1. At its best, streaming video offers the potential for discovery — the chance to track down and reappraise a hidden gem which you’d never have seen otherwise. For the month of August, I’ll be counting down movies that were panned by critics when they were originally released, and arguing that they’re actually worth a second look.

    Only God Forgives has been polarizing from the very beginning, when its 2013 premiere at Cannes earned both a chorus of boos and a standing ovation. With just 40 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, a plurality of critics dinged Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn “failing to add enough narrative smarts or relatable characters to ground its beautifully filmed depravity.” 

    When the film hit theaters in the United States, my own take was more or less in line with that consensus. My original review called Only God Forgives ”stupid, needlessly gory, and generally unpleasant,” while acknowledging that I was very happy I had seen it — once.

    I would stand behind all of the negative charges I leveled against the film — but more than a year after its release, I’ve gained a new appreciation for Only God Forgives' mesmerizing style and rhythm. Coming on the heels of Drive — his biggest hit, both critically and commercially, by an enormous margin — Nicolas Winding Refn fearlessly exploited his expanded cachet to deliver a blood-drenched, almost perversely uncommercial movie that pulses with its own dark vision.

    Drive star Ryan Gosling re-teamed with Refn to star as Only God Forgives' Julian, in a role that requires him to speak just 17 lines over the course of the film. Julian — an expat drug dealer living in Bangkok — winds up at the center of a nightmarish revenge spiral that begins when his brother Billy rapes and murders a 16-year-old girl. In retaliation, a stoic, brutally effective police lieutenant (Visthaya Pansringarm) allows the girl's father to seek revenge, and Billy winds up dead. In retaliation for that crime, Gosling’s grieving mother — a crass, sadistic egomaniac played beautifully by Kristin Scott Thomas — demands that Gosling seek revenge on everyone she deems complicit in Billy’s murder.

    Despite its bloody, twisty-sound narrative, Only God Forgives is less of an action movie than an arthouse movie. The film takes place in a lurid, neon-drenched vision of Bangkok, and its brutal and unsparing acts of violence are punctuated by long, languorous walks down hallways or karaoke performances.

    Only God Forgives will not be for everybody. At first, I didn’t think it was for me. But daring films can take some time to settle on the palate, and Only God Forgives' strengths have gradually eclipsed its flaws in my mind. Maybe it'll be to your taste too.

    Your weekly streaming recommendation: Only God Forgives

     

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  3. So Hollywood is dead because you’re just too cheap to pay for it? Hardly. If the popularity of Netflix is anything to judge by, users are happy to pay for content they deem to be fairly priced and worthwhile. … In regards to Hollywood’s current summer slate, customers voted with their wallets.
    — 

    Internet piracy isn’t killing Hollywood

    Hollywood is killing Hollywood

     

  4. Can sci-fi save the romantic comedy?

    Pretty Woman's famous love story shows that the genre was never really grounded in reality anyway

     


  5. Even in the most masculine moments of Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Graham and John are powerless. They have their own particular techniques to assert their superiority — Graham’s seductive curiosity, John’s roaring sense of entitlement — and each is easily defeated… They both push the women to a new understanding of themselves, and suffer the results.
    — 

    The true cultural legacy of Sex, Lies, and Videotape

    Twenty-five years after its release, the film that sparked the indie boom still has plenty to say about gender dynamics

     


  6. The key problem with The Giver is that setting a story without emotion makes all the characters boring.
    — 

    The Giver: A frustrating, toothless adaptation that comes 20 years too late

    Lois Lowry’s YA novel still packs a punch — but its diluted film adaptation can’t stand up to its cinematic rivals

     


  7. In reality, no single breakthrough will ever break the norm. What it really takes is many smaller advancements coalescing into a larger movement. It’s only when we see distinct and palpable change in Hollywood’s subtler bad habits that we’ll know progress is truly being made.
    — 

    5 things that need to happen before Hollywood will ever truly change

    If these changes happen, then we’ll know Hollywood is finally moving in the right direction

     


  8. Hollywood can’t know audiences want something different if we don’t show that desire. We’ve reached the point that it will take effort to fight the blockbuster rabbit hole. It will continue getting harder to find anything diverse at the theater, and on shelves, if we don’t make the effort to see them when they come out now.
    — 

    Why audiences are responsible for the future of cinema

    It’s easy to succumb to Hollywood’s multimillion marketing campaigns — but cinephiles need to resist

     


  9. If studios succeed by making bad movies, other studios will follow suit. Social media buzz becomes more important to Hollywood every year, and it won’t take many more Sharknados before studios, filmmakers, and writers race to the bottom, creating terrible lowbrow art for the sake of irony (the one thing that we do not need more of these days).
    — 

    Sharknado isn’t just stupid. It’s bad for cinema.

    Will our fixation with “so-bad-it’s-good” lead to anything but more trash?

     


  10. 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.

     


  11. 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.

     


  12. 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

     

  13. The best online movies to watch this weekend

    Featuring The Sacrament, Blue Ruin, Joe, and more