Dispatches from the couch
Reviewed by Josh Kupecki and Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 20, 2017
There's no avoiding this New World Order (no, not that one). Film distribution is currently in flux, a tumultuous time where Netflix has billions to spend on financing their own films, wooing directors like Martin Scorsese to create movies for their streaming service. Amazon and Hulu are following suit, and the landscape has evolved from "What's playing at the theatre this weekend?" to "How long can I lay around browsing streaming services before I get bedsores?" We'll be using this space in the future to highlight films that have bypassed (or flirted with) theatrical release, but are definitely worth your time. – J.K.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Netflix)
Painstakingly observant yet casually humorous, Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) introduces us to a family of New Yorkers bound by blood and neurosis. In its study of the conflicts between parents and children, the film is most reminiscent of Baumbach's 2005 breakout success The Squid and the Whale. Yet the title also teases the film's literary aspirations: a family saga along the lines of a J.D. Salinger novel, or perhaps a film by Wes Anderson or Woody Allen. Other works have made these Manhattanites familiar to us, but Baumbach's granular approach allows us to see what makes them bristle.
Resentment is the fuel that propels the Meyerowitz clan. Patriarch Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) is an artist, who despite being on the cusp of renown in his youth, never achieved the eminence he felt he was due. His self-centered arrogance has exacted a toll on his children and wives. He is now on his fourth wife (Emma Thompson), a dipsomaniac who is probably too potted to notice his disrespect. His grown children, on the other hand, continually bob and weave through Harold's slights and barbs, still seeking signs of approval that will never come their way. Adam Sandler, as Harold's son Danny, has never been better in a seriocomic role. As the movie opens, Danny is moving into his father's apartment following a split with his wife now that their daughter (Grace Van Patten), the least neurotic Meyerowitz, is leaving home for college. Elizabeth Marvel plays sister Jean, withdrawn but like Danny, devoted to their father. Matt (Ben Stiller) is the son who got away – a money manager who made it all the way to California, but an extended visit to New York reveals that he hasn't managed to escape the mighty Meyerowitz mojo. As with all of Baumbach's films, the acting is superlative. With its sharp insights and comic patina, The Meyerowitz Stories gives us the outlines of a family which suffers from a failure to thrive. – M.B.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (VOD)
If you've seen S. Craig Zahler's wonderfully perverse cannibal Western hybrid Bone Tomahawk, you may have an inkling as to what to expect from his follow-up, a brutal and visceral film starring a hulking Vince Vaughn as ex-boxer Bradley Thomas (don't call him Brad) who turns to drug running after getting laid off, and ends up incarcerated after a deal goes wrong. Dropped into prison, he is immediately pulled into an extortion plot that jeopardizes his pregnant wife (Jennifer Carpenter). Things get actively worse from there. I don't want to say too much more, because the pleasure in Zahler's story comes from the continued unveiling of circumstances and events that build into a crescendo of violence and brutality. Zahler likes to take his time in his films, and it is to his credit that the film's pace seems laconic but nothing ever seems cursory, and his dialogue exhibits a knack for clever turns of phrases and a knowingness of the world that is both cynical and redemptive. Vaughn's performance is revelatory, and the film takes you on a scorching journey down a path of wicked heartlessness. It is another searing vision in Zahler's cap of feathers, and he is one of the most talented filmmakers working today. – J.K.