Who knew the home-entertainment market was so intense? When movie theatres were in businesses, film critics such as myself could plan a schedule a few weeks in advance, taking comfort in the fact that we had the major releases handled, and that most everything else was unworthy of coverage. But the streaming and video-on-demand (VOD) market is a different beast, with new titles of unknown provenance popping up almost daily.
This unfamiliar flood has meant that some movies go completely unnoticed – but it only takes some retroactive investigation to suss out the lost gems. For this week’s Full Stream Ahead, I’m recommending a handful of recent movies that have likely flown completely under your radar, and nearly passed me by, too.
Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo, VOD
Canadian filmmakers Scott Dodds and Brett Harvey know a hero when they see one – even if that hero’s face is Danny Trejo, who has played so many villains that his visage is practically imprinted with the words “bad guy.” But by sitting Trejo down and having the veteran character actor tell his story – which includes very real stints in prison – Dodds and Harvey have created a compelling and frequently funny only-in-Hollywood saga. While the documentary stretches on – it seems as if Trejo recounts at least half of his 384 on-screen credits – it does include such lingering anecdotes as the time Trejo threatened a co-star on the set of Death Wish 4 with the line: “You do whatever the director asks you to do or I’ll beat you to death.”
All About Who You Know, Crave
There is no need to check Canadian writer-director Jake Horowitz’s Netflix history – the filmmaker’s queue is obviously chock full of Nora Ephron, John Hughes, and Nancy Meyers. I mean, it has to be, judging by his feature debut, which plays out as a kind of greatest-hits ode to the genre. Sweet, sincere, and self-aware, All About Who You Know follows a boy-meets-girl story with a slightly meta twist, as film-school grad Cole (Dylan Everett) pursues Haley (Niamh Wilson), who happens to be the daughter of Cole’s screenwriting idol Michael (David Hewlett). The film’s title could be read as post-production irony, since All About Who You Know launched on Crave this spring with barely any coverage at all – I only caught wind of it when Horowitz himself reached out, a move I hesitate to advocate (RIP my inbox). But, hey, it worked.
Stealing School, Apple TV and iTunes
Li Dong’s dark comedy is another Canadian charmer that almost completely passed me by. Sometimes playing like a broad farce of hierarchical academia and at other points angrily digging into the messiness of race and ethics, Stealing School has ideas and energy to spare. But the brisk film is best enjoyed for Celine Tsai’s tricky lead performance as April, an ambitious university student accused of plagiarism by an unctuous teaching assistant (Jonathan Keltz) with his own agenda.
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