One of my favourite things to do on my Friday shift at the library is to pick through the DVDs before closing time and grab a film I’ve been meaning to see but have never had the time to check out before. While I can’t stroll through the aisles of Arapaki for the time being, exploring Kanopy and Beamafilm has been scratching that itch for me.
As someone who’s always learning more about the history of film-making and storytelling, I tend to gravitate toward strange, high-concept films and subjects; legacy directors who gained and spent multiple ‘blank checks’ over their careers to make their passion projects, festival films with off-kilter premises that become critical darlings, and weird thrillers that expand what kind of stories you can tell on a budget. These recommendations might not be what you would call ‘comfort viewing’, but I hope they can expand your film-viewing horizons as they have mine. Enjoy!
Swiss Army Man
Length: 98 mins
Directors: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
A critical darling at Sundance the year of its release, Swiss Army Man follows Hank (Paul Dano) as a man trying to get back to civilization with the aid of a talking, farting corpse named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). It’s every bit as weird as it sounds, but Dano and Radcliffe’s performances buoy the film as the friendship blossoms between the two men and they help one another discover how to be human again, although it applies to one of them a bit more literally. The physical comedy is also a treat to watch, as Radcliffe forgoes the use of a dummy to do all of the corpse’s stiff, action-figure-like stunts himself. It’s a charming, bizarre, and surprisingly moving movie about how to come back from a period of self-isolation, make lasting connections with people, and rediscover how to live in the world again.
PressReader and RBdigital: If watching Hank and Manny’s trek through the California pines has you missing the joys of trekking the wilderness, both PressReader and RBdigital provide online access to hundreds of magazines including many on mountaineering, tramping, and more.
Overdrive: You’ll never have a better excuse to reread the series that gave Daniel Radcliffe his first big acting break; that’s why Overdrive has made the first Harry Potter book available for free in both ebook and audiobook form in multiple languages.
Length: 91 mins
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Director Denis Villeneuve is more associated with his recent expansive science-fiction films such as Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and the upcoming Dune adaptation, but there was a time where he worked on smaller thrillers, including the critically-beloved but little-seen film Enemy. Based off the novel The Double by José Saramago, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a history professor who discovers an actor in a local film that appears to be his exact double. His actor doppelganger soon discovers Adam as well, as do each of the men’s wives. As their lives begin to intertwine, each one threatens to undo the existence of the other until the film crescendos into one of the freakiest endings to a movie I’ve ever seen.
Overdrive: Want to see what inspired Enemy? You can check out the works of Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese writer José Saramago on Overdrive.
Shin Godzilla (Shin Gojira)
Length: 120 mins
Director: Hideaki Anno
Taking a break from the reboot of his groundbreaking giant robot series Neon Genesis Evangelion, director Hideaki Anno revitalizes the Godzilla brand with Shin Godzilla, taking a more esoteric, body-horror approach to the classic kaiju (‘strange beast’). A huge hit in Japan and winner of seven Japanese Academy Prize awards, many Godzilla fans hold this as one of the best of the series. If you need to convince your housemates who aren’t as versed in genre films to check this out, the interesting twist to this iteration is that the human focus is on the government officials trying to react in real-time to Godzilla’s sudden appearance, rather than the military or a lone hero. What better film to watch now than one about a bureaucracy responding to a sudden evolving threat and using clever infrastructure solutions to mitigate harm and protect their citizens? These days, that’s a story I can get behind.
Kanopy: Kanopy has a range of cinema from Japan, including “ramen western” Tampopo, Studio Ghibli co-production The Red Turtle, and Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogotari), widely considered to be one of the best films ever made.
Beamafilm: Beamafilm offerings of Japanese cinema include Studio Ghibli documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness and the art documentary Kusama: Infinity, which chronicles the work of Yayoi Kusama.
Length: 102 mins
Directors: Benny and Josh Safdie
If you’ve seen and loved the Safdie brothers’ newest film Uncut Gems, it’s well worth your time to check out Good Time, their previous film from 2017. Robert Pattinson plays Constantine, a small-time crook who has to break his brother out of prison while avoiding the police and struggling to pay off a bail bondsman after a bank heist gone wrong. Flat-out from minute one, Constantine races the underbelly of New York City, churning through one unsuspecting ally after another in his desperate quest to reunite with the only family he has left. Robert Pattinson brings a raw and pitiable emotional depth to Constantine, and the Safdie brothers’ trademark use of first-time actors gives their version of New York a rough and lived-in feel.
Kanopy: Eager for more crime thrillers? Kanopy has you covered. Check out one of the genre’s classics, Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, or Joaquin Phoenix’s recent hit You Were Never Really Here.
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
Length: 99 mins
Director: Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog is a director I’ve always wanted to check out but was only familiar with from terrible impersonations and his surprisingly frequent cameos in primetime cartoons. Lo and Behold is a great contemporary introduction to one of cinema’s most celebrated directorial voices (and what a voice!), following Herzog’s attempt to examine the history of the Internet, from its humble origins in American university campuses to its future potential for self-awareness. Herzog tracks down original Internet Protocol engineer Robert Kahn, hacker Kevin Mitnick, and a community of people in rehab for ‘internet addiction’, among others, to examine the transformative power the Internet affords us a species, while also looking at its precarity as a construct and how our reliance on it can be socially damaging. As more and more of us have to rely on streaming, social media and web conferencing to get by, Herzog invites us to consider just how valuable the internet is to us.
Kanopy: Kanopy has more of Herzog’s most recent works, including crime thriller Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the Gertrude Bell biography Queen of the Desert, and the environmental thriller Salt and Fire.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Length: 83 mins
Cast your mind back to 2010, the heyday of street artists who turned the world into their canvas with their bold and politically loaded art and began to find mainstream success in gallery shows. A typical biopic this is not; Exit Through the Gift Shop follows not Banksy himself, but his filmmaker friend turned disciple Thierry Guetta, who first becomes embroiled in the street art community as a documentarian before deciding to become a street artist himself. Complicating matters is the long-standing accusation that this film was made as a hoax, as Thierry’s rocketing to success as a street artist can come off to some as too staged and polished for a real-life subject, a claim that has been repeatedly denied by the film-makers. Regardless of its veracity, after rewatching this in lockdown, I’m never going to take the streets for granted again.