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There’s more than a touch of Louis Theroux to this engrossing documentary — fronted by New Zealander pop-culture journalist David Farrier — about an innocuous-seeming Internet phenomenon: the actually-sinister subculture of “competitive endurance tickling”, in which young men undergo “tickle torture” for money on camera. When Farrier unassumingly requests an interview with an American producer of tickle content, it kickstarts a bizarre campaign of harassment and opens up a rabbit hole of unbelievable twists and turns. The wild places this documentary goes are best left as unspoiled as possible, but it’s no spoiler to say this emerges from its seemingly lighthearted premise as a deeply unnerving story about money, power, sex, and shame in the Internet age.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: David Farrier

Director: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve

This mortifying stop-motion fairy-tale is inspired by the very real horrors of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad: a cult colony turned torture camp under the Pinochet regime. Presented as colony propaganda, the tale tells the story of Maria, a girl who runs away from the safety of the colony into the forest and takes refuge in a house with two pigs. What transpires is a gut-wrenching allegory for the rise of fascism, colonialism, and white supremacy. 

The staggering animation which seamlessly shifts mediums from paper mâché to painted walls is a bewildering sight to witness. But it’s the synthesis of this boundary-pushing art and the underlying horrors it depicts, that make this stand as an unmissable cinematic event.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Amalia Kassai, Natalia Geisse

Director: Cristóbal León, Joaquín Cociña

The Last Duel propped high expectations as the Closing Film at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, but its theatrical release later that year proved to be a flop. Ridley Scott blamed it on millennials, but both critics and streaming audiences have been much more favorable than moviegoers. As a film, it's a rather monumental project: quite a dark period piece set in Medieval France, dealing with harsh and offensive themes. Or better said, it deals with ethics and morality through these harsh and offensive themes. There are many ways where this could have gotten wrong—and it's evident from the labels that have been circulating from the very beginning, that Scott has made his "MeToo" movie—but the truth is much more nuanced. From Eric Jager's 2004 book to a script co-written by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and (most importantly) the astute Nicole Holofcener, The Last Duel is really the best of both worlds: action-packed and devoted to the right side of history.

Genre: Action, Drama, History

Actor: Adam Driver, Adam Nagaitis, Alex Lawther, Ben Affleck, Bosco Hogan, Brontis Jodorowsky, Bryony Hannah, Caoimhe O'Malley, Chloe Harris, Christian Erickson, Clare Dunne, Clive Russell, Harriet Walter, Ian Pirie, Jodie Comer, John Kavanagh, Julian Firth, Marton Csokas, Matt Damon, Michael McElhatton, Nathaniel Parker, Oliver Cotton, Paul Bandey, Peter Hudson, Sam Hazeldine, Serena Kennedy, Shane Lynch, Simone Collins, Tallulah Haddon, Thomas Silberstein, Tyrone Kearns, William Houston, Zeljko Ivanek, Zoé Bruneau

Director: Ridley Scott

Rating: R

, 2004

Kristen Stewart stars as Melinda, a girl entering the gauntlet of freshman year in high school who is also carrying a heavy secret: after suffering an assault over the summer at a party, she has become determined to speak as little as possible. Melinda’s subjective experience is presented without mediation, melodrama nor moralism, but rather as life through her eyes: teachers are puff-chested bullies; parents are mumbling, ephemeral strangers; whispering girls are talking about her, all the time. It is a realistic portrait of the inner life and experience of a young woman whose sudden introversion, academic decline, and loss of social connections appear to go completely unnoticed, while she struggles to process and unburden herself of the weight of trauma. It’s an empathetic story well-served by Stewart’s understated performance and the film’s quiet pace.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allison Siko, Arron Kinser, Caitlyn Folley, D. B. Sweeney, Elizabeth Perkins, Eric Lively, Hallee Hirsh, Kristen Stewart, Leslie Lyles, Michael Angarano, Robert John Burke, Steve Zahn, Susan Gardner

Director: Jessica Sharzer

In this romance from 1997, a photographer and a poet meet in an upscale nightclub in Chicago.

