Your movies to stream this week include Steven Spielberg’s dazzling Oscar-nominated reimagining of West Side Story, the enthralling claustrophobic drama The Humans, and M Night Shyamalan's latest horror thriller Old.
Also, Netflix has Tobey Maguire's best Spider-Man movie should you want to revisit his finest hour.
Please note that a subscription may be required to watch.
Pick of the week
West Side Story - Disney+
Looking at this reimagined take on the 1957 stage show by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, you wouldn’t guess that West Side Story is Steven Spielberg’s first musical. The director revels in his presentation of his performers pirouetting, colliding and embracing across gorgeous tableaus. The youthful visor of his visual creativity renews the nearly 70-year-old story that itself borrows from Romeo and Juliet.
Read more: Everything new on Disney+ in March
The way Spielberg frames Justin Peck’s dazzling choreography is nothing short of enrapturing, with long sweeping takes that glide over and through rooms full of twirling dancers without missing a beat. Even outside of the performance there’s a magic to how its events are framed, such as a character viewed through the reflection of a puddle that feels both humble and grandiose at the same time.
Watch: Steven Spielberg talks to Yahoo about making his first musical
The setup is the same: the young protagonist Tony (Ansel Elgort) — a former member of the Jets and best friend of the gang's leader Riff (Mike Faist, a standout) — falls in love with Maria (Rachel Zegler), the sister of Bernardo (David Alvarez), the leader of the Sharks.
The Jets are white, the Sharks are Puerto Rican, and Spielberg extrapolates the racial tensions from the play into something that feels urgently contemporary in its presentation of how gentrification ties into white supremacy. It’s especially true in its mini-story arc of Anybodys, here portrayed by iris menas as transgender in text rather than just subtext. Among the supporting performers, another real standout is Ariana DeBose as Anita - full of energy and life.
Also new on Disney+: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Calvary, The King's Speech
The Humans - Netflix
A slow-burning single location drama, Stephan Karam adapts his own play in The Humans. Erik Blake (Richard Jenkins, no stranger to intimate theatre) has gathered three generations of his Pennsylvania family to celebrate Thanksgiving at his daughter’s apartment in lower Manhattan. As darkness falls outside and eerie things start to go bump in the night, the group’s deepest fears are laid bare.
Karam’s film resists the feeling of simply ‘filmed theatre’ that so many adaptations do with its slowly creeping camera weaving in and out of the rooms of the dank apartment and outside of it too, examining its positioning along the Manhattan skyline.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in March
It builds in some conventional scares using that new and restrictive point of view, things that accumulate into a surprisingly nerve-shredding final act. Its gathered a fascinating cast too, Steven Yeun once again proving himself as one of Hollywood’s most interesting performers, and Amy Schumer branching out with a more subdued, naturalistic role than usual for the comedian.
Spider-Man 2 - Netflix
Inarguably the greatest superhero film of the 2000s, potentially ever, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 expanded on the scale of the action and the emotional push-and-pull of the life of its main character. Peter Parker’s struggle to balance his regular life and his super heroics gets doubly worse in this sequel, as various commitments — professional and social — strain under the weight of his great responsibility as Spider-Man. At the same time he has to deal with the transformation of Otto Octavius, his scientific hero, into the villain Doctor Octopus, twisted by hubris into creating a machine that might destroy the city.
Raimi brings even more of his pulpy B-movie horror flair into the transformation of that villain, with an all-timer of a sequence that channels Evil Dead into the camera’s subjective point of view switching to that of the metal tentacles grafted onto Otto’s body as they butcher the surgeons operating on him. The camera moves in ways that it just doesn’t in superhero movies any more, with a constant visual creativity in even the simplest scene transitions and match cuts. One incredibly memorable switch between a zoom out from Spider-Man swinging down an avenue is revealed to be a reflection in Doc Ock’s eye. Even amongst such spectacle Raimi always keeps the emotional inner life of his characters as the priority. That personal hook makes sequences like the train fight, and the sequel's intense conclusion as memorable as they are.
Also new on Netflix: The Master, Her, 3 Days of the Condor
Old - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
It’s a premise that got almost immediately memed upon its reveal — the beach that makes you Old! — but M Night Shyamalan’s latest is, for all its intentional silliness, also a masterclass in the use of onscreen space to create immense discomfort. Reteaming with Mike Gioulakis, the cinematographer for Glass, Split and Jordan Peele’s Us, he constantly draws the eye to something that’s off-screen, never in full view, but with enough there to let the imagination fill in the morbid detail. There’s also some very fun camera placements, like from the inside of a ribcage, for starters.
Read more: Everything new on Sky Cinema in March
For all the ribbing Shyamalan gets for the silliness of his movies, it’s very intentionally so. There’s a winking self-deprecation to it too, especially with the director’s cameo role, which feels like a kind of guilty self-indictment in causing the suffering of his own characters, implicating himself for a sort of voyeurism in even writing and shooting this film by replicating a shot from Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
Watch: M Night Shyamalan talks to Yahoo about Old
The primal fear at its core — of time passing us by, of the changing physicality that ageing itself brings — effectively and precisely evokes the terror of time’s march. It dovetails perfectly with Shyamalan’s pet themes of mortality and love, patriarchal and matrilineal responsibility. He’s always had a humanist element to his films, so one that digs into the natural fears of ephemerality that come with being human feels right - even if his dialogue is still as heightened and anti-naturalistic as ever.
The existential terror of it all is dulled somewhat by a compulsion to over-explain, scrambling to fill in any potential “plot holes” when it could quite easily lean into the uncanniness and abstraction, rather than tie everything off in a neat bow.
That neatness feels in contradiction to the messy business of ageing and of parenthood and of romantic relationships, something that Shyamalan as always places front and centre of his films.
Also on Sky / NOW: In The Earth, The World to Come