Welcome to Part 2 of our survey of new streaming releases you might be seeing in theaters at present if sanity weren’t currently prevailing—at least in most places. (Check out part one here.) At the time of this writing, Georgia just announced movie houses were free to re-open April 27, despite that state’s high ranking among coronavirus cases. Oh, Deep South: You will playfully live up to your reputation, won’t you! Of course I use the term “live” figuratively.
I realize none of this is any laughing matter, but we’ll permit some of the hysterical kind. Say, did you hear this current European favorite? “What borders on stupidity?” “Canada and Mexico.” Yes, it’s funny because it’s true.
Anyway, here in the relatively head-screwed-on-straight realm of “crazy liberal California,” where our hitherto uninspiring governor and local officials have been doing a pretty stellar job of flattening that curve, the reluctant staycation goes on. Here are some new movies to enliven your sheltering-in-place, all of them available on various platforms as of or before Friday, April 24:
Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint
Swedish painter Klint died at age 81 in 1944, leaving an enormous body of works to a nephew who was forbidden to sell them. Not that there would have been any takers: She had almost never exhibited, and even in 1970 a museum declined taking over the legacy because her status in the art world remained non-existent. But by then it should have been obvious that despite her continuing obscurity, Klint was an extraordinary figure: She was making abstract art even before Kandinsky, who nonetheless got all the credit, along with his almost-exclusively-male contemporaries and followers. She was, obviously, so far ahead of her time that no one could fathom what she was doing.
Halina Dyrschka’s documentary sometimes belabors the obvious point that women artists have been chronically undervalued. For drama’s sake, it goes so far as to suggest that Klint stayed unknown until now, when in fact her posthumous reputation has grown rapidly over the last three decades or so. The subject remains an intriguing cipher, a well-educated naval commander’s daughter, a vegetarian and protofeminist whose serious interests in nature, spiritualism and scientific theory all wound up expressed in her art. She was working in abstraction as early as 1906, creating (sometimes huge) canvases one might easily guess date from a half-century later. They’re very striking stuff, even beyond the fact that virtually no one else was operating in a similar idiom at the time. Though her few attempts at gaining recognition and patronage failed, she continued creating in isolation to the end.
Despite its occasionally heavy-handed perspective, this is a fascinating story that makes one yearn for a touring exhibition. If you watch the film through Roxie Virtual Cinema, half the streaming rental price goes to the beloved Mission District cinema.
Other new documentaries of note include the largely Bay Area-focused disability rights chronicle Crip Camp, which 48 Hills covered here; last year’s SF Docfest favorite Murder in the Front Row, about the thrash metal scene that gave us Metallica, Exodus, and other ripostes to the then-prevailing headbanging trend of “hair band” excess; and Waging Change, which examines the profound economic injustice of “tipped” minimum wage jobs (available from the Women Make Movies Virtual Film Festival here).
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Likewise available through Roxie Virtual Cinema is this brightly written and directed debut feature by James Sweeney. He also stars as Todd, a L.A. software programmer and professional housesitter with a whopping case of OCD. He meets his match in Rory (Katie Findlay), an aspiring actress and recently fired waiter. These are two infinitely persnickety people who don’t like other people, and whom most people definitely don’t like. They’re perfect for each other. Or would be, if not for the small fillip that Todd is probably gay (at least everybody assumes he is), and Rory is not. However, neither of them are exactly into intimacy (with any gender), so perhaps this thing could actually work, despite friends’ unhelpful comments like ““Rory is not your girlfriend. She’s your fucking Katie Holmes.”
A line that stinging suggests Sweeney’s take-no-prisoners approach. At first Straight Up looks potentially as alienating as it is clever, being one of those comedies that thinks characters are funnier—and perhaps even more relatable—the more annoying they are. Todd and Rory are really, really annoying. But the film does have some nuanced humanity up its sleeve, ultimately winning us over even if we’d probably pay not to hang out with these particular dramatic personae in real life. If you like Girls or Fleabag, you’ll probably like this similar smart portrait of some quite insufferable (yet not exactly “bad”) people.
A White, White Day
At the opposite end of the personality spectrum from those endlessly jabbering, naval-gazing millennials is Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson), the close-mouthed aging protagonist of Hlynur Palmason’s Icelandic drama. His wife having died in a car accident, he’s temporarily stepped back from active police duties in his rural community to build a house for his daughter’s young family, which he’s living in as he constructs it. Ingimundur is a taciturn, somewhat intimidating character, sturdy and bare as a tree in winter. But his softer side comes out in his caretaking of eight-year-old granddaughter Salka (Ida Mekkin Hlynsdottir). One day, however, he finds himself belatedly in possession of some belongings found in his wife’s wrecked vehicle. They turn out to include evidence of a secret life that really rocks his own, in all the wrong ways.
Not strictly a character study, nor quite a thriller or mystery—but an unusual combination of all the above—A White, White Day is one very slow-burning chronicle of repressed emotions that are inevitably going to make a giant mess once they explode. It’s a simple story made arresting by its restraint, as well as Palmason’s directorial penchant for unexpected visual digressions. This isn’t quite a great movie. Still, suggests its maker will very likely make one someday soon.
True History of the Kelly Gang
Poor Ned Kelly. Rightly or wrongly long regarded as Australia’s real-life Robin Hood, the outlaw who was executed in 1880 at age 25 has been depicted in movies almost since the medium’s start—in fact 1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang is often considered the first narrative feature film. Yet all questions of accuracy aside, it’s questionable whether any of those movies could be called “good.” Few claimed it for 1970’s Ned Kelly, with Mick Jagger stunt-cast in the lead. Another stab of that same name in 2003 wasn’t much better, though Heath Ledger gave one of his best performances in it. These and other portrayals were criticized by Australians for, among other things, straying from the known facts.
Ergo you might expect True Story to be a corrective, given that title. But, in fact, it’s based on a Booker Prize-winning novel by the esteemed Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda) that makes no bones about playing liberally with fact, myth and fantasy. Well, OK: That, too, might have made a fine film, if not a “definitive” screen Nat. But hoo lawd, this adaptation by director Justin Kurzel (Assassin’s Creed, the Michael Fassbender Macbeth) is one flashy mess, traipsing off in directions all its own to the detriment of both Carey and Kelly.
It starts out straightforwardly enough, with little Ned (Orlando Schwerdt) growing up wild as son to an Irish ex-convict and in the severely classist British colony of Victoria, loving and loathing his vicious whore of a ma (Essie Davis, the director’s wife). Contemptuous of all coppers, pushed into crime and then embracing it, his anti-authoritarian spree here is depicted in an escalatingly gaga pileup of crossdressing, homoeroticism (as adult Ned, George MacKay of 1917 is toned within an inch of his life, going shirtless in snowstorms to prove it), period anachronisms, acting-class improvisations, and what one savvy IMBD poster called “camp satirical rubbish 101.”
It would be one thing it this were explicitly some sort of freeform, sexed-up fantasia on the theme of Ned Kelly, like Ken Russell in the bush. The problem is that it becomes increasingly difficult to tell just what the hell Curzel was intending. Even as satire or deconstruction, his vision is incoherent, seemingly offering idiosyncrasy for its own silly sake. The climactic shootout is so poetically abstract it’s hard to know just what’s happening or why, but by then you’ll have probably ceased to care. This aesthetically overactive, intellectually confused and historically irrelevant portrait of a nice psychotic lad warped by mother-love is another bad Ned Kelly movie. But as bad movies go, at least it’s interesting—Kurzel’s pretensions take it right over a cliff, then just keep on running in empty space.