1. It’s June, which means we’re in the heart of summer blockbuster season — and you might already be tired of superheroes, giant monsters, and mind-numbing explosions. Fortunately, video-on-demand presents no shortage of alternatives. 2014 happens to be the 30th anniversary of the Criterion Collection, which aims to father “the greatest films from around the world.” All month, we’ll be counting down a few of their strong offerings currently available to stream on Hulu. This week: Cure.

    After Silence of the Lambs swept the Oscars in 1992, studios across the globe pumped out a bunch of a serial killer thrillers designed to provide the same kind of thrills. Some, like Seven, were strong enough to stand on their own; others, like Kiss the Girls, offered grim, paint-by-numbers narratives that should never have made it into production.

    But I’m betting many ardent thriller fans haven’t seen — or even heard of — one of the best and strangest serial killer dramas to emerge from that wave in the ’90s: Cure, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s chilly, unsettling breakout thriller that arrived in Japan in 1997 (and earned a limited release stateside several years later).

    Cure follows Takabe, a police officer investigating a bizarre string of murders in which a large X has been cut into each victim’s throat. Each murder has been committed, seemingly independently, by a different killer — and when questioned, none of them can recall why they suddenly decided to kill someone, or what the carved X really means. As Takabe grows increasingly obsessed with solving the seemingly inexplicable string of crimes, his own sense of judgment — and reality — begins to come into question.

    With that premise alone, Cure could have been a creepy, enjoyably middlebrow ride — but it quickly becomes clear that this film has far more on its mind than your typical serial killer thriller. As Takabe digs deeper and deeper into the heart of the mystery, we meet the man he doesn’t yet know is at its center: Mamiya, a disheveled vagabond who expresses constant confusion about who and where he is (and often immediately after those things have been explained to him). When the two finally meet, after a slow, riveting build-up in which they’re drawn closer and closer together, Cure has amassed a tension that propels it to a staggering final act.

    In the two lead roles, both Koji Yakusho and Masato Hagiwara deserve ample credit for their magnetic performances. But much of Cure's power is due to the top-notch work of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who generally positions the camera at an uncomfortably chilly, almost voyeuristic distance — making the sudden, unpredictable explosions of violence all the more powerful. 

    Watch Cure this weekend, but don’t watch it alone — if only so you can spend the rest of the night debating the meaning of the brilliant, cryptic final scene.

     


  2. It’s June, which means we’re in the heart of summer blockbuster season — and you might already be tired of superheroes, giant monsters, and mind-numbing explosions. Fortunately, video-on-demand presents no shortage of alternatives. 2014 happens to be the 30th anniversary of the Criterion Collection, which aims to father “the greatest films from around the world.” All month, we’ll be counting down a few of their strong offerings currently available to stream on Hulu. This week: Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell.

    Though it has all the makings of a cult hit, 1968’s Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell is criminally underseen in the United States — but thanks to the Criterion Collection, that could finally change. Goke is a bizarre, riveting, occasionally surreal movie that might just be the most darkly political sci-fi flick you’ve never seen.

    Goke begins on a plane carrying an important politician, which is suddenly hijacked by an armed gunman. That, alone, would be enough setup for a solid thriller, but the film doesn’t stop there. Just when it seems like things couldn’t get any worse, something strange happens: a mysterious aircraft passes overhead, and the plane begins to nosedive. When the surviving passengers awaken, they’ve crashed on a mysterious island, and both the pilot and the hijacker are dead.

    It would be a shame to spoil the various twists and turns of Goke, but it’s safe to say that the subtitle “body snatcher from hell” is no mere metaphor. Before long, the passengers discovers that a mysterious entity, with the ability to reanimate corpses, is bent on cornering each passenger and draining their blood — and they have no way to get away from it.

    Goke is a pitch-black story about mistrust, self-interest, and the darker side of human nature, with a genuinely startling ending that puts a bleak capper on its morality tale.Though the film’s visual effects are dated, they have retained their squishy, grotesque effectiveness, and you’re sure to be drawn in by some of the stranger and more visceral moments. There are plenty of sci-fi movies you could catch in theaters right now — but I’m betting that Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell will stick in your mind longer than any of them.

     


  3. Nora Charles redefined perfection, stealing it from the grasp of a studio system that relished the the safety of repetition. She was perfect because she defied expectation and battled against tradition, and was emblematic of the excellence that comes from exploring the cinematic world outside the expected.
    — 

    Girls on Film: How The Thin Man's Nora Charles became Hollywood's 'perfect wife'

    By diverging from the norms of the 1930s, The Thin Man introduced a female icon that has lost none of her power

     

  4. The best online movies to watch this weekend

    Featuring The Sacrament, Blue Ruin, Joe, and more

     


  5. Jesse and Celine have lost the essential element that made them fall in love in the first film, and drop everything to be together in the second. They have lost the ability to listen to each other and connect. More than a romance between a man and a woman, the films were about the romance of communication. That the writers and audience both forgot this simple fact makes what could have been the most important cinematic love story of all time into the norm it once skewered.”

