments of recovery, that make this movie truly special.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ana Foxxx, Chris Bergoch, Clu Gulager, Graham Mackie, Ian Edwards, James Ransone, Jason Stuart, John Gulager, Josh Sussman, Karren Karagulian, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Luiza Nersisyan, Mickey O'Hagen, Mya Taylor, Scott Krinsky, Shih-Ching Tsou

Director: Sean Baker

Rating: R

Be prepared to have the expectations you form after reading Scrapper’s synopsis shattered: though it is about a 12-year-old dealing with grief following her mother's death, it’s remarkably upbeat. It gets that quality by positioning itself in the buoyant headspace of young Georgie, a resilient, cheeky youngster who retains much of her whimsical childlike spirit in spite of her profound bereavement. Director Charlotte Regan’s debut feature is bursting with imagination: there are surreal stylized touches all over the movie, from talking video-game-style spiders to magical realist metaphors of Georgie's grief. 

That’s not to say that Scrapper is flippant about the inherent tragedy of its story, though. As in The Florida Project, you can feel the escapist motivations of Georgie's colorful imagination, which only deepens the poignancy of her situation and the precarious relationship she forms with her father, a barely-old-enough manchild who only makes an effort to meet Georgie after her mother’s death. Amidst all the intentional artificiality of the filmmaking, their largely improvised interactions never ring false — a dynamic that’s also crucial to making the movie feel genuinely touching and real rather than saccharine and shallow. A very impressive debut, and a much-deserved recipient of Sundance’s World Cinema Grand Jury prize and a whopping 14 nominations at the BIFAs.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alin Uzun, Ambreen Razia, Asheq Akhtar, Aylin Tezel, Harris Dickinson, Laura Aikman, Lola Campbell, Olivia Brady

Director: Charlotte Regan

Rating: NR

A young woman’s coming-of-age threatens to topple the uneasy hierarchy of her family in this striking debut from Croatian director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović. The trigger for Julija’s (Gracija Filipović) angsty rebellion is the arrival of her parents’ enigmatic wealthy friend, Javi (Cliff Curtis), whom her controlling father Ante (Leon Lučev) is hoping to squeeze a juicy investment out of. Part of hot-headed Ante’s strategy involves playing on Javi’s still-simmering feelings for Ante's wife Nela (Danica Čurčić) — a dicey game to play when you have a temper like his. It’s also a very manipulative one, and the film lives in the atmosphere of claustrophobia that comes with being a woman in Ante’s life. Though her mother seems resigned to acceptance, Julija yearns for liberation, and it’s her burgeoning awareness of her own power as a woman that fires this drive for freedom. With its stunning Adriatic setting and haunting underwater sequences — the family are keen spearfishers — Murina is a film of natural beauty and human ugliness, a slow burn of a psychological drama that uses volatile teenage emotions as its incendiary fuel.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Cliff Curtis, Danica Curcic, Gracija Filipović, Jonas Smulders, Klara Mucci, Leon Lucev, Marina Redzepovic, Milan Štrljić, Zoran Tadić

Director: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović

The acting... oh the acting! Your Sister's Sister is a fantastic comedy which makes great use of the amazing talents and suitability of its cast, including the criminally underused Emily Blunt. Far smarter, quicker and grown-up than most other Rom-Coms, it's a film built on secrets, lies and, yes, love, sex and family.

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Emily Blunt, Jeanette Maus, John Lavin, Kate Bayley, Mark Duplass, Mike Birbiglia, Rosemarie DeWitt

Director: Lynn Shelton

Rating: R