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Somehow an art house film, horror, and romance all in one, Let the Right One In explores the boundaries of its genres with unprecedented finesse, and offers a stunning alternative for those disappointed with recent vampire love stories. From its haunting minimalist imagery to its incredible score, it is persistently beautiful. The film follows twelve-year-old Oskar and Eli, drawing on numerous aspects of traditional undead lore, and still manages an impressive feat in feeling entirely fresh and devoid of cliche. Those in search of a terrifying movie might need to look elsewhere, but if what you're looking for is simply a great watch, don't pass this one up.

Genre: Drama, Horror

Actor: Anders T. Peedu, Henrik Dahl, Ika Nord, Johan Sömnes, Kåre Hedebrant, Karin Bergquist, Karl-Robert Lindgren, Lina Leandersson, Malin Cederblad, Mikael Rahm, Pale Olofsson, Patrik Rydmark, Per Ragnar, Peter Carlberg, Tom Ljungman

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Rating: R

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Starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner and Patricia Clarkson. Lars and the Real Girl is a funny and thought-provoking look at the psychology of loneliness and the healing power of love. I rented this a few years back because of Ryan Gosling - he had just blown me away in Fracture so I was trying to catch up on his other movies. It was an unexpected gem. One of the sweetest movies I have ever seen - it was kind of like a fairy tale. With a blow-up doll. Yes, that's right.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alec McClure, Angela Vint, Annabelle Torsein, Arnold Pinnock, Aurora Browne, Billy Parrott, Boyd Banks, Doug Lennox, Emily Mortimer, Joe Bostick, Joshua Peace, Karen Robinson, Kelli Garner, Lauren Ash, Liisa Repo-Martell, Lindsey Connell, Liz Gordon, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Nancy Beatty, Nicky Guadagni, Patricia Clarkson, Paul Schneider, R.D. Reid, Ryan Gosling, Sally Cahill, Tannis Burnett, Tommy Chang, Torquil Colbo

Director: Craig Gillespie

Rating: PG-13

Based on the documentary short she helmed with actor Taylor Russell, Savannah Leaf’s Earth Mama is an intimate, unabashedly political, and decisively non-judgmental look at one mother’s determined attempts to regain custody of her two children. Gia (Tia Nomore) is struggling to work enough hours at her part-time photo studio job to pay for the home she needs before she can be reunited with her kids — struggling because the state also requires her to attend classes on topics like addiction recovery, which are eating into her time. What’s more, Gia is also heavily pregnant, and her looming due date sets a clock ticking on her efforts to satisfy her caseworker and decide what’s best for her new baby. 

There’s a depressingly cyclical nature to all this heartbreak, as testified to by the real people who sometimes pierce the drama to share their own experiences of the system Gia is navigating. Their contributions — along with Nomore’s lived-in performance and Leaf’s assured touch — deepen the urgency and emotion of the movie, which is as much a commentary on the dehumanizing bureaucracy of the social care system as it is Gia’s own particular story.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Autumn Mirassou, Bokeem Woodbine, Ca'Ron Jaden Coleman, Doechii, Dominic Fike, Erika Alexander, Frank Scozzari, JF Davis, Keta Price, Olivia Luccardi, Sharon Duncan Brewster, Slim Yani

Director: Savanah Leaf

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Mike Mills has always had an obsession with childhood and parenthood, often honing in on the beautiful, frustrating, and inevitable mess that comes with them. C’mon C’mon is no exception, but here, Mills blurs the lines between the two even more. Sometimes the kid acts more like an adult, and the adult more like a kid; sometimes the uncle acts as a surrogate mother, and the mother (unsurprisingly) takes on the role of an everywoman, attempting to be breadwinner, caretaker, and friend all at once. 

