‘The Beta Test’, ‘Closet Monster’ and other streaming gems
This month’s off-network recommendations on your subscription streaming services run the gamut, from a tender coming-of-age story to a pair of dark comedies like a surprisingly affectionate action picture, as well as three documentaries about influential artists in fashion, music and sleaze.
“The Beta Test” (2021)
Stream it on Hulu.
Writer, director, and actor Jim Cummings established his on-screen persona (a fumbling, insecure but ultimately big-hearted Everyman) in his groundbreaking film “Thunder Road,” and moved the character into genre territory in “The Wolf of Snow Hollow”. For this third feature – this time working with PJ McCabe, his co-writer and co-director – Cummings takes this character in a decidedly darker direction, playing a Hollywood agent whose career (and impending nuptials) are in jeopardy. when someone makes him a sexual offer he can’t refuse. Cummings and McCabe slip into darker corners than you might think, but the comedic and thriller aspects blend easily and the results are incredibly unpredictable.
This Canadian coming-of-age drama about the dangers of growing up gay was released around the same time as “Moonlight,” and was certainly eclipsed by comparison. But “Closet Monster” is firmly its own thing – a gritty, lived-in portrait of the very real stigmas and fears of being a queer kid, and the kinds of teenage insecurities that result. Connor Jessup is quietly touching as Oscar, a teenager who desperately tries to shake off the psychic scars inflicted by his homophobic father (a creepy Aaron Abrams) after his parents divorce. Writer-director Stephen Dunn was just 26 when the film debuted, and his closeness to youth is a real virtue. He is a filmmaker who remembers the electricity of a first kiss, the trial and error of first sexual intercourse and the satisfaction of freeing oneself from toxic influences.
Stream it on HBO Max.
Before “The Queen’s Gambit” made her a star, Anya Taylor-Joy presented this delightful dark comedy from writer and director Cory Finley (which would follow up with the equally unforgiving “Bad Education”). Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke (“Sound of Metal”) play childhood friends, reunited as adults, whose longing, longing conversations about the murder of her stepfather veer into non-hypothetical territory. Taylor-Joy and Cooke are a joy to watch, their two scenes are a cascade of dry wit and deadpan underplay, and Finley’s sleek direction highlights the right combination of dry humor and theatrics right down to the herringbone.
You’ve seen plenty of serial comedy dramas from the Victorian era, many of which feature much of that high-profile cast, which includes Hugh Dancy, Rupert Everett, Felicity Jones, Gemma Jones and Jonathan Pryce. But it’s not a starchy story of class conflict or simmering romance – no, it’s the story of how Dr. Mortimer Granville (Dancy), while pursuing treatments for “hysteria” ( female orgasm), invented the vibrator. Director Tanya Wexler and her stiff upper-lip cast clearly enjoy their exciting subject matter and adjust their acting accordingly, while Maggie Gyllenhaal revels as a proto-feminist who seizes on this development and the power it contains. .
‘Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning’ (2012)
Stream it on HBO Max.
The first-person dramatization of a brutal home invasion that opens this murderous action picture is so visceral and heartbreaking that it feels more like Gaspar Noé’s kick-off of a button-pusher than the third sequel to a 90s shoot-’em-. top. From there, director John Hyams rarely lets go; he’s less interested in cheap thrills or fan service than in nightmarish imagery and haunting portraits of overwhelming grief. Series regulars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are on hand, but the focus is on a new protagonist (played by live-action video favorite Scott Adkins), whom Hyams follows on a strobe soaked in neon lights. enlightened dive into death and despair. The fight scenes deliver punchless intensity, with a darkness that borders on nihilism, turning this so-called throwaway into a questioning of what we want — and expect — from action movies.
‘The Gospel According to Andrew’ (2018)
Stream it on Amazon and Hulu.
When journalist and stylist André Leon Talley died this year, praise poured in from some of fashion’s most influential figures. Those who aren’t quite in the know couldn’t ask for a better summary of his life and accomplishments than this energetic and entertaining documentary from director Kate Novack. Talley’s story is fascinating, that of a poor kid in the segregated South who used fashion magazines as a form of fantasy and escapism, and went on to fill those pages with his distinctive words and inimitable style. The archival footage is delightful and the interviews with his contemporaries are insightful, but Talley’s own commentary is the real draw – it is, as it always has been, incisive, funny and fabulous.
‘Rumble: The Indians Who Shook the World’ (2017)
Stream it on Netflix.
The genealogy of rock music has always been of keen interest to historians and performers, who have tended to agree on the influence of gospel, blues, soul and country styles on early formative recordings of the 1950s. This documentary by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana shines a light on a lesser-known source: the native musicians of North America. Exploring both the music itself and the trials and triumphs of many of its practitioners, “Rumble” is a welcome tour of archeology and a bit of late credit – and the music is, unsurprisingly, wonderful.
When it aired in the late 1980s – for just two seasons – “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” was condemned in every corner as lowest common denominator television, a “talk show” that used its “Oprah” style panel format primarily to provoke, and provide fodder for its talkative, chain-smoking host. This thoughtful and well-assembled documentary snapshot of this host, and the pop culture ubiquity he briefly enjoyed, was released at a time when the show’s influence on later “end of the civilization” like “The Jerry Springer Show” and “Maury” It was clear; from our vantage point, we can also see how it both affected and represented the slowly turning tides of divisive political discourse.