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This week has brought on spoils of new and recently released titles to streaming platforms, a mixture of films perhaps under appreciated on release as well as some gems from the recent past.
Once again the most high profile release of the week goes to Netflix, which continues to put out original productions like last week’s (typically firebrand) Spike Lee joint, Da 5 Bloods. This week sees something of a tonal swing, with the release of the ostentatiously named Will Ferrell comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, boasting a bizarre cast of Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Pierce Brosnan and Demi Lovato, among others.
Outside of this there are a number of gems both old and new that have made their way to streaming this week, so here’s a selection of the best titles for each streaming platform by platform, for your viewing pleasure.
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Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (Dan Dobkin, 2020)
The latest Netflix Original film is something that has felt in short supply for a little while now: a solid Will Ferrell movie. But it’s not quite a new vehicle for the Anchorman actor (and co-writer of the film), who cedes a lot of the spotlight to his co-stars, particularly Rachel McAdams (who is fantastic throughout). The Story of Fire Saga immediately nails the trashy fantasy aesthetic of many a Eurovision tune, complete with lyrics that are as vague, nonsensical and forgettable as they are earnest.
Read more: Everything coming to Netflix in July
By any metric it’s more or less impossible to parody the absurdity inherent in the Eurovision competition, so The Story of Fire Saga instead aims for a bizarre yet sincere 1:1 replication, right down to the pithy commentary from Graham Norton. Until the charred ghost of Demi Lovato makes an appearance, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for the real thing.
While the runtime is overlong and the gags can be hit and miss, it’s more than worth the price of admission is a fully ridiculous and committed comic performance from Dan Stevens, his handsomeness turned into a joke in itself as he plays the Russian favourite Alexander Lemtov. It’s no surprise that the film’s greatest set pieces revolve around him, first in the ridiculous performance of Russia’s song for the contest “Lion of Love”, second in the delightful, weird and surprisingly heartfelt Eurovision song medley that punctuates the film’s halfway point.
Also new to Netflix this week: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Your Name
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Haywire (Steven Soderbergh, 2011)
Writer/director Steven Soderbergh has made a career on versatility and a willingness to try his hand at any genre he sets his mind on - for the most part, very successfully. Haywire was no different, a bare-knuckle action thriller (Soderbergh’s only foray into the genre) that should have made a huge star of former MMA fighter and (at that time) non-actor Gina Carano. Told in flashback as an operative goes on the lam after being betrayed by her (strangely, uniformly handsome) employers, it unfolds as a brutal, barebones series of fights.
It feels refreshingly straightforward and old school, Soderbergh’s economical and sparing visuals simply highlighting Carano’s astounding athleticism. Though filmed with perhaps less exaggeration than most American action films, The Mandalorian star Carano’s beatdowns are immensely satisfying and a real sight to behold, one standout being a fight between her and Michael Fassbender that completely lays waste to her hotel room.
Also new on Amazon Prime Video this week: The Prestige, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance
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Gemini Man (Ang Lee, 2019)
This film inspired some mixed feelings upon its cinema release in the fairly disorientating format of 60FPS 3D, but make no mistake that this is a solid, if occasionally corny actioner from legendary director Ang Lee. It feels somewhat caught between decades; with practically alien filmmaking tech built on top of a script that is and very much plays like a Jerry Bruckheimer leftover from the 90s. The closest comparison for Gemini Man’s tale of doppelgänger assassins might be the video game series Metal Gear Solid, with its complicated mixture of toxic paternity and musings on the military industrial complex, as masculinity and the body are shaped into tools of the state.
Will Smith hasn’t been given a vehicle this good in a while, and though his younger CGI clone dips into the uncanny valley more than once, Smith holds attention with the differing charisma of both his early and late career. Then there’s the visceral appeal of a Fresh Prince era Will Smith throwing a motorbike at his older doppelgänger, and Benedict Wong smoking cigars with his pet toucan. What’s not to love?
Also new on Now TV: Crawl, Alita: Battle Angel, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
BFI Player | Sign up here
After Life (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 1998)
Among celebrated Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (perhaps best known for his award winning film Shoplifters) earliest films, After Life might stand out the most. A deeply philosophical film about the moments after passing and the inherent value found in our memories, and the memories we leave behind. Here, purgatory is a sort of social service, one where those who arrive are presented with a week to answer a simple, but fairly mind-boggling question - if you could live one memory forever, which would you choose?
Kore-eda pares such existential questions down to a focus on immediate human experience. A simpler sell might be to say that there’s shades of the NBC comedy The Good Place in its imagining of a purgatory that functions like a human bureaucracy. It’s not just that however - Kore-eda’s film also imagines filmmaking itself as an act of remembrance, as the workers of the afterlife stage these personal memories as though they were shooting a documentary. Slow-burning, potentially heavy viewing, but an essential of modern Japanese cinema.
Also new on BFI Player this week: The Last Tree, Girlhood
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Pain & Glory (Pedro Almodovar, 2019)
The latest film from Pedro Almodovar Spanish master of transgressive melodrama is a slightly more subdued reflection on the past – but no less emotional for it. Reuniting with longtime collaborator Antonio Banderas, the film is as personal and introspective as they come, as Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, a film director styled to look like Almodovar himself.
The film flits back and forth between the past and present as Mallo recalls different memories; his childhood in a village, his time in 80s Madrid, the pain of a breakup and reunion with an old flame. It’s simply sublime semi-autobiography, brought to life with Almodovar’s signature use of vivid colour and intricate set design, told with a mesmerising mix of tenderness and melancholy, and anchored by an astounding, haunted performance by Banderas.
Also new on MUBI this week: Mulholland Dr., The Bigamist