Streaming roundup: 2018 releases to watch (and which to avoid)

Catch up on the year’s best movies without getting out of bed. Here’s a list of some 2018 releases you should be streaming right now (and which you shouldn’t bother starting).

The Good

Black Panther

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Streaming on: Netflix

Unlike most other Marvel movies, Black Panther is allowed room to breathe. It feels like much less of a chore meant to progress the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because it exists in its own time and space. (For similar reasons, it’s why Wonder Woman has been the lone bright spot in the DC universe.) Black Panther, though, still has the look and feel of most other Marvel movies, the overwhelming sameness that allows the heroes to join together in later films.

Despite this sameness, Director Ryan Coogler uses the film’s spatial isolation to do some glorious world-building. Wakanda, the African nation over which King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) rules, is a fully realized, fantastically imaginative backdrop. It’s rich in detail, with costumes and landscapes presenting a deep reverence for African culture. Coogler brings the film higher than any other Marvel movie by doing what any great sci-fi film does: not just presenting a world that is different than our own, but imagining an alternate possibility to what we already know. With Wakanda, it is the possibility of a world not just of blackness, but of blackness untouched by whiteness.

Full review from February here.

Disobedience

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Streaming on: Amazon Prime

Disobedience tells the story of Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a photographer living in New York who returns to the Orthodox Jewish community where she grow up when her father, a prominent Rabbi, dies in the middle of a sermon. Most of the community shuns her upon her arrival, but Ronit finds refuge in the home of two old friends, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti (Rachel McAdams), who are now married. But when Ronit and and Esti rekindle an old romance, things get complicated.

Delicate and quiet, Disobedience is a film about faith, but it actively avoids moral condescension. Instead, Disobedience explores the fuzzy nature of morality and how a truly human orthodoxy accounts for the complexity of our behavior. The performances are top-notch, especially Weisz, who will also be starring in the upcoming Best Picture contender The Favourite.

Like Father

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Streaming on: Netflix

Middle-budget charmers have largely disappeared from theaters with the collapsing DVD market and declining theater attendance, so I’m glad Netflix is opting to produce films like this one. Like Father finds Rachel (Kristen Bell) distraught after her fiancé leaves her at the altar because she was trying to make work calls during the wedding ceremony. When her father (Kelsey Grammar), who left her as a child, shows up at her apartment soon thereafter, they get drunk and find their way onto Rachel’s honeymoon cruise.

Like Father is full of clichés, and Rachel’s too-busy-with-work-for-her-personal-life archetype is no exception. Most of the beats are familiar, and predictably, things generally work out. But Bell is so funny, and Grammar is genuinely moving. The film strikes a nice balance between levity and drama, and sometimes, all a movie needs to be is pleasant. Also: shoutout to Seth Rogen for the line of the movie, delivering this self-aware remark: “I’ve never smoked anything in my life.”

The Tale

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Streaming on: HBO Go/HBO Now

The Tale is one of the most unique, and essential, movies of the year. The film chronicles the real-life childhood sexual trauma of The Tale’s director, Jennifer Fox. The narrative is split between an adult Jennifer (a sublime Laura Dern) and childhood Jennifer (Isabelle Nélisse), as adult Jennifer reconsiders a childhood relationship after her mother (Ellen Burstyn) finds old letters from that time. As a child, Jennifer had been in a ‘relationship’ with her adult horse-riding instructor, Bill (Jason Ritter), a relationship she had remembered as being loving and consensual. But as adult Jennifer attempts to reconnect with the people she had known at that horse-riding academy and reconsiders her memories, she discovers for herself that she was the victim of childhood sexual assault.

The Tale opens with this text on screen: “The story you’re about to see is true…as far as I know.” It is this fallibility of subjective experience that The Tale is interested in, in a tangible way I don’t know if I’ve seen on screen before. Past characters literally change as Jennifer thinks back on her memories, and she engages in literal conversations with the characters from her youth. It’s a unique portrait of how seemingly objective memories are informed by the false narratives and power structures we use to organize our world.

