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Following what might have been this year’s biggest week for streaming releases, with Mulan and the new Charlie Kaufman film I’m Thinking of Ending Things alongside other oddities, this week is comparatively quieter.
But, there’s still plenty of noise to be made, not least of all from the roaring engines and brash personalities of James Mangold’s Le Mans ‘66. Alongside it are masterpieces from years past, from Chan-wook Park’s lurid thriller The Handmaiden, to Francis Ford Coppola’s latest cut of his magnum opus Apocalypse Now.
While new releases are fairly thin on the ground that’s fairly understandable, now that this year’s virtual version of film festival season is underway with Venice and TIFF happening simultaneously. Still, there’s plenty of great work to sink your teeth into or to let wash over you - though perhaps leaning a little towards the horrific.
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The Handmaiden - Netflix
A con man plans to steal an heiress's heart, as well as her fortune. The handmaiden he hires as part of his schemes falls in love with their mark. Things are already complicated by the end of the first act of Korean director Chan-wook Park’s The Handmaiden, an adaptation of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith now relocated to the pre-WWII Japanese occupation of Korea. But, as evidenced by Oldboy and the other films of his ‘Vengeance Trilogy’, Park likes to keep his audience guessing, and The Handmaiden might be the most bravura example of this. The second act flies in the face of everything we knew about the first, the third act does this yet again.
The numerous twists are anchored by mighty and hypnotic performances from all involved in this perverse theatre of the upper class, as power turns into boredom, which turns into perversion, which turns into violence. But there’s also tenderness at its heart, even as the sincerity of the romantic (and very explicit) relationship between the Handmaiden and her mistress is repeatedly thrown into question. In each moments the intimacy and emotion feels real, the defiance of rigid patriarchal practices feels empowering. It might be the most brisk three hour film of the last decade, and certainly stands among its best.
Also new on Netflix this week: Cuties (Migonnes)
Le Mans ‘66 - Now TV with a Sky Cinema pass
Following recent studio fare for Marvel via the (now deceased) Fox X-Men franchise, James Mangold’s latest film Le Mans ’66 (also known as Ford v Ferrari) is the definition of a simple pleasure. There is a little bit more under the hood than simple high-speed thrills – its overall narrative essentially serving as a parable of artists (the drivers and mechanics) fighting back against the stiflement and creative bankruptcy of the studios (Ford, Ferrari).
Watch Christian Bale in a clip from Le Mans ‘66 below...
But, more than any of that, this is about cool guys wearing Oakley shades boasting about how much faster their car is. Bale and Damon are fine choices for figures of macho bravado and vulnerability, and purveyors of one-liners that will likely entertain your vehicle or sports-loving dad at the very least. Mangold isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but he definitely captures the in-the-moment excitement of the life-and-death stakes of the Le Mans races.
Also new on NOW TV this week: The Good Liar, Zombieland: Double Tap
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut - MUBI
Francis Ford Coppola’s several-times recut opus is renowned not just for its relocation of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to the Vietnam War, but also for its infamously troubled production (to paraphrase Community – ‘ever seen Hearts of Darkness?). Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) takes a journey upriver on orders to assassinate Colonel Kurtz, a once-promising officer who has gone completely mad. In the company of a Navy patrol boat filled with street-smart kids, an Air Cavalry officer, and a freelance photographer, Willard ventures into enemy territory. MUBI is hosting what is now called the “Final Cut” of the film, a 4K restoration released in cinemas late last year that incorporates elements from the 2001 Redux cut and other materials left on the cutting room floor.
In any one of these many versions however, Apocalypse Now is undeniably a classic, a visceral descent into madness tracing back to the follies of a criminal and imperialist war, the long and sometimes hallucinatory journey through the country culminating in a wild and unforgettable appearance by Marlon Brando.
Also new on MUBI this week: Seven Years in May, Space Dogs, In My Room
Koko-Di Koko-Da - BFI Player
Twisted, tense and refreshingly smart, Koko-Di Koko-Da is a unique and darkly comic new film from Swedish director Johannes Nyholm. When a married couple retreats to a remote area of forest as part of a reconciliatory camping trip, they encounter otherworldly presences which steadily turn their trip into a nightmare. With its mixture of differing folkloric terrors and entrapped characters Koko-di Koko-da imagines grief as a purgatory unto itself, symbolically translating the process to the screen as its characters relive their trauma via phantasmagorical horror.
Also new on BFI Player this week: The Painted Bird