Instant Gratification: “Manchester by the Sea” and four other good movies new to streaming


Pick of the week: “Manchester by the Sea” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Kenneth Lonergan justifiably won Best Original Screenplay for this achingly sad, acutely observed drama about a blocked-off man (Casey Affleck) who returns to his hometown and the scene of an immense tragedy that he can’t get past. What saves the viewer from total despair is the humanity of the performances and Lonergan’s writing, which offers empathy and forgiveness even to those who don’t deserve it or can’t accept it.

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“Things to Come”: Isabelle Huppert finds freedom is a beautiful and scary thing


The books look like a fortress. The Parisian home of philosophy teacher Nathalie Chazeaux’s home are filled almost wall-to-wall with shelves of books. It’s the sort of library you can tell has taken a lifetime for her and her husband to accumulate.

About halfway through Mia Hansen-Love’s “Things To Come,” the shelves are half-empty, a signifier for both the turmoil and the opportunity that Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is dealing with. She has lost some of her favorite books. But now she has room to buy new ones.

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Instant Gratification: “Don’t Think Twice” and four other good movies new to Netflix


Pick of the week: “Don’t Think Twice”My full review is here.  Comedian Mike Birbiglia’s second film as a writer-director is a painfully funny look at an improv comedy troupe, which for some members is a potentially jumping-off point to fame, and for others is as far as they’re going to go chasing their dreams. The tension between success and failure within the group makes for an engaging, Altman-esque comedy-drama.

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Netflix Movie of the Week: “Small Crimes” cause big trouble


There’s been a lot of talk among film critics lately about how, while Netflix TV shows get a lot of attention, the original movies released every week seem to fall through the cracks. And that’s a shame given that Netflix has been busy buying up a lot of good indie movies at film festivals like Sundance and Toronto.

That means good paydays for indie filmmakers, which is great. And most of the films probably wouldn’t have played theatrically outside the major markets anyway. But the downside is that Netflix doesn’t seem to put much promotion behind these films the way they do “Iron Fist” or “Girlboss,” meaning they can be impossible for most viewers to find. When a fan of “Happy Christmas” and “Drinking Buddies” doesn’t even realize that Joe Swanberg’s latest film “Win It All” premiered on Netflix a couple of weeks ago, there’s a problem.

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“Woman of the Year” is a great Hepburn/Tracy film with a terrible ending


“Woman of the Year” is a bit of a strange film for Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy to fall in love on. The 1942 romantic comedy-drama was the first of nine collaborations between one of cinema’s greatest duos, who would be life partners until Tracy’s death a quarter of a century later.

That chemistry is all over the screen in the first half of George Stevens’ “Woman,” now out in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. Tracy is Sam, a rumpled man-of-the-people sportswriter, who likes meeting and writing about “unimportant” people. Hepburn is Tess, a jet-setting celebrity journalist who seemingly only hobnobs with important people – both Churchill and FDR seek her counsel.

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Instant Gratification: “The BFG” and four other good movies new to Netflix and Amazon Prime


Pick of the Week — “The BFG” (Netflix)My full review is here. I liked Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel fine when I saw it in theaters, and expect it will wear even better over time. In addition to its undeniable visual wonders, the late screenwriter Melissa Mathison (“E.T.”) lets the movie find some strange nooks and crannies, and Mark Rylance’s performance as the titular giant is a delight.

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A television-obsessed gardener makes America great again in “Being There”

An ignoramus who spends all his time living in a mansion watching television somehow finds himself in Washington, D.C. among the powerful elite, who interpret his know-nothing pronouncements as straight-talk wisdom.

I don’t know. Somehow it seemed cuter when Peter Sellers did it in “Being There.”


If Hal Ashby’s 1980 film, now out in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection, were just a political satire, it would already be a great film. But satire requires targets, and Ashby (“Harold and Maude,” “The Last Detail”) could never just paint a target, finding humanity and depth in every character. The result is a film that’s subtly funny and generous; we laugh at those taken in by Chance the gardener, and then we get taken in too.

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