20th Century Women (2016) stars Annette Bening as Dorothea, a single mother of a teenage boy (Lucas Jade Zumann) determined to give him good life lessons with a little help from her friends. Elle Fanning is her son’s best friend, who escapes her troubled family and is warmly welcomed Dorothea, and Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup are boarders in the sprawling old house she’s been fixing up for years. When Dorothea realizes that she can’t be everything to son Jamie, she reaches out to them to help with life lessons, friendship, and a watchful eye when needed.
Director Mike Mills paid tribute to his father in his previous film Beginners. This one is for his mother and it’s a lovely tribute. It has the quality of a remembrance, not quite idealized but seeped in good memories and textural details (it’s set in 1979 Santa Barbara), and it periodically rewinds and fastforwards to follow up a character or a story, like the triggers of memory. But mostly it is about family and friendship, about relationships and growing up, and the realization that there is so much more to the people you think you know so well. Bening earned an Oscar nomination for her performance.
It was originally slated to debut on Amazon Prime weeks ago but never appeared. It suddenly appeared this week without fanfare so let me raise the cheer.
Pay-Per-View / Video-On-Demand
T2 Trainspotting reunites the original cast with director Danny Boyle to bring us up to date with Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his old pals Sick Boy, Spud, and the psychotic Begbie twenty years after the first film (R). Also on DVD and Blu-ray.
Kristen Stewart is an American Personal Shopper to a French celebrity in Paris in the enigmatic ghost story/murder mystery from filmmaker Olivier Assayas (R, in English and French with subtitles). Available before disc.
- social experiment-turned-bloodthirsty thriller The Belko Experiment with John Gallagher Jr. and Tony Goldwyn (PG-13)
- murder mystery Grey Lady with Eric Dane and Natalie Zea (R)
- Scottish golf drama Tommy’s Honour with Peter Mullan and Sam Neill (PG)
- documentary Legion of Brothers about the first American forces in Afghanistan after 9/11 (not rated).
Available before theaters is drama A Family Man with Gerard Butler and Willem Dafoe (R) and same day as select theaters nationwide is Inconceivable, a thriller with Nicolas Cage and Gina Gershon (R), and sci-fi drama 2:22 with Teresa Palmer and Michiel Huisman (PG-13).
Naomi Watts is a Manhattan therapist who gets dangerously involved in the lives of her patients in the Netflix original series Gypsy. “Something’s missing, but the flaw doesn’t leap out at you,” writes New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik. “The series is elegant, sensitively acted and directed — and an utter snooze.” Billy Crudup co-stars. 10 episodes.
Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, a mix of social satire, political allegory, and action fantasy, comes directly to Netflix from Cannes. Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, and Jake Gyllenhaal co-star with a giant super-pig and the little Korean girl (Ahn Seo-hyun) who raised it from a super-piglet (not rated). Reviewed on Stream On Demand here.
Also new: survival drama No Escape (2015) with Owen Wilson and Lake Bell (R), indie drama I Am Michael (2015) with James Franco and Zachary Quinto (not rated), and femme-centered horror anthology XX (2017, R).
Foreign affairs: Neruda (Chile, 2016) from filmmaker Pablo Larraín reimagines the flight of poet and politician Pablo Neruda from Chile as a crime thriller (R, with subtitles) (reviewed on Stream On Demand here) and Dangal (India, 2016), the all-time highest grossing film from India, dramatizes the real-life story of a wrestler (Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan) who trains his two daughters to become wrestling champions (not rated, with subtitles).
More streaming TV:
- historical drama Reign: Season 4 from CW
- dysfunctional family comedy Shameless: Season 7 from Showtime
- CBS workhouse procedural NCIS: Season 14
- FBI profiler drama Criminal Minds: Season 12
- generational family cop drama Blue Bloods: Season 7 with Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg
- all five seasons of Michael Landon’s inspirational family drama Highway to Heaven.
Kid stuff: from Japan comes the comic fantasy Little Witch Academia: Season 1, joining previous animated stories Little Witch Academia (2013) and Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade (2015) (English and Japanese language versions). Also new: the British boarding school comedies Bruno and Boots: Go Jump in the Pool (2016) and Bruno and Boots: This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall (2017) (both TV-PG) and summer camp comedy Bunk’d: Season 2 from Disney Channel.
Stand-up: Chris D’Elia: Man on Fire.
The acclaimed TV movie Playing for Time (1980), based on the memoir by Holocaust survivor Fania Fénelon, earned four Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Special and awards for actresses Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Alexander and writer Arthur Miller (not rated).
True stories: David Lynch: The Art Life (2016) looks at the creative process of Lynch’s work as a painter and sculptor and filmmakers discuss the legacy of Ingmar Bergman in Trespassing Bergman (2015), featuring Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Michele Haneke, Lars von Trier, and Claire Denis (among many others) (not rated).
The timing could never be good but it’s a particularly awkward to note the groundbreaking work of Bill Cosby in the smart 1960s espionage series I Spy: Season 1. Nonetheless, it’s both a landmark and a great show. Thanks in part to star and friend Robert Culp, Cosby was given equal billing and equal dramatic footing on screen in this series, the first American show to present an African-American character as an equal partner with a white character.
More streaming TV: for young kids there’s the animated Danger & Eggs: Season 1 and for sports fans comes All or Nothing: Season 2 – A Season with the Los Angeles Rams.
The first season of Six, the History Channel series with Walton Goggins inspired by the missions of Seal Team Six, is now streaming.
Stephen Chow’s fantasy epic Journey to the West (China, 2013) was the number one film in China (PG-13, with subtitles). From Thailand comes action sensation Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (Thailand, 2003) and prequels Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning (Thailand, 2008) and Ong-Bak 3: The Final Battle (Thailand, 2010), all featuring jaw-dropping stunts from star Tony Jaa (R, with subtitles).
Streaming TV: the first three seasons of Younger with Sutton Foster arrive as the fourth season of the sitcom debuts on TV Land. Also new: Canadian medical drama Saving Hope: Seasons 1-4 and action thriller Matador: Season 1 from the El Rey network.
Nate Parker writes, directs, and stars in The Birth of a Nation (2016), a passionate drama about Nat Turner’s slave uprising in antebellum South. It began the year as an awards favorite but got tangled in a personal controversy and the ardor for the incendiary drama cooled. It’s still a provocative film with a mix of passion and mythic tropes, and it has a brutal edge. Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Junior, Colman Domingo, and Aunjanue Ellis co-star. Rated R.