While watching The Tale, I couldn’t help but think of the national embarrassment that was the testimony by Justice Brett Kavanaugh against his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. Kavanaugh and many conservative media outlets rested their doubt of Ford’s testimony in its tardiness: the fact that she had come forward so many years later, or had forgotten some details of the day of the assault, suggested to them that she was either misremembering the incident or outright lying. The Tale powerfully cuts against this false narrative, showcasing how a world where we believe men can create a distortion of the memories of trauma. This is not an easy movie to watch, but it’s worth it.

The Bad

Hot Summer Nights

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Streaming on: Amazon Prime

Oof. Coming on the heels of Call Me By Your Name, it felt like there was no way another coming-of-age movie starring Timothée Chalamet could miss. But wow, does Hot Summer Nights miss. It’s a truly awful movie with no coherent sense of identity or character. Its female lead is a shamelessly two-dimensional manic-pixie dream girl. Hot Summer Nights feels like someone brought an alien to Earth, and then made them watch Adventureland, Dirty Dancing, and Goodfellas, and then got the alien drunk, and then told it to write a screenplay about what it’s like to grow up in America. None of it feels like anything an actual human has experienced; it’s an amalgam of clichés. The dreamy but tragic local drug dealer played by Alex Roe, doing his best James Dean impression, is literally named Hunter Strawberry. This movie is ridiculous, and not in a fun way. Don’t watch it.

Outlaw King

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Streaming on: Netflix

Outlaw King stars Chris Pine as Robert Bruce, a member of Scottish royalty trying to reclaim his land from British rule. As usual, Pine is very good here; since Wonder Woman, Pine has solidified himself as the most compelling of the four Chrises. You also get a full frontal shot of Pine in this movie, so there’s that.

Aside from Pine, though, there’s little of interest in Outlaw King. The characters are flat, and the violence is excessive. Perhaps most crucially, there’s no thematic intrigue driving Robert Bruce’s quest. Before the final battle he delivers a speech to his troops in which he tells them, “Fight for God, for honor, for country, for family, for yourselves, I do not care, so long as you fight.” So, the motivation is fighting for fightings’ sake? It makes for a semi-interesting line, but a supremely boring plot.

Hold the Dark

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Streaming on: Netflix

Director Jeremy Saulnier has a knack for throwing innocent characters into a world of brutal violence and exploring how their handling of that world defines the human condition. He did this to expert effect in Green Room, one of my favorite movies of last year and one of the most underrated movies of the decade. He attempts to do so again in Hold the Dark, with less success. The film centers on the disappearance of a child in the Alaskan wilderness, supposedly at the hands of wolves, and the writer (Jeffrey Wright) who tries to track the child down.

This description makes the film sound a lot more normal than it is; Hold the Dark eventually becomes downright supernatural. But where Green Room felt lively and authentic, Hold the Dark is unbearably dour and artificial. It’s still an interesting movie, and there’s a lot more going on than I might be able to notice. But Green Room is streaming on Amazon Prime; you might as well just watch that instead.

Private Life

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Streaming on: Netflix

Private Life is the kind of movie critics often love, and I often loathe: high-strung, neurotic Manhattanites dealing with stressful family situations, with powerful if somewhat hollow performances at the center. Call the genre Baumbach fan-fiction, but without any of the pathos that makes his films work. Private Life, which tells the story of a middle-aged couple trying desperately to conceive a child, nearly rises above this categorization, particularly in the form of an exciting supporting turn from Kayli Carter. But in the end, it doesn't add up to much.

Game Night

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Streaming on: HBO Go/HBO Now

For a movie called Game Night, there are very few games played. There’s some brief Pictionary and bar trivia, but mostly over-the-top violence. The film really only uses the games to establish that Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman are very competitive, and never lets the games be the good time that they should be.

These scenes also fail to say anything about the characters. When I play Catchphrase with my friends, it’s not just fun. It’s revealing. Catchphrase tells me which of my friends is the angriest, smartest, loudest, or most anxious. The stakes are high. But in Game Night, we learn very little, besides maybe that Ryan (Billy Magnussen) is an idiot.

Full review from February here.