C’mon C’mon has no allegiances; it simply shows us the dynamics between one family and mirrors what we already know about ours. Shot in black and white, grounded in simple conversations, and interwoven with moving essay excerpts and real interviews, C’mon C’mon feels at once personal and universal; a moving feat of a film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Artrial Clark, Brandon Rush, Callan Farris, Cooper Jack Rubin, Deborah Strang, Elaine Kagan, Gabby Hoffman, Gaby Hoffmann, Gita Reddy, Jaboukie Young-White, Jenny Eliscu, Joaquin Phoenix, Joseph Bishop, Kate Adams, Keisuke Hoashi, Mahfuzul Islam, Mary Passeri, Molly Webster, Scoot McNairy, Sunni Patterson, Todd D'Amour, Woody Norman

Director: Mike Mills

Rating: R

A woman joins some acquaintances on a sailing trip only to get caught in a storm. They are rescued by a seemingly empty cruise ship and struggle to make sense of the mysteries that unfold. Definitely one of those "The less you know the better" type of films. If you like well-written creepy thrillers with a nice amount of gore, you will most likely enjoy this.

Genre: Horror, Mystery

Actor: Bryan Probets, Emma Lung, Henry Nixon, Jack Taylor, Joshua McIvor, Liam Hemsworth, Melissa George, Michael Dorman, Rachael Carpani

Director: Christopher Smith

Rating: R

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Even if it seems like nothing really "happens" for much of The Secret Garden, its characters paint quite the moving picture of neglected children and their indomitable capacity to find hope in the world. Director Agnieszka Holland tells this story with just the right amount of whimsy: at times it's spooky and magical, but everything is grounded in the charming performances of the film's young actors, who are allowed to be difficult, smart, and sorrowful whenever they need to be. It may be old-fashioned, but watching it in this new decade—when we're all trying to guard our kids from sickness and death—makes it feel all the more relevant.

Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Andrea Pickering, Andrew Knott, Arthur Spreckley, Colin Bruce, David Stoll, Eileen Page, Heydon Prowse, Irène Jacob, John Lynch, Kate Maberly, Laura Crossley, Maggie Smith, Peter Moreton, Walter Sparrow

Director: Agnieszka Holland

Rating: G

This buddies-on-the-road drama was the highest-grossing independent film of 2019, which tells you everything you need to know about it: it’s familiar, but it’s not overblown.

A fisherman (Shia LaBeouf) has to flee after vandalizing the property of a rival fishing group who bully him. On the way, he meets a man with Down syndrome, who, unexpectedly, is on a journey to become a pro wrestler.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ann Owens, Aurelian Smith Jr., Bruce Dern, Dakota Johnson, Deja Dee, John Hawkes, Jon Bernthal, Lee Spencer, Mick Foley, Rob Thomas, Shia LaBeouf, Susan McPhail, Thomas Haden Church, Tim Zajaros, Wayne Dehart, Yelawolf, Zachary Gottsagen, Zack Gottsagen

Director: Michael Schwartz, Tyler Nilson

Rating: PG-13

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When Mikey Saber’s porn career takes a dip in California, he returns to an estranged wife in Texas, where he meets new and old friends alike and attempts to rebuild his life through a couple of odd jobs. Though Mikey eventually earns his keep, his vanity and eagerness to succeed at all costs threaten to get the best of him.

All this happens against a vibrant backdrop of local sights, beautifully lit and framed by director Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine). Quaint, naturalistic, and ever-so-subtly political, Red Rocket is another great entry into Baker’s impressions of the vexed American Dream.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bree Elrod, Ethan Darbone, Karren Karagulian, Shih-Ching Tsou, Simon Rex, Suzanna Son

Director: Sean Baker

Appropriately for its literary focus, The Lesson feels, in places, like the gripping adaptation of a bestselling psychological thriller. Unfortunately, though, its initial cleverness peters out in a contrived ending that ironically feels like it belongs to the pulpy airport fiction that one character accuses another of writing.

