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It’s a new month and with it comes new movies to stream. Netflix in particular dropping a glut of content with new original film (so to speak, it’s a remake) The Guilty, as well as modern classics Spider-Man and Heat.
Meanwhile Amazon Prime leans toward more introspective but no less monumental films, with Ava DuVernay’s Selma landing on the service.
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Spider-Man - Netflix/Amazon Prime Video
Looking back at the past two decades of superhero movies, there's still nothing that's managed to equally capture the artistry of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. Raimi brings B-movie flair (as well as his Evil Dead buddy Bruce Campbell) to proceedings in every swoop of the camera that evokes the momentum of Spidey’s swinging, to the PG horror of Norman Osborn’s transformation into the Green Goblin. It all works because of its prioritisation of what’s human, rather than what’s super, about its story. Where Marvel Cinematic Universe works are constantly expanding in scale, these films look inward.
Pulling its tone heavily from the melodrama of the original Stan Lee and Steve Dikto books, Raimi’s story of Peter Parker works because his human problems often eclipse his superhero ones - and even when those two sides of the character collide, its the emotional fallout which provides the highest stakes.
It’s not as gloomy as that might suggest though, lest we forget the comedic brilliance of J.K. Simmons as newspaper mogul and Spider-Man’s real nemesis, J Jonah Jameson, a casting decision so good that Marvel Studios could only bring Simmons back in an attempt to rebottle that lightning (as the upcoming No Way Home seems to be trying to do with Alfred Molina’s return as Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2). Aside from maybe Blade (and its astounding sequel Spider-Man 2), this is as about as good as Marvel movies get.
Heat - Netflix
Probably the most frequently cited Michael Mann movie, both by fans of Mann and by other filmmakers (Christopher Nolan chief among them - just look at Inception and the opening for The Dark Knight), it feels like a disservice to Heat to refer to it as a ‘crime epic’ but those words will have to do for now. An explosive, all-time Al Pacino performance as the cop Vincent Hanna contrasts perfectly with the cool calculation of Robert DeNiro as Neil MacCauley, the criminal he’s chasing in what becomes a sort of star-crossed romance illustrating the thin line between career cop and career criminal.
Hanna struggles with his domestic life as his dedication to his miserable work turns him into an absentee father and husband, while the obsessive and meticulous MacCauley lives in quiet melancholy as a result of his dedication to his creed: “Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”
The film sees them circling each other in a cat-and-mouse game as MacCauley robs several banks, a later robbery spiralling out of control into one of the best gunfights depicted in American cinema. While on paper that encroaches into John Woo territory, Mann conducts Heat with the coolness and interest in professionalism as his other prior works, which makes it all the more memorable when his characters - or the action - flies off the rails.
Also new on Netflix: The Guilty, Carlito’s Way
Selma - Amazon Prime Video
Named for Selma, a city in Alabama, Ava DuVernay’s biopic is based around the planning and strategising of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches, initiated and directed by the minister and activist James Bevel and famously led by civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Hosea Williams, and John Lewis.
The event, a peaceful march that ended in violence instigated by police, forced a famous statement by President Lyndon B. Johnson that ultimately led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act. While it’s also a parade of fine character actors playing important figures from the Civil Rights Movement, DuVernay uses the event as a sort of anchor for a focused biographical story of Martin Luther King Jr., considering more than just his legacy and famous cherry-picked quotes (rarely do you see the ones where he needles white complacency or condemns American foreign intervention, and so on).
Watch a trailer for Selma below
It’s probably one of David Oyelowo’s most memorable performances too, going beyond an impersonation and actually embodying a man. In that sense it feels like a character study one of a man struggling with the burden of his visibility, and the attempts by the US government to pick at any human flaws that might show under that spotlight. It’s not perfect - it’s attempts to manage the weight of history do make one wish that it was more of an intimate and behind-closed-doors affair like the fictionalised One Night in Miami, but with its gorgeous lensing from Bradford Young and a rousing soundtrack, it feels like DuVernay’s best work.
Also new on Prime Video: Welcome to the Blumhouse: Bingo Hell/Black as Night, Us, Happy Death Day 2U, Ammonite
Also new on Disney+: LEGO Star Wars: Terrifying Tales, The Rocky Horror Picture Show