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This weekend brings a starkly contrasting mixture of life-affirming biopics, and some of the more miserable dramas made in the past decade. The latest Netflix original film The Devil All The Time, from Christine director Antonio Campos (and based on the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock) supplants the stylings of southern gothic storytelling on the American midwest, turning its all-star cast into an ensemble of weirdos and scoundrels.
In a similar vein is Shudder’s showcasing of Justin Kurzel’s first feature film Snowtown (released as The Snowtown Murders over here), a grim crime drama based on real murders taking place in Australia in the late 90s. Also on Netflix is the more melancholic First Man, a biopic detailing Neil Armstrong’s point of view of the Apollo 11 mission, portraying him as a man who emotionally distances himself in response to grief (and where better to escape to than the moon). On the more positive side is Clueless, the classic 90s teen satire from Amy Heckerling, that perfectly translates the country estate social comedies of Jane Austen to the Californian high school.
Perhaps a bit of an outlier amongst this weeks picks, but might make a good counterbalance to the rest.
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The Devil All The Time - Netflix
Notably featuring the most recent Spider-Man Tom Holland, Campos’s The Devil All The Time is an interesting exercise in the tradition of Southern Gothic, with embodiments of all the characters typical of the genre – the crazed preachers, the murderous lovers, the violent and put-upon son. At the centre of its sprawling ensemble cast is Holland, bringing an innate innocence to a character who finds themselves stranded amongst some of the worst humanity has to offer, breaking away from the boyish earnestness of Peter Parker for thinly suppressed rage. While Holland’s performance is solid and a little different from the norm for him, as usual it’s Robert Pattinson who steals the show as a malevolent and predatory Reverend.
Watch a clip from The Devil All The Time below...
Religious fervour in acts of violence, various unholy rituals undertaken by a sprawling cast of characters attempting to find god. Though this particular quality may be a little lost via streaming, by virtue of its being shot on celluloid it has an earthier texture than a lot of Netflix Original films. This and and its disarmingly matter-of-fact approach to some harsh and often bloody violence via its lackadaisical narration make it a peculiar watch – unpleasant and a little nebulous, but morbidly compelling.
First Man - Netflix
The first Damien Chazelle feature to break away from the world of jazz, First Man might be the writer/director’s most spectacular feature - but not because it matches the technicolour now of the Jacques Demy pastiche La La Land. Featuring Ryan Gosling as an insular and morose Neil Armstrong, navigating grief as he prepares himself for spaceflight, Chazelle film’s proceedings with surprising coarseness, the test flight scenes filmed in grainy, shaky closeup that only intensifies as the G force increases.
Masterfully scored by Justin Hurwitz, who this time forgoes a jazz score for something much more patient and subdued, it feels both consistent with and completely alien to Chazelle’s filmography thus far, dealing with the emotional turmoil that becomes subsumed by one’s profession.
Watch a clip from First Man below..
It all results in a breathtaking and surprisingly moving conclusion that pares a landmark moment in human history down to a personal level, Armstrong’s subjective point of view blown up into large format IMAX in one of the more exciting biopic moments in recent memory. It’s quietly the filmmaker’s best work, here’s hoping that its newfound availability reinforces this.
Also new on Netflix this week: Judy & Punch
The Snowtown Murders - Shudder
The debut feature of Australian director Justin Kurzel is a curious object for those most familiar with his work on the boldly coloured and highly sensory take on Macbeth. Based on a series of killings discovered in Australia in 1999, Snowtown (winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes' Critics Week in 2011) angles more towards grim social realism, as it follows a disturbed serial killer who enlists his girlfriend's son to help murder his victims. Far from the vivid oranges and blues of Macbeth, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw shoots the film with much colder hues, doing little to mask the plain brutality of the characters actions. The camera is often kept away from the violence, but when it does appear, it’s shocking to witness – Snowtown is likely not one that will invite quick rewatches, but for Kurzel completionists or those interested in his versions of Australian history following his most recent film The True History of the Kelly Gang (recently added to Amazon Prime Video), it’s worth the viewing.
Also new on Shudder this week: Spiral
Clueless (from 20 September) - Amazon Prime Video
Despite recent cinematic updates to Jane Austen’s Emma, there’s no taking the crown from Clueless. Amy Heckerling’s 1995 high school comedy version of the novel still feels like its definitive adaptation, replacing country estates with Beverly Hills mansions, its genteel comedy of manners with teen satire (that still treats the emotions of its often ridiculous characters with sincerity). Handily Alicia Silverstone’s most iconic role (perhaps thanks a little in part to the incredible outfits), Cher Horowitz is a perfect storm of valley girl ditziness and self-entitlement, and even as the character matures and displays genuine determination Silverstone gives one of the funniest performances in the recent history of American comedy, let alone the teen movie. Hardly a simple nostalgia watch (though there is a curious amount of Radiohead on the soundtrack), Clueless stands both among the best teen comedies ever made as well as the best Austen adaptations.
Also new on Prime Video this week: The Princess Bride, The Hobbit Trilogy