The Lesson’s early chapters (another way the movie’s form mirrors its content) crackle with tension, as Oxford grad and aspiring writer Liam observes the icy dynamics of the Sinclair family, whose son he’s been hired to provide university admission tuition to. The Sinclairs are still grieving the loss of another child, a process made more painful by the brittle ego of their patriarch — JM (Richard E. Grant), a celebrated author who happens to be Liam’s literary hero. Liam’s career ambitions complicate his position: he’s as much an enthusiastic student as he is a teacher here, and among the screenplay’s many suggestions is also Tom Ripley-style envy. The Lesson ultimately scuppers this complexity, though, as the writing eventually abandons its psychological study aspirations and swerves into melodrama, leaving the cast struggling to make it all believable. Still, while the ending may disappoint, there are juicy, intelligent ideas to be pondered over — not quite a bestseller, then, but definitely not airport fiction either.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Crispin Letts, Daryl McCormack, Julie Delpy, Richard E. Grant, Stephen McMillan, Tomas Spencer

Director: Alice Troughton

Rating: R

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This movie is pretty much in every regard a Norwegian Kill Bill. It’s a dark gory comedy where, naturally, the substitute for Uma Thurman doing damage is an emotionless Stellan Skarsgård. After his son is killed by a drug gang, Skarsgård’s character, fresh off a win of a “citizen of the year” award, embarks on a ruthless journey to track and kill the murderers. This takes place in one of the most remote areas in Norway, where the main character works as a snowplow driver. You guessed it, some people will get snowplowed. Seems familiar? That’s because this year it was turned into a horribly sub-par American movie called Cold Pursuit, with, ugh, Liam Neeson.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Actor: Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Arben Bala, Arthur Berning, Atle Antonsen, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Bjørn Moan, Bruno Ganz, David Sakurai, Espen Reboli Bjerke, Gard B. Eidsvold, Goran Navojec, Hildegun Riise, Jack Moland, Jakob Oftebro, Jan Gunnar Røise, Jon Øigarden, Jon Øigarden, Julia Bache-Wiig, Kåre Conradi, Kristofer Hivju, Leo Ajkic, Martin Furulund, Miodrag 'Miki' Krstović, Miodrag Krstović, Ola G. Furuseth, Pål Sverre Hagen, Peter Andersson, Sergej Trifunović, Stellan Skarsgård, Stig Henrik Hoff, Thomas Hildebrand, Tobias Santelmann

Director: Hans Petter Moland

Rating: R

The sooner you accept that Bottoms is not, in fact, rooted in reality in any way, the easier it should become to get on its wavelength for its uniquely absurd brand of comedy. This is ostensibly a satire, though it isn't totally clear what exactly the film is trying to comment on. And its loosely defined world makes it challenging to get emotionally invested in any of the characters' failures or victories. But it does—more than any comedy we'll probably get in a while—capture this feeling of high school being its own heightened, insulated world, where the class system of strict high school stereotypes clashes with the unchecked id and ego of teenagers who think they're more grown-up than they really are.

Director and co-writer Emma Seligman gives this movie a certain sheen that you rarely find in comedies this lowbrow (care of lush cinematography by Maria Rusche, and a bumping electronic score by Leo Birenberg and pop star Charli XCX). This contrast between polished exteriors and unapologetically raunchy content makes the jokes all the more startling—which are delivered by a cast clearly having great fun. Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri stick to their cringe-comedy skill set to great effect, while Ruby Cruz and Havana Rose Liu shine with deceptively tricky material, and Nicholas Galitzine gets to be a himbo for the ages.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alyssa Matthews, Ayo Edebiri, Bruno Rose, Cameron Stout, Dagmara Domińczyk, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Krystal Alayne Chambers, Liz Elkins Newcomer, Marshawn Lynch, Miles Fowler, Nicholas Galitzine, Punkie Johnson, Rachel Sennott, Ruby Cruz, Ted Ferguson, Toby Nichols, Virginia Tucker, Wayne Pére, Zamani Wilder

