Wondering what to watch? A pair of 2022 summer blockbusters — of varying qualities and tones — land in tandem as April reaches its midpoint.
Releasing on NOW via Sky Cinema, Nope, the latest work by ketch comedian maestro turned horror film maverick Jordan Peele, dazzles with its gorgeous and overwhelming photography and Jaws-esque man vs monster story.
Somewhat less sophisticated is the also monosyllabically-titled Beast (on Sky since last week), another Jurassic Park, Jaws-ish man vs monster story where the eponymous animal (a man-eating lion) perhaps stands in as an allegory for damaged familial bonds .
Read more: Everything new on Prime Video in April
Meanwhile, Arrow Player, the streaming service hosted by the boutique home entertainment label, is adding an embarrassment of riches in the form of several films by the late Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi, the standout being one of his mid-career works, His Motorbike, Her Island.
Meanwhile, MUBI releases its new film Close, an Oscar-nominated film by Lukas Dhont, exploring the fracturing of a relationship between two teenage boys.
Please note that a subscription may be required to watch.
November (2022) | NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
The blistering satire and laser focus of Jordan Peele’s allegorical horror Get Out landed with a meteoric impact: inspiring a rippling wave of socially-minded imitators, grasping at a similar suburban hellscape with mixed results.
In response, Peele’s films have become more sprawling and ambitious, and all the better for it: as one of the pre-eminent, original American filmmakers who haven’t succumbed to the lure of franchise filmmaking, we’re better off with a Jordan Peele trying to expand his own visual repertoire.
Read more: New on Sky Cinema/NOW in April
His second film Us married Hitchcockian suspense with the vague idea of CHUDS, as Get Out did with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. And now Nope (this writer’s favorite of the three) reevaluates Hollywood’s self-mythologising as it dons the blockbuster hat of the likes of Spielberg, throwing in a little bit of Close Encounters here, a little bit of War of the Worlds there, a lot of Jaws everywhere else.
It feels of a piece with the early works of Shyamalan, transmuting that same appeal into something with its own distinct identity (Peele’s connections with Shyamalan go further back, the two often share a cinematography with Michael Goulakis, though Nope is shot by Hoyte van Hoytema ).
Us proved more tantalisingly ambiguous than its predecessor and Nope continues along this trajectory with its multifaceted metaphors about filmmaking itself: even considering the narrow options that filmmakers like Peele have to get ahead, often involving mining one’s own trauma for audience pleasure.
But it also does know how to entertain, with Hoyte van Hoytema’s gorgeous, sweeping IMAX photography and astonishing sound design, creature design and involving a mix of VFX with practical effects (look out for one incredible homage to the bike slide from Akira).
People might poke at its uses of non-sequitur and flashback to further its allegorical storytelling, but make no mistake: Nope is one of the best films of last year.
Beast (2022) | NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
Sometimes you get summer blockbusters as thoughtful as Nope, and sometimes you get Beast: a film about Idris Elba building up the courage to punch a lion in the face.
Recently made a widow, Elba plays a doctor trying to repair his relationship with his daughters on a safari in South Africa’s gigantic game reserve Kruger National Park, staying with an old family friend. At the same time, a strangely vicious man-killing lion is on the loose, having laid waste to a nearby village in retribution for poaching.
Read more: New on Disney+ in April
Southern hemisphere vacation quickly goes the way of survival thriller as the family is pitted against the eponymous beast and its uncanny intelligence. Beast will hardly provoke much thought, and its sentimental moments feel rather thin on the ground – but to reiterate it’s also a film where Idris Elba punches a lion, and that’s got to count for something.
Also available on Now: The Portable Door (2023), DC League of Super-Pets (2022
Close (2022) | MUBI
Lukas Dhont’s last film Girl was rightfully criticized for its exploitative and reductive point of view, whatever good intentions it had completely undermined by its crass and perhaps even voyeuristic style of storytelling.
Read more: New on Netflix in April
Close, at the very least, dials back such exploitation, but it seems there’s nothing that can be done about Dhont’s rather blunt emotionality. Shot mostly in hazy handheld close-up as it examines two boys grieving the ruin of their relationship, Close follows Léo and Rémi, who suffers from homophobic abuse from their peers over their intimate friendship, eventually splintering due to the insults and the inability to comfortably be themselves in their school environment. One of them attempts assimilation in a way that eventually ends in tragedy.
Also on MUBI: The Death of Louis XIV (2016)
His Motorbike, Her Island (1967) | Arrow Player
Romantic and dreamlike, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s His Motorbike, Her Island is an invigorating confluence of film and memory. It effortlessly alternates between black and white and color photography as he follows a romance between Ko and Miyo, who bonds while he teaches her how to ride a motorbike — his treasured Kawasaki 650RSW3 — and then his visit to her inland island.
Obayashi’s almost kaleidoscopic style and playful formal experimentation – just look at his cult classic House – is as unique and exciting here as ever, mixing between soft moments of courtship and delightfully sensationalist drama (take its motorbike duel, for example) that highlights the malleability of the main character’s recollections, narrated in the past tense by Ko.
While unspooling this tale, Obayashi relishes in manipulating everything from the colors within the frame, then its scale (gradually expanding, perhaps to embody the freedom Ko experiences on his bike). Simply a must-watch from one of Japan’s greatest directors.
Also on Arrow: School in the Crosshairs (1981), The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), The Island Closest to Heaven (1984)