Watch: Don’t miss the best new releases on Now TV in October
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It’s the beginning of the UK’s Black History Month and, to celebrate, a wave of titles from new releases like the life-affirming Rocks and recent gems like The Last Tree, to stone cold classics like Babylon (later this month), are being added to streaming services.
Among the aforementioned titles are a breadth of lived-in experiences, riveting snapshots of Black British living in the past and in the present made by some of the most exciting voices working in the medium. An ideal time to brush up on the best of contemporary British cinema as well as important perspectives on the country’s history.
There’s also histories of the US diaspora as well with the biopics Harriet and Just Mercy covering segments of American slavery and its continuation with mass incarceration. If such material proves too heavy, there’s also the building amount of genre fare from the month’s overlap with the anticipation of Halloween, ranging from the ludicrous with Addams Family Values and Corpse Bride, to the more morbid – like The Conjuring by James Wan and Cure, from Japanese horror hero Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
Please note that subscriptions will be required to watch.
Just Mercy (dir. Destin Daniel Cretton) - Sky Cinema and NOW TV with a Sky Cinema Pass
Michael B Jordan is a movie star. The distinction between that descriptor and any old actor is a fairly nebulous one, but the continually rising star has that intangible something, as well as nuclear-grade charisma, that makes a movie star, a movie star. That something is what elevates Destin Daniel Cretton’s competent and occasionally very moving Just Mercy from passable true story fare into must watch territory. The performances (from Jordan and co-lead Jamie Foxx alike) help smooth over Cretton’s often rough overstatement, all while inspiring a palpable fury over the US government’s continuing dehumanisation of Black people, acts of oppression that don’t stop once an arrest has been made.
Watch: The Just Mercy trailer
The US prison system is one of deeply complex and insidious rot, a stand-in for its supposedly abolished system of slavery, and Just Mercy hones in on one of its more barbaric elements: the death penalty. Based on a book by American lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson – here played by Jordan – Just Mercy tells the story of Stevenson’s founding of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a non-profit organisation that has, to date, rescued 125 men from the death penalty. The case that takes up the film’s focus is that of Walter ‘Johnny D’ McMillian (Foxx), a man wrongfully sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman. With consideration of the current ongoing protests in the US over the murders of Breonna Taylor and the violent response to them, Just Mercy makes a strong case against another system of law that is in dire need of change.
Also new on NOW TV this week: Harriet, Waves
Rocks (dir. Sarah Gavron) - Netflix
A teenage girl suddenly finds herself struggling to take care of herself and her younger brother in Sarah Gavron’s joyous and affirming drama Rocks, a film that feels completely genuine thanks to its emphasis on collaboration behind the scenes. Written by Nigerian-British playwright and screenwriter Theresa Ikoko and film and TV writer Claire Wilson, and directed by Sarah Gavron, Rocks finds its authenticity through its its pitch perfect casting of an extremely charismatic ensemble of first-time actors, and its absolute trust and teamwork with the very people it seeks to depict, born out of workshops with young people at a range of schools and youth hubs.
Watch: The trailer for Rocks
The team spirit bleeds into Rocks in a way that makes every moment feel completely natural, occasional bursts of phone footage only adding to that almost documentarian sensibility. Now made available to stream not long after its release in cinemas, you shouldn’t miss this.
The Last Tree (dir. Shola Amoo) - Netflix
Shola Amoo’s latest work, The Last Tree is the latest work by the writer-director to explore the identity crisis of characters caught between urban and rural spaces, this time digging into the psyche of being a young Black man of dual heritage in England. This particular story concerns Femi, a Nigerian immigrant who is made to feel separate to his naturalised British-African classmates at school in London, an anxiety only amplified by his time spent in with a foster family in the English countryside, where all of his friends and family were white.
Anchored by a passionate performance from Sam Adewunmi, through The Last Tree Amoo gently and smartly explores ideas of belonging, masculinity as well as the idea of being uprooted (physically, as well as spiritually). A strong sophomore feature and one of the better British films about Blackness in recent years, especially when it comes to discerning the roots of displacement and social isolation.
Also new on Netflix this week: The Conjuring, Corpse Bride, Addams Family Values
Cure (dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa) - MUBI
Much of horror is built around a fearsome absence – the tension of waiting for a character’s worst fears and/or grisly fate to jolt into the picture. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure (1997), perhaps his most popular film besides Pulse, works against this, leaving everything in frame as he digs into the voyeauristic psychology of the procedural. Every now and then key details are left just outside of the camera’s field of view – agonising in that closeness (in his most recent film Us, Jordan Peele operated in a similar fashion).
Tasked with finding the connection between of a series of horrifying murders across Tokyo, Detective Takabe and psychologist Sakuma more often than not find that they’re unable to explain the actions of the killer, and Kiyoshi’s unemphatic camera, his patient presentation, stands to emphasise that distance and put the horrific acts beyond understanding. The atmosphere that permeates each scene inspires dread, as the film’s most disturbing elements emerge almost imperceptibly, despite being in front of us all along. The result is one of the most disquieting horror films ever made.
Also new on MUBI this week: Salon Kitty, Bird Island