‘Frozen River’ on Amazon Prime

Courtney Hunt delivers the best kind of American independent drama with Frozen River (2008), a film that is respectful of its characters, responsive to its location, and honest in its storytelling. This kind of uncompromising filmmaking is often a hard sell. Hunt not only got her film a theatrical release, she earned Academy Award nominations […]

Justin Simien's satire Dear White People on Amazon Prime

‘Dear White People’ – a sharp social satire on Hulu

Dear White People (2014), the feature debut of director / writer Justin Simien, is a sharp, smart, ambitious satire of race, racism, privilege, prejudice, and power at an Ivy League college that has drawn comparisons to Spike Lee. It’s a fitting comparison. Simien uses humor and provocation to explore issues of race and race relationships […]

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in the high school neo-noir by Rian Johnson

‘Brick’- High school noir on Criterion Channel

Brick (2005), the debut feature from Star Trek: The Last Jedi filmmaker Rian Johnson, puts the collected works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett in a blender with a jigger of teenage melodrama and pours it into a high school mold. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays things so close to his chest that he’s almost unreadable as […]

‘The Killing Floor’ – integrating the union on Criterion Channel and free on Hoopla

The Killing Floor (1984) is the slaughterhouse of the Chicago stockyards where Mississippi sharecropper Frank Custer (played by Damien Leake) finds work when he heads north for better opportunities during World War I. Working his way up to better-paying work as a butcher, he brings his wife (Alfre Woodard) and kids to Chicago, but he […]

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in David Lowery's 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints'

‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ on Criterion Channel

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), second feature from director / writer David Lowery, plays like the cinematic answer to an outlaw folk song. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play lovers Ruth and Bob, young adults who grew up fast under the watch of dubious father figure Skerrit (Keith Carradine) and ended up as small-time hold-up […]

Emayatzy Corinealdi in Ava Duverny's 'Middle of Nowhere'

Ava DuVernay’s ‘Middle of Nowhere’ on Netflix

Before directing Selma and A Wrinkle in Time, Ava DuVernay made Middle of Nowhere (2012), a small story about a woman who put her aspirations on hold when her husband goes to prison. Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) drops out of medical school and takes a nursing job so that she can be at home for daily calls from […]

Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Ben Schwartz, Jason Ritter, Cobie Smulders, and Natasha Lyonne in "The Intervention."

‘The Intervention’ – A smaller ‘Chill’ on Amazon Prime

The Intervention (2016) of this indie spin on The Big Chill is a marriage intervention instigated by Annie (Melanie Lynskey). She is convinced that Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and Peter (Vincent Piazza), an eternally bickering couple, are in a toxic marriage and she’s invited the old gang to back up her plea that they stop dancing […]

‘Fruitvale Station’ on Netflix

Fruitvale Station (2013) embraces simplicity to remind us of the human being behind the news story. 22-year-old Oscar Grant was killed in an unprovoked shooting by BART officers as a station stop on early New Year’s Day 2009. Ryan Coogler’s film accomplishes what so many films fail to do: put us in touch with the life […]

Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska star in the polish horror fantasy by Agnieszka Smoczynska

‘The Lure’ – Little Mermaids with teeth on Criterion Channel and Kanopy

The strangest take on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” ever put on the screen, The Lure (Poland, 2015) is a musical-horror-fantasy-romantic tragedy from Poland about mermaid sisters with a taste for human flesh. Like the sirens of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska) are feral creatures who […]

Anya Taylor-Joy in Robert Eggers' 'The Witch.'

‘The Witch’ – Puritan horrors free on Kanopy

The Witch (2015) is a primal horror film rooted in fear and superstition, and there is no shortage of either in early 17th century New England, where a devout Puritan father has taken his family to start a new life. Adding to the general hardship of British village folk carving a new colony out of […]