Posted on Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 by Chris Evangelista
(Welcome to Now Stream This, a monthly column dedicated to the best movies streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and every other streaming service out there.)
The forests of streaming movie services are deep and overgrown. It can be dangerous to navigate them – to find the right path and follow it to something worthwhile. Half the time, your destination will take you toward entertainment you probably would’ve been better off skipping to do something more worthwhile, like build a ship in a bottle or stare blankly into space. How are you to manage the plethora of streaming titles available? That’s where this column comes in. Let us guide your way. Here are some of the best films to stream in April, along with where to stream them.
1. The Devils
Now Streaming on Shudder
Ken Russell’s The Devils is the stuff of cult movie legend: a wild, controversial historical drama with trappings of horror and sexploitation, shot through with religious ecstasy. Upon release, the film was protested, lambasted and chopped down. The Devils was, and is, especially hard to come by in the U.S. So it was a pleasant surprise when the horror streaming platform Shudder quite suddenly dropped the film onto its service near the end of March. The version streaming on Shudder is not, sadly, the original unedited version, but it’s still a film worth seeing. In fact, The Devils has to be seen to be believed.
Russell’s film draws on the true story of a case of mass demonic possession in 17th century France, and views it through his particularly warped eye. Despite the film’s historical setting, set designer Derek Jarman concocted modernist, and in some cases futuristic, backdrops for Russell to wreak havoc in, giving the film an eye-popping visage. Oliver Reed stars as Father Urbain Grandier, the most handsome and most mustachioed priest who ever lived, and Vanessa Redgrave is Sister Jeanne of the Angels, the hunchback nun who lusts after him. Passions flare, accusations of witchcraft fly, and nudity abounds – and then the Inquisition comes to town. Simply put, The Devils is one of the most delightfully deranged films ever made. It’s a must-see, even in its slightly abridged form.
For fans of: The Wicker Man, The Crucible, Witchfinder General, Oliver Reed’s glorious mustache.
2. The Handmaiden
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting 4/13
Few films are as breathtaking as Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden. An erotic revenge thriller inspired by Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, the Oldboy director transports the novel’s Dickensian London setting to 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea, with remarkable results. It would take charts and graphs to break down The Handmaiden’s twisting, labyrinthine plot, but getting lost in the movie is part of the fun. Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) takes a job as the new handmaiden for the wealthy, alluring Lady Izumi Hideko (Kim Min-hee). If Sook-hee seems out of depth in her new job, that’s because she is: she’s actually a pickpocket and con artist recruited to bilk the Lady out of her fortune. But things get complicated when the the thief develops romantic feelings for her mark, and vice versa. And things get even more complicated when other characters, like Hideko’s lecherous Uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong) and slick Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), get involved. Park plays things close to the ornately decorated vest, revealing truths and falsehoods in increments while jumping back and forth in the film’s timeline. The end result is a dizzying, unforgettable modern masterpiece.
For fans of: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Stoker, plot twists and octopi.
3. The Love Witch
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting 4/14
A sexy, funny and flat-out-gorgeous Technicolor dream, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch defies true classification. Some may be quick to throw around terms like “pastiche” or “parody,” but that’s not quite right. Instead, Biller has concocted a film that pays tribute to ‘60s melodramas and lurid, cheeky pulp magazine covers. Samantha Robinson is equal parts droll and bubbly as Elaine, a beautiful witch who moves to a coastal town as part of her never-ending quest for true love. But Elaine’s love comes with deadly consequences, and she leaves a trail of bodies in her alluring wake. There’s so much to love about The Love Witch, and almost all of it is thanks to Biller’s hand: she not only wrote and directed the film; she also shot it, scored the music, edited it, and handled art direction, costumes, sets, and overall production design. Lush, hilarious and feminist, The Love Witch is a shock to the system and an overall delight.
For fans of: Bell Book and Candle, Belle de Jour, Black Narcissus, the films of Mario Bava, some really fantastic blue eyeshadow.
4. Five Came Back
Streaming on Netflix starting 3/31
Netflix brings Mark Harris’ Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War to vibrant life with its three-part docu-series Five Came Back. The series chronicles five filmmakers – Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens and William Wyler – who joined the war effort during World War II to make propaganda films for the military and the public. Narrated by Meryl Streep and featuring interviews with filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass and Lawrence Kasdan, Five Came Back is a fascinating story for both cinephiles and students of world history, brimming with archival footage and interviews.
But perhaps what’s most remarkable about Five Came Back is that the way the film highlights issues that aren’t just a thing of the past. It’s impossible to witness chilling footage of Charles Lindbergh giving a speech to the anti-semitic America First Committee and not be reminded of where we are today. While all the filmmakers chronicled here are given special attention, Five Came Back seems most interested in Capra, and the series almost presents a redemptive arc for the It’s A Wonderful Life filmmaker through his trials and tribulations to his eventual acclaim and renown. There’s sorrow in Five Came Back, but there’s also light, and hovering over all of it is the undeniable power of movies. “Yes, we do have nightmares,” Capra says in an archival interview near the series’ end, “But we also have dreams.”
For fans of: The Best Years of Our Lives, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Master, Mrs. Miniver, John Huston’s soothing voice.
5. Heaven’s Gate
Streaming on FilmStruck starting 3/29
The film that brought down a studio and sounded the funeral bell for the New Hollywood era, Michael Cimino’s sprawling epic Heaven’s Gate got a bit of a bum rap when it hit theaters in 1980. To be clear: the film is a mess, but it’s a fascinating mess, full of big, sweeping romanticism mingled with deconstructionism. Cimino, who was very much in demand after The Deer Hunter, was given free range to realize his ambitious dreams for Heaven’s Gate. Ambitious and costly. After running over budget and schedule, Cimino delivered a film over five hours long, much to the chagrin of United Artists. Cimino was able to reign the runtime in (to a lean 219 minutes!), but the film flopped hard at the box office and with critics. Time can soften things, though, and in the years since its release Heaven’s Gate has found its defenders. You may not end up being one of them, but you’d be doing yourself a favor by at least checking the film out from the comfort of your living room. An anti-western about immigrant farmers violently clash with wealthy cattle ranchers, Heaven’s Gate boasts a killer cast including Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Bridges, John Hurt, Sam Waterston and Brad Dourif.
For fans of: The Deer Hunter, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Deadwood, ice skating.