What’s happening with film distribution during this pandemic is pretty fascinating. There are first run movies debuting on all kinds of services and at all kinds of price points. Earlier this year I rented “The Assistant” (superb) on iTunes for US$5.99. Just a few weekends ago “Bill & Ted Face the Music” debuted for home viewing for US$19.99. And Disney is even charging a hefty US$29.99 to rent “Mulan” to customers who are already paying a monthly subscription fee for Disney+. In contrast to the pre-pandemic world where the cost of a ticket was more or less completely dissociated from the actual movie you’d be watching, the perceived value of a given film is more apparent than ever in these rental prices.
I’m not exactly sure then what to think when a movie is free, but I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised when Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s independent film “Bacurau” debuted on The Criterion Channel last month. I’ve been an enthusiastic subscriber of that service since it launched but I’ve thought of it primarily as a terrific catalog of classic and international films, not a platform for releasing new movies that, in a pre-pandemic world, would have debuted in theaters.
I’d heard a lot of great buzz about “Bacurau” and in fact had hoped to be able to see it in a theater one day, so it was a treat to get to watch it from home at no additional cost. It’s a truly odd movie that combines elements of social documentary, science fiction, spaghetti westerns and more to tell the near-future story of a village in Brazil that, soon after burying one of its matriarchs, suddenly finds itself missing from regional maps. That description not only fails to do justice to the premise, but is only a hint of what follows, which I found to be thrilling and weird—so weird that when legendary weirdo Udo Kier shows up halfway through, I was shocked to realize that there would be even more weirdness to come. The movie is not perfect, but it’s so fearless in its willingness to mash up and subvert genres that it seems to be reinventing itself as it unfolds. If you have an appetite for disorientation, I recommend it highly.
It’s worth remembering too that “Bacurau” represents just a tiny fraction of the immense wealth of worthwhile film to be found on The Criterion Channel. Even if you subscribe for only a month or two to watch a few films, you’re coming out way ahead.
All told, I watched nineteen movies in August. Here is the full list.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) ★★★★½ Rewatched. Like a TV season finale so transcendent there’s no need to watch all the episodes that preceded it.
“The Little Prince” (1974) ★★½ Not without its charms, but sunk by the irritating titular performer.
“Big Hero 6” (2014) ★★ Rewatched. Its reverence for tech is not holding up well.
“Never Goin’ Back” (2018) ★★★★ A morally reprehensible but briskly made triumph.
“Extra Ordinary” (2019) ★★★½ Yet another Irish indie in which an unattached driving instructor speaks to the dead and battles a one-hit wonder rockstar, to largely amiable effect.
“The Report” (2019) ★★★★ Setting aside the vanity of a screenwriter directing a movie about a guy writing something so important that middle-managers and executives want to water it down, this meticulous reckoning with Bush-era torture is terrific.
“Speed” (1994) ★★★½ Rewatched. A good example of how a dumb movie can achieve greatness.
“Top Gun” (1986) ★½ This thinly plotted recruitment film remains aesthetically undimmed, but it’s also still just as empty-headed as ever.
“Uncle Buck” (1989) ★½ Disappointingly few laughs; I added a half-star out of fondness for John Candy.
“Revanche” (2008) ★★★★ A taut, expertly directed subversion of the revenge thriller form.
“Sullivan’s Travels” (1941) ★★★ Rewatched. A pointed declaration of ideals about comedy vs. realism that’s not particularly funny or realistic.
“Bacurau” (2019) ★★★★ Bonkers B-movie set in Brazil that continually reinvents itself, thrillingly.
“The Truman Show” (1998) ★★★½ Rewatched. Charming but maybe most commendable for neutralizing Jim Carrey’s insufferability.