You know, it’s possible that I’ve been wrong about HBO Max being the worst streaming service on the market. Or, rather, it’s possible that many of my core complaints about the streaming service have been dealt with over time. Coming back to the streaming service after more than a year apart from it, I was amazed at how my experience with it has changed. Smoother, less laggy and devoid of many crippling issues that plagued the service at the start, there really is a chance to focus on the immense catalog of film and television series that they’ve amassed by way of their various subsidiaries. While it’s unknown exactly what direction the service will take going forward, for now, it boasts plenty of varied titles for the curious to browse through at their leisure.
Fatal Attraction (1987)
A major cultural event upon its release in the 1980s, it is, perhaps, unavoidable just how dated this one-time touchstone feels in the cold light of 2022. Couched in a deeply conservative, quintessentially Reagan-esque worldview that punishes working girl Glenn Close and rewards traditional housewife Anne Archer, so much of this movie rings false to the modern viewer. However, what it fails at in its feminist credentials it more than makes up for with its ironclad script, stellar cast and deep-seeded understanding of its central characters. Michael Douglas’s interplay with the three women in his life (his wife, his daughter and his one-time mistress) is dynamic and compelling to behold. While I am hardly the audience for a mid-budget studio crowd-pleaser like this, there’s no denying the fact that a sizable budget, studio resources and top-down attention that this movie received lead to its monumental success with audiences and critics alike. Sure, I prefer something a bit more transgressive (e.g., Basic Instinct), this film undeniably plays better to a crowd, and stands up solidly in its own right.
Thelma & Louise (1991)
Women’s rights have certainly been in the news more lately than they have been for a while, which can’t help but bring to mind this landmark study of female friendship from the early 1990s. Coming from a-list auteur Ridley Scott, Thelma & Louise was perhaps our first inkling that so-called “women’s issues” were a subject of some fascination for the director. After all, Alien’s feminist bonafides seemed more accidental than anything (with the character famously having been written as a man and then left unchanged when Sigourney Weaver was eventually cast in the role), and we hadn’t yet come to more openly female-centered movies in his oeuvre, such as G.I. Jane (1997) and The Last Duel (2021). And yet it was here that he proved himself more than up to the task of tackling characters of such radically different-seeming experience and perspective with all of the sensitivity and insight that one would eventually come to expect from him. While hardly as dynamic as the films that would follow it – both in Hollywood and in Scott’s own filmography – it nevertheless holds its own as a commanding drama about two women who find themselves suddenly against the entire world.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Having finally caught up with The Batman (2022) on HBO Max, you can count me among the vocal minority who find themselves utterly unimpressed by Matt Reeves’s over-long Fincher-alike. I simply couldn’t help myself afterward turning to the dark neo-noirs that clearly inspired it (not the least of which being Se7en). Further down that list, however, was simply Nolan’s far superior Batman entries, which had far more compelling characters and thematic takes than the most recent Dark Knight offering could manage across its prodigious, 3-hour runtime. And, yeah, now two decades out from its original release, The Dark Knight feels just as fresh and entertaining as it did all the way back in 2008, with Ledger’s Joker putting everybody who’s taken up the face paint since to shame (and that includes Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning turn from 2019). Sadly, I think that Warner Bros will continue to chase the success of this trilogy (and this movie in particular) for many more reboots to come.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Although oftentimes rather conventional-feeling and suffering from a couple of bizarre tonal shifts, Crazy Rich Asians is a rock-solid example of the power that the romantic comedy employed during its 1990s heyday. Able to condense complex human relationships into digestible narratives, and acting as a dress-model to drape on the unique trappings and thematic through-lines of its culturally displaced narrative, Jon Chu’s eclectic, star-studded extravaganza is far more than it might otherwise appear to be on the surface (much like its central, fish-out-of-water protagonist). From the dense interplay of the various characters to the antics of the ultra-rich side-characters to the window-dressing of beautiful people in beautiful gowns set against beautiful locales, the film forever plays to its strengths and invites audiences to observe the ways in which it bucks familiar conventions far more than it gives in to them.
The Last Duel (2021)
Drawing more than a few warranted comparisons to Akira Kurosawa’s revolutionary Rashomon (1950) following its lackluster theatrical release last year, Ridley Scott’s latter-day masterpiece stood out resoundingly from the get-go as one of the year’s very best movies. Telling the overlapping stories of three estranged nobles in the context of the historic rape of Jodie Comer’s Marguerite de Carrouges, Scott displays his mastery of the form in the subtle details that each player varyingly adds, omits, emphasizes or downplays in their version of events. It is a harrowing epic for the Me Too moment that starkly demonstrates just how little has changed in the centuries since it was set. If you (like so many moviegoers) missed this movie the first time around, now is the perfect time to add it to your viewing queue.