Vince Vaughn in the prison thriller by S. Craig Zahler

‘Brawl in Cellblock 99’ – Vince Vaughn picks a fight on Amazon Prime

Brawl in Cellblock 99 (2017) is my pick for the smartest piece of cinematic pulp fiction in 2017. It didn’t draw audiences to theaters, perhaps due to the extremes of the violent action. But if it lacks the elaborate choreography and martial grace of John Wick (by design), it more than makes up for it […]

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Greg Mottola's semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film 'Adventureland.' Photo credit: Miramax

‘Adventureland’ on Netflix and Hulu

Adventureland (2009, R) is more than just a chintzy theme park outside of Pittsburgh, where college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) spends a summer trying to save money for graduate school. It’s the real world adventures of life in the space between college and independence, that place where you think that you’re an adult but […]

Benicio Del Toro is Ernesto Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh's biographical drama

Benicio Del Toro is ‘Che’ on VOD and Blu-ray/DVD

Steven Soderbergh’s two-part Che (2008), starring Benicio Del Toro as the revolutionary leader turned martyred legend and idealized cultural icon, is not a tradition bio-pic. Spanning four-and-a-half hours over two films—Part One on the triumph in Cuba, Part Two on the failure in Bolivia—it’s both two films and a single, unified work that focuses on […]

Reese Witherspoon in Alexander Payne's satire 'Election' with Matthew Broderick

‘Election’ – Vote Tracy Flick on Amazon Prime and Hulu

Election (1999), Alexander Payne’s wicked satire of power and (social) politics set in the overheated incubator of a high school student body election, is as sharp and perceptive now as it was in 1999. Matthew Broderick is the passionately dedicated and somewhat condescending civics teacher Jim McAllister, whose extra-curricular involvement helps compensate for a passionless […]

Anne Hathaway stars in the giant monster movie twist by Nacho Vigalondo

‘Colossal’ – Giant monster hangover on Hulu

Colossal (2017) is the oddest and most inventive film to come out of the new wave of giant monster movies. It stars Anne Hathaway as Gloria, an out-of-work writer turned reckless party girl and black-out drunk who is kicked out of the Manhattan apartment she shares with her exasperated boyfriend (Dan Stevens) and returns to […]

Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh star in Noah Baumbach's family satire

Nicole Kidman is ‘Margot at the Wedding’ on Netflix

Nicole Kidman is Margot, a tightly wound author and dubiously maternal mother who breaks the silence with her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to attend her wedding, in Noah Baumbach’s savagely funny satire Margot at the Wedding (2007). Nicole Kidman plays brittle and chilly beautifully, but her self-involved and judgmental Margo is something else altogether. […]

Tim Streeter and Doug Cooeyate star in the directorial debut of Gus Van Sant

Gus Van Sant’s ‘Mala Noche’ on Criterion Channel

Mala Noche (1986), the feature debut of Gus Van Sant adapted from the autobiographical novel by Portland “street poet” Walt Curtis, is an intimate black and white tale of l’amour fou steeped in the culture of Portland, Oregon’s (now long gone) skid row. Walt (Tim Streeter), a counter jockey at a grimy liquor store in […]

Hiroshi Abe and Yôko Maki star in the family drama by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-Eda

‘After the Storm’ on Amazon Prime

Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-Eda directs the most perceptive and compassionate films about the difficult relations that put strains on families and the generosity and understanding that helps overcome those difficulties. After the Storm (Japan, 2017) is one of his most understated family dramas, a lovely, low-key film about divorce and disappointment that, like the title […]

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 'World on a Wire'

‘World on a Wire’ – the first virtual reality thriller on The Criterion Channel

World on a Wire (Germany, 1973), made by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1973 for German television, is to the best of my knowledge the first film to explore virtual reality. And this from a director who never made a science film before or since. There are no Matrix visuals here—you might say that Fassbinder suggests his […]

Cheng Pei-Pei and Yueh Hua star in King Hu's classic wuxia pian

The Romantic Chivalry of ‘Come Drink with Me’ on Amazon Prime

Come Drink with Me (Hong Kong, 1966) is a landmark of Hong Kong cinema and a classic of the wuxia pian (“martial chivalry” genre), a genre that director King Hu redefined with this delightfully spry mix of action, humor, and costume spectacle. Cheng Pei-Pei stars as the pixie-ish Golden Swallow, a determined young female warrior […]