    Why Before Midnight is a failure

     


  6. We remember Philip Seymour Hoffman through his eclectic, iconic filmography.

    Listen and subscribe to The Week’s podcasts on SoundCloud here, and on iTunes here.

     

  7. Monica Bartyzel, in Girls on Film:

    Frozen only vilifies the Prince Charming fantasy as it currently stands: The idea that Prince Charming can be recognized in a moment, and that true love can come from a single kiss on dead lips or a perfectly sized shoe. In Frozen, Kristoff is the one because he falls in love with the girl he’s taken the time to know — for her attitude and resourcefulness, and for her spirit and candor. If Kristoff offers her passionate, respectful, and reciprocal love, how can Hans’ villainous twist shame girls’ fantasies? The fantasy remains, but in a more worthwhile form.

    How Frozen killed Prince Charming

     

  8. Laurence Olivier:

    Between 1939 and 1978, Laurence Olivier was nominated for 10 Oscars, with a Best Actor win for the title role in 1948’s Hamlet and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the ceremony in 1979. Just two years later, he won a Razzie for playing General MacArthur in the critically maligned Inchon, beating out the likes of Willie Aames in Zapped! and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian. When asked why he had agreed to star in a film like Inchon in the first place, Olivier gave this now-legendary response: “Money, dear boy. I’m like a vintage wine. You have to drink me quickly before I turn sour.”

    8 Oscar-winning actors who have also won Razzies

     


  9. To commemorate the polar vortex, we’ll be recommending a different movie set in the snow each week in the month of January. This week’s icy movie: Let the Right One In, an unconventional horror/romance set in snowy Sweden.

    2008 was a pivotal year for the vampire. That September, HBO premiered True Blood — a massive hit that paved the way for a still-thriving subgenre of erotic horror. Just a few months later, the first film based on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series hit theaters, launching a billion-dollar franchise that attracted countless tweens and continues to reverberate through Hollywood today. 

    But between those two blockbuster landmarks, the arthouse set was treated to their very own vampire story: Let the Right One In, an unconventional Swedish genre-bender based on John Ajvide Lindqvist [ASH-vide LIND-ka-vist] novel of the same name. When it arrived in limited release in the United States in October, Let the Right One In happened to hit theaters on the same day as both Saw V and High School Musical 3 — and it turned out to be both a more affecting horror movie and a better coming-of-age story.

    Let the Right One In follows Oskar, a 12-year-old misfit living in a Stockholm suburb. Life isn’t going so well for Oskar; his parents are separated, he doesn’t have any real friends, and he’s constantly tormented by bullies. But things start looking up when Eli, a girl who appears to be about Oskar’s age, moves in next door. The duo reluctantly strike up a friendship, bonding over Morse code and a Rubik’s Cube. Everything would be perfect — if Eli wasn’t a vampire.

    Let the Right One In is a strange, fascinating blend of horror and young romance that feels utterly unlike anything you’d normally see in a Hollywood release. The film is unusually quiet, which makes its few graphically violent scenes feel unnaturally eerie. Director Tomas Alfredson leaves lots of room for ambiguity, which makes Eli’s true nature a question that viewers will need to puzzle out for themselves. And the two young leads, who are required to carry the vast majority of the movie on their shoulders, were untested and virtually unknown, which makes their performances feel uniquely naturalistic. It’s a truly distinctive film that shows how every genre, no matter how hackneyed, can feel fresh again if it’s handled with the right touch. For anyone who’s written off the vampire genre altogether: Give Let the Right One in a try, and see if it doesn’t change your mind.

    Listen to all of The Week’s weekly Netflix streaming recommendations here.

     


  10. In fact, though we see no physical embodiment of Samantha — and glean just a bit of her existence outside Theodore — she is the one who instigates the relationship and uses it to evolve. Nathan Rabin at A.V. Club has said, “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely…to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” But in Her, the situation is reversed. Theodore has taught Samantha. He is a quirky guy who plays videogames, wears high-waisted pants, and loves to cry. He’s the strange paramour easily titillated by running through a crowd, and the man amused by a raunchy doodle. “I want to discover myself,” she says, and he answers: “I want to help,”…
     

  11. Rush:

    Ron Howard adapted this story of the bitter rivalry between motor racers James Hunt, a Brit played by Chris Hemsworth, and Niki Lauda, an Austrian played by Daniel Brühl, and how their relationship evolved throughout their parallel careers.