They quickly get together and connect on music, poetry, and photography, but Nina, the photographer, decides to go to New York to mend her relationship with her ex-fiance.

It’s so well-acted, funny, and because it’s been enough time that this has become noticeable, a great depiction of big-city life in the 90s. There is smoking inside, riding a motorcycle without helmets, and top-notch fashion.

The producers said they wanted to make “a contemporary film about African-American life that did not deal with guns and drugs,” and probably because they didn’t make compromises, the film was a commercial failure. In recent years, however, it has been quietly growing into a cult classic.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Bernadette Speakes, Bill Bellamy, Isaiah Washington, Khalil Kain, Larenz Tate, Leonard Roberts, Lisa Nicole Carson, Marie-Françoise Theodore, Nia Long

Director: Theodore Witcher

Happy-Go-Lucky is a Mike Leigh feel-good movie tells the story of Poppy, a North London teacher, whose story we follow through a number of different situations: driving lessons, solving work issues, having fun with friends, all while trying not to lose her optimism. The acting is superb, Sally Hawkins is a gem as Poppy, and one cannot describe it, one simply has to see it and enjoy it, because it leaves you smiling :)

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexis Zegerman, Andrea Riseborough, Caroline Martin, Eddie Marsan, Elliot Cowan, Joseph Kloska, Karina Fernandez, Kate OFlynn, Nonso Anozie, Oliver Maltman, Philip Arditti, Rebekah Staton, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Roukin, Sarah Niles, Sinéad Matthews, Stanley Townsend, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Trevor Cooper, Viss Elliot Safavi

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

Earnest, beautiful, and tender, Luca Guadagnino's Bones and All is many things: a road trip movie that sweeps the midwest deserts of 1980s America; a coming-of-age story that brings together two outsiders into an understanding world of their own; and a cannibal film that is unflinchingly flesh deep in its depiction of the practice. Bizarrely, these seemingly disparate elements work harmoniously to create a film that you won't soon forget, not least because of its rawness. 

As the aforementioned outsiders, Maren and Lee (Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet, respectively) are bewitching—individually sure but especially when they're together. They have a bond that is quite difficult to replicate onscreen, charged as it is with so much chemistry and warmth. The background players also bring their a-game when called for, especially Mark Rylance as the disturbing stalker Sully, Michael Stuhlbarg as the creepy but good-willed Jake, and Chloë Sevigny as Maren's stark mad mother. 

It's worth repeating that this movie goes all in on the gore, so steer clear if you don't have the heart for these sorts of things. But if you do, the viewing experience is rewarding. Bones and All is as romantic as they get, and rather than bury its message, the many layers on top of its core serve as a meaningful puzzle to unpack and unravel long after the credits roll.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance

Actor: Andre Holland, Anna Cobb, Brady Gentry, Chloe Sevigny, Christine Dye, David Gordon Green, Hannah Barlow, Jake Horowitz, Jessica Harper, Johanna McGinley, Madeleine Hall, Marcia Dangerfield, Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sean Bridgers, Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Tom O'Brien

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Rating: R

Us and Them follows two former lovers who reminisce and reassess their decade-long relationship over one night. They both seem to be in better places, certainly financially if anything else, but their shared wistfulness for the past threatens to prove otherwise. 

The film was an immediate hit when it was first released in China, and it’s easy to see why. With just the right balance of realism, romance, and comedy, the movie makes for a simple but deeply moving and involving watch. You can’t help but root for the exes to get back together, even though you know as well as they do how minimal the chances of that happening are.

