Wondering what to watch? Between card sharks, slashers and robbers, this week’s streaming highlights run a criminal gauntlet, to varying levels of seriousness. Chief among these picks is The Card Counter, an Oscar Isaac-led character study from Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver, director of First Reformed). Reflecting on the rage and guilt of a lonely man but also using that as a route into deep-seated American pathologies around the War on Terror, it's an astonishing film in its scathing political commentary.
The much flashier The Bling Ring, directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Emma Watson, similarly needles at a different mindset, material greed as promoted by celebrity culture, and what it inspires in people who covet that fame. Scream, the fifth instalment of the franchise of the same name, pokes fun at the trend of the legacy sequel, in the grand tradition of its forebears, each meta horror film lampooning films of the era in which they were made.
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The Card Counter (2021) - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership (pick of the week)
After milling around between stolid blockbuster franchises, Oscar Isaac finally gets a part worth sinking his teeth into in Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter, in what might be his best role since the Coen Brothers's Inside Llewyn Davis.
As the symbolically named William Tell, Isaac’s character brings burdens of the past into the present moment, in what might be one of the starkest and most cutting films about American war crimes in recent memory. Interrogating the complicity of troops in Abu Ghraib, its study of the emotional fallout on those responsible seeps into the film’s bleak depiction of poker, far removed from the bravado and glitz of the usual cinematic depiction of casinos.
Schrader, as always engaging with his love of Bresson, creates an even more miserable existential crisis than his last film, the astounding First Reformed. Somehow The Card Counter slipped under everyone’s radars last year, it’s time to correct that if you can.
Also new on NOW: Flag Day (2021), Cry Macho (2021) - 30 July
Scream (2022) - Paramount+
Continuing in the 30-ish year old tradition of the series, Scream (2022) makes a slasher out of contemporary trends in horror filmmaking, its modus operandi being the skewering of cliche as well as unsuspecting teenagers.
Of course, this latest film’s target is that of the “legacy sequel” (evident in how it mimics the title of the new Halloween by throwing out numbered titles) belated sequels that also act as soft reboots for dormant franchises. This marks the first Scream without Wes Craven at the helm, and so there’s some clumsiness as directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett attempt to make their mark while paying homage to the creator of this meta horror series.
Watch the trailer for Scream
After a strong opening the film settles into jokes about “elevated horror”, the deification of “canon” in long-running franchises by self-entitled fans and how people discuss franchise filmmaking — a deconstruction of contemporary, IP-obsessed production is the aim of the game here — with some impressive set pieces and a passable mystery along the way. Ultimately Scream finds an upper limit on how well it can summon that Craven spirit, but it’s an acceptably fun time.
Also on Paramount+ UK: Rumble (2022), Girl, Taken (2022)
The Bling Ring (2013) - BBC iPlayer
Sofia Coppola’s career as a director has been one that’s been as concerned with opulence and the idleness of the wealthy as frequently as it has been about various forms of ennui. The adolescent restlessness of The Virgin Suicides and even Marie Antoinette are still visible in the sparkling surface and vacuous valley people of The Bling Ring.
A crime drama inspired by a true story, the film follows the case of a young fashion fan named Marc, whose curiosity and attraction to wealth and fame leads him to becoming the accomplice of his classmates Rebecca and Nicki, who find the LA homes of celebrities who are away on holiday, and taking advantage of their lacking security to rob them.
It of course leads to the usual hubris and downfall, but along the way Coppola constructs some sharp social satire amidst its curious archiving of mid-00s celeb culture, bolstered by surprisingly outsized comic performances from the likes of Emma Watson and her co-stars, all perfect parodies of rich vapidity.
Also on iPlayer: The Mule (2018), Mary Queen of Scots (2018)