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Christmas is coming, and so we’re here to provide you with some streaming counter-programming this week. Netflix releases Jane Campion’s critically-lauded The Power of the Dog as well as the alternative Christmas movie Tokyo Godfathers; while Disney+ releases the under-appreciated new film from Ridley Scott (and writers Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon), The Last Duel.
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The Power of the Dog - Netflix
The first feature from Jane Campion in nearly a decade, The Power of the Dog is a typically fascinating study of masculinity and power dynamics in platonic and romantic relationships from the Australian director. It’s more post-western than western, in part because of its (really quite apparent) queer subtext and remixing of its iconography, plus its taking place in the twilight of that age.
The patiently moving and isolated film is about the charismatic rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), who occupies his time while not working by terrorising his younger brother George’s new wife Rose and her son Peter. Of course, there’s more at play here, but Campion tantalisingly leaves it as subtext, evoked only through its frequently sensuous visuals.
Watch a trailer for The Power of the Dog
It’s not just Phil that’s the film’s concern; much of it occurs from the perspectives of Rose (played with tragic vulnerability by Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Kodi-Smit McPhee, who proves surprisingly elusive). Which is good because as Phil, Cumberbatch conspicuously feels like a weak link in the film, his performance feeling too much like impersonation, but crucially, this is not in a manner that highlights the character’s self-conscious, masculine facade. There are moments where it works however, and Campion’s powerful imagery overrides most moments where it doesn’t anyway.
Also on Netflix: Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Constantine
The Last Duel - Disney+
Ridley Scott's other 2021 film sees Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) sexually assaulted by her husband’s squire Jacques le Gris (Adam Driver). After she publicly accuses Jacques, King Charles VI declares that Knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon) settles his dispute with his squire) by challenging him to a duel.
A film that has inspired some frequently tiresome discourse online (mostly around the baffling idea that Nicole Holofcener wrote this feature at gunpoint, rather than, you know, because she actually wanted to), The Last Duel takes the story of the last trial by combat fought in Europe and turns it into a sort of contemporary Rashomon. The comparisons have been frequent but there is a crucial difference, as in The Last Duel, there is no doubt as to whether or not the rape transpired.
Watch a clip from The Last Duel
The film isn’t recommended lightly of course - it deals frankly with painful and sensitive subject matter, and the eponymous final duel is also brutal in an entirely different manner. But it’s one of Scott’s finer works in some time, and deserves more attention than it has received.
Also on Disney+: The Beatles: Get Back, Die Hard, The Day After Tomorrow
Tokyo Godfathers - Netflix
A sort-of Nativity film from the animation maestro Satoshi Kon, Tokyo Godfathers is something of an outlier in the late director’s filmography. His feature films — for the most part — have one foot out of reality at all times, using the subjective point of view of the characters to disorientate the audience - Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress and Paprika all blurring the line between reality, dreams and fiction.
Tokyo Godfathers on the other hand, takes a magnifying glass to reality, looking at the people who have fallen through the cracks in Japanese society. This however doesn’t mean that Kon suddenly loses any outlandish flair, if anything, the character drawings of Tokyo Godfathers are more broadly cartoonish than ever, his animators having a lot of fun with outsized reactions and facial expressions.
As for the story itself: it’s a Christmas tale of three homeless people who find a baby, left on its own in a pile of trash. The trio seek to reunite the baby with its parents, the film unpacking their personal histories along the way. Compared to Kon’s other work praise for Tokyo Godfathers can sometimes seem undersung, perhaps because of that relative normalcy. But it’s no less transportive or clever in its use of subjectivity: instead of tricking us into not knowing what’s real and what’s not, it uses the world of animation to draw your eye to the people that are ignored every day.
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Also new on NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership: Godzilla vs Kong