While this year’s (mostly) virtual edition of the London Film Festival reaches its final stages across the weekend, a hell of a lot more is coming to streaming over the next few weeks, including some of the best offerings from that very festival.
Until that happens though, there’s still a huge mix of titles new, old, and seasonally appropriate. Ranging from Netflix’s selection of Black History Month titles like the excellent slice of Thatcherite Britain, Babylon, and its new title, Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. My highlight from MUBI is The Other Lamb, a thriller set amongst a misogynistic cult that screened at Toronto International Film Festival last year (which now feels like a million years ago). Shudder’s offering of the week is Possum, a surprisingly dark and unnerving horror from Matthew Holness, while NOW TV is on the much gentler side with the Mr Rogers biopic A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood.
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A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood - Sky Cinema or Now TV with a Sky Cinema Pass
Right off the back of her Academy Award nomination for the compelling and smart Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Marielle Heller turned over another deceptively clever biopic with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Based off of a famous Esquire profile piece on the beloved television icon Fred Rogers (here played by another American figurehead of gentleness, Tom Hanks), the troubled and cynical journalist Lloyd Fogel skeptically begins a profile on the kindly children’s entertainer, slowly forming a deepening bond with him as he works through self-loathing and familial grudges.
Watch: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood trailer
It sounds like a simple and potentially saccharine set-up on paper, but Heller’s astounding and unpretentious direction of the film sets it apart from other biopics, various creative flourishes (such as miniatures used for establishing shots instead of real locations) giving it an off-kilter tone, the work in the writing proving resistant to play on various rumours or potential past traumas and simply study the emotions of the characters on a micro level. It’s genuinely surprising how much is going on under the surface of this film, especially when it’s making use of narrative conceits of so many other films of its type. Continuing proof that Marielle Heller is the real deal.
Also new on NOW TV this week: Harriet, Waves, The Personal History of David Copperfield
Babylon - Netflix
In what feels like a badge of honour for 80s films daring to critique systemic racism, Babylon was once considered “likely to incite racial tension” (like Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing that would come after), and was deemed “too controversial” to play at the New York Film Festival. It only got its first US release last year, but its searing portrait of police brutality and working class struggle in Brixton, of course, remains relevant.
Directed by Franco Rosso the film tells the story of Blue, a young British-Jamaican man living in Brixton in 1980, the film taking inspiration from its composer Dennis Bovell’s own false imprisonment for running a sound system in the 70s. Rosso overlaps sound system culture with the rage and desire for respite of the young Black men at its centre, constantly hounded by white police and civilians alike. Even at 40 years old the score and its messaging are equally propulsive, an indictment of Britain then and Britain now.
Also new on Netflix this week: The Trial of the Chicago 7, Game Night, Matangi/MAYA/M.I.A
The Other Lamb - MUBI
An atmospheric and tantalisingly slow-burning thriller, Polish writer-director Malgorzata Szumowska’s The Other Lamb is a visually immaculate showcase for young actress Raffey Cassidy, whose almost eerily calm presence elevated the likes of Vox Lux and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. In Szumowska’s film, Cassidy plays Selah, a devoted young believer in an all-female, incestuous and polygamous cult called the Flock, presided over by a single man referred to as Shepherd, a self-styled Messiah figure (complete with long Jesus hair) played by Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman (who played a similarly handsome and untrustworthy cult figure in The Invitation – also worth checking out).
Selah finds her faith tested as dark visions begin to reveal the fates awaiting the women of the cult as they age, and of course begins to see the cracks in Shepard’s “teachings” and the restrictions of world that he imposes on them.
Also new on MUBI this week: Salon Kitty, Bird Island, Journey To The Shore
Possum - Shudder
An unnerving horror from Matthew Holness, the co-writer of Garth Marengi’s Darkplace (of all things), the disquieting slow burn of Possum and exploration of trauma might put it in line with something like Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, but moving with some unpredictable rhythms (and deploying a nightmarish spider-puppet-thing). Set amongst dilapidated buildings and hazy backdrops all shot on 35mm the film feels distinct in its squalid and almost decaying aesthetic as well as its psychological horror angle.
Also new on Shudder this week: Lifechanger