Genre: Drama, Reality, Romance

Actor: Andrew Tiernan, Boran Jing, Dongyu Zhou, Jack Roth, Jing Boran, Liu Di, Qu Zhe Ming, Qu Zheming, Rene Liu, Shi Yufei, Sophie Colquhoun, Su Xiaoming, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Tim Bentinck, Zhang Zixian, Zheming Qu, Zhou Dongyu, Zhuangzhuang Tian

Director: Rene Liu

Rating: Not Rated

2005 was a banner year for British period dramas, apparently: first, there was Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice (still arguably the genre’s crowning achievement), and then came Under the Greenwood Tree, a delightful made-for-Christmas-TV romance loosely based on the eponymous Thomas Hardy novel. Anyone familiar with the author’s typically tragedy-tinged stories — think Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd — will find themselves surprised by the light, pleasant tone of this one, in which the closest anyone gets to violent revenge is sabotaging a church organ by pouring a flagon of cider into it.

The romance here is threefold: when Keeley Hawes’ spinster schoolteacher Fancy Day (genuinely her name) arrives in an English village, she ignites a rivalry between wealthy farmer Shiner (Steve Pemberton), haughty clergyman Parson Maybold (Ben Miles), and James Murray’s die-hard romantic Dick Dewy (again: the names in this are a choice). The trio’s simultaneous attempted courting of Fancy doubles as both the entertaining will-she-won’t-she stuff of romantic dramas and a conduit through which the movie explores the class dynamics in England during the 19th century. It’s this deft intertwining of satisfying romantic period drama tropes with genuine reflection on the historical period itself — all while remaining lighthearted — that makes this underseen adaptation worth watching.

Genre: Drama, Romance, TV Movie

Actor: Ben Miles, James Murray, Keeley Hawes, Richard Leaf, Steve Pemberton, Terry Mortimer, Tom Georgeson, Tony Haygarth

Director: Nicholas Laughland

Filmed as a “found footage” of a Norwegian college film crew investigating local poachers, this movie really surprised me. To be fair, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I definitely didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. The pacing is on point. The suspense hits you at just the right times. There are a few drops of humour trickled throughout to keep a smile on your face. And that’s how my face stayed when the credits rolled.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: André Øvredal, Anton Yelchin, Eirik Bech, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Hans Morten Hansen, Inge Erik Henjesand, Johanna Mørck, Johanna Mørck, Kelsey Grammer, Knut Nærum, Knut Nærum, Lexi Medrano, Otto Jespersen, Robert Stoltenberg, Tomas Alf Larsen, Torunn Lødemel Stokkeland, Urmila Berg-Domaas

Director: André Øvredal, André Øvredal

Rating: PG-13

The late, great William Friedkin’s final film is staged with all the military precision of its naval court setting. We never leave the courtroom from the moment we’re plunged into it — the first minute — meaning the contentious action around which the film revolves happens only in our imagination, spurred on by the competing accounts of Lieutenant Maryk (Jake Lacy) and Commander Queeg (Kiefer Sutherland). Maryk is accused of mutiny, but, as he tells it, he only seized command from Queeg during a typhoon because he feared that the Commander was experiencing an episode of mental instability that would endanger the lives of everyone onboard. 

The lack of flashbacks to this crucial moment places the burden of bearing out the truth on the cast, which includes Jason Clarke as Maryk’s lawyer, Monica Raymund as Queeg’s counsel, and Lance Reddick — the naturally authoritative late actor to whom the film is dedicated — as the judge. The film's lack of visual pizzazz is to its advantage, then, because it allows this excellent cast (and Friedkin’s searing script) to flex under the full, burning gaze of the spotlight. Clarke, in particular, emerges as the standout as the reluctant navy lawyer — a man caught between the impulse to expose one truth and conceal another.