    But, as Alex von Tunzelmann writes for The Guardian, the main conceit of the film is largely embellished: “In fact, judging by Gerald Donaldson’s biography of Hunt, their rivalry was quite friendly. Hunt won a Formula Two race against Lauda at Oulton Park in 1972; Donaldson notes that Lauda and another driver, Ronnie Peterson, congratulated him and ‘were genuinely happy to see James finally get a share of the success they felt he deserved’. Hunt — who was not in the habit of sugar-coating anything he said to the press — said: ‘I got on very well with Niki and always had done since we first met in Formula Three and gypsied around Europe together. We raced against each other but we also teamed up as mates, not just casual acquaintances.’”

    Though this inaccuracy is not exactly confidence-inspiring, one major part of the movie is real: James Hunt’s incessant partying. As Grantland’s Patricia Lee writes, Hunt was something of a lothario. “Hunt was believed to have slept with more than 5,000 women, ‘sometimes having sex minutes before a race.' Apparently 'Hunt's appetite for wine and women was legendary.' Exactly how legendary? Well, Hunt slept with 33 British Airways stewardesses and a number of Japanese fans during his two-week stay in Tokyo for the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix.”

    Based on a true story? Fact-checking 5 Oscar contenders

     


  12. Each week, TheWeek.com’s entertainment editor, Scott Meslow, picks a Netflix streaming recommendation for your weekend tube time.  This week, it’s The Ice Harvest:

    The holiday season is over, but much of the country is still buried in snow — and with snowstorms currently buffeting the east coast, it seems like a particularly apt time to watch movies about protagonists with the same problem. This week: Director Harold Ramis’ maddeningly underrated The Ice Harvest, which was all but ignored when it originally hit theaters in 2005.

    The Ice Harvest is set during a particularly bleak winter in Wichita, Kansas. John Cusack stars as Charlie Arglist, a corrupt lawyer who decides to take advantage of the extended holiday break by running off to an early retirement with $2.1 million of the mob’s money. Unfortunately, the icy roads leave him stranded in Wichita, and he’s forced to evade his former employers as he waits for the conditions to improve enough for him to escape. Along the way, he falls back on a few allies: A smirky partner played by Billy Bob Thornton, a boozed-up brother-in-law played by Oliver Platt, and a sexy stripper played by Connie Nielsen — though it’s unclear whether or not he can trust any of them to keep him out of the mob’s hands.

    The Ice Harvest was a major flop when it hit theaters in 2005, and it earned only mediocre reviews, with many critics complaining that it simply wasn’t funny enough. But those complaints are misguided, and the film is long overdue for a critical reevaluation. Yes, there are plenty of great laugh lines — but at its core, The Ice Harvest was never really a comedy. Instead, it’s one of the few truly great neo-noirs released in the past decade — and like its hard-luck protagonist, it deserved a far better shake than it got.

     


  13. For every week in the month of December, TheWeek.com's entertainment editor Scott Meslow will be recommending an overlooked 2013 release that’s currently available on Netflix Instant Watch. This week: Computer Chess.

    Though it received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess might be one of the tougher sells currently on Netflix. With thousands upon thousands of options, how many viewers will make room in their queue for a dense, black-and-white, virtually unclassifiable movie about chess that features no recognizable actors and looks like it was shot decades ago?

    Computer Chess may look old — but superficialities aside, this is a brilliantly offbeat independent film that distills the thematic obsessions of directors like Stanley Kubrick, Jim Jarmusch, and David Lynch into a fascinating, idiosyncratic piece of work that stands alone.

    Computer Chess, which takes place roughly 30 years ago, is set at an annual chess tournament taking place at one of the bleakest motels ever captured on film. Though the tournament is packed with people, none of them are actually competing. Instead, the movie’s title is quite literal: Each of the chess tournament’s “players” is a computer that’s been programmed to play chess. As the weekend goes on, the computers whittle each other down in an attempt to determine which computer — and, by extension, which programmer — deserves the grand prize.

    That’s the basic setup of Computer Chess' narrative, but it doesn't quite capture what the movie is all about. The film — which is populated by non-actors and shot on the same kind of low-resolution cameras that would have been used in the era — is deliberately hard to pin down. In no particular order, the film tackles a man's quest to find an open hotel room; a group of programmers desperately attempting to discover why their computer seems to be throwing its own games; a large group of cats that resides around the hotel; and a vaguely sinister prostitute who hovers around the lobby. 

    As its narrative, Computer Chess uses its array of colorful characters to pack in a wide range of discussions about philosophy, technology, and the increasingly muddled lines between man and machine, which have grown exponentially thinner during the three decades after the moment when its bizarre story ends. This is brainy, thought-provoking stuff — but I don’t want to make it sound like homework, either. If you’re still on the fence about something so offbeat, let me give you one last assurance: More than anything, Computer Chess is an extremely enjoyable film, packed with moments both funny and sad that will stick with you long after the credits roll.