The first week of the new month brings a smorgasbord of genre, as well as a more subdued new release to counterbalance the wild and wacky foundations and later subversions of martial arts, mystery thriller noir and sci-fi horror. King Hu’s Dragon Inn brings sweeping drama and balletic action in one of the greatest staples of wuxia movies, while David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake is a loopy pastiche of gumshoe noir, its shaggy dog ‘detective’ obsessed with a case that mostly just exposes his own self-entitlement.
From Netflix comes Leigh Whannel’s Upgrade, a flawed but exciting sci-fi vehicle that put him on Universal’s radar, where he’s now one of the primary creative forces in bringing their classic monsters into the 21st century - beginning with the terrifying, economical and brilliantly shot The Invisible Man. The more sobering of the new films available to stream this week comes in the form of the premiere of The Assistant, which takes inspiration of the ongoing case of Hollywood producer and serial abuser Harvey Weinstein. The film focuses in on the small scale, everyday offences that come with working in the film industry, the kind that perpetuate the kind of long-existing, unchecked toxicity and predatory behaviour that is only recently being called to account.
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The Assistant - Now TV with a Sky Movies pass
This new film from director Kitty Green (Casting JonBenet) is a bold, gruelling, but wholly necessary watch, examining the rot at the core of the film industry; the depths of the abuses within Hollywood (and beyond) seem to appear deeper every day. Inspired by but not necessarily limited to the Weinstein scandal, the film unfolds over the span of just a single day.
Following a young woman (played by Julia Garner) as she gets her dream job in a film company, that dream soon turns to ash as she begins to uncover the grim secrets rooted deep within her workplace. It’s an intimate character study, focused not just on the high profile scandals but on the more minute, everyday workplace structures that rob women of power, and allow abuse to continue unchallenged on a wide scale. It’s restrained but nonetheless horrifying in its depiction of the mundane insidiousness of office spaces, where even the people supposedly meant to help you are only meant to silence you.
Also new on Now TV with a Sky Cinema pass this week: Joker
Upgrade - Netflix
Leigh Whannell’s second film as director (following Insidious Chapter 3) is a playful yet somewhat sadistic action horror, utilising its tech dystopian premise for some bone-crunching set pieces. It’s knowingly silly, mining humour from the almost buddy cop dynamic between Logan Marshall-Green’s Grey Trace and ‘STEM’, the artificial intelligence living in a chip in his brain. Though it could stand to be a little more introspective about its premise rather than purely drawn to its potential for gory violence, the effects and camera work are extremely impressive for a B-movie operating on a shoestring budget. Whannell would later correct that with this year’s The Invisible Man, which managed a near perfect balance of horror movie thrills with its allegory of toxic relationships. Seeds of that creativity can be clearly seen with Upgrade, a propulsive if not perfect story of revenge and an unholy alliance of technology and man.
Also new on Netflix this week: Superfly
Dragon Inn - MUBI
One of many wuxia masterpieces from Chinese filmmaker King Hu, Dragon Inn even to this day is a marvel of fight choreography as beautiful as it is lethal. Fights unfolding as dances of colour. It’s a truly foundational work, both within the martial arts genre and Taiwanese cinema as a whole – referenced even by artists working well outside of that framework, perhaps the most famous example being Tsai Ming-Liang’s slow, ruminative love letter to cinemas, Goodbye Dragon Inn. Each conflict is cool, rhythmic and balletic, everything from dust-ups in bars to battles on wide-open plateaus, the camera moving with equal grace as it captures each conflict in gorgeous cinemascope. Hu’s compositions are incredible, and just as noteworthy as the expertly orchestrated fight scenes. Hu would later follow up the film with other major epic that broke ground in martial arts film: A Touch of Zen, which is arriving on MUBI later this month.
Under The Silver Lake - MUBI
At its core a take on The Long Goodbye that has been reconfigured to be about gamers, conspiracy theorists and other cross sections of self-absorbed weirdos, Under The Silver Lake is both about Hollywood, and the people who consume its work. There’s references to utterly everything, (especially the work of Hitchcock), as the movie-obsessed slacker and wannabe gumshoe detective Sam looks to solve a mystery and potential disaster taking place in the cool social circles of Los Angeles’ entertainment industries. Really, anything to forgo paying his rent.
The film has (honestly, fairly) caught some flack for its subjective use of the camera, placing the audience within Sam’s odious gaze as he ogles every woman who comes near him. It’s essentially a critique of the male gaze that defined the works of Hitchcock’s paranoid noirs and Brian DePalma’s later homages to them. Mitchell’s strange blend of genre goes right down to the score - composed by Disasterpiece (who worked on his previous film It Follows) it blends the atmospheric, noir sounds of Bernard Hermann with a touch of old school, chiptune video game soundtracks. It’s all told with a winking, ironic and postmodern sense of humour, Andrew Garfield proving extremely watchable as the paranoid, bumbling Sam - it’s oddly compelling seeing him stumble through LA for as long as he does. A strange, intentionally opaque film that may have gotten the short end of the stick when it came out.
Also new on MUBI this week: A Woman’s Revenge