Genre: Drama, TV Movie, War

Actor: Dale Dye, Denzel Johnson, Elizabeth Anweis, Francois Battiste, Gabe Kessler, Gina Garcia, Jake Lacy, Jason Clarke, Jay Duplass, Kiefer Sutherland, Lance Reddick, Lewis Pullman, Monica Raymund, Stephanie Erb, Tom Riley

Director: William Friedkin

Rating: PG-13

An arguably tough watch, The Accused fluctuates between crime and courtroom drama, eschewing any kind of sentimentality in its storytelling. No place for pity where trauma reigns: the fact that the film is based on a real case of as gang rape means little in a world were that's still a daily occurrence. The Accused knows it well and invests its two protagonist with all the anger in the world, hoping the justice system will be on the right side of history at once: that of women. Two amazing leads set the bar very high: Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis who plays prosecutor Kathryn Murphy. Together, they make a powerful duo of heated performances that embody the contradictions of being a woman under patriarchy.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Allan Lysell, Andrew Kavadas, Ann Hearn, Antony Holland, Babs Chula, Bernie Coulson, Carmen Argenziano, Christianne Hirt, David Sheridan, Denalda Williams, Deryl Hayes, Frances Flanagan, Freda Perry, Garry Chalk, Garwin Sanford, Jerry Wasserman, Jodie Foster, Kelly McGillis, Kevin McNulty, Kim Kondrashoff, Leo Rossi, Linda Darlow, Michele Goodger, Mike Winlaw, Pamela Martin, Peter Van Norden, Rebecca Toolan, Rose Weaver, Scott Paulin, Stephen Dimopoulos, Stephen E. Miller, Steve Antin, Terry David Mulligan, Tom Heaton, Tom McBeath, Tom O'Brien, Veena Sood, Walter Marsh, Woody Brown

Director: Jonathan Kaplan

Rating: R

Michael Jackson’s death triggers the sudden unraveling of a young imam’s buttoned-up life in this idiosyncratic Egyptian character study. The news of the singer’s passing sets Khaled (Ahmed El-Fishawy) straining against reawakened memories of his youth as a mullet-sporting MJ fanatic, before his joyful creative spark was stamped out by two disparate forces: a mocking, macho dad who punished Khaled for his vulnerability and the conservative uncle who took him under his wing.

Sheikh Jackson mostly takes place across two intertwining timelines: Khaled’s free-spirited adolescence and his adulthood, which has so far been defined by a self-flagellating, fire-and-brimstone brand of Islam. These two strands form a neat illustration of the binary options Khaled was led to believe he had to choose from — but, as the movie’s title hints, he might not have to choose at all, a revelation that doesn’t come easy because it flies in the face of everything he’s been taught. Free from the judgemental impulses of Western cinema when it comes to characters like Khaled, Sheikh Jackson is both an introspective portrait of the universal struggle of defining one’s own identity and a refreshingly nuanced look at how that experience might play out in the modern Arab world.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahmed Al Fishawy, Ahmed Malek, Amina Khalil, Basma, Dorra, Hazem Ehab, Ibrahim Farah, Maged El Kedwany, Mahmoud Al Bezzawy, Mahmoud Gomaa, Omar Ayman, Salma Abu Deif, Yasmin Raeis

Director: Amr Salama

The film that catapulted Kevin Costner to fame, No Way Out, is based on a novel by Kenneth Fearing, "The Big Clock", and is also preceded by a film adaptation of it, around 40 years prior. Director Roger Donaldson found himself in charge of a film, haunted by the Cold War and spy thriller tropes, but already aligning itself with the late 80s erotic thriller. In a way, No Way Back is a symbol of this transitional period, but by retaining the classic noir vibe (deception, fleeing, yearning), it becomes a tribute to the past. In the film's own past, a love triangle is taking shape in a rather unconventional way: layered with all three of the aforementioned dispositions. Two men want the same women, but their relationship is further complicated by professional hierarchies and the quest to own the past they both shared with Susan. 

 

Genre: Thriller

Actor: Brad Pitt, Charles Walker, Chris D., David Armstrong, David Paymer, Dennis Burkley, Fred Thompson, Gene Hackman, George Dzundza, Howard Duff, Iman, Jason Bernard, John D'Aquino, Kevin Costner, Leo Geter, Leon Russom, Marshall Bell, Matthew Barry, Michael Shillo, Nicholas Worth, Peter Bell, Sean Young, Will Patton

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rating: R