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‘Mister Organ,’ ‘Destroyer’ and more streaming gems

“Mister Organ” (2023)

By Jason Bailey

A unique horror omnibus, an existentialist supernatural story, and atypical star turns are among our recommendations from the subscription streaming services this month, along with some essential background viewing for one of this year’s Oscar nominees.

‘Mister Organ’ (2023)

New Zealand journalist David Farrier has carved out an unusual niche for himself, crafting documentaries about fringe figures that at first seem to be jokey oddities, but later reveal disturbing dimensions and shadowy backstories. His previous feature, “Tickled,” took him into the bizarre world of Competitive Endurance Tickling, and the mysterious figure bankrolling it; this time, an investigation into predatory parking practices puts him in the sights of a con artist named Michael Organ. And that’s when things really get strange. As with “Tickled,” Farrier’s latest begins like a human interest story and turns into something closer to a thriller, as the peculiarities of this unstable personality reveal themselves, often unnervingly. Farrier is a solid anchor for this strange journey, proving unflappable (and capable of finding the gallows humor) in even the most extreme of circumstances. (Stream it on Netflix.)

‘Destroyer’ (2018)

Nicole Kidman — de-glammed and borderline unrecognizable — stars as the corrupt, alcoholic Los Angeles Police detective Erin Bell, whose investigation of a stray dead body leads her down a rabbit hole of reexamining her own troubled past. Director Karyn Kusama and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, who previously collaborated on the tense and terrifying thriller “The Invitation,” expertly tell two stories at once: of Bell’s undoing in her 20s as an undercover FBI agent, and of her current, perhaps irredeemable iteration. It’s a tough balancing act to pull off, but Kusama gets the job done, keeping our interest in each timeline piqued without one overwhelming the other. And this is among Kidman’s finest and most chameleonic work, expertly dramatizing both a woman in disarray and the circumstances that got her there. (Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.)

‘XX’ (2017)

Kusama is also one of the four directors of this horror anthology film, which distinguishes itself from that durable structure by confining its content to films about women, entirely lensed by female directors. Kusama’a segment, “Her Only Living Son,” is an atmospheric cross between “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “The Omen,” and it’s one of the strongest, but all the entries have their virtues, from the darkly comic, Melanie Lynskey-fronted “The Birthday Party” by Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) to Roxanne Benjamin’s “Friday the 13th”-inspired “Don’t Fall” to the eye-openingly bleak “The Box,” directed by Jovanka Vuckovic. (Stream it on Hulu.)

‘A Ghost Story’ (2017)

Quick, what does a ghost look like? Writer-director David Lowery answers that question like the 5-year-old in all of us: It looks like a bedsheet over a person, with eyeholes cut out. His follow-up question is more penetrating: what does being a ghost feel like? He answers that with quiet elegance in this muted, elliptical drama, which begins with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, stars of his “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” as a bohemian couple whose happy home is wrecked by tragedy. “A Ghost Story” follows the home, and the ghost that cannot leave it, through the years and subsequent owners. It could have been twee and insufferable; instead, it’s overwhelmingly affecting. (Stream it on Max.)

‘Dying of the Light’ (2014)

This spy-thriller starring Nicolas Cage comes from acclaimed filmmaker Paul Schrader — sort of. Schrader, the screenwriter of “Taxi Driver” and writer-director of “First Reformed,” was caught in an ugly public battle with his producers and distributors over the release version of this movie, which differs substantially from Schrader’s idiosyncratic cut. The suits clearly attempted to make the picture look and sound like a typical Cage direct-to-video actioner, but the results are anything but. “Dying,” as with Brian De Palma’s similarly contentious “Domino,” retains enough of Schrader’s style and thematic preoccupations to merit distinction. Cage stars as a former CIA field agent, jockeying a desk and grappling with the early stages of dementia, who goes rogue to settle the score with a terrorist (Alexander Karim) who tortured and disfigured him two decades earlier. Cage clearly relishes the acting challenge, exhibiting emotional and physical bravado and vulnerability in equal measure. (Stream it on Max.)

‘Only God Forgives’ (2013)

Ryan Gosling was recently nominated for his third Oscar, for his good-humored turn in “Barbie”; his minimalist work in this grisly, pitch-black crime drama is a pointed reminder of his considerable versatility. Reuniting with his “Drive” director Nicolas Winding Refn, Gosling stars as Julian, a Bangkok kickboxing instructor whose drug kingpin mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) directs him to avenge the murder of his older brother (Tom Burke). Gosling’s “Drive” character, already an exercise in Zen cool, is an outright chatterbox compared to Julian, and the actor’s willingness to simmer quietly through most of the picture’s running time is a testament to his overwhelming charisma. The star turn here, really, is by Scott Thomas, whose swaggering, foul-mouthed, cheerfully amoral international criminal is both terrifying and uproarious. Refn’s extreme violence and narrative austerity are, to put it mildly, not for all tastes, but the results are undeniably memorable. (Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.)

‘Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin’ (2003)

Viewers taken by Netflix’s recent biopic “Rustin” (and its Oscar-nominated lead performance by Colman Domingo) would be wise to press play on this excellent documentary profile of the civil rights activist from directors Bennett Singer and Nancy D. Kates. An openly gay Black man who mostly worked behind the scenes (out of concern that any scandal surrounding his sexuality would hurt the movement’s credibility in that less-tolerant era), Rustin was something of a Zelig figure, one of the pioneers of nonviolent civil rights protest, a confidant and adviser of Martin Luther King Jr. and the key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The latter is the primary focus of “Rustin”; the film by Singer and Kates tells his entire story, informatively and entertainingly, via archival footage and interviews with those who knew him. (Stream it on Netflix.)

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