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As cinemas gear up for an intense couple of weeks with both reopening and the release of the long-awaited Christopher Nolan film Tenet on the horizon, streaming services appear to be gearing up to provide alternatives for those less keen about cramming back into theatres.
It’s like the tide receding before a tsunami hits, as smaller titles are left before the larger titles come crashing in during the final week of August and the first week of September (both Charlie Kaufman's new film I’m Thinking Of Ending Things and Disney’s Mulan remake share a streaming release date with the US release of Tenet). This isn't to say there’s nothing of value - in fact there's plenty.
This week sees the launch of new Disney+ film The One And Only Ivan, starring Bryan Cranston opposite a silverback gorilla voiced by Sam Rockwell, which has been warmly received by critics as wholesome family entertainment, perfect for a rainy afternoon.
MUBI’s showcasing of arthouse darlings and foundational classics continues with a season on Naomi Kawase, while BFI Player is playing host to the festival favourite And Then We Danced.
Please note that a subscription will be required to watch.
Gravity - Amazon Prime Video
His first feature in nearly a decade after his dystopian nightmare Children of Men (a film that feels a little bit less outlandish every day), Gravity was a film designed to be seen on the biggest screen possible, 3D glasses affixed. From the bravura, 20 minute long take that opens the film it's a pretty engrossing technical exercise; even on the small screen it’s some of the most breathtaking F/X showcases in Western cinema.
It’s a little weaker when it comes to its human drama however, though it is perhaps rescued by calling upon the movie star charisma of two 2000s heavy hitters with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts Dr Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalsky. Both are eminently watchable even when obscured by helmets and heavy astronaut gear, and when simply drifting amongst a cosmic void or speaking as a disembodied voice on the radio. It’s all astonishing spectacle, immensely compelling as a work of visceral desperation and terror, even if it’s all wrapped in an extremely blunt metaphor of rebirth that puts a real dampener on its final 20 minutes. But still, that doesn’t reduce the technical wonder of Gravity – it’s straightforward narrative suited to Cuaron’s sweeping and often self-indulgent style.
Also new on Prime Video this week: The Purge, Gone in 60 Seconds
And Then We Danced - BFI Player
Directed by Levan Akin, this film made a huge impression upon its screening at last year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival, where it was lavished with praise. The film follows Merab, a dancer with the traditional National Georgian Ensemble whose world is turned upside down by the arrival of a new dancer, the charismatic and carefree Irakli.
Irakli becomes both Merab's strongest rival and focus of his desires, something that Akin highlights as life-threateningly dangerous in the deeply conservative environment of Tbilisi, something only proven by the aggressive negative reaction and even protest against the film from some groups in Georgia. It's not just built around fear however, there's still romantic coming-of-age thrills to be found, shot with a luminous glow and great empathy. Its rhythms may be familiar to some, but And Then We Danced is an inviting debut nonetheless.
Ava - BFI Player
Landing amongst a wave of electrifying debut films by French women (including the likes of Raw and Divines) during the mid 2010s, Ava deserves a second look. Following the 13-year-old Ava, as she is spending the summer on the Atlantic coast, she learns that she will lose her sight sooner than expected. Her mother decides to act as if everything were normal so as to spend their best summer ever. Ava confronts the problem in her own way. Director Lea Mysius explores Ava’s reckless reaction to her diagnosis, suddenly turning increasingly criminal, enacting a variety of increasingly daring petty crimes as she teams up with an 18 year old to thrive their way across the holiday resort.
Despite some moments that border on the exploitative, Ava is a refreshing take on the coming-of age-story, told with a number of wild tonal swings as it bounces from offbeat irreverence to abstract, sublime imagery.
Also new on BFI Player this week: Come As You Are
The Mourning Forest - MUBI
Part of a season focusing on the works of Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase, The Mourning Forest is a quiet and contemplative little feature full of contrasts: the bright colours of the forest set against subdued grief, for starters. The story is that of a caregiver at a small retirement home, who takes one of her patients for a drive to the country. But the two wind up stranded in a forest where they embark on an exhausting and enlightening two-day journey. Kawase subtly weaves together her themes with an almost elemental approach, nature playing an important emotional role in the personal journeys of its main characters. It's a film more about feeling than it is about plot, so to describe further would be pointless - but The Mourning Forest is a deeply spiritual and even poetic slice-of-life journey, sensitive in its contemplation of loss.
Also new on MUBI this week: Lolita, Sicilia!