Director: Emma Seligman

Rating: R

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War Pony is not easy to get through. The film, helmed by first-time directors Riley Kough and Gina Gammell, is slow to move and tackles weighty subjects like poverty, child abuse, and cultural appropriation. You’d be forgiven for asking if it was all too much, especially as the film makes its 12-year-old lead (a stellar LaDainian Crazy Thunder, who plays Matho) perform appalling things children are usually protected from. But ultimately, it also feels necessary. Kough and Gammell co-wrote the script with real-life Rez residents Franklin Sioux Bob and Bill Reddy, whose personal experiences inform much of the film’s story. Additionally, indigenous actors inhabit most of the screen and turn in naturalistic performances, adding to the film’s sense of urgency. And War Pony also weaves traces of magic into its realistic tale, making it an awe-inspiring and beautiful (albeit heavy) watch. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anjeliq Aurora, Ashley Shelton, Jordan Robinson

Director: Gina Gammell, Riley Keough

Rating: R

Much like the 1976 horror classic Carrie, Thelma centers on a young telekinetic woman whose religious upbringing and sexual repression give way to unpredictable moments of fury and rage. When she meets the cool, charismatic Anja, she falls in love immediately, but the wave of emotions that overwhelm her threaten to destabilize not just their budding romance, but other relationships and lives as well. 

Thelma recalls Carrie in other ways too, most notably in the way it uses supernatural elements to allude to female fury and lust, but it also stands on its own as a singular piece of work; the mesmerizing transitions, the slow-burn pace, and the undercurrent of melancholia are all known trademarks of director Joachim Trier. This layering of old and new makes Thelma an intriguing watch, at once recognizable and wholly original. 

 

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Anders Mossling, Camilla Belsvik, Eili Harboe, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Grethe Eltervag, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ingrid Jørgensen Dragland, Ingrid Unnur Giæver, Irina Eidsvold Tøien, Isabel Christine Andreasen, Kaya Wilkins, Lars Berge, Marte Magnusdotter Solem, Sigve Bøe, Steinar Klouman Hallert, Tom Louis Lindstrøm, Vanessa Borgli

Director: Joachim Trier

Rating: Not Rated

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Take this Waltz is a movie that wants you to have a problem with it. It's about a woman (Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine) torn between her husband (played by Seth Rogan) and a new man who entered her life. It's an emotional and honest account as well as a mature slice-of-life film that you will appreciate either if you are familiar with a similar situation in real life, or if you give the film a chance, which I recommend you do.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Aaron Abrams, Albert Howell, Cheryl MacInnis, Ciaran MacGillivray, Damien Atkins, Danielle Miller, Diane D'Aquila, Diane Flacks, Graham Abbey, Jean-Michel Le Gal, Jennifer Podemski, John Dunsworth, Luke Kirby, Mary Pitt, Matt Baram, Michelle Williams, Samantha Farrow, Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen, Vanessa Coelho

Director: Sarah Polley

Rating: R

It may look like a cheap TV movie, but this quietly affecting story of a lonely grandmother looking for kindness and meaning at a retirement hotel is an absolutely charming watch for you, your parents, and your own grandparents. The stakes are refreshingly low, as the title character's quick friendship with a twentysomething writer helps each of them get through their feelings of being out of place. There's lots of effective, British-style comedy from this small cast of instantly likable actors, and an unexpectedly potent emotional core, making you realize only by the end just how invested you've become in their interactions. As Mrs. Palfrey, Joan Plowright is a wonderful, gentle presence, and her easy chemistry with Rupert Friend is exactly as wholesome as the film needs.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Anna Massey, Clare Higgins, David Webber, Georgina Hale, Joan Plowright, Michael Culkin, Robert Lang, Rupert Friend, Timothy Bateson, Zoë Tapper

Director: Dan Ireland

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