Do you feel like you’re drowning … but you haven’t even left your couch? Welcome to the Great Content Overload Era. To help you navigate the choppy digital waves, here are The Globe’s best bets for weekend streaming.
American Symphony (Netflix)
If Netflix wanted to crash this year’s Best Documentary Oscar race, it could easily do so with director Matthew Heineman’s new film focused on a year in the life of celebrated musician Jon Batiste (best known perhaps for his stint as the bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert). Following the Grammy darling as he balances his artistic pursuits with caring for his wife, the author Suleika Jaouad, as she faces a battle of leukemia, American Symphony is a carefully crafted doc that never makes the obvious moves: It is sentimental, surely, but never saccharine. And it is of course loaded with powerful, soul-stirring music.
Yet the doc, which premiered at this fall’s Telluride Film Festival, has enjoyed a whisper-quiet marketing campaign, at least compared to Netflix’s other big fall-season plays such as Bradley Cooper’s Maestro. Luckily, here’s the part where you can help: stream American Symphony, maybe once for real and once in the background (again, it features great music, which can soundtrack all manner of household activities), and then tell all of your friends/fellow subscribers.
May December (Netflix)
Some movies take their slow, sweet time to rev up and solidify their particular sensibilities. But then there is May December, in which director Todd Haynes establishes his intentions in minute one, maybe 1.5, when his camera zooms in tight on Julianne Moore’s frazzled housewife as she opens her fridge, pausing as the soundtrack booms with an overdramatic violin wail, before announcing to no one in particular that, “I don’t think we have enough hotdogs.” DUHN-DUHN.
Blatantly riffing on the tabloid saga of Mary Kay Letourneau, May December follows actress Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) as she visits the home of Gracie (Moore) and Joe (Charles Melton), a couple whose relationship, such as it were, began when Gracie was a married mother of two and Joe was a seventh-grade schoolboy. After being arrested for sexual abuse, Gracie went to jail for a few years, where she gave birth to Joe’s daughter. Soon after she was released, the pair reunited, adding a set of twins to the mix. Two decades later, the family’s scandal’s past has somewhat faded – though Elizabeth’s visit, in preparation to play a version of Gracie in a new film, threatens to stir repressed memories and strain marital tensions. The result is a deliciously queasy confection that feels like a Lifetime TV movie reimagined by Atom Egoyan.
The Curse (Paramount+)
Now four episodes in, Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie’s new series The Curse cements its reputation as the year’s strangest, most energetically uncomfortable series. Following the struggles of married real-estate developers Asher (Fielder) and Whitney (Emma Stone) to slowly gentrify a New Mexican town for the benefit of their HGTV reality show, the show mixes a kind of hyperneurotic domestic comedy with a cosmic surrealism. Fielder, the Canadian comedian who projected a bizarrely charming kind of anti-charisma as “host” of Nathan for You and The Rehearsal, has been busy on the talk-show circuit the past few weeks, playing the heel to Stone’s Hollywood queen as they’re promoting the series. But as bizarre as it is to watch Fielder play the antagonist alongside Jimmy Kimmel, it’s even weirder, in a good way, to watch him deliver a top-tier performance alongside his Oscar-winning co-star.
Afire (Criterion Channel)
Opening on a back road near the Baltic Sea, the latest film from Germany’s Christian Petzold (Phoenix, Transit) finds sullen novelist Leon (Thomas Schubert) and photography student Felix (Langston Uibel) trying to reach the latter’s family cabin. The relationship between the two is vague – are they friends or, as an impromptu wrestling match hints at, something more? This thread hangs in the air until the pair arrive at their destination only to find that it’s already occupied by a guest double-booked by Felix’s mother.
Initially heard and not seen, Nadja (Paula Beer) is an alluring, mysterious, almost intimidating presence. Introduced with a kind of highly manufactured appeal that Petzold typically reserves for his leading ladies (including Beer, who has now starred in three of the director’s films), Nadja doesn’t spell out what she’s doing here, preferring to float from errand to meal to evening’s rest. Eventually, the trio form an unlikely household, which comes to include a lifeguard named David (Enno Trebs) who may or may not be Nadja’s lover. The ensuing dramedy of manners is as rich and rewarding an experience as any of Petzold’s films.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Disney+)
The fifth Indiana Jones adventure exists for two reasons. The first, naturally: to make gobs of money, with producers betting that Spielbergian-sparked nostalgia can trump any traumatic memories of crystal skulls, nuclear refrigerators or Shia LaBeouf. The second: to prove that Harrison Ford is still the mightiest of movie stars.
On that last count, Dial of Destiny succeeds, especially its prologue, during which director James Mangold executes a dazzling prologue in which a Second World War-era Indy squares off against his favourite foes, the Nazis. De-aging Ford with the help of impressive-slash-terrifying visual effects – the actor looks as young as he did in 1981′s Raiders of the Lost Ark, with no uncanny-valley wonkiness – Mangold delivers a 20-minute-long sequence that recalls the highest notes of the franchise, only occasionally playing like a greatest-hits compilation rather than purely new material. You could probably stop the film after that scene, though.