EEven with a larger captive domestic audience in times of coronavirus, launching a new independent streaming service is a challenge these days. With the best artistic intentions, trying to get a subscriber base large enough to support your niche programming amid the scattered distractions of Netflix and the like isn’t easy. Yet, I recently encountered one that deserves a second look: True story, a new UK-based global streaming service dedicated to documentaries.
A handful of similar non-fiction-focused platforms have sprung up over the years, sometimes hampered by a movie library too small to encourage even a carefully curated monthly subscription. True Story, cleverly, offers bettors subscription and pay-per-view options: you can feast on their entire (and sizable) selection of documentaries for £ 6 a month – after a free trial – or just hire some films individually at £ 3.90. for a week.
As for the programming, it is selective and distinctive, made up largely of strong and compelling documentaries that have made a dent in the festival circuit without breaking a general release elsewhere. This week, they offer a UK premiere: The world under your feet, a New York-focused charmer who did well with American critics two years ago but has never crossed the Atlantic until now. Brilliant and disarming without straining for a forced uprising, Jeremy Workman’s film follows former engineer Matt Green as he decides to abandon his job, home, and material possessions to embark on a six-year walking tour. of the Big Apple, traversing every road, alley, bridge and route of the five boroughs in pursuit of, well, some kind of elusive personal fulfillment. The film doesn’t romanticize or speed up his quest, but it does provide a surprising ground-level travelogue to a city we think we’ve seen portrayed in every way possible.
The rest of the True Story selection isn’t quite as easygoing as it sounds, but it’s enlightening. A special section is devoted to highlights of the prestigious Open City London documentary festival: among them is The trial, a remarkable achievement by the brilliant Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa, constructed entirely from archival footage of a 1930 show trial of eight Soviet economists and engineers accused of plotting a coup against Stalin’s government . Presented in an immaculate, procedural fashion with no director commentary, this is the kind of movie you can hardly believe exists.
Other stars include the Lebanese documentary The swing, an intimate and intensely moving study of director Cyril Aris’ grandparents, as they deal with various losses and their own aging from the confines of their Beirut apartment. There is a hint of Chantal Akerman in her clear and steady outlook. I loved Chez Jolie Coiffure, a jagged and candid observation of a Cameroonian expatriate hair salon in Brussels, where serious immigrant concerns mingle with idle gossip as strands are processed and teased. And Laila at the bridge is an urgent and real-life study, focusing on the Afghan “mother of drug addicts” Laila Haidari, a wonderful woman who runs a recovery clinic for Kabul’s disproportionate number of opium addicts; a tough-minded film with a hearty emotional payoff. After months of on-off containment, it can feel like your world has shrunk a bit – sites like True Story are helping to expand it again.
Also new in streaming and DVD
Not to be confused with anything involving Victor Hugo or Hugh Jackman, Oscar-nominated French director Ladj Ly’s debut film is a street thriller with formal oomph and arrogance to spare, cutting edge in its portrayal. of the tension between crooked police and the oppressed inhabitants of suburban Paris – though the perspective of its cop figures is surprisingly dominant.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula
The word “gifts” appears in tiny print on the marketing materials for this Korean zombie thriller, making it a more direct sequel to Yeon Sang-ho’s raucous antics in 2016 than it is. More of a standalone adventure set in the same apocalyptic story world, it has a less playful tone and shoots for more awe-inspiring action pieces than its predecessor, but there’s fun to be had.
Alan Ball, the writer behind american beauty and Six feet Under ground, is making his first feature in over a decade, and it’s smoother and smoother than we’ve come to expect from him. Starring Paul Bettany as a NYU gay literature professor reluctantly reunited with his conservative southern family after his father’s death, it’s a pleasant period stroll and a welcome showcase for Bettany, albeit she can use a little more acid.
Fear: classic monsters
A winter treat on this youtube channel Dedicated to Horror Film: A season of classic Universal monster films, one per week, each available for free viewing for seven days. Their current selection is the 1935 Curiosity London werewolf – does what it says on the tin, and good, clean, and fun – with future selections including Creature of the black lagoon, son of Frankenstein and The werewolf. Perfect alternative party dish.