Multiple debuts in multiple mediums stand out amongst the films new to streaming this week – from Oscar darlings to animated classics. The former would be Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born, released to vast accolades and critical praise for the fiery dual performance of Cooper and Lady Gaga.
The latter: Satoshi Kon’s debut film (and arguably his best), Perfect Blue, which ranks among the finest anime films ever made in its masterful psychodrama with nuances that can only exist within the medium of animation. Satoshi’s follow-up to Perfect Blue is more than worthwhile viewing as well, the more joyful and romantic celebration of Japanese cinema Millennium Actress also made available to stream for the first time anywhere thanks to Anime Limited’s Screen Anime service.
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A Star is Born - Amazon Prime Video
Though it’s a story that has been told four times over, having starred the likes of Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand, Bradley Cooper’s take on A Star Is Born, this time starring Lady Gaga, still felt seismic in its execution. Cooper, having shadowed many a legendary director (including Clint Eastwood, who was originally slated to direct) in his time as an actor, knocks his debut feature out of the park.
Watch the A Star Is Born trailer
It’s not a perfect film (and the soundtrack does have some misses) – Cooper’s approach to Ally’s “descent” into more mainstream pop music is at the very least vague about whether or not the film believes his character’s point of view – but its emotive power is undeniable.
Also on Prime: Life of Pi
Perfect Blue - Screen Anime
The debut feature film of Satoshi Kon, who sadly passed 10 years ago this year, might be one of the most eerily prescient animated films of our current moment, despite having been released in 1997. Following Mima, a pop idol who has left her old group in order to pursue a career in acting, soon finds herself the victim of online harassment and stalking via a chat room made to seem as though it were a diary which she herself was writing, the details posted online showing alarming accuracy.
This harassment quickly escalates as she joins the cast of a lurid TV procedural named “Double Bind”, and from that point Satoshi makes the viewer doubt as to whether their own eyes can be believed, cutting together scenes from the show and her daily life as if they were one and the same, the line between the two becoming increasingly indistinguishable.
The film might be best known for its influence on the likes of Darren Aronofsky (who bought the rights for a live-action version, only to end up lifting a shot from it to use in Requiem for a Dream and then later making Black Swan), but its real lasting power is in that confrontation of what the burgeoning digital age might really mean for our everyday existence.
Millennium Actress - Screen Anime
If Perfect Blue is about the nightmare of our identities becoming inextricably linked with media, accessible by all, then Millennium Actress is about the beauty of that media making us immortal. Satoshi Kon’s second feature deploys a lot of the same tricks as his first, with tricky editing and storyboarding blurring the line between the fictional, the real, and the imagined, but uses that style in a more romantic fashion, having his protagonists leap across time, through the memories and film work of the aging reclusive actress Chiyoko, a character modelled after the famed Japanese performer Setsuko Hara.
Amid all the film’s visual spectacle (and it is indeed one of the best looking anime films that has ever been made), Satoshi never looses sight of that keen interest in Chiyoko’s inner life and how it compares with her onscreen image. That each winking visual homage to titans of Japanese cinema (look out for multiple shots replicating the work of Kurosawa and Ozu) fits right in with the emotional tapestry of Millennium Actress is but one of its many grace notes; a masterpiece through and through.
Also on Screen Anime: Fate/Stay Night Heaven's Feel II. Lost Butterfly, Psycho-Pass: Sinners of the System, Anonymous Noise
Queen of Earth - Shudder
Probably Alex Ross Perry’s most abrasive portrait of a woman falling apart this side of his firebrand drama Her Smell, Queen of Earth is another showcase for the vast talents of Elizabeth Moss. The film itself is fragmented and chaotic, with little to grasp onto other than the main character Cat (Moss)’s deteriorating mental state.
It’s quite a visceral experience, its nerviness amplified by Sean Price Williams’s camerawork, his use of zoomed, claustrophobic close ups recalling his cinematography for the Safdie brothers in their film Heaven Knows What, a film which also feels close to this one’s agitated, disturbing tone. An unnerving but rewarding experience.
Also on Shudder: Porno
folklore: the long pond studio sessions - Disney+
In what feels like a huge get for Disney’s streaming service, this concert film is a run through of Taylor Swift’s latest album folklore, an intimate studio session also talking through the meaning of each track.
Considering that none of the performers involved had been in the same room together until this point, film itself will likely be a delight for her fans, but it’s also an interesting left turn for the streaming service – which up to this point had exclusively been a way to watch Marvel movies and the most family friendly Fox acquisitions they have.
With a filmed version of Hamilton also having been made available on the service, this seems to be another sign of the House of Mouse’s evolving ambitions in streaming.
Also on Disney+: LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, The Real Right Stuff