Wondering what to watch this weekend? This week brings a platter of very different genre delights crossed with sociopolitical introspection, first with the streaming debut of Paul Verhoeven’s latest social satire Benedetta: a convent drama following the eponymous Catholic mystic as she embarks on a forbidden affair with a fellow abbess.
Meanwhile, Steve McQueen’s Widows marries a heist thriller to a reflection on Chicagoan gentrification, old money its intersection with government, and how all of these elements rot the city’s foundations.
Read more: Everything new on Disney+ in July
On the (somewhat) lighter side, Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk — which marks a change in aesthetic as well as a doubling down on time-hopping narrative for the superstar director — provides some incredibly well staged and elaborately plotted jingoism as well as aerial dogfights to sate those looking for more of both after that of Top Gun Maverick, which itself is currently flying high at the box office.
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Benedetta (2021) - Mubi
Picketed by Evangelical Christians for its explicit nun content Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta — as all of his films do — go far beyond simple vulgarity for its own sake.
With an incredibly dry, wry sense of humour in its skewering of Catholicism and its dogma Verhoeven’s latest film is something of looser and even more gleeful affair than something like Elle, though not necessarily less provocative.
Following the young Benedetta Carlini, supposedly capable of performing miracles, Verhoeven’s outrageous fictionalisation of the exploits of the famous lesbian nun is full of wild, explicit visual gags — not least of all an incredibly sexy vision of Jesus.
Read more: Everything new on Paramount+ in July
That absurdity aside, Verhoeven works on something of a reduced scale and budget from his earlier social satires, though its mix of morality play and salacious camp, he transforms the its late 17th century setting into the perfect grounds for so-called Nunsploitation, restaging The Devils within a Tuscan convent. Perhaps not one to watch with the family.
Also on MUBI: A Girl Missing (2019), The House That Jack Built (2018)
Widows (2018) - Netflix
Up to this point, the films of Steve McQueen — Hunger, Shame, 12 Years A Slave — had typically been austere and contemplative affairs. Though that style was subverted to fascinating effect by his recent film anthology Small Axe and its spiritual follow up documentary series Uprising, McQueen’s pet themes and social critiques worked out surprisingly okay when he transplanted them in the heist thriller Widows.
After four thieves are killed by police during an explosive armed robbery attempt in Chicago, their widows join forces to pull off a heist in order to clear the debt left behind by their spouses’ criminal activities. The brunt of the plot focuses on Veronica (Davis), who becomes caught between a political power struggle between Jack Mulligan (Farrell) a white, shady old money politician, and Jamal Manning (Tyree Henry), a gangster looking to leave his violent sphere of influence behind.
The film both manages to live up to its pulpy premise, with taught thrills and snappy one-liners (and incredible turns from every member of its cast), but also operates as a cynical exploration of the interconnection of capitalist greed and politics.
Also on Netflix: Underworld (2003), Cult of Chucky (2017)
Dunkirk (2017) - BBC iPlayer
Response to aviation fever via Top Gun Maverick might perhaps be sated by the overlapping set pieces of Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk. Nolan’s film follows the miraculous evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk between May 26th and June 4th 1940 during World War II.
But as expected from the director experiments with temporal shenanigans move the film out of the typical shape of such a film, flitting back and forth between different times and perspectives as they all coalesce around a key moment in the Second World War.
Fascinatingly, you never see the Germans. All that matters are the bullets coming from their direction, and the claustrophobic point of view of the Allied soldiers ducking them. The stress of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s lensing is compounded by Hans Zimmer’s ticking clock score, unrelenting from beginning to end of the IMAX-ready movie.
A great weekend watch.
Also on iPlayer: Pride (2014), Darkest Hour (2017)
Watch: The cast of Dunkirk talk to Yahoo about the WW2 movie